Monday, March 7, 2011

Don't Be A Dick

"Animation and Design and Programing need to be collaborative instead of combative to produce great game play and games that people want to play." - Brad Clark

After reading this the other night in the comments section of my blog, coupled with my procrastination in writing my GDC 2011 report, I wanted to touch on this as it reminded me of a conversation with someone at GDC this year.

I have been on both sides of the battle in my career when it has come to collaboration vs. combat in regards to creating a great game. I realized that this ultimately came down to one thing: Don't. Be. A. Dick.

When I started in the industry, fresh out of school, I was insistent that design had to be written down at the start of a project and could never change. I butted heads with designers and programmers because all I cared about was my animation looking good, and "f-you all because I know how to do your job better than you do." In other words, I thought I knew everything. Sounds familiar, right? I was kind of (read: very much so): A. Dick.

I was fortunate enough during this time to have developed friendships with artists, designers and programmers at my job, who counseled me (or called me out on my BS) and showed me that everyone had their part in the great machine of game development. At this point, I began to realize and understand that game development is part foresight, and part rolling with the punches. I abandoned my ego in this regard, and started trusting the team members in other disciplines to do their jobs. I started encouraging them to both give me feedback and to accept mine. It was (almost) always in a constructive form, and I felt they reciprocated in a similar manner. It was at this point that I felt I was prepared to lead a team, having cast aside my selfishness in favor of the greater good- making a kick-ass game.

Now, that's not to say that I was going to be a good lead, not right away. I was only 5 years into the industry, and only had 4 titles under my belt. I still had a lot to learn- in retrospect, I was still too "young" to be a lead. Hell, I'm almost 13 years in, and I STILL have a lot to learn. So I did what I thought was right- I tried to surround myself with animators who were better than me so that I could learn from others who had gone through what I was going through.

I hoped to learn from them, and learn I did, but not always what I thought I would. While learning from some on how to become a better animator, I also learned that experience and talent did not always mean that there was a willingness to help or to teach. Sometimes they meant insecurity and backstabbing to get ahead. I also learned that I wasn't yet prepared to help or teach new folks, to let go of that ownership that I felt I had over animation on my projects. It took me a while to become comfortable with letting go, but I understood from my experience with those who did not want to teach me that I had to let go. I had to give up control and trust the people on my team to do their jobs well.

I also learned that insecurity wasn't isolated to the experienced folks we brought in- I also learned it could come from fresh-out-of-school folks. Looking back, I realized that I, too, had been insecure when I started out. Because of that, I gave leeway to those guys while making sure to pull them aside when they were acting inappropriately. I tried to make myself as approachable as possible. Did it always work? No, but I tried, and that's all I felt I could do at the time.

From garnering these insights, I worked as hard as I could to ensure that I was open to new ideas and others taking the baton as I got "older." I did not want to be one of those old, curmudgeonly guys who was afraid of young talent- I wanted to become a lead who was OK with not being as talented as his team, but instead was talented at putting together the right group of people to get the job done.

Unfortunately, this doesn't always happen with everyone. I've seen people become leads who haven't gone through that same learning process that I went through. I've seen these people alienate themselves with their egos, with their senses of self entitlement. I've seen them scream at a room full of people because they weren't getting their way or were simply disagreeing with a decision. I've had them tell me that my management style of compromise was unacceptable and that they would "kick and scream" till they got what they wanted. I've seen them trash talk, directly or indirectly, co-workers or the work they've done, and I've seen them behave this way towards others or on your favorite social network.

Do these people succeed? Maybe, but not likely in the long-term, and not without changing. Sometimes they are in a management system that is bogged down and slow-moving in replacing them. Sometimes they could be in their position because they were the only option, so they need to be allowed to learn from the mistakes they are making. Sometimes they are socially adept in blinding people to their ineffectiveness, or were recommended by their mentors for the position only to show their true colors after. Whatever the case, without changing, these people won't last. The teams they are on will either succeed in spite of them or fail in part because of them, and their actions and behavior will not be forgotten. Some will learn the important lesson and others won't, which is:

Don't. Be. A. Dick.


  1. I couldn't agree more. Sounds like you and I both had a similar way of becoming leads and how we handled things as a lead. One of the hardest lessons I had to learn as a lead was that I could say "no" to a request. For the first year of being a lead I wanted to keep saying yes because I thought it would benefit the game. Then realized some of the things I was agreeing to caused unnecessary work for my team. Finally, I felt confident enough to say no, but also give concise reasons why those requests weren't going to be done.

  2. Oh man, I had plenty of "no" backlash. Even now I struggle with when to say no, but I am lucky that the team I am on right now can tell when I am saying "yes" too much.

    If it was easy, everyone would do it and be successful at it :)

  3. Well said. :)

    I also say that this mindset also can be applied to Senior artists, etc, not just Leads.

    From either personality, focus, social skills, or lack of opportunity, or capacity there are many artists out there that will never become a lead.

    The same thing still applies of "DBAD" though, you're not off the hook. :)

    Take the blinders off. See how you fit into the grand scheme of things on the project. Mentor other artists who are junior in your discipline (or other disciplines if you can), and definitely try to make it easier for the people around you be it programming, design, etc. by seeing where they are coming from.

    You do that and you can thrive in the industry.

  4. Last comment was from Purpixel by the way. Google is being weird... :)

  5. Hear, Hear! Fantasticly put. And while I'm still trying to break into this industry I was a Marine and a Lead Web Developer, so while my experiences are from different lifestyles/industries, the lessons are the same. I can say, though, that because of the Marine Corps I did learn a lot of these lessons there - due either to my own leadership or watching others lead.

    Three big things I always remind myself of are:

    "Lead by example", "Knowledge is Power" and "Treat others as you would like to be treated" (Golden Rule).

    As a lead(er) if you remember those three things, you'll always succeed. Do what you tell others to do; Share your knowledge because someone did it to get you to this point; Don't be a dick. :)

  6. These are great ideas to hand down and appreciate you sharing it! Going to school for Game Design, we are also taught the same things you talked about. The only question is, does it stick in the mind of the one that has learned it?

    Personally, I always try to learn from others. I, too, wonder how I will handle those "no" situations if I ever reach that situation. I don't believe I'm a dick, and if I am at some moment, it's from that moment.

    Thanks, once again, for sharing!