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steelstrung

Tips for informal game development team

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Hi all,

I had been working on a game by myself over the last few months and decided things may go a bit faster, and I could incorporate more fresh/refined ideas into the game, if I brought a few others on board that I knew from work.

Currently, I don't have any type of funding for the project (aside from maybe buying a couple licenses here or there), and have been focusing most on some of the work that can be done without a big investment - mostly story content, or doing some audio/graphics production pieces on the side. 

To facilitate the story development, and keep things organized, I created a wiki where anyone I give access can add ideas and modify articles (such as locations, NPC's, etc)

 

I have been trying to meet every couple of weeks with everyone over Discord (we had agreed Wednesday night would work for us all) and initially got a lot of energy and productive discussion from the first meeting, but afterwards I haven't been able to get anyone together for a second meet. I understand that they are not obligated to meet every couple of weeks or even contribute, especially as I am not paying an hourly rate/salary at this point (we all agreed we would wait to talk about that until the project was more developed and we received funding), but I want to try to re-capture some of that energy and get people involved again. Myself, I contribute at least one or two articles to the wiki every week.

I had also been trying to keep things semi-formal in meetings (I take notes and facilitate casually), but had received some feedback from one of my team members that this all 'seemed too much like a job', which I interpreted as I am asking for too much from them or being too formal (as if it was a job)

I want to keep some form of organization for consistency's sake (such as a semi-regular discussion) so everyone is on the same page, and is aware of the way the story is evolving (I have provided a framework people are comfortable with, and am very open to new ideas - being very transparent and forward about this).

Does anyone have ideas on how to keep people engaged and interested in the project, enough so to meet virtually every 2-3 weeks, with limited resources?

Here are some things I have been trying so far, with little success:

  • Adding content regularly, providing updates on our facebook/discord channels monthly (mixed results, fairly low view count)
  • Following up with a group chat every 2 weeks to make sure everyone is still available for that day (mixed results, some members do not respond/open the chat)
  • Continuing to add content on the wiki regularly (nobody logs in to see the new content)
  • Physically meeting whenever possible (hard to get more than 1 person together, they usually only want to hang out - don't want to talk about new ideas)
  • Pruned members who had no contributions and have not even been in contact for over a month
  • Refrain from calling the meetings meetings (I prefer 'calibrations', as I am mostly talking about new/updated content and talking about it with people)

I believe I do not have an issue with general interest in the project - some of the members had a lot to contribute and seemed legitimately interested in the first meeting - and everyone has expressed they are interested in contributing to the story

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2 hours ago, steelstrung said:

Does anyone have ideas on how to keep people engaged and interested in the project, enough so to meet virtually every 2-3 weeks, with limited resources?

Pay them! It's provably the greatest motivator.

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I do have experience on working in teams like this.

 

The most important factor to note is that real time interaction is overrated. You won't gain any thing from chatting with a person live that you wouldn't gain by chatting using a message system. When you are chatting live the conversation will get more personal and you will get side tracked.It's true that live chat is good for morale, however you won't get anything done if you MUST talk to people live.

Think of this forum, you didn't post and hang around waiting to live chat with someone. To do so would require you knowing when someone would respond. So create a chat where people can post things daily and respond to others in a turn based manner like these forums. You don't need a forum you can do the same by having a "Note board" text file in a drop box folder or by using @Person_Name to show that you are talking to that person in a chat group.

Your team is busy living, give them a way to use what time they have instead of what time they can make.

 

No meetings, that could have been a email. Your team goes to a meeting mostly to hear what you have to say, they will give little input; this results in meetings that are not worth the effort of attending them. So you can just email them with the weekly update. When there is a real reason for a meeting your team will point it out.

2 hours ago, steelstrung said:

I understand that they are not obligated

That's good because the moment you make demands they will ignore them. Instead you should ask and reward. You don't have money but you do have recognition.

Trying to hire people by offering them acknowledgement for what they do won't work.

 however giving them credit for there contribution to the game while they are working on it, helps a lot.

