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  • 6 Things I Learned From My First Big Failure

    [07.14.15]
    - Evan Fradley-Pereira
  •  [Evan F.p. is a professor of interaction design/development and a games writer. You can find him on Twitter at @FP_Evan.]

    My first major game project was a spec job for a major Canadian music label during college. The label, in search of new revenue sources, got to roll-the-dice on some free development and our postgraduate class got to work with media-industry professionals and (potentially) kick-off our careers with a prestigious credit under our belts.

    Unfortunately, the project was never completed. After 8 months of development, communication between our studio and the client ceased, and we graduated with portfolios consisting of whatever respective indie projects we had been able to put together.

    Despite the project's failure, the majority of my graduating class is now either gainfully employed in the games industry or happily working on personal projects. Three of us work together at Fuse Powered, where we make tools that help mobile publishers build better, more approachable free-to-play games. One of us went on to become a AAA 3D level designer. One of us is at Riot.

    They were (and continue to be) a very talented bunch of guys, and though we might not have finished what we set out to do, the experience afforded us an accelerated education in the absolute fundamentals of game development that I am often surprised to find lacking even among veterans. The lessons from our collective failure that year are among the most important for anyone in the early stages of their career, and they have contributed to the success we have all since enjoyed. I thought I'd share a few.

    1. Start Small

    Our program afforded us free labour from other college students working towards their diplomas in game development. Working on our project earned them class credit, and our smaller postgraduate class was not only charged with putting them all to work, but also evaluating their performance and ultimately assigning each of them a letter grade. For many of us, that level of authority was unprecedented, and for a few it proved intoxicating. Having a such a huge labour pool at our disposal led us to believe we could accomplish something great, but it quickly went downhill.

    The sheer volume of assets we had to deal with would have been a challenge for an experienced project manager, and we had just adopted the title of "producers" a few weeks prior. The swollen team made for impersonal communication and many hours of development time were wasted or lost in the shuffle. Many team members, rightfully frustrated with the lack of organization, stopped showing up. 

    In the beginning, you don't need more resources. You need the right resources, and you need to have the skill to manage them. When building a team, whether you're working with freelancers, game jam partners, or even hiring salaried employees, invest the time in sorting through what's available/affordable and find the effective communicators who hit deadlines and ask questions. You will accomplish more with a SWAT team than a barbarian horde. If you are weak, the horde will turn on you, and they will be right to do so.

    2. Learn Everything

    We ran into issues in the pipeline where people on both sides of a blocker threw their hands up and said, "Not my problem. I did what I was asked." When the issue was eventually resolved, 80% of the time it turned out to be a case of one team member chucking their contribution over the fence without knowing enough about how it affected the work of other team members down the line.

    No matter what role you play in the world of game development, learn enough about every other discipline that you can carry on a meaningful conversation with the other members of your team. Knowing the key terms, especially in the area where your two disciplines overlap, will make you far more valuable than just being very good at what you do.

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