Best Practices Learned In Virtual Development At SMU Guildhall

By Steve Stringer [04.21.20]

As game dev teams around the world figure out how to work remotely in a pandemic, I thought I would share a few best practices we've discovered in the past two weeks in the hope that it helps other teams out there.

If you just need the TL;DR, jump to Learned Best Practices on the next page.

Like everyone around the world, we at SMU Guildhall have been forced to learn how to team in a virtual world. When the Covid-19 pandemic hit, we were roughly half-way through our "Middle TGP" course in which our 2nd semester students are making an arcade racing game on a single, cohort-wide team.

For those not familiar with our Team Game Production (TGP) curriculum, "Middle TGP" means the training wheels are still very much on. For the vast majority of our student developers, this is their first time working on a big team. All of our Agile practices are still analog and in-person as we work through all the communication and fundamental development challenges you'd expect from working on one big team. This is to say, we transitioned from a world where every wall and whiteboard in Studio 134 and the GameLab was filled with sticky notes and kanban boards to a completely virtual studio in a matter of days. This was no small feat, and the students did a truly amazing job of adapting.

We got official word that we were going to go virtual on a Friday. By the following Wednesday, our group of 6 very talented producers had converted the analog boards scrum boards to Two days later, we were doing dry-runs of our daily scrums on Zoom and moving tasks on virtual boards. By the following Monday, we were meeting in Zoom's Gallery View.

In those first few days, production expectedly slowed to a crawl as we tripped over communication issues. However, by applying Agile on a daily retro scale, we quickly figured out what worked and what didn't rapidly. This post isn't meant as a post mortem since we've only been doing this for two weeks, but we learned some lessons that may be useful to your teams out there.

What Went Right:

What Went Wrong:

Learned Best Practices:

Here's the good stuff. We've collected a set of best practices we learned in the past two weeks. Hopefully this helps you, too:

Still to be Sorted Out:

We still haven't found a good way to do multiplayer testing or playtest sessions. We're exploring Zoom's shared screens, but it's hard to talk and play and control the game volume in Zoom. Introducing Twitch and Discord might seem like a natural solution, but then you get away from the group aspect afforded by Zoom. We're figuring it out still.

So there you go. I hope this helps. Share your best practices in the comments below.

Stay safe, and be well. We'll see you when this is all over.

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