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The Client/Vendor Relationship – Laying a Solid Foundation with True Collaboration

The relationship between client and vendor can be tricky to get right. In this article I would like to focus on what I consider to be one of the most important aspects to making a successful partnership, something I call True Collaboration.

The relationship between client and vendor can be tricky to get right.  There are many elements that are required to create a great partnership between two companies.  Elements such as financial stability, solid communication, like-mindedness and many more are all must haves.  However, in this article I would like to focus on what I consider to be one of the most important aspects to making a successful partnership, something I call True Collaboration.

So, what is True Collaboration and how is it different from regular collaboration?  Mirriam-Webster defines collaboration as “to work with another person or group in order to achieve or do something.”  This definition is something that we all understand, especially in the game industry where some games take 200+ people and multiple companies working together over a number of years to ship a game.  Except, I feel the basic definition of collaboration is missing a few important elements that when incorporated, can help create amazing results.

The concept of True Collaboration as I see it is "to work with another person or group where both parties are open, honest and trust in each other completely."  Regular collaboration can lead to success, but without being open and honest with each other you are only leaving the outcome of your partnership to chance.  The vendor needs to be treated as an extension of the internal team.  The client needs to be able to trust the vendor just as they would a part the internal team.   The same goes for the vendor, openness, honesty and trust must go both ways.

Before working at Imaginary Forces, I spent nearly six years at Santa Monica Studio working on the God of War series.   For a majority of those years my focus was to manage and produce all aspects of outsourcing for the team.  This allowed me the opportunity to partner with many different types of vendors, from asset driven work such as keyframe animation and 3D modeling, to the creation of entire cinematic sequences.  When beginning these partnerships, I made a choice to be open, honest and trusting with each of the companies that my team and I partnered with.  My goal was to truly collaborate with them.  In return, those companies reciprocated those same elements and the results we achieved together were astounding!  By giving our vendors visibility into our process, being open and honest about our expectations, talking through any issues with work delivered, they felt like and were a part of the team, not just a vendor for hire.  I will never forget at the end of God of War III, after shipping the game, one of our vendors sent us a picture of every artist that contributed to the game, all holding a huge sign that said "Congratulations!"  These artists who were thousands of miles away, were invested in our project and in us.  To feel so connected to a group of people who I had never met in person was an extremely satisfying experience.

Now I am not saying that True Collaboration is the silver bullet for vendor/client relationships as there are a myriad of other challenges that will be encountered.  However, by setting up your partnerships in this way, you are laying a solid foundation for moving forward, a foundation where you can face the challenges ahead together.  After all, at the end of the day don’t both sides want the same thing?

About 6 months ago I recently moved to the vendor side of the business.  As I begin creating new relationships, I will be using True Collaboration as my bedrock.  Conducting business in this way has proven itself in the past to bring great results.  I am excited to be on the other side of the client/vendor relationship and can’t wait to see how many successful partnerships I can create.  My hope is that the information I shared will help others do the same.

This is my first blog on Gamasutra and I hope that you found it informative and helpful.  If you have any questions or feedback, please feel free to post a comment below.  Thanks!

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