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Do's and Dont's of Recruiting a Volunteer Team?


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#1 Casey Hardman   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 2241

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Posted 26 October 2012 - 12:37 AM

Hey,
I have some questions about game development teams in which the developers are not paid (they volunteer to help develop the game). I'm asking because I may want to try this in the future, and I want to approach it in the most professional way possible. So, I'm hoping to get answers to some more specific questions, as well as general advice on the "do's and dont's" when it comes to recruiting volunteer teams.


I understand that, since the developers would not be paid for their work, it's expected that the game would be released for free if it's finished. In this case, any volunteers you would attract would most likely be contributing because they want a finished game where their work is displayed, so they can reference this in their portfolio.

The other case would be when they are promised a share of the profits that the game makes, and they want to rake in the cash when the project is released and sold in the millions. I hear these types of approaches very rarely work out and usually end in either a failed project or a finished project that makes no revenue.

So here are my questions:

1) Is it a bad idea to even attempt to get a bunch of volunteer developers together to make a game? Do these kinds of teams work out often, even if the project is of a reasonable scope?

2) Do those projects which promise a share of profits ever really work out? What must be done to make a project like this proper and professional (e.g. contracts, licenses, and all that legal stuff)?

3) If you finish a game project with a volunteer team, will they expect you to have other game projects ready to develop with them, or will the team split off and do their own thing afterwards?

4) Should the team mark the game with a "company name" or splash screen once it's finished? If the team splits up and the leader later creates a new team to make another game, should the same "company name" be used? Or should there be no such thing used whatsoever, just a "credits" menu in-game which details all of the contributors to the project?


Ok, I think that's all. Feel free to share any advice you can on the matter!

Thank you!



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#2 jbadams   Senior Staff   -  Reputation: 19324

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Posted 26 October 2012 - 03:27 AM

Check out the topic "so you're a programmer" from the Game Design forum last month, it'll probably have some good information for you. Posted Image

1) Is it a bad idea to even attempt to get a bunch of volunteer developers together to make a game? Do these kinds of teams work out often, even if the project is of a reasonable scope?

It's not necessarily a bad idea, but you should ensure that you're actually ready to work with a team, that you actually have work you need them to do, and that your project is of reasonable scope. The majority of the time this means you should ideally be starting work alone and only recruiting once you have the project under way and get to a point where you need work from others to proceed -- and yes, this does imply that if you aren't able to do real work on the project by yourself you probably aren't suited to forming a volunteer team.

If there's anyone not being paid then no one should be paid, and you should have reasonably minimal expectations from any would-be team members.

The majority of projects of this type disappear quietly into the night without any substantial results, but it is possible to succeed. Many open-source projects are built purely by volunteer contribution -- but to reiterate the above advise, a substantial amount of work is usually done by one person or a small group before before any other contributions are made.

2) Do those projects which promise a share of profits ever really work out? What must be done to make a project like this proper and professional (e.g. contracts, licenses, and all that legal stuff)?

I'm sure they do sometimes, but again they're usually just a case of the team quietly disbanding with no real results. Skilled developers realise that a profit share almost certainly means "no pay" and usually avoid such projects unless there's some compelling reason to believe one will be different, with the result that such projects usually attract lesser skilled beginners who often either get overwhelmed and leave the project, or manage to improve their skills, attract paid work and elect to focus on that instead.

You would need proper contracts to do this sort of deal completely by-the-book.

3) If you finish a game project with a volunteer team, will they expect you to have other game projects ready to develop with them, or will the team split off and do their own thing afterwards?

Yes.
No.
Maybe. Posted Image

It depends on the project and team members. This is something you would discuss with each individual and probably revisit at the end of the project. In most cases -- particularly for unpaid projects, and even more so if they aren't successful -- people are likely to move on to other projects and teams, although in some cases certain people may find they work well together and form a longer-lasting partnership.

4) Should the team mark the game with a "company name" or splash screen once it's finished? If the team splits up and the leader later creates a new team to make another game, should the same "company name" be used? Or should there be no such thing used whatsoever, just a "credits" menu in-game which details all of the contributors to the project?

Again, this is really your choice and there's no real "normal" approach. Using a team-name, logo and/or splash screen can however help to establish a brand, so it's certainly something worthy of proper consideration. Unless you're doing it for artistic reasons or some unusual motive you should always strive to properly credit any and all contributors.

Be sure to check out that other topic, there's a lot of good advice and discussion there, including some expanded thoughts I posted in one of the early replies.

Hope that's helpful! Posted Image

#3 slayemin   Members   -  Reputation: 2888

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Posted 26 October 2012 - 09:28 AM

From my experience, the greatest obstacle for your team will be motivation. You can pretty much plot the average team motivation level with the function: f(x) = 1/x, x > 0;
The y-axis is the motivation level and the x-axis is time. As you can see from the graph, it starts pretty high but it quickly dips and starts to taper off. Your people will have a hidden parameter which they don't know and you don't know, and it is their minimum required motivation to continue with the project.

if(currentMotivation <= randYVal)
LeaveProject();

There's also this weird phenomena where as a person's current motivation approaches their minimum motivation level, the amount of work they do decreases as well. The symptoms of this are flakeing out, laziness, lachrymose, etc.

As the project initiator (and presumed manager), the good news is that you've got control of this!! Your goal is to keep team morale as high as possible and lengthen the time it takes for it to taper off to project failure. Ideally, you'll have a project which has a completion time well before motivation failure. You can control when the project gets completed and when motivation failure occurs by ensuring that the size and scope of the project is attainable, by making significant progress on the project, by keeping personality conflicts to a minimum, by paying team members, by keeping poisonous personalities off the team, by setting a high standard and holding people accountable to it, and being realistic about current circumstances at all times. Eventually, the initial appeal and zest for the project fades away and everyone has to put their nose to the grind stone to complete it. It stops being "fun" and becomes "work", so when this happens, it becomes the true test of your project management skills, team cohesion, and the infrastructure you've put in place.

