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_winterdyne_

Low-budget Indie Team Management

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Hi all! Okay, I've got a business plan, and I've got a team. (See my help wanted thread for details on the project itself) This is kind of a request for help and/or advice from those that have run teams before (either in a commercial or community field). I come from a coding background - I'm kind of used to plodding on and getting stuff done by myself. In my current project, there's no way I can achieve my aims myself, so I've assembled a capable and competent team to work with me. I have to confess I am getting a little overwhelmed with the job of managing everything *and* performing my required coding duties. Between allocating tasks, specifying asset packs, doing my best to be knowledgable about the various areas my team members specialise in and holding the design together I find I have little actual productive time left over. Does anybody have any experience or advice they can offer in helping to get things going a bit more smoothly? I'm following a lot of the advice in the 'Game Producer's Handbook' and have found it useful in motivating some team members, but others are a little... well, absent. Although I have budget set aside for hosting costs at the end of the day for both release and test builds, and perhaps to get a little equipment on the way, staff payroll is not something I can stretch to at present. Hints on how to motivate 'free' workers would be greatly appreciated - although offering interesting tasks is kind of difficult - a lot of the work we're doing is boring background (either back-end code or 'run-of-the-mill' assets) stuff. Marketable, because its flexible, and commonly used, but definitely not the most fun to work on. Thanks in advance for any constructive replies.

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Original post by _winterdyne_
Okay, I've got a business plan, and I've got a team. (See my help wanted thread for details on the project itself) This is kind of a request for help and/or advice from those that have run teams before (either in a commercial or community field).

Congratulations on getting started.

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Original post by _winterdyne_
I come from a coding background - I'm kind of used to plodding on and getting stuff done by myself. In my current project, there's no way I can achieve my aims myself, so I've assembled a capable and competent team to work with me.

I have to confess I am getting a little overwhelmed with the job of managing everything *and* performing my required coding duties. Between allocating tasks, specifying asset packs, doing my best to be knowledgable about the various areas my team members specialise in and holding the design together I find I have little actual productive time left over.

Welcome to team management!

Before you can manage a team of several, you should know how to manage a team of one (yourself). You need to manage and balance your tasks. You need to make sure that your team members understand the overall goals, or at the very least, their parts of it. Then you need to trust them and their ability to meet those goals.


The actual productive time left over depends on your own management skills.

Note: management != leadership.

Leadership generally requires management skills, but many good managers are horrible leaders.

Quote:
Original post by _winterdyne_
Does anybody have any experience or advice they can offer in helping to get things going a bit more smoothly? I'm following a lot of the advice in the 'Game Producer's Handbook' and have found it useful in motivating some team members, but others are a little... well, absent. Although I have budget set aside for hosting costs at the end of the day for both release and test builds, and perhaps to get a little equipment on the way, staff payroll is not something I can stretch to at present. Hints on how to motivate 'free' workers would be greatly appreciated - although offering interesting tasks is kind of difficult - a lot of the work we're doing is boring background (either back-end code or 'run-of-the-mill' assets) stuff. Marketable, because its flexible, and commonly used, but definitely not the most fun to work on.


There are thousands of good books out there on the topic. Find something you are not good at, and learn how to do it.

For getting things to move more smoothly, write very detailed design specification documents. (Not implementation documents.) This lets everybody know what the goal is, what to work on, and more importantly, what not to bother with.

For motivating people, remember that everybody is motivated by different things. Find out what the people want, and offer it for making goals. Working together you can come up with realistic rewards and goals. Money is usually a fairly small motivation. Small goals (doing x for a week) could get bagles on friday. Medium goals (doing x for a month) could get a company paid lunch. Bigger goals (doing x for six months) could get several days off. Ultimate goals (final release, x copies sold) could get big rewards.

For non-interesting tasks, that's just life. Most tasks people do are mundane and boring. If you do not have a reward for doing the task, you won't do it. The best workers are the ones who feel the reward is having completed the project, and understand how to reward themselves for each piece of work. Unmotivated workers will need help in setting small realistic goals with appropriate rewards. At the very least, they should be rewarded weekly.

There are lots of books on each of these subjects. Everybody has problems with motivation and team coherance at times. Communication with the people and finding out what they want and expect, and expressing what you want and expect yourself, is the way to effectively manage people.


Now to tie the two ideas together.

I read an article long ago, but I can't find it on google now. Management of yourself and motivation are inseperably intertwined.

As an example, self management would mean you need to keep your desk space workable and uncluttered.

Let's say that I had a thousand dollars in cash and walked in your office. Then I told you that I'd come in to your office every evening and look at your desk. I define an uncluttered desk as all papers picked up and filed, the entire surface empty with the option of only a single file on the desk for the next day's project. The whiteboard must be wiped off, and any notes that were on it must be recorded on paper or computer, or otherwise handled. If your desk meets that each night after work for a week, I would give you the thousand dollars. If you honestly believe in the reward, you will be motivated to do the task. Then think, what if it was $100? Or $50? $10? What if it was a candy bar? Or going to a movie?

