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Feature: Book Excerpt: How Game Developers Choose Leaders

In an extract from his new book, Team Leadership In The Game Industry, Firaxis veteran Seth Spaulding uses key examples to demonstrate how to pick leaders and d
In an extract from his new book, Team Leadership In The Game Industry, Firaxis veteran Seth Spaulding uses key examples to demonstrate how to pick leaders and discipline-specific leads within your own game development firm. Spaulding begins his thoughts on how game developers should pick leaders by describing the ideal situation, noting that the goal is always to find the right people and match them to the right role within the company: "Assuming an ideally staffed and well-functioning studio, an individual production employee is seen during the course of a development cycle to demonstrate an inclination to work with others and does so effectively, usually through mentoring and in group feedback sessions at early stages. They are recognized for their work ethic and sense of responsibility to (and sometimes beyond) their specific task lists, and as such they are offered a position as a specialist lead or sub-lead at the time these become available. At this level, they work for a project cycle or perhaps two under the supervision and mentorship of experienced art leads, other specialist leads, and the art director, from whom they receive guidance in the duties of their new role. From there, if they prefer to remain at the specialist lead level or return to the role of senior artist, that path is open and ideally just as attractive a career option as the management track. If instead they continue to show aptitude and desire for greater leadership opportunities, they may continue to move into a greater management role, possibly as an art lead on future projects, inspiring their teams and building morale across the company." Unfortunately, the Firaxis art director reminds us, that ideal scenario is rare, and there are several possible points of failure that seem to occur with "regrettable regularity" in game companies: "The most prevalent points originate from the first two assumptions -- that a studio is fully staffed and well functioning. The sad fact is, no company in my direct experience has ever been ideally staffed. The result is that the candidate pool for leaders in an organization is probably going to be sub-optimal, particularly when a studio moves to multi-project development. Even if your company is staffed with a dream team of talented, experienced, and driven individuals, there is no guarantee that any of them are going to have the aptitude or desire to manage. The possible solutions then amount to selecting a candidate for a lead position with reservations about his or her potential for the role or looking outside the company for a candidate who more closely meets the job description. Either choice can be problematic; indeed, for a small developer, the latter may be impossible. Due to production schedules, it may be highly unlikely that even a mid-size developer would choose to begin a possibly lengthy search when the need of an individual to fill the role is immediate. The second assumption -- often unspoken -- is that a studio is well functioning or perhaps rationally functioning. As far as lead selection goes, the issues of favoritism or nepotism and simple inexperience do exist and, in the case of favoritism, can be extremely dangerous even if it is merely perceived to exist. Suppose, for example, the best person to lead a project happens to be the president's best friend. If you find yourself justifying a lead selection by including his or her social relationship as a factor in any way, it may be perceived very poorly by the company." You can read the full feature, which discusses more of the pitfalls that occur with picking leads from within studios and several detailed case studies (no registration required, please feel free to link to this feature from other websites).

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