• 07/18/16 02:54 PM
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    Industry Producer Interview Project: Game Development Team Problems Analysis (Part 2)

    Production and Management

    GeneralJist

    Preface

    The issues and solutions brought up in this are a snap shot in time back in 2/21/2015, as the rest of the academic project I posted here in Part 1, which goes over a detailed analysis of the roles and responsibilities of a producer. Problem 1 solutions were generally implemented, via the project management tool Trello, while problem 2 solutions were not. Minor editorial updates, clarifications, and current team status was also updated. (Original statuses was retained for comparison purposes.) Originally written 2/21/2015 I'm considering writing a 3rd part for documenting current status, or a new article or series of articles that are related to, but are independent from this organizational Industrial psychology school project. (Not sure what subjects yet.) These 2 parts are the project in its entirety and standalone for educational purposes. Academic terms and concepts are used in this article due to the original assignment guidelines, and may require basic research for complete understanding. The introduction mirrors the one in part 1 for context/ background purposes, and can be skimmed/ skipped if you already read it jump down to the "Structure" section. (Updates of data are given in parenthesis as contrasting from when this was originally written) Interview with Louis Castle at the end of the article. (If you listened to interviews from both parts, you may find a very intriguing contrast between the perspectives, specifically around the release and production of Command and Conquer: Generals.) Feel free to suggest or ask me anything. Thanks for your time and attention, it won't be nearly as long as part 1, I assure you.

    Introduction

    I've been acting as a project coordinator PR manager and Lead writer for a modding game development team since Summer 2011, which was when the team was formed, before then it was just one person working as of September 2010. In the game development sphere, there are effectively three general tiers individuals can fall into: Table 1.png Our project, Tiberium secrets, effectively falls between modding and indie, this is because although we are changing and existing game, the level and degree of our contribution is on the scale of building entirely new assets, mechanics and lore, usually, those who mod, do this to a smaller degree. Our project is a real-time strategy, the base game, has three playable sides, our mission is to add three new and diverse playable sides to the game. We've also designed it so that these new sides can both complement, yet also be independent from the base game. So, due to our project scope, we might be considered in the independent sphere, however since we are changing an existing game, direct financial compensation is not possible. We do however intend to set up a donations pool once our product reaches alpha.

    Structure

    We use Skype and Google Drive to communicate and share files. Everyone works remotely, and span across multiple time zones. We use a skype group chat to communicate, and have a department based file organization structure in Google Drive. The cross functional team is/was currently composed of 13/16 members, me included 1/1 producer, 3/3 writers, 5/7 artists, 2/2 audio composers, and 3/2 programmers, and 0/1 engine specific Vfx artists. (With some individuals with multiple skills) This is the base personnel count. Ages range from roughly early 20s to mid-30s, and we're all guys. We structure our organization with department leads, as well as a managerial staff, for which I'm the project coordinator, I also lead the PR as well as the writing department. For this assignment, I'll focus on my responsibilities as a project coordinator, this is akin to that of the producer, which I analyzed during the last part of the project. Basically, my responsibilities involve making sure everyone on the team has the resources and support they need to complete their tasks on an effective level and timely manner. (I duel use the titles because out of game design and the entertainment industries, the roles of a "producer" are not commonly understood. Furthermore, the role is also very fluid in the games industry itself.) I also effectively act as the HR department, by that I mean, I solve personnel conflicts, manage all the backend personnel files, emails, and documents. I structure and schedule the meetings, and am responsible for vetting, recruiting and removing members from the team. Currently, each department lead is part of the managerial staff. Lack of a solid coding department is the primary reason our project has stalled so much in the past. (Our last lead coder, who was former project co-founder left without leaving any documentation of his work.)

    Schedule

    Seven of the members signed on between December of last year and February 2015, this is because we have had issues regarding retention, motivation, engagement, and team dynamics in the past that made recruitment problematic. Although we have had our ups and downs throughout the years, I'm still very satisfied with the performance and quality work we have been able to produce. Our current Development schedule has us completing our Alpha build by July 1st 2015(Sumer 2016). In the past, we didn't have any kind of schedule, since this was a volunteer project, however as things picked up, we realized, without a schedule, it was easy for people to drag, and not be committed or motivated to producing work. The target deadline was the beginning of summer, because that's when students will get off school, furthermore, June through July is the old anniversary of team formation. (It's now November). Beyond that, that should give everyone enough time to really get a sense of releasing our first faction.

