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  • Soft Skills For Game Developers

    [07.14.20]
    - Steve Thornton

  • 4. No Offense

    Parts of games can be silly, or of comparatively low importance- but every asset is somebody's baby. Beware jokes that devalue someones time/effort. Even if someone was comfortable in the past, you never know when they may be extra sensitive about a specific piece.

    5. Gripes Go Up

    Honesty is required to have meaningful conversations, yet you must be cautious not to spread negativity, even your own. Sometimes decisions come from above that suck, so how to acknowledge that while protecting morale?

    I know some managers who will only ever talk in company lines: they will never say anything in private that could not be safely shared (or has already been shared) in a studio-wide email. This ensures professional conduct, but also makes talking to them feel pointless. I also know some managers who are so completely transparent that they will even vent to the team about their own project frustrations. If the leads can't be optimistic about the projects future with all their influence, the team at the whims of the higher ups certainly can't.

    As a rule, I allow myself to be more openly negative with my peers (those of equal seniority) and those above me. Truth to power. With anyone below you in the hierarchy, I believe you have a duty to consider their morale in how you discuss news, even if you have your own feelings. Someone on Twitter sent me a clip from Saving Private Ryan where Tom Hanks' Captain explains his own motto for dealing with this duty, which he eloquently calls "Gripes Go Up".

    When you have to bring your team bad news or a decision that you don't agree with: Process your own negativity in private, find the up-side, or the thing that keeps you going, and when you talk to the team, walk them through that journey. Be honest you weren't happy either, explain the reasons you were given, and then try to share your reasons for optimism.

    6. Don't Take Sides

    People may complain about a co-workers project performance in private, this can be an important part of venting, but you must demand they keep their delivery professional. Call them on anything drifting towards nonconstructive, insulting or personal. If you agree with someones complaints about a project or team member, it can be extremely reassuring for the person to hear that from you, and know they are not alone in their feelings. As above this is delicate, as you must give a reason to stay optimistic despite the issue.

    If you choose to offer some agreement about the complaints raised about another team member, acknowledge only vaguely that you've noticed some of the issues yourself / are aware of the issues and intend to follow up. Do not offer your own opinion, indulge in gossip or take sides. 

    Many toxic self-help PUA style manuals will suggest being a "chameleon" as a strategy, reflecting whoever you talk to: this is a terrible idea that will backfire the instant you have to talk to two people at the same time, or the first time they talk to each other.

    7. Keep Calm

    Personally, I believe that raising your voice has no place in the office. If someone begins to do so, I will immediately end the conversation and request a private chat with that person. If you ever are that person, catch yourself, apologize, leave the conversation.

    8. Encouraging voices

    If you notice someone is not getting involved during discussions, try asking them for their opinion. Give them a softball question as a starting point. If they are uncomfortable, stop pressure and talk to them afterwards. Check the reason they're not involved e.g. engagement, anxiety or confidence. Unfortunately, the vast majority of development discussion happens live, which benefits extroverted thinkers and leaves others behind. Since this is unlikely to change at an industry/studio level, I personally prefer to try and help people to participate live.

    Advice I give to people who struggle with contributing to live discussions:

    • Prepare your thoughts before the meeting, maybe write them down 

    • Ask to speak first in the meeting

    • If you need time to process new information, take it while others talk and then ask to return to the previous point when ready

    It's important to support them in this effort by letting them finish talking without interruption (stop anyone who tries to jump in while they are forming their sentences) and help when they get stuck. Big them up a little, re-iterate their points (with credit). If someone is uncomfortable participating in live discussion full stop, don't stubbornly push them to talk or keep putting the spotlight on them, as that is obviously going to create huge amounts of stress. In this case, offer them time before or after a meeting to hear their feelings - then bring their points to the meeting for them, ensuring to credit them when you do so e.g. "X was saying before this meeting that -" or "after the meeting I caught up with Y and-". 

    In general: if anyone interrupts someone before they finish their point- stop them and ask the interuptee if they are finished, then let the other person know when they can speak. If anyone comes back to a point similar to someone elses, remind everyone "ah, like X said earlier?" 

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