People who don’t work in game development might be surprised by how much time game developers spend in meetings. At most game companies I’ve worked at, I spend about half my time at my workstation and the other half in meetings on a typical day. Both are work, but if the meetings aren’t run well, people’s time are not used as productively as it could be.
Most development teams begin their day with a meeting to update everyone with the team’s progress on the previous day. Many of these teams have adopted the daily stand-up approach for these morning meetings. As conceived by the Scrum agile development methodology, these Daily Stand-ups are governed by the following rules to keep the meetings short and productive:
- The meeting takes place at the same time and place very day.
- The meeting starts precisely on the time even if some development team members are missing.
- The length of the meeting is limited to 15 minutes, regardless of the number of team members participating.
Anyone is welcome to sit in on the meeting, but only team members may participate, and their participation is limited to answering these three questions:
- What did I complete yesterday that contributed to the team meeting our immediate goal?
- What do I plan to complete today to contribute to the team meeting our immediate goal?
- Do I see any impediment that could prevent me or the team from meeting our immediate goal?
Nothing else (e.g., the upcoming company picnic, the movie you saw last night, the morning news) is to be discussed at the meeting, and any discussion of any impediments raised by team members should be held at a separate meeting of the affected individuals. The daily stand-up should only be used to keep everyone apprised of the team’s current progress, plans and problems so that everyone can start the day’s work as soon as possible, but with the necessary information to be productive.
As for other meetings held throughout the day, the person running the meeting should have a clear idea of what the actual purpose of the meeting is. Effective teams usually hold meetings to achieve one of the following purposes:
- Kickoff Meeting: The meeting organizer gets a new project started on the right foot by sharing the vision for the project’s goals with the participants and hopefully get them excited about working on the project.
- Brainstorming Sessions: Meeting participants generate ideas for proposing new projects, creating content within existing projects, or solutions for problems.
- Information Distribution: The meeting organizer shares information and news with the participants. This could be information about things like upcoming changes to the project, company news, or industry trends.
- Planning: The participants must create a strategy for achieving a goal raised by the meeting organizer.
- Decision Making: The participants must reach a decision on a matter raised by the meeting organizer.
- Problem-Solving: The participants must find a solution for an issue raised by the meeting organizer.
- Feedforward: This is a more lengthy meeting than the daily stand-up, where participants provide more detailed information on progress, challenges, and next steps.
- Feedback: The participants provide reactions or assessments to a matter raised by the meeting organizer. That matter could be some idea that’s under consideration, a recent project deliverable, how well the team is working together, or the state of the project itself.
- Team-Building: Building and maintaining team harmony by allowing both the meeting organizer and participants to discuss news, important or not, in a more formal setting. Many companies hold such meetings at the end of the work week before everyone leave on the weekend.
- Combination: Meetings to achieve two or more of the above purposes can be effective but only if well-managed by the meeting organizer.
After determining the purpose of a meeting, the organizer next choose who should be invited (or required) to participate in the meeting, how long the meeting should run, and when and where the meeting should take place. Once all that is determined, the organizer writes a meeting agenda and distributes it to all participants prior to the meeting so that they will come prepared.
The organizer should begin the meeting with a short summary of the meeting’s purpose so that all participants understand what is expected from them, and during the meeting the organizer or another designated participant should keep notes on who attended the meeting, what was discussed, and what was decided.
However, even with meetings where the organizer is the one distributing information to the participants, the organizer should allow everyone to express their opinions about what was discussed so that they are not preoccupied with unvoiced concerns or opinions after the meeting is over.
In fact, the meeting organizer should try to read the expressions and body language of the people in the room to look for signs of someone who has something to say but doesn’t speak up in the meeting. The organizer can then ask the participant to contribute during the meeting or in a more private follow-up meeting afterwards, depending on the situation.
Regardless, it is imperative that the organizer minimize any irrelevant or otherwise non-productive conversation, and keep the meeting to its predetermined time limit.
The meeting concludes with the organizer summarizing any decisions, solutions, proposals or any other action items that were determined as the result of the meeting, as well as who is responsible for carrying out those action items. After the meeting is over, the organizer should send out any promised follow-up information or other resources to the participants, and follow up on how the action items and other next steps are progressing. The organizer should also contact participants who didn’t get heard at the meeting or seemed dissatisfied with the meeting’s outcome.
Many gamers have heard of rock star game designers like Sid Meier (Civilization) and rock star programmers like John Carmack (Doom), and while developers like these two get a lot of press, many other unheralded people joined them in developing their games. The games with the highest development budgets, called AAA games, have development teams comprised of dozens (or even hundreds) of designers, level designers, artists, animators, programmers, sound engineers, project managers, and other specialities. So with so many people on a development team, how much of a creative contribution can an individual developer really make?
During the planning, or preproduction phase of the project, where the game’s overall vision is established, the design is fleshed out, and the development plan is created, only a small portion of the team — primarily those in leadership positions such as the Lead Designer, Technical Director, Art Director, Producer, etc. — are involved. It is this core group who make the greatest creative contributions to the game.
When the game’s production phase begins, the team ramps up with additional personnel — programmers, level designers, artists, animators, etc. — to implement the game’s features, levels, and art/audio assets. At this point, the game’s overall look and feel, gameplay, and tasks have already been established, and the team members are responsible for implementing their assigned tasks. Some team members, especially artists, may find themselves working as part of an assembly line doing the modeling, texturing, rigging, animating, or lighting on hundreds of similar assets that need to be made for the game, all according to the production pipeline and specifications established during preproduction.
However, even though there are creative and technical specifications that team members must follow, there are still opportunities to make a certain degree of creative decisions when implementing their task. Game development is all about creativity within constraints. Still, your individual work must fit in well with everyone else’s work to create a unified whole, and so your contributions are subject to the scrutiny and approval of the lead developers you report to.
Finally, in the post-production stage of development, where testing, polishing, balancing, and fixing is done to create a shippable game in time for its promised release date. During this time there are minimal opportunities for creative contributions. In fact, many projects have a Feature Lock milestone, where no more changes to the design, art or audio is allowed; only programming fixes are permitted, since any polishing changes to features or assets could introduce new problems that might put the release date in jeopardy.
Think of a game development as a team sport. There are opportunities to make individual contributions, but each developer’s main focus should be to support the team in creating a cohesive project. If your game is a smash hit, you may not be the one to be handed an award, so you need to adopt an attitude that a game’s success is shared by all, even if not everyone had a large enough contribution to be singled out.