Ultimately, you need to take a realistic assessment of your team and its capabilities and pursue an achievable project which can be completed before morale failure occurs.

Eric Nevala

Indie Developer | Dev blog


#4 Code Fox   Members   -  Reputation: 1804

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Posted 26 October 2012 - 11:58 AM

I have been part of 3 different projects ( 2 of them were not game related ) like this.
2 of them failed Posted Image due to the person who was "in charge" not knowing what they were doing.
The last one went into "open public development", and fizzled out.

My advice:
1:-Have a good game plan on what you want done, and how it will get done.
2:-Listen to input
3:-Do not expect free help to be the best in the world
4:-Do not have hard deadlines
5:-Always have a "plan B", "plan C", e.t.c. in case you loose folks
6:-Make sure you have the time to commit to the project.

Does Anyone Actually Read This ?
 


#5 rpiller   Members   -  Reputation: 706

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Posted 27 October 2012 - 09:44 AM

You need to know every system you'll need and how they fit together. You need to know every ui element. You need to know every single detail about your game. If there are any holes it'll cause major problems for your team. The only way you'll know all this stuff is if you have finished a game yourself, even if its a basic game.

Most of these project managers haven't finished a game and actual have very little detail oboist their game in programming terms. I feel this is why these fail so often.

#6 Anri   Members   -  Reputation: 597

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Posted 27 October 2012 - 05:12 PM

My advice is to start as a small 2-man team and grow from there. The project should be small, but worth doing - perhaps a shoot-em-up like Zero Wing or a platformer such as Super Mario Bros. Something like that is great for breaking the ice between the two of you...

Once you have a good working relationship with your first coding-buddy, then think about a third team-member - most likely an artist/musician...

#7 Rorakin   Members   -  Reputation: 618

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Posted 28 October 2012 - 12:54 AM

Hello, I was a volunteer programmer for a few months for a fairly ambitious fantasy mmorpg using Heroengine. If it is a serious project, you will probably need a business license and have the volunteers sign all the necessary agreements (NDA, proprietary rights, non-compete, and Software agreement).

Unfortunately it's hard to keep motivated for these large scale projects that will take a year+ to complete. I liked slayemin's motivation equations :) It's even more difficult to gather programmers because if the project will take a year+ and the project fails, the developer has very little show for it. Ideally the team leader will also be the lead programmer, and already have a very good idea on how to implement all the core systems and features for the game.

Realistic goals and expectations is the most important. You can't expect to complete all the core features of normal full fledged triple AAA mmo with only a few volunteer programmers in any sort of reasonable time.

Of course the experience of these larger projects is valuable. Looking back on it however, it would have probably been more valuable to take Anri's advice and go with a 2-man reasonable project that will be completed and implemented well. Good luck!

#8 Orymus3   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 10571

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Posted 28 October 2012 - 11:37 AM

1) Is it a bad idea to even attempt to get a bunch of volunteer developers together to make a game? Do these kinds of teams work out often, even if the project is of a reasonable scope?


It is a good idea. No they don't succeed often. But failure is worthy.

3) If you finish a game project with a volunteer team, will they expect you to have other game projects ready to develop with them, or will the team split off and do their own thing afterwards?


It really depends. My own experience here is that people I've worked with tend to drift afloat and occasionally 'hit'. I don't have a 'steady team' but I always have a bunch of them not currently busy that accept to partner up based on the project, interests and of course, availability. You're building up relationships there. Its like, you don't always go to the movies with the same friends, but they're still friends. You just don't have a contract that states 'you come to the movies whenever I go' ;)

#9 Casey Hardman   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 2241

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Posted 30 October 2012 - 05:41 PM

Thank you all for the advice. I appreciate the time and effort!

I'll be compiling the information from this post and the "so you're a programmer" post into a document, so I can have it as a reference if there comes a time where I want to start a team.

If anyone has any other advice or links to possibly helpful threads/articles, I'd appreciate seeing them, too.

#10 Green_Gill   Members   -  Reputation: 139

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Posted 12 November 2012 - 09:14 PM

You would need proper contracts to do this sort of deal completely by-the-book.
Agreed.

Honestly, If I had the finances, I'd hire someone to produce what I needed to make a simple game. Then I'd sell that, and use 100% of the profit (Unless I accidentally pulled a minecraft) to hire them again. if I did pull a minecraft, I'd hire them on full time to continue developing other small games.

One problem is that developers seem to want a challenge. Me, I would rather target the simplest game likely to make a profit, and step up the complexity chain very slowly until I get a hit.

Additionally, an MMORPG is the last thing that would interest me. (Except that I already have an engine better than Heroengine. XD [No arguing, I'm magical, that's how.] Unfortunately, also of the level of difficulty of use of hero engine). I'd rather have something to show. Even if it's a small game that didn't earn much, it's at least more beneficial to make a profit. My current goal is to create something tempting enough to fire off a kickstarter to buy the basic iOS license of Unity3d.

As for what kind of MMO I'd make with the MMO engine, i wouldn't, I'd buy one, and cheap too. (it's more efficient than buying a crappy MMO engine with a good MMO when the MMO is priced for the crappy engine.)

Distractions are a big problem. Oh, and a lot of developers who are far better programers and think they have better ideas.

I think it would be better to make something minimally profitable and pay everyone. No ego's, no worrying about how to split everything... and everyone gets paid.

Edited by Green_Gill, 12 November 2012 - 09:37 PM.





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