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  • Industry Hopefuls: Prepare Intelligently!

    [07.07.09]
    - Lewis Pulsipher

  • Now let's add the three things the video game industry wants from "new blood" such as school graduates:

    Ability to work in teams

    Before 1990, video games tended to be created by one person. Now, with very few exceptions, such games are created by teams, from half a dozen people for a casual game to more than a hundred for a AAA list game. The really big games are "designed" by committee, with contributions from everyone; the designer tends to be a person who gets everyone to work together and keep the original "vision" of the game in mind, rather than someone who comes up with all the ideas and solutions for changes and improvements.

    If it's a relatively small video game, and the designer has a strong personality, he will have a stronger influence on the game result than otherwise.

    See Jill Duffy's discussion of teamwork at http://www.gamasutra.com/php-bin/news_index.php?story=21678, including the comments.

    Students tend to dread working in groups in a classroom setting, and it's certainly true that if everyone in the group isn't on the same page, the result is unlikely to be good.

    Student groups DO tend to make awful teams, because of lack of commitment: students aren't always serious about their "work", and they cannot get fired (at least, not until it's too late for the team to succeed).

    Voluntary groups are more likely to be successful, but if everyone isn't being paid, and isn't ultimately in jeopardy of being fired, there still can be a lack of long-term commitment.

    Yet even in a game studio, some of the people you work with will be less than "stellar". Yes, you will work with some outstanding people, but you can't rely on that to get you through. You have to learn to work with "average" people. Yet this is no different than what anyone experiences in other industries, or in team sports. We all have heard that the team with the best teamwork, not the most talented players, usually wins. And we've all heard of star players who score a lot, but whose teams suffer for it.

    On the other hand, one of the most bogus phrases heard in a typical businessplace is "he's not a team player", because it often means, "he won't do what I want him to", or "he won't do some of my work", or "I don't like him". Often the person making the accusation is the one who isn't the team player. You have to learn to navigate through sometimes-choppy waters.

    The key to any team is a "collegial" point of view, that the members care primarily about the success of the team, not about individual accolades or rewards.

    The leaders who work most effectively, it seems to me, never say "I." And that's not because they have trained themselves not to say "I." They don't think "I." They think "we"; they think "team." They understand their job to be to make the team function. They accept responsibility and don't sidestep it, but "we" gets the credit. This is what creates trust, what enables you to get the task done. --Peter Drucker

    Ability to think critically ("critical thinking")

    Critical thinking is a slippery idea, and Wikipedia will do as well as any other definition:

    "Critical thinking consists of mental processes of discernment, analysis and evaluation. It includes possible processes of reflecting upon a tangible or intangible item in order to form a solid judgment that reconciles scientific evidence with common sense."

    "Critical thinking has its basis in intellectual criteria that go beyond subject-matter divisions and which include: clarity, credibility, accuracy, precision, relevance, depth, breadth, logic, significance and fairness."

    So "critical" here is in the sense of inquisitive and evaluative, not in a negative sense of criticizing someone. Much of game creation, and especially of the iterative process of incrementally improving a game to make it worth publishing, requires strong critical thinking. The process of testing and modifying a game is much akin to the scientific method, controlled experimentation, hypothetical solutions, incremental results.

    The game designer needs to have his brain in gear all the time. When playing games, he should be thinking about what works, what doesn't, and why. He must keep his mind open to ideas at all times. He must think about how to improve his game even when (if) he enjoys playing it. The game can always be improved, we just come to a time when the improvement we can get isn't worth the time it will take (the law of diminishing marginal returns).

    "Fanboys" (or girls) will never make good game designers, as they typically praise a game or genre uncritically. Self-criticism is especially important. If you can't recognize that your favorite mechanic just doesn't fit, or just isn't needed, then you won't design good games. Self-indulgence is "verboten".

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