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Checking your ego at the door January 23, 2008

Posted by David Gillespie in philosophy, Video Games, work/life.
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I try to avoid writing about games here as my involvement in the industry now is very much as an outsider. I still keep an eye on the conversations going on though and one that never fails to amaze me is the “code vs. art” debate and how people struggle to get teams talking to each other. You can liken it to “creatives vs. suits” in advertising or “sales vs. anyone not sales” in many other organisations, the song remains the same; a notion of “otherness” is allowed to develop in a team or company and it poisons the culture of that place, pitting people on the same side against each other.

I lead four different teams as Producer while in the games industry, and they were all marked by a feeling of inclusiveness, a notion that we were all in it together. Often it had little do to with the organisation, I distinctly recall a senior artist from another part of the company walking into the room where my team was housed (numbering around 30+ at the time) and remarking that it felt like a different company. Each team I have looked after had that same feeling, and it never took any effort to maintain.

The key is pretty simple: everyone checks their ego at the door. I affectionately called it “the no assholes rule”, long before a book of the same name was released, and it gets brought about in a couple ways.

The first is quite simple: hire good people. That statement is a little intangible and open to interpretation though, so I’ll clarify: do not hire people you would not be willing to spend 100 hours a week with, because at some point you will. Assuming you have a high enough barrier to entry for your company (be it a programming test, past sales figures, whatever) then all candidates who reach that mark can be judged based on the personality fit for your team. I have passed up programmers who were great on paper because I knew they would either be difficult to work with or not get along with certain team members. It is a very straight forward exercise placing morale above ability; you can learn new skills in a job, but if you’re an asshole, you’re probably going to stay an asshole.  I should add this has nothing to do with race or culture, my last team had eight different nationalities on it, and we all still catch up whenever I am back in town.

The second is in many ways simpler than the first. As the title to this post says, check your ego at the door. Any industry is rife with stories of senior figures who refused to spend time in the trenches; these teams are without fail mired in low morale and bitterness towards management. I would outline weeks in advance the weeknights (and on occasion weekends) when we would need to work back, but when those days arrived I went from being the team lead to the servant. If your people are working extra hours because of you, you owe it to them to make that stay as comfortable as possible. If it means driving half an hour across town to get a certain meal for someone, so be it. Talk, in that environment, is less than cheap, it is worthless.

Leading by example and showing a willingness to do anything in order to get a project across the line and a team to work together is the only way to ensure different units within a team with each other from day dot. Producers, Group Directors, CEOs, whatever, they all set the tone for the people they are responsible for. Titles (and the egos they stoke) come and go; checking both at the door on a daily basis means you can do the things that matter most. And your team stays talking long after you have left the room.

Comments»

1. DJ~ - February 3, 2008

Hello!

I also wonder about the effects of personal egos in the local industry; it certainly seems quite prevalent where I’ve been. I sometimes wonder if that’s related to perceived lack of successful products in the industry of late. For example, a new recruit, joining the industry with big ambitions might look upon the gap between the local products and the big name foreign products with a bit of arrogance, a kind of “when I’m king…” attitude. Perhaps, over time, that might morph into a self centredness. Perhaps, also, the very nature of the product has an impact–I mean, after all, what are games if not self centred.

Curiously enough, contrary to expectations, the situation might get only worse in the most successful companies. That is, I’ve seen malcontents feeling trapped in a studio they don’t respect, because they’re not prepared to take the dint to their pride to step sideways to a smaller or “less successful” company. That feeling I believe I’ve seen generate very considerable bitterness.

Whatever the cause, it’s there, and apparently at all levels. In Evelyn’s last public speech as president of the industry association, she said much the same as you have–it seemed very poignant at the time. The problem is; it’s a double edged sword, because sometimes the arrogant ones do have a way to change a game. Sometimes it gives them a fire, an edge that our industry, just like any fashion industry, needs sometimes. It’s the Steve Jobs factor. Sometimes it makes all the difference, and sometimes–just sometimes–it’s worth living with.

Ah, well. At least it’s not just us. Here’s a link to some exceedingly brilliant narcism:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/main.jhtml;jsessionid=KEG0KWHGV4PS3QFIQMGSFFWAVCBQWIV0?view=DETAILS&grid=&xml=/earth/2008/02/01/scigenome101.xml

2. David Gillespie - February 4, 2008

That was great! People’s names written into genetic code! Can you imagine a future where body parts are replaced and with special sensors we can detect that this limb “was brought to you by Motorola”!?!

I thought your note about not wanting to leave a successful company for a smaller one because of the cache you can enjoy was interesting and particularly apt for our industry. Krome obviously stand out as the major player on our little island, but they’ve thus far failed to reach the heights that Irrational managed recently with Bioshock. Hands up who wants to move to Canberra? I thought so…

Really enjoyed your thoughts on the industry DJ, thanks for sharing!


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