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Gender disparity in the games industry has created a long-standing discussion. But that's not really what this article is about. Instead, let's examine a much longer standing discussion on the disparity of gender in business roles. There seems to be a pervasive cultural assumption (whether consciously or not) that men are better suited to business than women. However, equally as long-standing is the joke that being a producer in the games industry is much like working at a daycare center, which is predominantly a female role.
This article will discuss the virtues of producers of both genders, and will include lessons for both.
Emotional Exhaustion or Depersonalization
In a survey of Marketing Professionals, women ranked themselves considerably higher in their levels of work-related emotional stress and exhaustion than men. Men ranked higher in levels of "depersonalization" or lack of emotional connection to their work and their peers. In short, women seemed to feel more emotionally attached to both their job and their coworkers than men did.
This conclusion prompts me to recall a bit of golden advice from Producer Bootcamp at GDC 2012. We producers were told to be a friend to every developer on our team, but not to require that they return our friendship. It is important for producers to understand the developers they work with on a personal and individual level, but simultaneously to stay detached enough to maintain their objectivity.
For Men: Allow yourself to become more empathetic. Be willing to account for your developers' needs as people and as professionals.
For Women: Though the word sounds harsh, some level of depersonalization is okay - even healthy! Do not become so attached to developers that the relationship becomes stressful to you personally, or professionally.
The Main Lesson: Know the members of your team well, and treat them as you would your friends, but do not allow your personal feelings to interfere with your professional role, or your decision-making.
Acquiescence or Ego
Modern psychology suggests women are predisposed to submissive behavior in response to their hormones. Estrogen, studies have shown, promotes passivity. Men, on the other hand, have traditionally larger egos and are more assertive.
Egocentric assertiveness has no place in production roles. Acquiescence might. Again, I'm reminded of a harsh bit of truth for producers that was mentioned at a GDC talk: "When a project does well, it's the team's success. When a project fails, it's your fault." The ability to take blame without argument or complaint may as well be a super power.
To be clear, this is not to say that a producer who feels mistreated (or who sees others being mistreated) should be silent and allow abuses to continue. Acquiescence in this sense is beneficial to no one. Neither is passive silence helpful when a producer notices problems in pipeline or communication channels. On the contrary, a producer's job requires fining and eliminating any problems as they arise - or better yet, before they begin.
For Men: Put aside your own ego, and give your developers credit where it's due.
For Women: Be confident in your authority and professional ability. Do not be afraid to speak up when it is needed.
The Main Lesson: Never pass blame. Have enough confidence to evaluate problems and make decisions quickly, then stand firmly by them. But, understand that it's not about you; it's about the game you are making.
Multitasking or Task Mastery
Numerous studies have proved women to be more capable of multitasking, and men at task mastery (focusing on a single task and performing it efficiently). This is why women are generally considered better at childcare and household responsibilities, and men at tasks such as driving.
Producers need the ability to do both. At any given time, producers can have a million things in their head and yet need to focus on current problem solving. Letting the mind wander to other upcoming tasks is severely distracting and will interrupt progress on the current pursuit. Even so, future tasks need to be recognized and remembered.
For Men: Focus is good, but do not let yourself get so caught up in a single task, that others get neglected or forgotten.
For Women: Multitasking is good, but do not become so distracted it prevents you from giving your current task the attention it needs.
The Main Lesson: Keep a living document for yourself that contains every actionable "to do" for the day, week, etc. Allow yourself to make mental note of all these during down periods. However, when acting on each task, do not allow "flow" to be interrupted.
Tend and Befriend vs. Fight or Flight
The "fight or flight" response is the term for a well-known cross-species mechanism for handling fear or stress. Less well known is the "tend and befriend" response that females are sometimes more likely to choose. This mechanism comes from a need to nurture. Females often become protective of those around them and then depend on protective social groupings in response to fear or stress.
During crunch time, or other stressful periods, human manifestations of fight or flight can be dangerous. Men may be more likely to become aggressive and quick to anger (fight) - or begin disregarding issues entirely (flight). Both responses are extremely detrimental to morale and workflow for the team.
Women's instinctive urge to "tend and befriend" can be more beneficial during stressful moments when members of the team probably need more support than usual. But such a response can become destructive if manifested too strongly. For instance, becoming too lenient on developers helps neither them nor the project. Social groupings that stimulate bickering can be even more dangerous to the morale of the team.
For Men: Calm down. Try to adopt a soft temperament and a soothing voice. Address problems as they come to you, and guide your developers with empathy and calm.
For Women: Calm down. Allow your instinctive need to nurture support your developers, but remember your professional duty to push the project forward. Hold all your developers to a consistent standard.
The Main Lesson: Remember that a producer must be a rock for the team. Especially in times of stress and panic, your developers need a calm and stable anchor. Even if you are feeling the stress (as well you probably should be) your job is to support your team, to break up growing tensions, and to ease the strain without adding personal stresses to the general tension.
Indirect or Verbal Aggressions
Thanks to perpetuated social norms, both men and women have adopted different means of expressing their anger, stress, and animosity. It goes without saying that aggression has no place anywhere in a healthy work environment. However, because men and women differ in the ways they cope with anger and stress, they must use different ways to keep themselves calm.
Men tend to be more direct and verbal in their aggressiveness, which in a studio can translate to raised voices and blameful accusations. Women tend to be more indirect, which translates to passive aggressive maneuvers such as spreading rumors.
For Men: Keep your tone in check. A raised voice will always create more problems than it solves.
For Women: Keep confidences confident. Your developers must be able to trust you.