    Working Remotely

    Due to the online nature of our cross functional team, direct supervision is not feasible, thus motivation and engagement are constant concerns. Without financial compensation, motivation to work proves to be an interesting issue, because online, you can't threaten people to do things, nor deny access to critical resources. The thing that Skype and other Internet communication systems allow is for collaboration but also solitude. Everyone is essentially working from home, thus they get the comfort of their own desired environment, while also being able to connect and collaborate with people around the world. This makes direct distraction an issue that we don't have to deal with. So far, most of my current fellow team members seem to be good enough sorts. I'm rather satisfied with the level of professionalism to which they conduct themselves. Each of them has their own abilities, and respects those of others. It causes contention within the team if someone believes their skills are more valuable than others. In fact, the person who started the project, who left back in summer of 2012, used to tell me that I was just a writer, thus he tried to discount my contribution. I'm really glad that I've worked past that, and now am part of a team that has people who respect each other's talents appropriately. The main way we measure contribution is by observable effort, this equates to time spent. When you start to put things in time spent terms, people start to think less about their individual contributions, and more about how much time everyone's spending on their work, making things happen. Despite our periodic successes in recruiting, there are still issues that are important to highlight.

    First Problem: Attrition

    Upon a recent review of our personnel records, I found through our course of development, we've had a total of 51 (87) people affiliated with this project. Furthermore, 17 (37) of them had signed on, and effectively contributed nothing substantive to the project, they were either manually removed due to inactivity, or just stayed largely silent after they signed on, and just faded away over time. So, a full 30% (23.5%) of individuals felt or were completely disengaged while they were here, the reasons that I got from the few that responded were that they were too busy or they didn't have the skills to do the job, which is strange, because this is a voluntary project, you'd think that a person would be able to assess his or her schedule and priorities accurately, and determine if they had time and ability for such an engagement when they originally signed on. (But that logic doesn't usually hold up due to classic human nature, which is overestimating your capabilities, and underestimating the time and effort something would actually take.) Our current total are 50 members, current and past that have contributed throughout our 5+ years. In the past, we did not have any kind of orientation process, thus I can see how I and the organization didn't give them adequate support. However, on the other hand, it's really a waste of time, all around, when someone says they will be a part of something, or do a task, but then not turn up, or engage in any communication thereafter. Initiative is a very important thing in this type of environment for everyone, because we can't just tap Someone on the shoulder, or knock on their cubicle or office door to get their attention, we have to wait till they get on Skype or email them, waiting for their response. Furthermore, it's understandable that some people prioritize off-line interaction to online interaction, thus we had times in which we haven't heard from someone in more than two weeks, yet they still expect to be part of the project. The main balancing act that we have to do is to accommodate both those doing this as a hobby as well as those who are doing this to try and get into the games industry. If you structure and schedule too much for the hobbyist, he or she will drop out because it's too demanding. While, if you're too lax and sociable with the dedicated individuals, they will drop out because they're not feeling the project is fulfilling or facilitating their future goals. Not balancing and understanding this difference, is one of the key reasons why I think we had such a high turnover rate in the past. I believe the core members, me included have an affective commitment, we should after all, that's what drives engagement and dedication. I hope that the new members do as well, however, I know that we also have a continuance commitment, by that I mean me and the old members, had been with this project for a long time, in the past, I've struggled with our lack of success, yet, did not give up, because I know that I have invested a significant portion of my time effort and life to this project. As for the co-lead, he doesn't have the resources to go to college, thus he tells me he sees this project as his rite of passage, and rivals me in continuance commitment. The thing is, on the Internet, continuance commitment is usually rather fluid, because there are so many people out there doing a variety of different things, it's very easy for new recruits to flake, because it's rather simple for them to find a new project. In fact, I know all too well that there are those who are freelancers, who don't commit too much to a project, and they just are on the sidelines as contributors, given their skill, they are able to participate in multiple projects, and have rather low affective commitment to any specific organization.