So you can for example have a "Contribution" text file that shows how much each person does on the project and what they will get credit for. It also helps on deciding who gets how much money once you start making profit.

 

Understand that you are working with a rotating team. Many of the people will maybe do one thing for you and then abandon the project. If so give them credit for what they did and accept there phony excuse, it's part of how this works. If you don't have some legal way of accepting the assets or work then keep contact details so you can get the legal paperwork when you need it.

A email isn't always accepted as a contract, in fact I have worked on many of these projects and can honestly say I have never seen a email accepted as a contract by a court. I know there are cases where it has, however the projects I worked on a hand signed contract was needed unless money was exchanged.

Digital signatures are often not accepted if someone gives you something for free, you post the contract back and forth to get a hand signature, for contract where payment was accepted the bank details are checked so a digital signature works.

 

last thing:

Do more than anyone else. You as the developer needs to be the one island in this whole project. People will often leave and a few will return. You need to direct all this chaos into a game.

The other problem is that unless you do more than anyone else for the game, new members will often think someone else is in charge and this could lead to conflict and the team breaking off to make there own competing game.

Edited by Scouting Ninja
Making things clear.

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1 hour ago, Tom Sloper said:

Pay them! It's provably the greatest motivator.

@Tom Sloper Reasonable - like I said however, there is no funding

1 hour ago, Scouting Ninja said:

I do have experience on working in teams like this.

 

The most important factor to note is that real time interaction is overrated. You won't gain any thing from chatting with a person live that you wouldn't gain by chatting using a message system. When you are chatting live the conversation will get more personal and you will get side tracked.It'se that live chat is good for morale, however you won't get anything done if you MUST talk to people live.

Think of this forum, you didn't post and hang around waiting to live chat with someone. To do so would require you knowing when someone would respond. So create a chat where people can post things daily and respond to others in a turn based manner like these forums. You don't need a forum you can do the same by having a "Note board" text file in a drop box folder or by using @Person_Name to show that you are talking to that person in a chat group.

Your team is busy living, give them a way to use what time they have instead of what time they can make.

 

No meetings, that could have been a email. Your team goes to a meeting mostly to hear what you have to say, they will give little input; this results in meetings that are not worth the effort of attending them. So you can just email them with the weekly update. When there is a real reason for a meeting your team will point it out....[trimmed]

Wow thanks for the great insight @Scouting Ninja, that makes a lot of sense - i'll tweak some things and try out some of your suggestions

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Another thought. Get to know each person. Ideally, go out together, buy a meal for each one in turn. If they aren't in your city, it's going to be very hard to get to know each person. But once you know each person, you can figure out what motivates that person. Some are interested in having a portfolio piece to use. Some are interested in being a part of a successful product launch. Some are interested in the cameraderie of a well-functioning team. Once you understand what motivates each person, then you can figure out how to motivate them. Ninja is onto something about meetings. Meetings are tough enough in person! Work with each one individually on your collaboration workspace; it's more work for you, but makes it seem more personal for them. If you manage to get two of them online at the same time, see how the joint conversation goes. 

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Just now, Tom Sloper said:

Another thought. Get to know each person. Ideally, go out together, buy a meal for each one in turn. If they aren't in your city, it's going to be very hard to get to know each person. But once you know each person, you can figure out what motivates that person. Some are interested in having a portfolio piece to use. Some are interested in being a part of a successful product launch. Some are interested in the cameraderie of a well-functioning team. Once you understand what motivates each person, then you can figure out how to motivate them. Ninja is onto something about meetings. Meetings are tough enough in person! Work with each one individually on your collaboration workspace; it's more work for you, but makes it seem more personal for them. If you manage to get two of them online at the same time, see how the joint conversation goes. 

Thanks for the reply Tom.

Fortunately, I have met all of these people before and have some of their motivators down already. That is a good point to make.

