CORE Review: Team Motivation and Accountability

Being a student producer can be kind of tricky only because I don’t have any “real” power. Although I am the one my team reports to on progress, if they don’t complete their tasks on time I don’t have the ability to fire them like I could in the real world. Figuring out the proper way to motivate my team is important to me, so when Glynis and I attended our first CORE review session with other game students from different classes and CORE faculty Bob Mayor, questions of team motivations were at the forefront of my mind.

These CORE review sessions are intended to help us own what we make and reflect on the decisions we have made during our game development capstone. At Champlain, CORE is an interdisciplinary program that all students must take classes in from freshmen to junior year. These courses are discussion based and teach students how to think critically, examine other perspectives, and communicate effectively. In senior year, we no longer have to take CORE courses, but game majors do have to attend four CORE review sessions for our college capstone. These sessions are incredibly valuable because not only do we get feedback about our designs and team dynamics from Bob Mayer, now a CORE professor and former video game journalist, but we also get advice from our peers in other capstone classes that we wouldn’t have gotten otherwise.

Bob had us all introduce ourselves and we each had to explain what we were working on as well as seek feedback in whatever area we felt it was needed. When it came my turn to speak, I asked how I could motivate my team effectively without seeming like an evil dictator. I explained how in the past I would have team members who did not complete their assigned tasks on time, and I wanted to know how best to handle a situation like this if it came up again during my capstone game development. Previously, I just spoke with those team members who were lacking in their performance and politely nudged them, but what other methods could be effective? I asked Bob and my peers how I could hold my team accountable and keep them motivated, and I got a lot of valued responses.

My fellow producer’s advice on motivation was to get to know each of my team members individually. He said that not everyone is motivated in the same way. Some people may need to be constantly reminded about their tasks, but others may find constant reminders annoying and simply need a few subtle hints along the way. As the semester goes on, I will get to know my team better and better. We have a movie night planned for this Friday along with some other capstone teams. Holding informal events and get-together like these can be incredibly useful in getting to know team members personally outside of the professional classroom setting. The next advice I received about team motivation was from Bob Mayer. He said that guilt can be a useful tactic to motivate team members. Rather than yell or nag team members for not completing goals, I should instead explain to them how their laziness is negatively impacting the team and our project as a whole. He made a very good point that even if someone is lazy, they typically don’t want to let their team down. By communicating how important their task was and how they really let the team down by neglecting it, team members should feel a sense of duty to complete their tasks for the betterment of the team as a whole.

The following advice was from a game artist on another team and of all the advice I think this was the most valuable to me. She told me that she appreciated it most when producers and team members set goals together. She suggested that instead of assigning specific tasks to team members based on what I think is most important, I should ask them what they think is most important and we can agree on a task list together.  By making team members set their own goals and determine which tasks they believe need to be done next, they feel more accountable not only to me as the project manager, but also to themselves. I spoke to my team about assigning their own tasks at our next meeting and received a postive response.My artist Maddie agreed wholeheartedly, saying that even if I tell her to do something she may not do it if she simply does not have time to get it done, but she may be too shy to say so. By setting goals together, we are all held accountable.

This CORE review session was extremely helpful because I received advice from numerous disciplines. Not only did I receive advice from a professional game reviewer, but also from a fellow game producer, as well as artists, designers, and programmers from different game teams who offered their varied advice about team motivation. I look forward to my next CORE review session and the valuable advice it will offer me.

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Conceptualization

Entering into senior year capstone I was (and still am) filled with excitement! I am the producer of a very talented team. One aspect of our team that is unique from the others is that we have a majority of females on our team. Our designer is Glynis, a super friendly and creative woman who I approached last spring about teaming up for senior year capstone. Maddie is our artist who is fairly quiet but insightful. She is incredibly talented. Eric is our programmer who I don’t know particularly well, but I’ve heard good things about him. After our first class I encouraged my team to come up with any idea they pleased–nothing was off limits. I myself came up with a succubus dating sim in which you seduce men and steal their souls for the devil–but that is a blog post for another time.

