How to Get Your Game Team Moving Toward a Clear VisionMar 16, 2023
Read Time: 4 Minutes
One of the most common things we see at game studios is frantic execution toward an unclear outcome (the old “road to nowhere”).
We’ll talk to producers and leaders and they’ll all give us different answers to what the game is. When we start asking questions about the audience things will REALLY go off the rails.
Founders and senior leadership are often frustrated with the lack of progress, why the outcomes aren’t cohesive, or why the team doesn’t understand the “plan” even after repeated attempts to clarify it.
Burn rates are insane, delivery is questionable, and nobody seems to be on the same page. We’re high-fiving each other about the cool new art assets in review meetings, but that frustration is still there. Eventually the inevitable happens…
*ROBOT VOICE* Initiate Replanning
Mobilize the team.
Broad estimation sessions
Big Gantt chart rebuilds and JIRA dashboard setups.
Most importantly, DON’T ask anyone why the last 3 plans didn’t work 😉
This never works because we’re not acknowledging that we’ve skipped the most important parts of the process:
Who is our audience, and why do they need our game?
What’s the change that our game offers, and what key things will we invest in?
We need to create crisp & clear direction, then start calibrating the team daily…
Who is Your Audience?
This isn’t user profiles, tons of research, or some fancy journey map; it’s simply having a hypothesis about who will play your game, and talking to those people every day. Understanding their problems, their frustrations, and their challenges. The closer you are to real problems your audience needs solved the easier it will be for you to make decisions about what to do next.
How do you do that?
Your team should talk about who the audience is and why you picked them. You should find out what games they play and play them as a team. You should have the team spend some of their time talking to these people and listening to their problems and frustrations. And most of all you should talk about your audience internally to deepen understanding. Every. Single. Day. Knowing them and understanding them should become an obsession. It will be complicated. It will be full of nuance. That is why the only way your team will get aligned on what it all means is by interacting and talking about it every day.
This is the “why”.
Principles for Making Decisions
Your teams will make 100 decisions every day. You want to make sure they’re the right ones, and that they’re focused on your vision as much as possible. At Riot, we built a deep understanding of the role that monetization played in League of Legends. “We don’t sell power”, was a principle to help teams understand how to make good decisions for the player. We’d constantly ask at every level “Is this decision player-focused?”
As leaders, you need to understand what those principles are for you. Not just to put up on a wall, but to use as a basis to calibrate your teams and other leaders every moment of every day. Apply these principles in every conversation you have to build cohesion, alignment, and keep everyone moving in the same direction. If you hear a conversation where there’s a “misunderstanding” of one of the principles - pull the devs aside and discuss. Use examples of these misunderstandings and re-alignments as stories you can tell the rest of the company. This requires constant investment from you and the leaders around you.
Building a Strategy Everyone can Apply
Now that we understand the “why” (and who it’s for) we can move into the “what”. I hear a lot of people talk about strategy but I rarely ever see one that’s crisp and clearly understood. Often leaders make the mistake of only transacting in features and tasks with their team, which sidesteps the understanding of what we’re building. YOU might know but you need to make sure they know too.
Find stories of great decisions made by line leaders and devs in your studio that served the strategy well. Find stories that weren’t so great. Tell them often. Create strategic buckets (areas of investment), then prioritize them, then show them to the team at the beginning of every product-related meeting. Each strategic bucket should be a core bet you’ll be making that positively impacts your audience. Don’t ask how feature X is going, ask how feature X impacts the strategic buckets you’ve prioritized.
This is the “what”.
Focusing effort in these key areas at your studio will provide the foundation for that clarity and focus across all teams that you’re looking for.
Take these 3 actions with you to get your teams mobilized toward that north star:
Start a conversation about who your audience is if you don’t already have clarity at your studio. When you figure it out, engage with them directly ASAP.
Build a list of - and prioritize - your strategic buckets. Put them at the front of every slide deck and every meeting. Start asking teams how the work they’re doing impacts your strategy.
Have daily conversations about the audience, principles, and strategy with your team. Talk about it until you’re blue in the face. Make this the main conversation you have with them as a leader.
We did a podcast episode on staying vision-focused:
Whenever you’re ready, there are 3 ways we can help you…
—>Courses built by game devs for game devs - check out “Succeeding in Game Production” HERE.
—>Regular deep dives on critical game development topics on the BBG podcast
—>We’ve helped many high-profile game studios save a ton of money & time through building clear vision and leveling up leadership. If you’d like to work with us, please reach out at [email protected].
“Where there is no vision, there is no hope.”
“Many are stubborn in pursuit of the path they have chosen, few in pursuit of the goal.”