    Orientation

    My current on boarding process, is engaging new members in an interview for about 30-60 minutes, with my co-lead, in which we explain what the project is about, and give the new person an opportunity to ask questions. After that, I go over in detail are Google Drive, granting them access to what they will need to fulfill their responsibilities. I give everybody one week to go through everything, to determine if this is something that they want to be a part of, getting them familiar with how we organize our files, and the standard of work that we have. I just called the week orientation time, in which they are not expected to produce any work. They can if they feel that they have a good grasp of what is expected of them, but I don't push. I do this, because I want them to not feel overwhelmed, nor do I want them to produce something, and then have it not fit within the themes. Ever since I implemented the orientation in December 2014, we've had 3 potential recruits drop out during this time, because they realized they didn't have the time to contribute. Furthermore, we also had one person get to work right away, but then complain about the lack of uniqueness and limited marketability of our project. As soon as he said that, it became clear to me that he had not taken adequate time to review the existing documentation and files. He decided to leave due to these perceived issues. Just last week, a potential coder, couldn't communicate in verbal or written English to us, we spent about an hour and a half trying to give him an abilities test. We asked him to debug something, and he couldn't do it, I'm not sure whether it was due to the communication barrier, or his actual abilities, but since then, I added English verbal and written fluency to the standard job advertisement. Despite this orientation procedure, we have had three people within the team still display an inability to produce or communicate after their orientation time. I removed them this weekend, after much deliberation with the co-lead and their respective department lead, in this case the audio and art departments. The co-lead had brought his concerns to my attention last week, he felt that these inactive individuals, were potentially demotivating everyone else in the team. He felt that it was unacceptable, that he was putting in his effort, while others were just coasting. He determined that there should be an eight hour a week minimum commitment to the project. Which is beyond generous, because completing just one task in the art or audio departments usually takes an average of 10 hours. This policy proved effective, since two of the people who were concerning us, contacted me, as well as their department lead, thanked us for the opportunity, but said due to their current schedule and responsibilities, would have to prioritize paid work, thus would have to drop out of the project. they left things on good terms, and kept it simple. Despite this, they ended up taking our time away from those who would actually contribute. Both of them were recruited in the beginning of December (which was a light month because of the holidays) so, we effectively invested in these two individuals, and lost two months of productive potential. If we don't solve this engagement issue soon, I'm concerned that this kind of behavior will continue to damage productivity and overall morale.

    Second Problem: Motivation

    Another concern is that of team meeting attendance. Currently, we have a weekly staff meeting, which usually lasts one hour. During this time, each department gives an update on their progress, mentioning any questions or concerns they have regarding their current task, or the project as a whole. Last month, I sent emails out pulling people for their schedules, to see when would be the best time for the weekly team meeting. I got very limited responses, and the few that responded, told me that they were available whenever. So, I scheduled it for Sunday at 5 PM Pacific standard Time. The first few meeting turnouts were admirable, but participation has decreased. Most of the time, we don't even get six people, of course, it's important for the department leaders to be there, and I tried to base the schedule around them. I also record the meetings. I'm concerned that because people know I do this, people feel they don't need to turn up, and they can just get briefed later. It's one thing if the meeting doesn't fall appropriately in your time zone, it's another if people just don't make time for it. As the project coordinator, it's my responsibility to make sure people know what's going on, part of that, is that people are aware or at least have the ability to become aware of what the other people in the team are doing, even if they don't directly interact with them on a regular basis. Nevertheless, sometimes, it's better for people to just worry about what their current task is, focusing so they can accomplish it in the most effective manner. If I distract these people with what's going on in another department, it might reduce productivity. On the other hand, sometimes, people need to know the big picture, so they understand how what they are doing relates to others in the team, so we collaborate effectively to accomplish the end goals. Balancing these two are critical to continued participation and engagement. It is possible, that some people aren't showing up, because, they are concerned that they don't have anything to present, because they been busy. The other important note as to why meeting attendance is so critical, is because of our schedule, we effectively have about 18 weeks until our target release, thus we have 18 hours of meeting time, which isn't really that much if you think about it, it should be enough, but at the same time, in this environment, nothing extremely catastrophic will happen if we don't make our target deadline. So, motivating volunteers to produce on such a schedule is proving quite difficult. Another thing, is that in a normal business setting, if you missed a team meeting, you would go ask your supervisor or your coworkers what occurred. In this environment, not everyone takes such initiative, thus I found, that it's really up to the managerial staff a.k.a. me to inform them of what happened. Finding the appropriate way to motivate attendance is the issue, I can't very well move on without them, nor can I keep them in the dark, and hope that they get the interest to ask what happened. The other thing is, absenteeism in these situations, doesn't necessarily equate to low productivity. It's possible that members prioritize getting their work done over checking in. In fact, one person already told me that he might not show up to a meeting because he's been working hard on his current task. I did however, tell people that there are department meetings as well as team meetings, and if you had to prioritize one, go to the department ones. It's become clear to me that department meetings don't actually occur. I had hoped that each Department lead would schedule a department meeting during the week, but at the same time, I'm leaving it up to the Department leads us to how to run their own department, figuring out what specifically works for his members. Currently, they just do individual check ins. Once again, this goes back to the balance between those doing this as a hobby, and those doing it to try to gain experience to get into a related industry. The only way that people are really being paid is in credit, and experience. For two of our former members, I did write them a 3-page letter of recommendation, but each of them was with us for two years. Ultimately, our goal is to go independent, and make this into a company, dangling that in front of people likely doesn't seem to be an appropriate extrinsic motivator either. However, we will notice those who dedicated their time and energy when it was a free project, and look on those intrinsically motivated individuals with more favor when the time comes. When we used to be a smaller team of about 6-8 people, meeting attendance had a higher turn out, we usually got the 4 core people, and if we didn't, we'd just have a meeting when they turned up. But now, with a larger growing team, we can't be so loose with our meetings and schedules.

