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  • Project Management: How To Balance Money, Brain Power And Morale

    - Sara Casen
  • This is part three in a series of blog posts about how to work smarter, not harder, on your game! I previously wrote about how to use the iterative ABC-recipe to make your game, and why you absolutely should not crunch when you make games. This time I'll write about how we at Midnight Hub allocate time for tasks, how we work with sprints and why "time" and "money" are only two of (at least) six resources you need to balance when making your game. I'll speak as a producer and project manager.

    Lake Ridden is a story-driven first-person mystery filled with puzzles, developed by former Minecraft and Paradox devs, in Sweden.

    Before co-founding Midnight Hub I've worked at Paradox and Tarsier, among others. Comments and feedback on this piece are always welcome here, or you can find me on Twitter. Midnight Hub is a five-man army based in Sweden. Our upcoming game Lake Ridden is a puzzle game filled with story and mysteries. Let's go!

    Time, Money, Physical Toll, Morale and Brain Power

    When making something, anything really, you have to manage your resources. At their most basic form, your resources are: time, money and the scope of your product. Let's cut them up and take a look at each category, so see which other sub-categories you should manage too!

    Time, as a concept is kinda tricky for the human brain to understand. Some days seem to fly by while others crawl. When someone tells you got 40 hours this week to work on your game, what does that really tell you? Not much, probably. Especially when you have a job where some days you take one step forward and two steps back. Or when you start working on a totally new feature and no one is really sure how things should work or feel in the end. This is also the reason the Scrum method count points instead of hours. Time is hard to understand.

    Not all tasks are born equal! Different tasks burn different resources from the team. A task like building 30 new props for an in-game house might not cost you any extra money, but it takes a lot of time for the artist making them, and if it's monotonous work the morale of that team member can take a hit.

    When making a game you (probably) have a finite amount of money before you have to release the game and (hopefully) earn back the money you spent plus even more to afford bringing more awesome games to this world! Some things burn through a lot of money, like salaries and paying a QA firm to do your bug testing.

    Two other resources that you burn when working, may it be harvesting carrots or writing loot systems, is the physical toll it has on your body and the brain power it takes to perform. If you're working heavy duty in a restaurant kitchen it may have a severe physical effect on your muscles, but perhaps not so much on your brain. If you're solving complex, abstract problems all day in a spreadsheet you'll most likely feel the effect it has on your brain at the end of the day.

    I spoke about "materials" in the previous blog post. What are the materials you burn/wear out doing your work? When making games you usually need very little equipment, while other activities, such as refining paper from trees take a lot of equipment and materials.

    The final (and perhaps the most important resource) you have to take care of is morale, or motivation. Dealing with a fairly easy task becomes very hard if you lack the motivation to do it. Loss of motivation can easily destroy a whole team. It's very hard to buy motivation, most creative people are not motivated by money after a certain point. If you love money then making games is not really where you should be.

    Killing A Mammoth

    To recap, the resources you are burning to fulfill the scope of your game is: time, money, materials, brain, body and morale. The amount of money you have in the bank can be translated into the amount of time you have left to make the game. How many months of salaries and rents does that money buy you? And the amount of time you have left can be distributed to make different things for the game. Different tasks will burn different resources from your team members, may it be motivation or brain power.

    Some tasks burn a whole lot more than others. This is what we label a "Mammoth Task". It's something that's expensive, takes a lot of time, makes your body ache and drains your brain. How it affects morale is hard to tell. If you showed your game to the press and they loved it, then perhaps you gain morale instead of burning it!

    We have a term for tasks that require almost all of these resources to be burned at the same time: Mammoth Tasks. I quickly mentioned this in an earlier blog post. They are big, complex things that you may have never done before, that require a lot of brain power, that takes a bit of time and if you get them wrong the consequences may be severe. An example could be building a totally new light system for the whole game, or to get investors to invest in your company. If someone has a mammoth task it can make sense to let them work 80% or 50%, since these kind of tasks are extremely draining. Remember, the last thing you want is to crunch your developers!


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