Find out what motivates you and others. Then clearly define the task, the measurable results, and the reward. Properly motivated, you will do even the most mundane and boring tasks.

frob.

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IMO, free work never works. I have never seen it work and thus am prone to believe that anyone doing the "pay if we publish" model is doomed to fail. Furthermore, all books on managment and leadership come from the basic understanding that you are managing a paid project. I have never seen a business book on how to manage free workers.I only say this winter because you're job is 1000X harder when the other side has zero consideration now or later as you are experiencing and I think there is no solution...you either grease up the work engine with money as a lubricant or find your gears grinding constantly due to the lack of money. Having "C'mon guys this is going to be so cool" as a battle cry wears thin after months of development.

My only advice for you is to not have them work entirely for free. Offer up some other form of consideration. Perhaps offer movie tickets to the person that completes the most task or on time. Perhaps offer a plaque or certificate to everyone for meeting milestones. Perhaps free web site or space to the employee of the month. These are inexpensive gestures that let's your team know that you are thinking about them and not just using them for "free labor". Otherwise, as your worker, I will eventually start asking myself "I'm doing this for you why again??" and that's when it all starts to fall apart.

Otherwise I wish you luck, because you are going to need it. I like your posts and I think you have a solid head on your shoulders, but this whole "work for no pay" angle...well...lot's of luck with that! :)

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At present I'm relying on a solid production method - solid specifications, a team 'newsletter' detailing recent events regarding the project, and profit shares for team members based on hours worked. Freelancers are to be paid royalties from sales, which seems good enough for most of the team members in that area at present. Flow of information is key, and I don't hide anything from my team - I'm always very clear about the direction the project should go and what the plan is regarding the business itself.

Small tokens of appreciation as you've mentioned are certainly something I would consider - but most of the team are actually professionals with other paying tasks - and some are in other countries - I'm not sure how I'd go about getting movie tickets or paid lunches to them, for example. Webspace is something I can supply to team members, together with pop3 email accounts etc, and do so for those members that need them.

Thanks for the responses to both fastlane69 and frob, these have given me some points at least to think on.






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It might seem ok for your team members for now. But eventually they will need a paying job and they will have to recude the time they have for this project, or completely abondon it.
Ever tried finding an investor? which is pretty hard tho.

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Yes. I have a few investors who *might* consider putting some money forward, but certainly not without a working alpha version of a releasable game.

The bulk of the work that's being done is in putting together asset packs for release (which are royalty deals anyway) and in assembling the codebase for the licensable library. You'll find investors don't look too kindly on tools development, especially if there is a glut of similar-looking projects - and there are several MMO toolset projects out there. Even with my commercial experience, investors shy away from a toolset project in favour of something that will generate more returns (a running MMO).

The loss of creative control (investors get shaky when you play around with untested market concepts) from having external investment in the project is not in my opinion worth the risk of churning out a non-original project that has too many similar competitors. Instead, I'm stuck with minimal funding for library development, my personal investment (~$10 k) for release and, if required additional 'match' investments from a local venture capitalist conglomerate and bank. Basically, at a push, I can without relinquishing any control raise almost $30k. Of course, this puts the firm on the line, and could bankrupt me if everything goes tits up (wrong). My own money, I can lose. $20k of other people's money I wouldn't take until I was damn sure that I needed it and that the project was commercially viable.

Commercial viability of a project is always hard to guess so early in - without working prototypes, a lot of the predictions are based on statistical analysis, design run-throughs and just plain guesswork. At present, I think the asset pack specifications we have are marketable because they are uniquely 'complete'. Subject to finalising technical details on some of our other proprietary mechanisms, we'll also be looking at releasing some interesting stuff in the animation and level design niches. My main objective is to get the asset retailing portion of the business to contribute significant revenue to the library development. In return the library development will provide proprietary tools and formats for further asset dealing, and also the framework for our MMO game. It's a *long* term plan.

People might think 'hang on - you've got $10k floating around, why don't you just pay for staff?' and the simple answer is that 10k wouldn't go far, and it's required to acquire suitable test servers (and high capacity hosting) for the library project, advertising for the asset side, advertising for the server side, trade shows, and all the other assorted expenses that are incurred just to sell a product in this industy.

I'm aware that full time employment will drain my team member's time. In most cases this doesn't matter too much, and is expected as most team members are already employed in some way or another. Packs contain several weeks worth of work, and aren't paid for until sold - so what's the point in chasing someone for them? The sooner they're done the sooner they can be retailed, and the sooner the creator gets their royalties. For team members, a tally is being kept of hours worked and owed for. This will be used to divvy up the team member's share (less expenses) of the revenue generated by the company.

Also, at frob and fastlane69's suggestion I will be making some token gestures(before retail point) to my team members and active freelancers as 'bonuses'. I talked this over with a colleague and we agreed it was a great idea.

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