Optimising the team
The Right Composition Counts
Game teams often start organically, as a group of friends with similar dreams. While good for a healthy and trusting company culture, this often leads to an imbalance in the team’s profile. Some teams have plenty of programmers and no artists or it’s the other way around. Far too many have no one interested in business development or managing the project, which can become a serious issue. If an aspiring game designer ends up using most of their time doing paperwork and HR, their motivation is likely to deteriorate. In addition, they usually have no knowledge of business strategies or funding options.
Still, rarely the the solution is to add more people to the mix. A bigger team means more expenses and more time spent on managing people. Frequently, this makes the ownership of goals and quality less clear. This can be detrimental to motivation and productivity in a start-up.
Team Selection Can’t Be Based On Price
Due to limitations in funding, start-ups often have a temptation to base their team selection on whoever is the cheapest. Interns, recent graduates, and hobbyists may be interested in joining the team mainly or even only for the experience they gain. Many locations have financial support schemes for hiring junior talent, like the Finnish recruitment subsidy.1Finnish Recruitment Subsidy: http://www.te-palvelut.fi/te/en/employers/find_an_employee/support_recruitment/index.html
While talent acquired via these means can be a great help when they’re a good match, companies need to remember they also need more guidance and support than a more seasoned employee would. If they join the team to learn, how will the core team support their learning? How much does that take away from the core team members’ effective working time? Are they really up to the challenge of joining a start-up team?
No One Solution For All
For start-ups, resources are almost always very tight, therefore optimising the team composition is crucial. But what does an optimal game team look like? There is no simple answer to that question. Different companies and projects need different teams.
Running mobile live-ops or the constant re-skinning loop of a hyper-casual company is very art-heavy and needs a strong art department. This setup can mean an actual department or a great outsourcing pipeline. It can also mean one or two experienced artists with a highly optimised workflow, depending on the size and resources of the project.
A console game with innovative gameplay revolving around AI and machine learning, aiming to be included in the launch of the said console, will be heavily dependent on its all-star programmers.
An indie puzzle game company is likely to be best off with a very small, very balanced team. Best would be a programmer or two, an artist, and a shared but very clear responsibility in business development and game design. It would be even better if all of them are able to wear many hats. Thus, everyone would be able to do basic scripting and slight editing of visual assets, and someone is a game music composer on the side. There’s rarely space for highly specialised people in small indie productions.
Outsourcing Or Not?
How about outsourcing, then? Outsourcing is a great way to add flexibility to production. It can do wonders to balance the workload of a small team. But no skill set should be fully outsourced. Outsourcing adds new tasks – finding the right partner and negotiating contracts, discussing the technologies and processes to be used, setting the goals, schedules, and Definition of Done, reviewing delivered assets, etc. Much of this will be near impossible to do properly if the team itself doesn’t have a certain level of expertise in the area. For example, in some cases, it can be a valid approach for a programmer-heavy team to outsource art. Still, there should be someone in the team who understands game art production well enough to lead and review it.
The Core Team
There’s another problem with organic teams, formed of a group of friends – they don’t disagree enough. A group of like-minded people with similar world views might be easy to work with, but it rarely brings the best results in the long run. Being able to see things from several perspectives comes naturally for a diverse team.
In a nutshell, an optimal team for a start-up is small, diverse in both skills and worldviews, and tailored to the project. Or, the project is tailored to the team, either way. Outsourcing is a great way to add flexibility, but it cannot replace having a certain skill in the core team.