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[reprint from my blog]
I'm a backer for a Kickstarter game but have been a little slow to follow up on the updates. Recently I had an opportunity to finally catch up and there was something that really touched me with the latest documentary video. I'm going to do my best to describe something without breaking any backer-only secrets because I do feel that it is something worth discussing.
In the video, there was a disagreement between the designer and an animator. The animator created what he felt was a somewhat comical moment while the designer thought that it was too soon in the overall arc of the game, that the mood should still feel more somber. Ultimately, the disagreement ended in the only way most disagreements like this can end, the designer pulled rank to make it clear that the scene needed to be changed. The animator was clearly hurt by the change but he swallowed his pride and, with a stiff upper lip, wiped the animation slate to try again.
In the workplace, these kinds of disagreements happen often, and even more so as the team size shrinks and more hats start to fall onto less people. Though video games are developed by teams they are still teams of individuals with their own passions and their own desires. No one really wants to simply be a tool with which to create another person's vision; most of use would like to infuse at least a little bit of ourselves into the work we are paid to do. It is a difficult line to tow when you are feeling inspired but that inspiration seems almost misguided for the objects held by those above you.
I've had plenty of projects that involved a ragtag team of talent. Some projects I pre-paid and others were built on "contract agreements" based on the release and success of a game or product. When you are paying for a wage the dynamic doesn't change much from your typical 9-5 job. Things get very different when you are trying to keep teams motivated on the promise of just having a completed project, and the promise of future payments. A little money now almost always sounds better than the potential for a lot of money later.
I've had my share of moments like the one I described above, moments where I had to put my foot down for the sake of the project continuing to move forward. And when the other half has no monetary investment in the game; no steady wage - when they are simply riding on the high of making something new and inventive - that bank account was just emptied out.
Like clockwork is seems that these "contractual agreements" seem to fall through in 2 situations. The first situation is when the "wouldn't it be cool if" brainstorming is over and it's time to get to work. This may be as early as pre-production or as late as early production phase. The second is when the hard choices need to be made and one voice has to be the one that everyone follows. The one voice doesn't always have to be the team leader or the designer, but all it takes is for any person's own wishes to be misaligned with those of the winning voice. This mismatch is sure to spark departures from the team, and when you are looking at team sizes of 3-10 people you are talking about the potential of losing nearly half of your workforce because someone's feelings were hurt.
At a developer that I once worked for; a place where I had the pleasure of cutting my teeth in the commercial games space, we had something of an inside joke about the bonus checks that conveniently arrived around the height of the crunch cycle. We called them attitude adjustments.
We'd all like to believe that we are better than money, that it doesn't control us, but money certainly helps to smooth the bumps we receive on the path to building a finished product. Sadly, I've been a part of too many projects involving contractual agreements; some of them my own. I have yet to ever see one of them reach the end. The only projects that have ever seen the end have been those where money is the motivator, not the vision or the design. I'm not sure what that says just yet. In all my years of being in the middle of these grass roots games, I don't know that I've processed it long enough to know how to feel about it. I always seem to be the person who holds onto the dream longer than most on these teams, and I try to keep the passion alive, but there are only so many pep talks and motivation speeches before people start to value their down time more than their need to push forward. It's easy to see the missing number in the formula when every other box is checked; the talent, the design, the game plan, but not the money.
When I look at videos like the documentary I saw, I realize that game would have never been made without money...