The Main Lesson: Think of how your words and voice affect those to whom you are speaking. Remember that is first of all up to you, the producer, to stay positive, keeping morale and efficiency high. Always put aside your own negative emotions.
A producer's talent lies in having skill at social interaction. Neither women nor men are inherently better at managing or leading people, but each have lessons to learn from the other. A good producer is nurturing but firm, friendly but not emotionally attached, confidant but not egotistical. A good producer is a blend of the ideals of masculinity and femininity. Above all, a good producer is devoted to helping good teams make great games.
Think of your favorite RPG or MMO. A quest giver tells you he wants you to deliver a package on the opposite side of the map. Doing so isn't nearly as much fun as killing 20 wild boars, but you'll do it anyway because the guy on the other side of the map is going to give you some experience points and a 4-strength, 4-stam leather belt.
In the game development system, making a beautiful asset or designing a brilliant puzzle is like killing 20 boars. Sure, you'll get rewarded for it in other ways (like a paycheck) but it's also just kind of fun. Meetings, however, are more like the delivery quests, except that instead of giving you a fancy new leather belt, the quest giver just checks your name off a list.
A sad truth in the games industry is that even as we developers strive to create fun, we often lose it for ourselves. No matter how passionate developers are for the game they are working on, few find passion in meetings, email, or production schedules. As a result, developers don't show up at meetings, take forever to respond to emails (if at all), and fail to look at the sprint sheets or read the design doc.
So what would happen if we brought gamification to the games industry?
Gamification is not a new concept. Just as Marry Poppins taught us: in every job that must be done, there's an element of fun. Children have been learning in the form of fun since singing their ABCs. I used to work at a daycare center and whenever I wanted my children to clean up the room, I had them play Red Light / Green Light. Whoever got the toys back in the bins first, without "running the red lights," would get to be the first one onto the playground after lunch. As a result of our game, my room was always the first one cleaned, and the cleanest.
Young children aren't the only ones who benefit from gamification. High school teachers holding review sessions often turn course content into games of "Jeopardy." The winning team of students is awarded a few points of extra credit on an upcoming test. Even better, the losing teams aren't punished--because, at the very least, they got a review.
Even beyond "edutainment," creative minds are at work to bring gamification to adults. Kevin Richardson, from Gamespin, created a lottery for speed cams, to encourage safe driving. Even as a computer automatically tickets motorists driving over the speed limit, it enters the names of those driving under the speed limit into a drawing. Winners of this drawing are awarded money form the pool being collected from speeders. Seth Priebatsch, of Level Up Social Games, has created an app called SCVNGR (pronounced scavenger) which rewards consumers for tasks in their everyday life (such as buying coffee) with points that add up to rewards (such as coupons to be redeemed at shops they frequent).
Bringing It Home
Though we in the games industry have worked hard pushing gamification out to other industries, we've often forgotten to look back home at our own studios. If it's possible to gamify traffic laws, it must also be possible to gamify the working environment.
At GDC 2012, Jason Scott, of Volition, gave a talk about studio design groups. In the course of his talk, he made brief mention of an achievement system for developers that had been devised for his studio. A prize, cut out of felt, with the title of the achievement on it, was given to any developer who met the criteria. Such prizes were something the rewarded developers could display proudly on their cubicles, something that turned the work into what we are all familiar with: a game. In another talk, Simon Cook, of Microsoft, made mention of a "morale budget," an amount of money allotted to producers to help them motivate and reward their developers.
A student animation from the University of Central Florida used a simpler rewards system. Each time the students attended a meeting, a gold star sticker was put next to their name on a chart that hung at the front of their workroom. Each time they missed a meeting, they instead got a black dot. Sticker rewards are often thought only effective for small children, but even college age students were troubled by black dots and proud of gold stars.
By combining these ideas, I built a new achievement system for a recent game project called Sira. Developers working on Sira earned achievements, each worth a certain number of points. They were given points for attending each meeting, arriving early, or even bringing along food to share. They also got points for responding to emails within a certain time frame and for completing their sprint tasks. The system had over 20 achievements each with a point reward and a silly name.
Points were totaled each week, and the developer with the highest number of points at the end of the week got special mention during weekly updates, like a leaderboard. When the team's total points added up to a given amount, we would have an ice cream party; then later, when even more points accumulated, a pool party. Most exciting of all, we set up an auction to take place at our last party when each developer could bid his or her points to win various prizes bought from Think Geek. These prizes varied from game-themed breath mints to a Darth Vader lightsaber umbrella. The developer with the highest number of points also won a mystery prize (which turned out to be a fairly inexpensive replica sword from Amazon).
Benefits of Gamification
Remarkable changes can occur after implementing game systems to enliven game studios. Teams show up to meetings. They arrive on time, or early. Developers actually check their email and - better yet - respond! They stay on top of communicating with their leads, and in general, they work beyond just doing their assignments and checking out.
Beyond improving work ethics, game systems such as points and achievements have a more subtle benefit. Here is one more thing to be excited about, despite the inevitable frustrations with varying aspects of the project's progress. Games foster light-hearted competition. And even more simply, they serve as an ongoing topic of conversation at meetings and parties, helping team members who haven't met while working in separate disciplines get to know each other and actually feel like a team.
The Final Verdict
In each of the previously mentioned cases, a common phenomenon occurred: the game system worked. The teams enjoyed it. It was fun.
Not only is gamification fun for the team, it is fun for team leads and others participating in the system. Gamification of the working environments of the games industry can be a simple yet lasting way to motivate a team and also to say: "Thanks for all your hard work, guys," while letting developers feel as though they've gotten due recognition for their given quest line.