Also, I suppose I am a bit disappointed about the meetings - I had meant for them to be more of an active discussion and open forum to talk about things among us, but it did not work as I had intended.

I think I will maintain my stance to being open and available to feedback/questions from my team, but at the same time lay off these calibrations. As Ninja had said, these would probably be better relegated to emails. 

The only other concern I would have is the consistency of content. The main function the meetings were supposed to perform was minimize dissonance in the story-writing. My team members have some great and interesting things to contribute, but I do want to guide some things so the story does not become a mess (e.g. really whacky out of place NPC's, or other things that just don't fit)

I could probably review all new content and talk to each member about anything that seems out of place, but I think this might get difficult to manage at some point. I can probably make do as it stands though - There have been very few contributions that were not my own, and they were co-authored by me.

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9 hours ago, steelstrung said:

My team members have some great and interesting things to contribute, but I do want to guide some things so the story does not become a mess (e.g. really whacky out of place NPC's, or other things that just don't fit)

That is the job of the creative director. If you are the creative director, then go for it. If the team keeps going off vision, then your challenge is managing non-professionals, and you have to remind them of their motivators and the vision. 

9 hours ago, steelstrung said:

I could probably review all new content and talk to each member about anything that seems out of place, but I think this might get difficult to manage at some point.

No kidding. But that's what you have embarked on.

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@steelstrung Man, I am in exact same situation. We also have 19-headed team with members all over the world, and we keep in touch through Discord. We first worked on a 3.5D RPG and had 35 members, but we had to break it down, because a project that big is virtually impossible without any budget, so we let some people go, kept the best, found some new ones and moved to a 2.5D stealth-based platformer. Would you mind adding me? Tilen M. #9751  I really wanna discuss this some more, maybe we can find out a few extra solutions together. 
 

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@TilenM: Why not try a smaller team, and if necessary a smaller game idea?

Professional developers are able to manage their large teams because the team members are paid professionals, because there are formal processes in place, and because there are professional managers in place to keep everything running properly.

Outside of those environments you'll find that the overwhelming majority of successful projects are from smaller teams who minimise their need for management and formal processes by keeping the team as small as possible; often only a handful of people taking on multiple roles.

If you're running an unpaid hobby project, I would recommend bringing on the absolute minimum number of people who can do the work, and then only adding others as needed (and only for as long as they are needed). At minimum for a small project you need programming, graphics, and audio. Some of these may be created by the same person, or may be purchased from asset stores or similar rather than adding a person to your team.

With the right people, you could probably create a fantastic stealth-based platformer with only 2-5 people depending on skill set and amount of content. Avoid the problem of managing your 19 developers by not having that many! ;)

Bastion was created by 7 people.

Braid was only a couple of people, with licensed music.

It's very possible to make a great game with a very small team. :)

Edited by jbadams
Added a couple of example games.

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2 hours ago, jbadams said:

@TilenM: Why not try a smaller team, and if necessary a smaller game idea?

Professional developers are able to manage their large teams because the team members are paid professionals, because there are formal processes in place, and because there are professional managers in place to keep everything running properly.

Outside of those environments you'll find that the overwhelming majority of successful projects are from smaller teams who minimise their need for management and formal processes by keeping the team as small as possible; often only a handful of people taking on multiple roles.

If you're running an unpaid hobby project, I would recommend bringing on the absolute minimum number of people who can do the work, and then only adding others as needed (and only for as long as they are needed). At minimum for a small project you need programming, graphics, and audio. Some of these may be created by the same person, or may be purchased from asset stores or similar rather than adding a person to your team.

With the right people, you could probably create a fantastic stealth-based platformer with only 2-5 people depending on skill set and amount of content. Avoid the problem of managing your 19 developers by not having that many!

Bastion was created by 7 people.

Braid was only a couple of people, with licensed music.

It's very possible to make a great game with a very small team.

We are definitely thinking in that direction. We're currently considering cutting down the team to about 13 members. I totally agree, we'll need to do something about it. Thanks for the advices!

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