    Problem 1 Solutions

    The challenging thing here is that when applying social learning theory and social facilitation to a online Skype environment, you get mixed results. In the in person office, it's easy to see and hear other people working around you. However, when your online, you don't actually know what people have been doing until or unless they or another person reports it directly. You would think that in a situation in which you don't know if others are working, you would not work, but it seems that because it's ambiguous, and people work on their own time and pace, people still usually effectively produce. Just not when you necessarily expect. This somewhat confounds mere presence effects, since it's difficult to determine if this applies in an online atmosphere, while comparison effects usually still happen. The other thing is, it's fairly difficult to observe interactional justice unless it's public. On the other hand, if a person at any point perceives that they are being disrespected or mistreated, they won't be productive, thus procedural justice would be the most important way to ensure that everybody has the same opportunities. Maintaining detailed records of important decisions and expectations is key, to make sure people feel heard and are aware of team events. Continuing with set standards, and consistently informing them of recent developments, emailing them out at least 2 to 3 times a week might assist in keeping people engaged as well as accountable. A key thing that I made clear to the audio composer when I approached him about being the lead audio 2 months ago, effectively leading three other individuals at the time, is that because sound was a new department, there would be a lot to do that wasn't so clearly defined, I let him know that this was a challenge, but also an opportunity to set a standard. After he settled into the position, I let him know that he had the opportunity of job enrichment, which specifically meant, he would be able to directly write up his plans into the design document itself. Traditionally, only me and the managerial staff had this task, but since he had demonstrated his abilities, he earned the right to be a part of it. I think this really worked in everyone's favor, because now he has become more engaged, reinforcing the level of respect and communication to other members, not just in his department, but throughout the team as well. I found that when motivating people to act online, you really need to meet them at their level. I'd use the Maslow's hierarchy of needs to exemplify this. When people come online, there mainly trying to fulfill their social and ego needs, however, if you are able to potentially provide self-actualization, then that is something that is truly memorable. I believe because of this hierarchy; the normal money motivation is not as desired as one might think. By providing a challenging, time bound, specific, measurable and relevant goal to within each task, it should increase productivity and engagement. Making sure that each task fulfills each of these areas is something that should be imposed on everyone. Currently, tasks are assigned, but lack the time bound factor. For example, this week, we assigned the two coders an assignment to look at the source code for another project, and extract a specific feature that we would like to have. One is responsible for finding it, while the other is responsible for examining our existing files for where it should be placed. We explained why it was to be done but not when it should be done by. Furthermore, specific feedback should be given, currently feedback is given intermittently as to the quality of work. Being specific in feedback should both increase member interaction as well as overall engagement. Leveraging the Pygmalion effect should help things along, giving open and appropriate praise to reflect our expectations of an individual's performance should be more clearly enacted. The thing is that me and my co-lead are both very conservative when it comes to showing our satisfaction. Being a little more liberal with that may strongly encourage people to produce good quality work. Potentially, directly recognizing individuals during team meetings as well as in the general chat. Furthermore, displaying positive affectations during the on boarding process, highlighting praiseworthy actions in a person's past experience or education should also be imposed. For example, the next time we go through an on boarding process, a thorough review of the candidates past experience should always be done, it's currently done inconsistently, but if it is done every time, challenging Accomplishments should be made known to both the candidate, as well as the rest of the team in the group chat. Currently, the individual is just added to the group chat and associated access documents, and introduced to the department members they will be working with. Perhaps, providing a link to their profile, and praising a specific piece would both draw attention to the new individual in a direct positive light, as well as giving everyone a potential place to start the conversation with them. This would set up, and make clear the past standard of work as well as expected quality that we can predict to see. This might later also feed into self-regulation once we give them a task.

