informa
/
5 MIN READ
News

IGDA Forum: Gerritsen Talks Managing Designers And Creatives

Speaking at the 2007 IGDA Leadership Forum, former Ex-Human Head (Prey) CEO and Big Rooster founder Tim Gerritsen gave a presentation on managing a creative team, warning against the dangers of a thousand ideas, and explained how to obtain the best
Former Ex-Human Head (Prey) CEO and Big Rooster founder Tim Gerritsen began his talk at the 2007 IGDA Leadership Forum by asking the audience to stand up and clap their hands. He wasn't seeking applause -- instead, the exercise served as an example of simple instruction that everyone can understand. Though Gerritsen's instructions seemed unrelated to the topic of his lecture, "Death By A Thousand Ideas: Managing Designers and Creatives," he soon explained. "Human beings fundamentally crave direction and focus, but they also want direction," Gerritsen said. "We don't necessarily want to be told what to do, but we want to win. Everyone's unique, but we're all creative. Creative folks want what they to do be remembered." Gerritsen said that all management eventually synthesizes to one key element: communication. In that respect, he said, "leading creative people isn't that different from leading non-creative people." Gerritsen elaborated on what he feels are the keys to effective leadership: "Trust, focus, and clarity are the three things needed to effective leadership. Trust leads to empowerment. Focus leads to vision. Clarity leads to productivity. Do not micromanage. Don't get in people's faces." Trust On the subject of trust, Gerritsen told the story of being on an interview and receiving a tour from an executive. The executive stopped at an artist's desk, put his hand on top of the artist's, guides the mouse, and tells the artist, "No, no, no. You should do it like this." The story served as an example of classic micromanagement, and Gerritson noted that the executive was displaying a lack of trust in his artist. To drive the point home, Gerritsen quoted Teddy Roosevelt: "The best executive is the one who recruits the most competent men around, tells them what he wants done, and then gets out of their way so they can do it." He explained that it's up to the manager to define the boundaries of "the box," -- and let the employees define what's in it. "It's much easier to be creative when you know what your limits are, because then you can work within them." An analogy, Gerritsen continued, would he handing each attendees a box of Lego and asking them to build a car. Sure, each audience member may build a car -- but each one will be quite different from the next. According to Gerritsen, too many managers hand out Lego and ask for a "vehicle," whether that's a car, train or hang-glider. He stated the importance of trusting the team. The first step is getting to know them -- finding out what their strengths and weaknesses are, and then setting up the team to complement each others' strengths and cover their weaknesses. "Ultimately, if you lead your people properly then you don't need to be there anymore," Gerritsen said. "If you lead properly and create something that's built to last, then you can go on vacation and not have to worry." Clarity In a creative environment, many people may suggest features at once -- but according to Gerritsen, this flood of ideas can actually be an impediment to progress. "The four most dangerous words in game development are, 'Why can't we just...?'" he said. "Everyone on the team is a designer, and that leads to a loss of focus. Everyone I know is a designer -- every kid, every adult. Everyone knows how to make your game that much better." He used the example of a remote control. All it really needs is to be able to turn the television on and off, change the volume, and change the channel. But as Gerritsen pointed out, modern remotes with a myriad of features and buttons are confusing for people to use and understand. For Gerritson, implementing too many features and trying to appeal to too many people -- building a "first-person shooter with a racing game and flying dinosaurs [that] has to appeal to children and have hardcore violence" -- can simply destroy a game's fun factor. As another example, he cited the unnecessary complexity of the PlayStation 3's Sixaxis controller versus the Wii remote, opining that the latter is something everyone can understand. Focus Moving on to the next tenet, focus, Gerritson defined: "Focus means making your team understand the impact of cost. It's important to make your team understand cost impact. This isn't fine art -- it's commercial art." He gave the example of randomly adding a weapon to a first-person shooter using hypothetical numbers. It'll add five months for a modeler, five months for a textures artist, five months for an animator, five months to code, and two months to balance it. At 10,000 per man month it comes out to $40,000. Would having that weapon worth the cost? He highlighted some questions to consider when adding features: What will the feature cost? Will the player see it? How many sales will it add? He concluded, "If it will make the game truly better and create more sales, then champion the feature. If it won't make the game better -- then dump it." Finally, discussing clarity, Gerritson advised, "Be honest and direct. You've hired smart people. Don't skirt around issues. It's insulting. They're not stupid." He stressed the importance, for management, of being on the employees' side, helping them find solutions when their work is sub-par. Too many managers are afraid to confront, Gerritsen said, and it's important to deal directly and immediately. "Learn to work with them," he advised. "Ask, 'How can I give them the best chance to succeed and the least chance to fail?' I'm shocked at how may managers do not tolerate failure. That's how we learn as kids!" Gerritsen concluded with three points on clarity. First, praise in public -- criticism should be handled in private. Second, hire Mr. or Mrs. Right, not Mr. or Mrs. "right now." And finally? Don't be afraid to fire.

Latest Jobs

Cryptic Studios

Remote
1.19.23
Senior Producer

Anne Arundel Community College

Arnold, MD, USA
1.30.23
Instructor/Assistant Professor, Game Art

Night School Studio

Los Angeles, CA, USA
1.09.23
Level Designer / Scripter, Games Studio
More Jobs   

CONNECT WITH US

Explore the
Subscribe to
Follow us

Game Developer Job Board

Game Developer Newsletter

@gamedevdotcom

Explore the

Game Developer Job Board

Browse open positions across the game industry or recruit new talent for your studio

Browse
Subscribe to

Game Developer Newsletter

Get daily Game Developer top stories every morning straight into your inbox

Subscribe
Follow us

@gamedevdotcom

Follow us @gamedevdotcom to stay up-to-date with the latest news & insider information about events & more