GDC Europe: Diplomacy Is The Best Route For Troubled Projects Says Kuju’s Hawkins

Kuju Entertainment COO Adrian Hawkins told GDC Europe 2011 attendees how to be diplomatic with publishers, and "not to write off a relationship with a publisher, no matter how bad it seems."
Assigning a diplomat figure to intervene when relationships between publisher and developer break down is the best way to move towards resolution. This was the advice Kuju Entertainment COO Adrian Hawkins gave at a Gamasutra-attended talk at GDC Europe today. "When projects go bad, you usually need a diplomat, someone who can step in between the publisher and developer and work to liaise between the two to act as a channel for the relationship," said Hawkins. "A useful analogy is marriage guidance counseling," he continued. "Sometimes this can help both parties move towards a resolution, and bringing in a more senior internal producer can help with this. One of the lessons I’ve learned is not to write off a relationship with a publisher, no matter how bad it seems." Hawkins urged teams to avoid creating a culture of complaining about the publisher within a studio. "There are various perils to publisher-bashing," he said. "Common complaints aimed towards a publisher on a troubled project include personal attacks on a so-called 'junior' associate producer or complaining that the publisher routinely changes their mind on the game's direction, or even that the publisher can only see the details and is failing to grasp the bigger picture." "But in many cases this is just the team covering its ass, or evidence of not wanting to admit poor decisions that they made earlier in the project," he continued. "There needs to be a raw honesty within a team about where they are at and the reasons for it. Too often a publisher becomes an easy scapegoat when things start going wrong." Hawkins admitted that there can be terminal issues thrust upon a studio by the publisher. "For independent developers cash flow is very difficult. Milestone payments are usually how developers get paid, and this is an easy target for publishers to exert pressure on developers to change scope, or make unreasonable demands. If you are coupled with a giant multinational publisher it can be a David and Goliath situation in trying to get your payment." Hawkins again advised diplomacy, such as talking to someone higher up the publisher’s management structure who may have worked previously at a developer. "Sometimes, someone at a lower rank in the publisher can be completely oblivious to the issues facing a small developer. Speaking to their bosses can be useful. Likewise, sometimes splitting milestone payments can be useful -- splitting Alpha and Beta payments into separate entities." Finally, Hawkins advised that stopping work should only ever be the last resort for a studio in any troubled project. "Downing tools is usually the worst possible path to take unless in the most extreme circumstances as it can easily lead to litigation. Wherever possible use diplomacy, and don’t be afraid to bring in more senior staff internally to help resolve any fundamental issues you perceive in the project.

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