A fellow acquaintance on twitter recently wrote: ‘If you have the right process, are disciplined and always do the work, you will see success. Once you see success, you will always do the work and stick to the process.’ This makes sense, and is indeed applicable to many industries today. For games, however, I’m not so sure. What exactly are the “right” processes? What would we consider success? And do we think that continuously using those processes will yield the same success?
Process is absolutely important when considering persons for a project or being able to understand changes that need to be made. These changes happen quite often in games; during mid stride, we are asked to change the trajectory of a feature by adding or removing something including the feature itself. Understanding process gives us a better idea of how changes will affect the overall outcome of the project based on previous experiences we’ve had. This does not mean that those processes will guarantee success. If they did, then incorporating them every time would do just that, and if that was the case we would see far more games becoming incredibly successful.
We cannot guarantee success through process alone, but we can hope the chances of failing are less. Having a title become successful, assuming we are all on the same page regarding what that means (the studio isn’t shut down, we aren’t relocated to new projects or the release becomes profitable with an ever increasing community) is similar to trying to hit a constantly moving target. Sounds like a flimsy success plan? That is pretty much what is in the back of the mind of every project manager and director. However as a team we are somehow able to over deliver on expectations (mostly). During the concept stage the team tends to be very small; they still don’t know what they are building, if it’s going to work or if they have a strong understanding of what they need to move forward. In other words a handful of creatives trying to create a maze while traversing it.
There is no single person with a brilliant process that is responsible for an amazing game. It is always built on multiple ideas and iterations that come from a plethora of resources; the team, significant others, personal experiences or simply suggestions from the community. One idea is added to another making a completely new one, and with that the idea is crafted into something meaningful. Sometimes that idea fails and is thrown out, we go back to square one and start again. This is where process comes in. Process allows the team to develop a system to iterate on an idea. Eventually they may find themselves in a groove or zone where the team is able to understand that process based on that idea.
Building on the idea means that it is more than just something we are trying but now something we are hoping will be added to what we are creating. It also means the idea is solidifying and the team is moving out of concept to pre-production/production. This means the team will require more people and it is necessary that these people can understand the formulating idea and the ability to build on it. This is where things can start to go off the rails. Injecting a small team process into a larger one is always met with “ideas” or as some may call it, resistance. Remember new people mean new personalities. Some will not be on board with the way we are iterating, some will have suggestions of how to improve it and others will think that we may just be totally disorganized and crazy. This is where the process will have its limitations. In some cases the team will need to update their process to accommodate additional team members and their input.
Moving forward from this point would require some serious coordination. The departments required for finding talent would all have to be in sync with development, not to mention those candidates being chosen. It may sound like it is an internal matter alone, but there is much more to this. There are many talented developers out there looking to work on an awesome game, however talent and experience has a price. Additionally, time is a factor. You are not going to get the best candidate via the first applicant every time, you may never get what you want. As time goes compromises are made. As compromises are made we start to see that affect the team and in-turn the project itself. Again, process is going to be affected.
The lucky studios are able to attract the talent they want, help mould or shape that talent into a person who would contribute to an awesome team and awesome project. It sounds so easy when you read it, but takes a tremendous amount of time and effort. It just so happens that once in a while the Dev God’s smile on a studio or two and give them that one chance to make a title that breaks new ground and makes us all proud to be part of this whirlwind of an industry. It isn’t stable, it doesn’t work all the time, and it sounds a bit crazy. But crazy is exactly how we like it.
Twitter: Frost Front Games