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The Yin and Yang of Game Projects

In making a great game there should be a healthy struggle between fun and done. The organization of a game team should reflect this, with equally empowered people fighting for each aspect.

Samuel Rantaeskola, Blogger

September 11, 2013

4 Min Read

(this post can also be found at http://www.hansoft.com/expertblog/the-yin-and-yang-of-game-projects/)

There are countless stories about never ending projects, about games that started out with a great vision but failed to deliver. The end product is a rushed, pale shadow of the grandiose masterpiece it was meant to be.

The post mortems of these projects are always an interesting read; usually there are countless reasons for why the project never turned out as intended. One thing that often doesn’t surface is the power balance between fun and done. 

This will be my first post on a topic that are covered in numerous books within management literature, namely how to structure an organization. I have no intention to come out as an expert on the topic, but merely would like to share my experiences and views on how to organize a game studio.

“Fun and done” was a term we used a lot at my previous employer, when we were talking about a game project. For us, each aspect was equally important. Without fun, no one will appreciate the game. Without done, no one will experience it. Our project organization reflected this fact by putting the producer and game director at the same level and there was no one above them in the project. Any conflicts around production or creative direction had to be resolved between the both, and each one had equal power. They were the Yin and Yang of the project, two equal forces fighting for opposite purposes.

This kind of relationship between the producer and the game director requires a well-functioning chemistry. The pairing of these two individuals needs to be thought through and tested to ensure they can form a unit that can function and resolve internal conflicts without too much friction. On top of that, both needs to be of similar strength personality wise, if one is significantly stronger the project will topple over in their direction.

The power balance between these roles is not constant, simplified it looks like this through a project:

At the beginning of the project, creativity should drive most of the decisions; you are still discovering what will make the game fun.As the game hits the middle of production the producer’s decisions should have about equal power as the game director.The final day before submission the producer calls almost all the shots, getting it done is all we care about.

One thought that might spring to mind is; “Why not just have one person that cares about both aspects and shifts focus from fun to done throughout the project?”  Personally I do not think it will work very well for several reasons:

  1. People that have both skill sets equally balanced are rare. You want to pair strong “get-it-done”-personalities with strong “make-it-fun”-types.

  2. The internal fight between fun and done will be too much to bear for one person, and it is also likely that one of the sides will win too many battles.

  3. The friction between the two can lead to solutions that are hard to figure out alone.

When structuring your studio organization you want to reflect this relationship as well. I do not think it is a very good idea to set up your organization so that either side reports to the other. An organization might think that they are signaling focus on creativity by having the producers reporting to the game directors. How will that affect the producer’s decisions? Vice versa, how will creativity be affected if the game director is reporting to the producer?

My background is the producer role at an independent developer that worked on publisher funded AAA console titles. I would love to hear your opinions on my thoughts, and also how it might work in other environments:

  • Would it work at a publisher-owned developer?

  • Would this kind of relationship make sense in a title with cyclic releases?

  • Does it make sense if you are self-financed?

  • When should a single person be at the top of a project?

  • Do you need an arbitrator in the relationship?

In the case discussed above, it is a good idea to reflect the project organization in the reporting structures. In my next post I will take a look at where this is not the case.

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