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Remote Team Management


Gamestudio is one of the major players in the game development world, so it won't be a surprise for you to find out that our team consists of people from many different countries. In fact, working with people you've never met / seen before isn't unusual in the indie game world; nevertheless, this can be a challenge for any team member and especially for the project manager.


The most important thing is to have a clear plan and to stick with it, so that you and the rest of the team can see how the game progresses. I wanted us to develop the game - J, J and BUM (working title) - as quickly as possible, so I have made a mistake: I have asked the artists to create gameplay sketches of the levels, thinking that it would be an easy task for them. Only a couple of them have sent out 1-2 sketches; the other ones were probably thinking: "What's happened with George? I'm an artist, not a game designer! Why on Earth would he ask me to create gameplay sketches?"


I've learned my lesson and I have returned to the drawing board; a game sketch received from Micha (one of our team members) has made me realize that we didn't have a game designer, a guy that will create a detailed document which breaks down the game in small parts and gives precise information to the artists, the programmers and our sound guy. I would have been able to expand my Arcade Room game design doc easily, but it didn't win the majority of your votes and now I was stuck with Superku's doc, trying to invent things that make his concept as interesting and non-boring as possible.


You might not know that I'm also a psychologist, so I have learned and try to understand how people think. Will they like our game, or will they be bored after a few levels of repetitive gameplay? What can we do in order to keep them entertained long enough, so that they like our trial version so much that they have to buy the full version of the game? We are living in an era where the movies rule (be them at the TV, on YouTube, etc) and this has led to lower and lower attention span. People get bored easier and easier these days, so you need to work hard, to innovate a lot if you want to entertain them for longer period of times.


How can we entertain the player for a long time in a game with two brothers, the sister having the ability of changing her gravity and the brother being able to crawl in small spaces? A good idea was to give them more and more abilities as they advance in the game; I wasn't happy with it,  though, because this approach would have forced the player to use more and more keys on the keyboard in order to play the game. We have decided to introduce a mouse wizard, a nice little guy that will prepare potions and give them to the players when they need it; this will allow them to have special abilities without forcing the player to use 10 different keys (or so). Another important thing was to make sure that our game is played in various areas (mountains, caves, sewers, etc) so that we can use different types of puzzles, depending on the zone the player is in.


As you can probably guess, this wasn't an easy task. Fortunately, I wasn't alone in my quest: Pavle (the lead artist) has worked even harder than I did. Each one of us has created a document that describes the game plot / story, and then we have switched them, gathering the best ideas from them and creating a "superdoc". It might not be the greatest doc ever, but it's not bad at all - it presents a fun, "real" story that unfolds before player's eyes and walks him / her through 10 different zones. You can find the 3rd version of the doc inside this month's resources.


Back to our remote team management discussion: our team consists of a few programmers, a good team of artists, a musician and a team manager. As you now know, we don't have a game designer, but Pavle and I will take care of this as well. I communicate by email with the team leaders and with the musician (he is the only one in his team). The communication could be better (I'm the one to blame for that) but I guess that we'll get to that as soon as the entire team starts working at the actual game. The programmers have done a great job so far; I have to mention RedPhoenix's recent additions to the menu code, which is almost finished.


One thing that must be noted is that I don't try to impose my ideas, especially if I see that several team members have different opinions; in fact, I have set up a voting system that allows the programmers and the artists to team up and decide on the aspects of the game:

- The artists get 30% voting power;

- The programmers get 30% voting power;

- George gets 40% voting power.


As you can see, I don't want to rule over these guys, but to make sure that all of us share (or accept) the same vision concerning the game - I want us all to feel that we are moving towards the same goal. The team leaders have an important role in this; they have to encourage communication between the team members and to set precise, timed tasks and make sure that the milestones are met.


Any remote team can communicate through:

- Emails;

- Forums;

- Instant messaging;

- Phone calls.

How often should you communicate? I'd say that once or twice a week is the best solution, because it allows the team members to take care of their lives (some of them have families) and at the same time it keeps them in the loop. Another good idea is to have virtual meetings with the entire team every 2-4 weeks, discussing what has been achieved so far, what are the problems and so on.


The key here is to keep the team members motivated. Each team starts with a level of motivation of 110%: everyone is looking forward to seeing the finished product (and getting some money), but since creating and most of all finishing a decent game is a complicated, time consuming task, the initial enthusiasm can diminish quickly. It's a known fact that the productivity tends to drop as the time goes by, but (fortunately) this doesn't happen for all the individuals; in fact, some people know how to motivate, how to energize themselves periodically - these are the ones that have finished several projects and are actually making a good living out of game creation.


So how do you keep your team motivated?

a) Communicate with them frequently. Make sure to let them know how the game progresses. If they won't see any progress, their motivation levels will decrease.

b) Encourage them to discuss all sorts of things, even if they aren't related to the game; these guys should become friends and thus be accountable for each other. The team leaders play an important part here.

c) Show project prototypes to the entire world from time to time. Well, maybe it won't be possible to show your prototypes to the entire world, but Conitec's forum is a good "world" because it gathers many thousands of people that know what game development is about. Showing your work has two positive aspects:

- It encourages the team members, because they can proudly say "some of my work went into this prototype!";

- It puts the team members in the spotlight, so they won't feel too easy about themselves if they decide to leave the team;

- Bonus aspect: many people learn about the project and this will help promote it when it's close to its finish.


Even if you do all of these, some of the team might leave, giving the ones that stick with the project larger and larger shares from the profit ;). Some leave because they lose their motivation (creating and finishing commercial-quality games isn't an easy job), but I guess that most of them will leave because they've got more important things to do: they are getting married, expecting a child, getting a new job, etc.


I started this "Full game" project without thinking too much about it - I didn't want to think too much because I knew that it was a risky venture: me working with an unknown number of unknown people to create an unknown, commercial-quality game? You have to be a dreamer to believe that something like that will work! Well, as of today we've got a great team of talented people and we're moving on. And I can tell you that even if some of the team members will leave in the future, I know for sure that at least some of them will stay with me until we finish the game - you'll see.