From the garage to the office, back and forth. How to manage projects in the gaming industry

The Higher School of Economics holds a series of lectures “Gaming industry from A to Z”. Our correspondent briefly recounts the most interesting moments. On March 14, former Ubisoft project manager Sergey Golubkin told how to manage the team.

To create and release the game, you need to assemble the team. Developers write the code, game designers come up with the mechanics and appearance, the producer manages the project and assembles the individual parts into the finished product. The publisher brings the game to market.

You can manage a team in different ways. The ways do not change, but new accents appear.

The manager is not only responsible for the result

A typical project manager in Russia demands results at all costs. With him, personal needs and interests are better kept to himself.

The task of a producer or manager in a European development company is to make employees happy. In French Ubisoft a newcomer is hired, but is not burdened with tasks from the first day, is not forced to prove its value. When he gets used to it, he will come to the task, bring ideas and solutions.

With this approach, the producer isn’t perfect. He is mistaken and openly admits it. Sergey Golubkin illustrates this with a case study.

“There are two developers, and you don’t want to lose any. One of them worked all weekend, and on Monday stayed home on sick leave.

The second customer asked me to send you a new program code right away. There was no time to understand what a colleague had changed over the weekend, so the second developer simply rolled everything back to Friday’s version and sent it to the customer.

The manager took the blame: he was responsible for the communications in the project and did not have time to react. He was not afraid to make a mistake, so he kept two employees and his teammates.

Team types are mixed to work effectively

There are three types of teams in the gaming industry: developers, publishers, indies.

Developers are the people who create a product. You came up with a new game and hired a team to write the code, come up with a gameplay and draw locations and characters.

Another scenario: A team of enthusiastic professionals gathered to make a game. They have technical skills, but no understanding of how the market works, how to make a product and earn money. They are looking for a sponsor or publisher.

Publishers create and distribute games. To do this, they hire a team of developers, marketers and managers, set up a rigid structure of project work. It happens so that the publisher employs developers in the staff and begins to make the game itself.

Electronic Arts began as a publishing house, which together with the games promoted their creators: designers and programmers. In the late 80’s EA bought development teams and made a series of games like FIFA, Need for Speed, Medal of Honor, Command & Conquer. These types of teams are called mixed teams.

Indie developers are like samizdat in the book industry. One person can raise money on Kickstarter, make a game, distribute it through free channels on the Internet and “blow up” the market. An example of such a development is Minecraft.

The Center-Game team is mixed. We invent and develop games from scratch, we release them to the market ourselves. At the same time, we do not get tied to a strict structure of work, select development teams within the company and think more about the needs of the customer than about the regulations and rules.

There are more distributed commands´╗┐

The head of the project team chooses whether to hire employees or outsource. The answer is in the balance.

If people work on the staff, they should not be unemployed. Employees are involved at different stages of the project: it is important that they are involved in the business when part of the project is over or hasn’t started yet.

Another problem is the imbalance of functions. For example, there are three programmers and a designer. The code will be ready in a week and the design will last for a month. If that’s what you planned, that’s fine. If not, the producer’s task is to make sure that there are no bottlenecks: when a team is waiting for one person.

Distributed commands work using the “Resource” system. They are located in different countries, meet in Skype and know how to distribute time between several projects – the power of habit.

It is important to find someone who burns with the idea of the project. Then time zones and absence of an office are not a problem. This saves the company’s money and the time of its employees.

For example, the person who makes our site lives in Newcastle, and one of the designers lives in San Francisco. We communicate in the Trelo problem book and sometimes get in touch with each other via Skype – this is a good job for everyone.

If a client asks us to make a project faster or to redo it all, the team is scaled up. In this case, the producer has proven freelancers to rely on. Trusting complex and urgent projects to beginners is risky.

Management methodologies take over from one another

The IT industry uses two methodologies: Waterfall and Agile.

Waterfall is a linear development cycle. In a project with fixed timeframes and a budget, the team works in stages: you cannot move on to the next step unless you have completed the previous one. Changes in one step can affect the entire project and roll back to the starting point.

The approach works if a predictable product is developed. For example, a new part of Need for Speed.

Agile is a flexible methodology. The work is divided into iterations – the stages at which we get the current version of the product. After each iteration the team presents the result to the customer, collects feedback and makes changes: removes unnecessary mechanics, refines the design, complicates or simplifies the game.