What Great Game Development Teams Do

We've been spending some time talking about the Game Outcomes Project this week, which surveyed hundreds of game developers to come up with empirical data and weigh several factors against success indicators. The previous instalments have been a bit negative in tone - moreso a "what not to do" - whereas this one will be all about what good teams do right.

Winning Team picture by Shutterstock

The last post, especially, focused on the fallacy of crunch. While many have assumed that crunch is a necessary evil and that we should only oppose it on a moral level, the data clearly shows that crunch correlates negatively with success. Not only that, but team which try to dig themselves out of a hole with crunch end up digging deeper, and employees who are forced or pressured to do overtime are a clear indicator of a product that's about to do poorly.

But this time, we'll focus on the other side of the coin. What do great teams do right? Below is a bit of a summary on the larger points made by the project, and there's empirical data to back up every word there. It really drives the point home when you see the tables for yourself.

Project Vision

Good teams ideally share the same vision for a project, but given that's not always possible in a creative environment, they're at least on the same page about what direction they're taking. If the core elements of the project are changing, such as major design decisions, the reasons for these are communicated well to everybody.

Politics

Good teams don't have a "political" atmosphere. They aren't tiptoeing on eggshells around their manager or other personalities. They're focused more on work than silly power games. When there's conflict in the workplace, successful teams deal with the conflict as best they can, instead of ignoring it.

Personal Improvement

Good teams factor in the individual's desire to keep learning new things to keep them passionate. When team members speak up with design ideas, they're listened to and the idea is considered. If the idea isn't realised, it isn't swept under the rug and forgotten about. Good teams also encourage talking about mistakes. When something doesn't work, it's okay to analyse why, and be open about it with the rest of the team. In a successful team, feedback is constant.

Staffing

Successful teams don't have a high staff turnover. They avoid doing shake-ups and restructures. The organisational structure is clear to everyone, and everyone knows what's expected of them. There's also an element of autonomy in successful teams, though the desired amount may vary from person to person.

Incentives

Individual financial incentives have been found to be more successful than team-based, royalty, or criticism-based ones. But perhaps even more important is having a culture in which your biggest incentive is the respect of your peers. In successful teams, everyone cares about making a good game, and people hold each other accountable for meeting deadlines and creating good content. They review each others' work and meet regularly to discuss it.

As ever, this is just a taste of the wisdom in the wider Game Outcomes Project. Put simply, everyone who cares about the games industry needs to read it. And the lessons are easily extrapolated into the wider software industry as well. Head on over to the project summary blog post for the full story.

Part 1: How Much Do Financial Incentives Affect Your Product? Part 2: We Optimise Our Products, Why Not Our Culture? Part 3: The Real Effect Of Forced Crunch On Production


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