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Can you lead an amateur/hobby/independent game as JUST the designer & PM?

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We get a ton of people in the Help Wanted forum posting their "great new MMO" idea , asking for people to do the development for them, and being surprised when people don't seem interested. But is it feasible someone can provide game design and act as a project manager on a game without doing any development work? The argument that many game developers have their own ideas is valid, but then I imagine many developers would rather be led than have to be in charge. And designing a game is not a trivial amount of work, if you do it properly. Managing a team is also not a non-job, especially an online team. I'm slowly getting used to the idea that I'm unlikely to have the time to actively develop any of my game ideas for at least a few years, when I could be paid for my time. Is it even worth taking the time to work on some preliminary designs for my ideas and try to interest a team? [Edited by - d000hg on February 13, 2008 11:06:05 AM]

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Original post by d000hg
But is it feasible someone can provide game design and act as a project manager on a game without doing any development work?

This is the old "Can I?" or "Is it possible?" questions. Yes, it is possible.
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Is it even worth taking the time to work on some preliminary designs for my ideas and try to interest a team?

It is hard to say. If you put a lot of effort into creating a good concept that is well organized, yes, you can generally find other people who might be interested. One of the big issues that arises is that a lot of people consider project management something that needs to be done, but don't put enough effort into it. Putting the effort into managing an online team isn't going to require less time that doing a lot of programming leg work yourself. If you're looking for help and people to be part of your team, then the possibility is generally higher. If you're looking to just have somebody else make your fantastic ideas into a game for you, that is an entirely different matter.

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If you're willing to actually invest your own money (and a signifcant amount of it) into the team and the project, then maybe.

Otherwise, we're talking about a 0.01% chance of that happening, and given that you were born under a lucky star. Or to put it in a more practical way: don't count on it.

Especially if we're talking "online" teams made out of people you pick up randomly. I've had some of my own experience on that, starting in the exact role you wish to be in. It's a week before people just stop bothering because they're not having it their way, and perhaps a few weeks before they start dropping out (usually when they get to the point where they have to do actual work).

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In that case I should make it clear I'd intend to be an active part of the team, I understand managing the team would require me to be at least as committed to the project as any of the developers.

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Original post by Talin
If you're willing to actually invest your own money (and a signifcant amount of it) into the team and the project, then maybe.

Otherwise, we're talking about a 0.01% chance of that happening, and given that you were born under a lucky star. Or to put it in a more practical way: don't count on it.

Especially if we're talking "online" teams made out of people you pick up randomly. I've had some of my own experience on that, starting in the exact role you wish to be in. It's a week before people just stop bothering because they're not having it their way, and perhaps a few weeks before they start dropping out (usually when they get to the point where they have to do actual work).
What you describe seems to be any online team though, whether or not the lead is a developer or not?
And I am talking about purely voluntary work. Happy to share any eventual profits but I'm not planning this as a way to make money.

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I think the best way to make sure you have a successful team is to make sure people are committed. I would form a company, sell out a large percentage of the stock in that company to the people contributing to the project. Save another big chunk of the stock for stock options for all partners and make it based on employment time. This way you get financial motivation and can vote people out based on real world practices. By selling the initial stock to the members you also establish liquidity for buying technology you might need. Recruit seriously, only people with experience, who are 28 or older and who do not have a family and is close enough to meet face to face. Of course finding people that are this dedicated is pretty hard and you have to bend to a democratic process instead of a despotic one. Spend a year on developing the technology with rough art then present it to someone who actually has the money to finance the venture. IMO it doesn't matter what title you want, if you want to do anything serious and don't want to invest a large sum, you need partners not employees or people to lead. The team should be small, dedicated and skilled enough to not need distinct leadership.

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I have to disagree with some of that (no offence).
* Many projects don't require any budget. I admit they are the minority and dedicated members is crucial, but I don't think bringing money into it will help.
* Experienced people are a must, and some kind of (flexible) age limit is sensible. But 28 is a bit old, and the number of experienced people without families is small. Being able to meet face-to-face is very valuable but rarely practical... I think requiring meetings over the phone is a good compromise, and Skype makes this cheap.
* Everyone needs to be good at working together and taking responsibility, but I think every team needs a clear leader. Not a despot, but someone who is able to allocate work and be responsible without enjoying the power.

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Original post by d000hg
is it feasible someone can provide game design and act as a project manager on a game without doing any development work?

Sure. But it may require some members to be educated on the benefits of doing this, and they also have to have trust in the designer/producer and his ability to do the thing.

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Original post by d000hg
Is it even worth taking the time to work on some preliminary designs for my ideas and try to interest a team?

Worth is subjective. FAQ 66: http://www.sloperama.com/advice/route66.htm
If what you want to do is design and produce, and you believe that you need to build some amateur experience in order to eventually get a job doing it professionally, then do YOU not think that effort is "worth it"?

