Gamasutra asked some experienced gamers -- programmers, artists, marketing/sales reps, producers -- this question: "What can your boss do to make your job/company a better place to work?" Here is a sample of their answers. The common thread is the need for better communication.
Take a Mylanta and trust the gamers a little more when making design and project decisions. They know what makes a great game, and even when your marketing people are screaming that it won't sell, a great game will sell. Gamers will work harder for you if they know they're working on a great game; they'll also jump ship if they're working on crap and they hear of an opportunity to work on great games. It's why they're in the business. I can only speak for the programmers -- I can make a bundle in any number of lines right now, but I want to create great games. Realize what an important asset that desire is -- and capitalize on it!
Clearly define objectives and communicate them to people who need to work toward those objectives.
- Do better planning to help us avoid going into death-march crunches. It seems like we systematically set unrealistic scheduling goals, work our hinders off and slip the schedule anyway. I'd like to see:
1. a better technical design review process before main coding begins.
2. less focus on Christmas...if we have a 1-year project starting in January, it is NOT going to be done in September.
3. product strategies laid out more than 6-months into the future.
4. product scheduling that does not assume 60-80 hour work weeks for the last three months.
- I've worked for the best and the worst. My current employers are really nice guys and fair. They pay good money, great benefits, and give us a reason to stay at the company--they put out an A+ product. And they listen to you, even if you're not the game designer. They let you know what the company is up to, what's going on. Everybody can say what's on their mind. I'm not always right, but at least here I have the freedom to open my mouth and they respect my ideas. The other main thing (bosses can do) for artists is give them creative input. It is so much funner that way.
- Communicate on a personal level. Let people know they are alive. Ask, How's the family, kids? Let them know they're doing a good job. Sometimes managers assume you know you are doing a good job. That's not true. As soon as you feel you can communicate with your boss on a personal level, you can communicate on a professional level. Otherwise you throw these paper airplanes (memos) at him and hope he'll get one.
- Have clearly defined goals and map out a strategy and an overall game plan for the entire company to achieve the desired results.
- Make it fun. This industry is very stressful. A lot of senior management expect people to work a 40 hour week 9 months of the year and an 80 hour week (or day) during crunch time. Burnout is why you get so much job-hopping in this industry. What companies have to do in the preceding 9 months, as it were, is make the job as fun as possible. Say, We're all going to see the Batman movie today. Have company sponsored softball, trips, and as many events as possible that get employees involved. Open up the culture and allow people the freedoms, so that when you say, OK, now you have to give up your life for 3 months, people are prepared to do that. Until we get a stable platform, technologically speaking, to develop on for a number of years, we will always have this crunch mode. You had better take care of your employees before and after crunch, so they are prepared to make the sacrifices you expect of them.
- I think bosses need to know what they're doing. This industry is so young and fast-paced that inexperienced people are being promoted into positions they can't handle because there is a shortage of experienced people. They only want to see what they've seen in other games. "Make this look/play like....." is a common phrase around here. There is a huge lack of originality and trust in (their staff). If producers could trust their lead artist and programmer and let them make a game without a large amount of interference, there might just be a lot of cool games coming from this studio. Let the people that have been making the games MAKE the games!
- Some of us get paid well, but we're really not making that much when you consider the hours we work. 12 hour days, weekends, holidays. They like to give us some time off for all the long hours we put in but it usually works out to 40 overtime hours=1 day off. HUH? A little screwy if you ask me.
- Nepotism. When you hire your friends, at least have the courtesy to not put them in charge of things! People should be hired for their SKILLS not their friendships.
- 1. Don't lie to your employees. There is no such thing as "information that the 'little people' don't need to know".
2. Don't micro-manage your employees. If they aren't adult enough to get their work done on their own, give them the second chance they deserve and let them go if they can't figure it out. But never MICRO-MANAGE.
3. Don't try to underpay people. It's hellatiously expensive to live in California. Everyone knows it. Don't whine about it. If you want to lower salaries, set up shop somewhere else!
4. Remember that the little things make a big difference. Employee perks to always have include:
- Free meals during crunch times (it's a lot less than salaries, and you're asking a lot of people!).
- Company Jackets, T-Shirts, etc. Coffee cups and pens don't cut it. Employees will be more than happy to pitch in to buy a really cool jacket or polo shirt. And you can take a tax break on your part! Your employees will think you're that much cooler, too.
- Incredibly cheap soft drinks. Subsidize them in a refrigerated vending machine for 25 cents so that they aren't wasted or taken for granted. This will be worth every penny.
- Provide free copies of your company's games to every employee.
Cost of goods on this is RIDICULOUSLY SMALL, but few companies do it. It's REALLY REALLY SHORT SIGHTED of them.
5. Don't wuss out on the benefits. Full medical, dental, vision, and 401K plans are worth it when it comes to actually KEEPING people.
6. Don't be stupid when it comes to sharing the wealth. First and foremost, make it damned obvious how much you appreciate people that bust their asses to get your products done on time. MEANINGFUL project completion bonuses (say 20% of salary for a year) is how you keep people. Forcing people to work 100 hour weeks for months on end for a $500 bonus is STUPID.
7. Don't be stupid about CREDITS. How much does it cost you to put your lead people's names on the box? Absolutely NOTHING. You know how many people would KILL to work at a company where they could get their names on the box? More than your average clueless suit can comprehend... Well, there are more of course. But I am short on time and this is probably more than you bargained for when you asked the question... :-)
- My apologies for not getting this to you sooner. We were working through the weekend, as we have been for quite a while now. Here's my minimal list. Peace of mind: Good standard benefits, esp medical and 401K. Career advancement: Job entails using state-of-the-art technology. Creativity: No code maintenance, no micro-management. Working environment: Leading edge equipment & tools. A quiet environment (my employer needs to learn this one.) Fun: Frequent company events. Company loyalty: Be fussy who you hire, then stick with them. Compensation: High salary (which I prefer to royalties & bonuses) and stock options and/or profit-sharing.
- How much time do you have? A boss's first job is to get out of the way, get things out of the way, remove barriers to creativity. Give people the tools they need to do the job. 15" monitors are standard; put a 21" monitor on an artist's desk and see their eyes light up. Get marketing people out of the way. Have them jump off a cliff. There are many wonderful marketing people in this business. The best of them understand their job is to assist and to communicate, not to direct. The bigger the company, the more marketing feels like it has to direct. Does any marketing guy tell Steven Spielberg what movie to make? No. He has a vision and creates it. That happens far too rarely now.
So, boss, here's what to do: Get out of the way. Make sure you give creative people the tools to do the job. Keep marketing in a support role, not a directing role. It is also important to pay people appropriately and give them a piece of the action. If I sweat blood to make a great game I should see some return for that.
And put your grandiose visions of world conquest aside. You don't want a big monolith studio with a thousand people cranking on games. You want a small central business unit that supports and funds lots of small, largely autonomous development groups. That's where the cool new stuff is coming from.
Barbara Walter is a Certified Personnel Consultant who owns Walter & Company, a San Diego, California search firm that recruits for the games industry. She writes CareerLink for San Diego Magazine Online, and can be reached thru the website (http://www.sandiego-online.com/forums/careers/) or by email ([email protected]).