Party Time: How to keep the band together
This week's post is focused on friendly development teams, and the unique challenges associated with them. If you are part of a group project, read on; if you are working solo, read this anyway, because eventually you will want to collaborate with someone, and you will wish your partner had read this article!
Say you want to start a game project with some friends (or enemies, though I don't recommend that). If you are serious about this project, there are just a few things to hammer out before embarking that will make the entire affair much, much smoother.
Talk about it at night, then again during the day. It is important that everyone understands the dual nature of the friendly project: part group hang out time, part second job that doesn't pay very well. If expectations are not well-managed, group members are likely to chafe against each other's misaligned intentions. A great way to set the tone for the partnership is to meet twice to discuss the proposed project: once in the evening, when everyone is relaxed and in 'leisure mode', then again during regular work hours, when everyone is in 'work mode'. These two times help set the tone for the project moving forward, and will help members understand that a friendly project can not (and should not) be all business or all goofing off.
Never be afraid to discuss anything. One of the most common pitfalls for friendly project groups is poor communication. One or more members are unsatisfied with something, but they keep it to themselves for fear of insulting, angering, or disappointing the other members. In doing this, they do a disservice to themselves and the group at large. Eventually, the issue always grows, and will tear a group apart if allowed. It is nearly always wiser to bring issues forward sooner than later: if the problem can be solved, great; if not, then everyone was saved the slow internal collapse that results from unaired grievances. Note that expressing one's self is not always easy in strong-willed groups. If you have a complaint that has been spoken repeatedly but never addressed, the solution might be finding a new group-- there is obviously a disconnect between the personalities of the group. As before, it is better to find these things out early than to suffer the friendship-hurting spiral of an imploding project.
Hang out beyond the project. Just as we all need work/life balance in our personal lives, friendships need project/fun balance. If you want to have a successful project with friends, the time spent together beyond the project itself is just as important as the time spent working. This is not to say that working together can't be fun; however, it shouldn't come in the way of other fun things. Working on a project together is not fun all the time; often, it's very stressfull. Words can easily become heated when hours of collective work are on the line, and the pressure to succeed can bend and break relationships. Remembering to spend time together outside of the context of the project can repair feelings that were accidentally hurt while working together. Neglecting this important concept can lead to resentment building over time, where members start to see eachother as adversaries more often than allies, often for reasons they can not explain. A good rule of thumb is at least one hour of hangout time for every day that the project is worked on, spent somewhere other that where the work happened.
These three rules are not the only things a group project needs to succeed, but they offer a solid start. Friendly projects are the origin of many, many games, and can bring joy to the lives of both the developers and the players who play their games. By following this guide, you can give your group the best possible chances of success, and keep your friends to boot.
--Dakota W Winslow