I don’t need to tell anyone that teams are important. There are tons of articles on this topic from the games industry (my personal fav) to the startup world. (Even I wrote on the topic of teams and some research of adding a female to a group.) Instead of trying to tell you what the makeup of your team should look like or that you should be stringent in your hiring (seriously, EVERY studio that I talk to believes they are doing this), I’m going to focus on the things I’ve learned from being on multiple teams from AAA to indie.
Passion != Strong team dynamics
Just because you met at work and have a equally strong hatred for AAA development, it does not mean that working together would be a good fit. You’re probably even all very talented in your respective fields and you think that you balance each other out. This still doesn’t mean that it would be a good fit. In my opinion, the only thing that matters are your goals for that project. What do you want to accomplish and how do you think you’ll get there? Sure, your game might not be as strong if you don’t have a dedicated artist. Sure, your game mechanics might be a bit on the weak side until you test without a dedicated designer. But when you start out your team with a solid base understanding of goals then you can power through all those weaknesses. It’s not guaranteed that a great designer and a great artist will lead to a successful game, but it is guaranteed that misaligned goals will lead to the ruin of a team. Which leads me to the next point…
Make sure your goals are the same – every day
Once your team is established, just like the relationship with your significant other, you need to make sure (EVERY DAY!) that you and your team are heading down the same path. This could change, and honestly it probably should change, but you need to always make sure that you want and are headed in the same direction. Some key questions, especially for indie game devs are good to ask: Do you want to make money? If this ever became moderately successful, would you quit your job even if there were risks? What is your philosophy on how games become successful – hard work or luck? Do we want to be published? Make sure you’re on the same page. Ask those key, what I like to call, “do-you-want-babies” questions. It’ll save you a lot of heartache in the future.
One irrelevant person will such the soul out of the room
God forbid you ever hire or bring onto the team someone that is not as important to the group as the others because this person will suck the soul out of the room. Usually this person knows that they are not as valued and they slack off because of it. Then the rest of the team because resentful over the slacking. I’ve seen this happen more then once in both AAA and smaller teams. First of all, don’t do that. Make sure everyone has a specified place that they can easily settle into. Don’t make they have to worry about forging a niche for themselves – you should have an idea of what they need to do already. Second, if it does get that far and you’ve made a mistake – let them go. Sure, you’ll have to take on a little extra work when there’s no room for that but, believe me, your team will thank you.
Know the weaknesses
Make sure your teammates know and understand their weaknesses. This to me is the most important quality of good team members. You can’t have a lead that refuses to give up power because they think they do it right ever single time – when they don’t or they are too busy to attend to everything at once. You can’t have a designer sticking to their faulty guns because they are emotionally connected to their ideas. Make sure that when you bring on teammates that they are aware of their weaknesses and are open to trying to conquer those weaknesses. (This goes for you too!)
I’m sure I’ll expand on these points as I try to learn from my failed teams and try to emulate my successful ones. I’ll be sure to update this post if I do. Let me know if you have any thoughts on this subject!