Learning by Leading
I have been working as a Producer on Project Nautilus at this point in time 7 months. During my time on this project I have made incredible progress as a Producer and a teammate. This has been my longest experience in terms of my game development career, and I get to keep growing over the course of these 2 remaining months.
Being in this leadership role has forced me to go outside of my comfort zone and to do some serious reflection of my time on the time. After reflecting how far I have come with this project I have seen massive growth for myself in three main areas. Those three areas are People Management, Publishing, Having Difficult Conversations
1. People Management
Here is the Isthmus Studios that I started leading back in August of 2021(Save for the last 2 who are contractors who joined later in the project). These 7 incredible individuals are valued friends and teammates are who I stood on stage with on November 22nd to pitch Project Nautilus. While we had our communication hiccups we still had great trust in one another, and as a result we had strong team formation. Now lets fast forward to January 2022 when the team expanded to over double its size.
In January 2022 we expanded to 21 folks (16 Champlain Game Developers, and 5 Contractors). This many people to manage and keep track of is impossible for one person. However thankfully we have incredible leads on this team and a second producer. With this many people it can get easy to get lost in the amount of communication pipelines that exist ( I know it was a worry for me ). However I have incredible leaders on this team to help support me in this endeavor. Managing all of these people at this level is impossible for one person and with all of the leadership I don't have to. I'm able to take a step back and allow the leads to compile from disciplines and we can bring together to see what's going on with the team. As a producer I'm still responsible for looking at the team and managing them, but now I have support to make the work arduous. Its easy being a producer and thinking you have to have the whole world on your shoulders, but your part of a team. Teammates support one another and looking to leads is a vital step in asking for that help and support.
Publishing games is something that I have always been interested since I started my journey into game development. How does a game get onto the store page of big platforms like Steam, PlayStation, or Xbox? Publishing is something incredible essential to our industry but its a process many game developers don't deal with directly, relegating this task for Publishers. Folks whose job it is to get you on your target platforms on time and with large fanfare. While I had learned about pieces of it in my advanced seminars I hadn't been able to attempt.
In the summer of 2021 I was given an opportunity to Publish onto Steam with a local company started by Champlain Students. The game ModBots was my first attempt at actual publishing. The story of what I learned from that process is long and merits its own blog post, however I still wanted more experience working with the Steamworks system. Steam is such an industry standard for so many games and I wanted to not only more experience with the system, but also to publish my game that I (and every member of the team) have tireless worked for. For it to be available for so many to enjoy is the end goal for our team.
So this semester My second producer Alex Barnett I started to get the work into place for us to push to Steam. I get to handle working with Steamworks, and making sure we meet the criteria required to be on Steam. Then Alex is going to be working on our Twitter following to ensure the growth of our community and visibility on our game when we get ready to launch and when we subsequently launch. All of it is incredibly exciting and I look forward to getting to talk about it more in a future post.
3. Having Difficult Conversations
The last area that I want to reflect on is something that took a lot of work to develop over the course of this project. Isthmus Studios our game team has always had a team first mindset. We want people to know they are people and to be treated with respect and dignity. However part of this trust comes from us holding one another accountable and that means addressing things that come up within the team and making sure people are doing what they are setting out to do.
However with this human first mindset I have found that members on this team are afraid to interrupt the status quo and to engage in some healthy conflict out of fear of hurting someone. While the intentions are well meaning in the end they set folks up for failure. If someone has behavior that is detrimental to the team or themselves, and its not addressed this will permeate throughout the team. As a result its key to have these tough conversations.
The reason this is one of my biggest area of growth is because for a time I was in that camp of people afraid to shake things up. However I realized at the start of this semester when we had now expanded the team, we couldn't let tough conversations just fall by the wayside. This semester I have had to have a sit down with a few members of the team, and just address problems that had been allow to persist. These problems of course started out small, but repeating made these behaviors almost toxic.
Walking away after these tough conversations I have realized that its my duty as a teammate to hold my peers accountable for their actions. As a project manager I should be helping to facilitate more of these conversations in a way that is safe and respectful to my peers. I know people reading this may be conflict adverse, but take it from someone who can be conflict adverse. It is far better to all parties to correct a behavioral issue and have difficult conversations when things are happening. When you sit on things and let them permeate it becomes far worse to your team. In some extreme cases you damage team health and morale, or even worse lose trust from your team. Losing trust from your teammates is the worst possible outcome, because without trust nothing gets done.
Looking back on the progress of this project I am very thankful to my team for challenging me to grow as a person and as a professional. I can not think of a better team to help me in this endeavor, and I look forward to more of what I learn in the future form this team.