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Accountability vs. Responsibility

The words accountability and responsibility are used interchangeably, but they don’t mean the same thing and the difference is important for game development teams.

I read this great quote from Gabe Newell in this Gamasutra article:

“Yeah, nobody can ever say "that's not my job." Nobody ever gets to let themselves off the hook. If there's a problem, you've gotta fix it.”

It demonstrates a high level of accountability at Valve, not just responsibility. The words accountability and responsibility are used interchangeably, but they don’t mean the same thing and the difference is important for game development teams.

Responsibility is assignable and forward looking.  For example, as an artist, I might be responsible for creating a model.  As a programmer, I might be responsible for making the character jump.

Accountability is backward looking.  Both the artist and programmer should be accountable for the character correctly jumping over the model.  Unfortunately, a lack of accountability might lead both to ignore the problem as “not their responsibility”.

Accountability isn’t as easily assignable as responsibility.  It’s more intrinsic.  

Focusing exclusively on the assignment of responsibility tends to tell developers that those making the assignments will take care of all the cracks that will happen between areas of responsibility.  A balanced approached of delivering a part of a game and being accountable for its fun of it is harder.

The hard part is how is to grow accountability in a studio culture.  How do you grow it in yours?

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