I know that when teams first form there is often a primary tension phase in which group members may be shy to share their opinions. Fortunately for us we knew each other previously so there isn’t much awkwardness. We’ve met in various settings so far, both on campus and off. We met at my apartment to narrow down our list of game ideas and ate pizza. I think having a casual setting for meetings can be effective in making the group more comfortable and may spark ideas one wouldn’t have thought of stifled in an academic library.

We came up with a list of 30+ game ideas, but we needed to narrow it down to three. In my senior game production capstone class, the first phase of development is the Initial Concepts stage in which we must create basic prototypes and presentations for our top 3 game ideas. As anxious as we were to devote ourselves to three ideas immediately, we understood that it was important we really take our time and think about the strengths and weaknesses of all our favorite ideas in order to narrow down the list. After our first meeting where we came up with the list of 30, I told my team we should each select our top five game ideas and expand on them. A few days later we met again to compare our favorite ideas as well as consider which of our game ideas our classmates found most compelling. We eventually narrowed down our list to four ideas:

  1. Witch Simulator – A game for girls designed to appeal to their sense of wonder and creativity. Players create their own witch and live in a small hut in the forest. They are tasked with collecting magical ingredients to mix potions for the nearby village. Players can choose whether to be a good witch who creates potions to aid the villagers, or they can be an evil witch and cause chaos in the town.
  2. Demon Hunter Con Artist – A dark yet funny reverse tower defense game in which the player must sabotage a medieval village to lure demons so he can fight them off to make money. The player must be careful which demons she lures to the village in order to create a controlled chaos in which no one gets seriously hurt, but she is still able to make a profit defending the village from the demons she lured.
  3. Art History AP educational game – This game would serve as a tool for students studying for the AP exam. Players start out in an art gallery and have the power to enter various paintings from different times in history. The game would task players with finding the errors in each painting and correcting them to fit the correct style for that time period.
  4. Kanji Fighting educational game – In this game for mobile devices, players would fight enemies by tracing simple Kanji words on their mobile device’s screen. The player takes on the role of an uneducated Japanese man who must learn Kanji in order to become a respected samurai warrior.

We can only present on 3 game ideas, so we had to narrow down the list. We spent some time discussing each game, but I could tell the team was still uncertain. Although we all agreed that we definitely wanted to work on the Witch Simulator game, we couldn’t decide between the other 3. Instead of forcing us to make a decision right then, I suggested we each take a couple more days to figure out our favorite final two games while simultaneously working on the Witch Simulator game. I said that we should each come up with arguments for our two favorite games and point out the weaknesses in our least favorite. With this plan, the team could still remain productive by working on the witch game, but we wouldn’t be forced to lock in a decision we were still uncertain about. Thus, we parted ways and met again a few days later.

At the next meeting, the goal was to finalize which concepts we wanted to commit too. After voicing our opinions, it was time to vote. Since this is America, democracy ruled and in the end the top two contenders where the Demon Hunter game and the Kanji Fighting educational game. We decided the art history game was over scope and would involve way too much art to be viable. We also had reservations about how to make it fun and were uncertain about the mechanics.

We have concluded that we plan to challenge the first stage in our game development capstone class on Thursday the 29th. On this day we are to present our three prototypes and presentations justifying each of our game concepts. We decided the Kanji game could easily be made as a paper prototype, so while Eric, our programmer, is working on prototyping the Witch Game for this Thursday, the 22nd, Glynis, our designer, is working on the paper prototype for the Kanji game. The following week will be dedicated to the Demon Hunter Con Artist game. As the producer I have already begun comparing the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (SWOT Analysis) for each of our three game concepts and once we run quality assurance testing on each and present in front of the class, more of these SWOT factors will come to light. By comparing these factors, we should be able to determine which game we want to go forward with into the Deep Dive stage of our game development capstone class, where we select our favorite game concept and run with it. Once again, I am feeling good about my team and our capabilities. The only thing we’re missing currently is a team name.