    Problem 2 Solutions

    I've recently considered including exclusive incentives for turning up to the meetings. Originally, I thought this was a little silly, since I think turning up to weekly staff meetings are part of being an active member in the team, having to explain or motivate attendance seemed a little bit strange. How else would they know what's going on in the project? Well, I do record, maybe I should make or delay the access to that recording. However, denying them that information actually hurts me and the project as a whole more than it hurts the actual members in question. Thus I've provided the recording either directly to them in Skype, or just putting it in Google drive under the meetings and recordings folder. I'm still doing my best to limit scheduling conflicts, it's possible that this is an extraneous variable. Let's assume that this is accounted for, because there's no way for me to force them to turn up. For most, this is still a hobby, and it's probably quite evident that I take this a little bit more seriously than most others. To me, a job is a job whether you're getting paid or not, by that I simply mean I consider this a responsibility. Overall, I strive to retain organizational justice, a simple reward or punishment for not attending would not really be fair, because I really know there are certain individuals that can't attend due to scheduling conflicts, either specific or due to their times zone. Furthermore, it's well documented that punishments are largely ineffective, because they only indicate what not to do, but, not what the desired result is necessarily. Punishing volunteers is not really a good strategy at all, For obvious reasons. Furthermore, a traditional financial or benefits based incentive model, which most companies can work with is not an option for this case, because this is a volunteer project. I generally found, that in the vast majority of online environments, there is no stick, you can only have carrots. So, before I go and introduce an incentivized intervention, to potentially increased motivation attendance and performance it's important to understand that incentive plans in general have six primary considerations:
    "1. Timing of the incentive 2. Contingency of the consequences 3. Type of incentive used 4. Use of individual-based versus group-based incentives 5. Use of positive incentives (rewards) versus negative incentives (punishment) 6. Fairness of the reward system (equity)"
    (338 Aamodt, 2013) Ironically, I was thinking of granting access to the SME interviews that I conducted for this project, as well as other recordings that I've been able to obtain by attending game development talks throughout this quarter. I would do this on a staggered basis, and only provide them to the people that showed up to each weekly meeting. This would effectively time the reward, and be an exclusive type of positive incentive. Furthermore, this would bring engagement, motivation and potentially productivity up, since it would show people that I'm serious about completing this project. I once heard that information is the new oil, but unlike the finite supply of oil, information is abundant and potentially limitless. It's in control of information and access to people, that you can really exert power. But let it be known that I'm not a big fan of exacting it. It's rather interesting to me actually, because just the other day, my co-lead told me directly that I had power. This is the first time in my entire life that anyone has really directly told me that they think I have power. I find it rather unsettling to be honest, because I really really don't want it, and usually stay away from people who actively seek attaining power. I just do jobs that need to be done, and do my best to support the people along the way. If the above solution isn't effective, or is isn't able to be effectively implemented, perhaps a more extensive personnel record should be maintained. Feedback on specific tasks would be documented and kept so both the individual in question can track their progress as well as documenting for specific team progress throughout the week This might mean creating an additional policy, to try and track member comments, attendance, and activity. Encouraging or mandating people log their progress on a centralized system. The shouldn't be too difficult, since Skype documents all of these already. All that would really need to be done, is to take all of those, and put them in a separate organized document. Effectively time log everybody, and require weekly submissions, possibly twice a week. This way, even if they don't turn up to the meeting, we still have some kind of record of what they accomplished. Currently, if they don't tell us what they've done directly, were effectively in the dark until the next time they're active. Furthermore, current personnel records just keep track of their off-line and online name, skills, time zone, email, primary and secondary task, and activity status.