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Original post by d000hg
I understand managing the team would require me to be at least as committed to the project as any of the developers.

A big part of the job is pushing sloths, herding cats. You probably have to be more committed than some.
You said you wanted to do 2 things: (1) design and (2) produce. #1 is the harder of the two, because the "team" (as such) probably has its own ideas in that area. So your job as #2 is to force them to come to agreement, and to get those agreed ideas on paper.

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Thanks for your input Tom, I hoped you'd post.

I'm not looking to land a job in a studio. I already have my own company set up for providing contracting work. I'm thinking more along the lines of doing this purely for fun, to try and get some of my ideas into games when I can't do it alone.
Good point about "worth". By "worth" I mean "is there a significant chance that a well-presented idea could motivate a committed voluntary team"?

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Original post by d000hg
Good point about "worth". By "worth" I mean "is there a significant chance that a well-presented idea could motivate a committed voluntary team"?

I would say so. Look at all of the fantastic projects all over the internet that have taken off over the years. Beyond having a well-presented idea though, you're going to have to be flexible as well. You have to be willing to accept input from your team members. If you establish a need for team members, not code monkeys or pixel pushers, you can do alright.

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Original post by d000hg
The argument that many game developers have their own ideas is valid, but then I imagine many developers would rather be led than have to be in charge.


This can be a dangerous assumption. Though there are many professionals that are dedicated to their particular discipline and are content just practicing it, there are just as many that would like to run with their own ideas. This doesn't necessarily mean that they'll want to manage the project such as budget, schedule, etc. However, many developers hope for the opportunity to convey their own visions through a project and will probably be offended if you don't include them in the design process to some extent. One of the primary reasons for joining a small team is to have the opportunity to contribute your ideas and get noticed. Artists, programmers, or level designers that just want to practice their trade may as well work for a large company if they don't care about pursuing their ideas.

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D-Zero wrote:
>I already have my own company set up for providing contracting work.
In games? Performing what role? Got industry experience? Got industry contacts?

>I'm thinking more along the lines of doing this purely for fun, to try and get some of my ideas into games when I can't do it alone.
Your present ideas are unlikely to find a receptive audience, unless you happen upon one of the sometimes (not often) seen queries "I wanna program but I have no ideas," and even then it's likely that the aspiring programmer won't accept many of your ideas, won't be able to program them anyway, or will lose interest in collaborating shortly after getting started.

>Good point about "worth". By "worth" I mean "is there a significant chance that a well-presented idea could motivate a committed voluntary team"?
No, not a significant chance. I think where you're likely to find resistance is when you start with the idea rather than with the team. IMO, you need to start with the team of talented amateurs and/or volunteers, then brainstorm together what the team would like to work on, and you collaborate with them to define the joint idea in detail.

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Original post by Tom Sloper
>I already have my own company set up for providing contracting work.
In games? Performing what role? Got industry experience? Got industry contacts?
I'm the architect and development lead on a privately funded MMO (I can't go into any detail really).

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Original post by d000hg
Quote:
Original post by Tom Sloper
>I already have my own company set up for providing contracting work.
In games? Performing what role? Got industry experience? Got industry contacts?
I'm the architect and development lead on a privately funded MMO (I can't go into any detail really).

OK, you answered half of the questions.

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Collaboration basically boiled down to a trade in services; Alice has skills in game programming, Bob has skills as an artist, they both need the other's skillset so they team up.

If I were hypothetically looking for a project and you were offering project management, you'd need to show that your skills were worth something to me. This is tricky, as good project management happens behind the scenes. You'd probably need to have evidence of a couple of completed projects that you managed, plus experience in dealing with the more business side of things if going commercial; accounting, marketing, etc.

The other problem is that people consciously or subconsciously assess potential projects for risk (at least I do), and the project lead by a full-time designer/manager has a bad rep, as you've noted. I'm also wary of indie projects that a large in size; I'm more fond of the smaller projects with one to three developers; and you don't need a full time manager for a team of that size. It's only the larger teams that need a full-time manager who spend their time exclusively on coordination, but they tend to work harder than anyone.

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Let me be a little more detailed.

* I would act as project manager, technical manager (in collaboration with the lead programmer and lead artist) and lead designer (actually writing the design doc).

*I would not be expecting people to just be code monkeys. I'd specifically like people who do want to have creative input, so we can discuss lots of ideas.

*As far as it being "my game", I'm thinking I'd initially present a page or two "selling" the idea. This would try and capture the core aspects of the game, how I visualise it looking to the player, and some of the things that make it unique. This would be the vision for the project, and that's about as far as I would go in telling people what the game is going to be... everything at a more detailed level would be up for discussion.

*I'm not saying I won't do ANY development work. I just wouldn't be doing the majority, or being the lead developer.

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I just really can't imagine ever wanting to join such a team. If someone wants to 'manage' me, I expect them to pay for the privilege. If I wanted to contribute to something for free, I'd expect to do so on an ad-hoc basis to a project that someone else has already started, not to be a volunteer employee with obligations.