    Conclusion

    I expect implementation to be relatively seamless, since I'm the one who would be responsible for proposing and in acting these solutions. Implementation would likely take anywhere from a couple of days to a week for most of these. Follow-up and results would potentially occur within about a one-month time period. I'll bring this to the 2 to 3 individuals that are also part of the management team to see how we can specifically incorporate these suggestions, or at minimum, engage in a discussion about these and any other perceived issues within the team. This makes me think that there needs to be an additional Department leads meeting, that is specifically about discussing any personnel or any other kind of issues that may have arose in a given month. Or, have a single meeting that is one of the weeklies, that is something like a month in review. Currently, all this is done informally, which actually works, because it's on an as needed basis. (It's stayed that way ever since, due to everyone's busy schedules and time zone differences) If it isn't clear from my efforts, I really enjoyed this project, because it's allowed me to directly meld my academic direction to my hobby and passion, in an official way, and for that I'm extremely satisfied.

    Interview Highlights

    Louis Castle Executive, creative Artistic and Technical Director at Castle Production Services, Co-Founder Westwood Studios
    "there are very few new problems, new takes on the same old problems. I don't find many people that are resource constrained exactly, it's usually about what your trying to accomplish with what you have, and the time you have... Everything ends up being resource constrained not because there isn't money, there isn't a team, or there isn't talent, but because there doesn't feel like there is enough time, time and money to do all the things you want to do. 'Laughs' so, I think if you wanted to look for a common theme, it might be the use of my time is to be an editor, to try to focus on the things that are going to make the most difference and discard the ones that aren't... The best decisions about a product you can make is what it isn't, deciding, 'this is not necessary for our core game loop or this is not necessary or right for our audience. there might be a better way to do this, a cheaper way to do this, or maybe we shouldn't be doing this particular thing at all. That then gets you a little more capacity to focus on the strengths. " "To be a really valuable creative leader, or technical leader, I think it's really important to have gone through the jobs you are directing... if you want to get to the point of directing things, you need to actually be doing those jobs, to become as good as you possibly can." "It's already happening, but I want to see more and more people see games as just another form of entertainment,... they say have you seen it and read it... I'd like us to get to a point where playing it is just a natural question, did you really experience it?" "In general, a great producer knows how to speak to those different disciplines and knows how to properly support and nurture the efforts of lots of talented people to get the best work out of everybody... you're doing whatever needs to be done to unlock capacity for your team and talent, and that sounds vague and difficult to describe, and that's why it's a hard job to do... the job of a producer changes every single day, the thing that they do that isn't part of their job, but is just necessary is the simple kind of asset relocation and task management, task prioritizing, things like that, those are all challenging if you're the single point of business accountability, if you don't have a business manager... everyone's barking for the time and money and you have to decide what works and what doesn't work and make that arbitration, when your good at the job everyone on the team feels like they're doing their best every day. And it feels magical, and they say, wow I worked at that company and there was never any problems, it's like 'oh no, there were plenty of problems, no, you got a good producer, a good producer doesn't expose any of that to the team, they protect their team and talent from worrying about all of the perils of the job, and just focusing on getting their best work."

    Intervew Recording (~60 minutes)

    ">
    Base questions were same as part 1, but I went with the flow more here.

    References

    Aamodt, M. G. (2013). Industrial/Organizational Psychology: An Applied Approach7e. Belmont: Wadsworth Cengage Learning. http://www.wisegeek.com/what-is-a-project-coordinator.htm http://www.moddb.com/mods/tiberium-secrets



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