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What if the roles were reversed? What if I as a programmer asked people to volunteer to do all the project management (and by that loosely defned term I mean mainly timetabling and talking nicely to people to keep them motivated)?

Wouldn't a potential volunteer project manager worry that the team wouldn't listen to him (not having the benefit of his expertise, so not understanding his reasoning) and that he'd have too little overall input into the final product to make his work rewarding? These would be my worries as a potential volunteer programmer.

You imagine many game developers would prefer to be led.... do you imagine many project managers would prefer to be led? See I'm seperating the 'leader' role from the timetabling 'producer' role. If a programmer or artist provided the game design and had the final say on the project's direction, would you be interested in doing the relatively dull planning work required to realise it?

I may be wrong, but somehow I doubt it.

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Original post by d000hg
What you describe seems to be any online team though, whether or not the lead is a developer or not?


Pretty much, yes. Personally, I think such a thing could possibly succeed only if the project leader was a programmer himself, and would do the majority of work in general. But let's put that aside for now.

First things first, you have to consider is the people you need to work on your project. Even if we assume that you have a great idea and are the paragon of leadership, charisma and teamplay, and generally as perfect as a human being can possibly be in that role - the other people most certainly won't be. They won't be professionals, they'll be students or hobbyists, of which the first will have little and less flexible time, and the second might have plenty, but tend to be highly individualistic and unreliable.

Non-professional team members won't care much for the "team and project management" as a job itself. They're not your employees. They will expect to do things whenever they want (when they feel inspired, or don't have to go out and get drunk, or don't want to do something of their own), and often the way they want as well. They won't take obligations, deadlines, responsibilities, and things like that.

Secondly - you say you have a game design. But then again, I have a game design too. And so has any person who ever even considered the subject of designing games, and that is a lot of people. But I can program my idea. Why exactly would I want to work as a volunteer on your project, instead of doing the same with my own ideas? What is it that I need you for, seeing that I'm not short on designs and ideas myself, and completely uninterested in any kind of "management"?

I'm only using myself as an example, of course, but most people will ask themselves the same. If you don't intend to contribute to the project with something tangible, a product of some sort, I wouldn't rate the chances highly.

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Original post by Talin
Secondly - you say you have a game design. But then again, I have a game design too. And so has any person who ever even considered the subject of designing games, and that is a lot of people. But I can program my idea. Why exactly would I want to work as a volunteer on your project, instead of doing the same with my own ideas?
I'd claim you probably don't have a game design. You might have some ideas about "this would be cool" but a design is a technical document which a great deal of time and effort goes into. For you to work on your own project you may do ok without a formal design since you can hold the idea in your head, but for a team project it's essential. Are you willing to put the time in to write pages and pages describing the game's every facet?

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Original post by Kylotan
I just really can't imagine ever wanting to join such a team. If someone wants to 'manage' me, I expect them to pay for the privilege. If I wanted to contribute to something for free, I'd expect to do so on an ad-hoc basis to a project that someone else has already started, not to be a volunteer employee with obligations.
What about all these hobby projects we see that are doing quite well? They tend to have someone in charge, rather than employing an open-source "do what you like" philosophy.
Sure, all programmers can work on their own project. But if you work with other people the game can progress faster and might actually get finished... so I thought perhaps some coders would prefer to work on a project they didn't design because they want to have a completed project under their belt?

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Original post by d000hg
For you to work on your own project you may do ok without a formal design since you can hold the idea in your head, but for a team project it's essential.


Helpful, yes. Important, yes. Essential? Hardly.

It's perfectly possible to make a decent game (team or no team) without one, with just an informal understanding of idea and features evolving over time. Of course, it depends on the depth and complexity of the game (but if you're starting this kind of project, I really hope you do not have a full blown 3D MMO project in mind).

It is however absolutely impossible to do anything without a programmer, and it's impossible to get far without any graphics and art whatsoever. These areas of development are essential. GDD is just extremely valuable and helpful, but not indispensible.

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Original post by d000hgWhat about all these hobby projects we see that are doing quite well?


How many of them were started and managed successfully by people with an idea (alright, design) and management oriented skills?

And how many were started by one or two guys with appropriate (required) skills to actually complete the project? And usually with those few guys doing absolutely everything until the project kicks off and shows its potential. At which point other people might start volunteering to help.

Without extensive research, I'd wager a vast majority of successful projects falls into the second category.

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Good programmers will need little motivation to finish what they work on and they will most definitely need no management if the team is small. In my experience having a completed game under your belt is only important if that project has been through a serious retail release. I don't think having a completed game would weigh any heavier than having a completed concept implemented and working to me. In fact it would be easier for me to understand what the programmer has done if he is the only contributor. In my experience, on line teams are fairly worthless experience when evaluated, only professional experience counts. Maybe I'm a bit harsh though :)

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