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Accountability vs. Responsibility
by Clinton Keith on 08/30/11 01:02:00 pm   Expert Blogs   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


I read this great quote from Gabe Newell in this Gamasutra article:

“Yeah, nobody can ever say "that's not my job." Nobody ever gets to let themselves off the hook. If there's a problem, you've gotta fix it.”

It demonstrates a high level of accountability at Valve, not just responsibility. The words accountability and responsibility are used interchangeably, but they don’t mean the same thing and the difference is important for game development teams.

Responsibility is assignable and forward looking.  For example, as an artist, I might be responsible for creating a model.  As a programmer, I might be responsible for making the character jump.

Accountability is backward looking.  Both the artist and programmer should be accountable for the character correctly jumping over the model.  Unfortunately, a lack of accountability might lead both to ignore the problem as “not their responsibility”.

Accountability isn’t as easily assignable as responsibility.  It’s more intrinsic.  

Focusing exclusively on the assignment of responsibility tends to tell developers that those making the assignments will take care of all the cracks that will happen between areas of responsibility.  A balanced approached of delivering a part of a game and being accountable for its fun of it is harder.

The hard part is how is to grow accountability in a studio culture.  How do you grow it in yours?

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Tony Celentano
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I manage a team of writers for an MMORPG-themed blog, and balancing responsibility with accountability can be difficult. For example, it's my responsibility to ensure fresh content goes on the website. But sometimes I get some pretty bad submissions, which leads to accountability - I need to hold the author accountable for the poor article, but in doing my responsibility to ensure fresh content, I end up accepting the article and heavily editing it myself until it's almost a brand new article. Thus, in a way I'm encouraging negative behaviour from the author, but if I perform my responsibility correctly, they will see the edits I made to their article and know what I expect in the future

Clinton Keith
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Ultimately you are the one accountable for the content, but that is matched against your authority to accept and edit the articles themselves. I think this is one of the challenges of growing accountability: the lack of authority to make the necessary decisions.

Typically in your role, you might start to lead by example--as you are doing--but are their opportunities to hand-off more to the writers? Can you increase mentoring? Can you share more authority (albeit with limits) to the point where those you have properly mentored only have to get a pass/fail from you on their articles?

The problem I see with granting too much accountability up front is that it's like throwing a kid into water over their head to teach them how to swim (like my father did). Sometimes it's way too early.


Dan Vargas
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This is always something that is harder to do when there are more people on the team or the studio/project goals are more short-term. I found attempts to culture accountability only succesful within smaller teams or companies that were actually investing in their employees as opposed to products.

The most effective methods I've found have been to gradually delegate responsibilities that require increasingly more co-operation, collaboration and communication. At each new step coaching/mentoring would be in place to support someone taking on a new responsibility. At some point the number of responsiblities develop dependancies between themselves and that is where one person can be accountable. (for example being 'in-charge' of certain game feature that requires multiple disciplines) Patience is required - its not something quickly learned.

I think the more important aspect is the idea of making someone feel engaged and allowing their decisions/actions to actually have a 'visible' effect within the company or the project itself. This is not something obviously tangible and has a more to do with personality as it does with approach. So - you want to have the right people doing the jobs that make them happy and balanced so that they actually care enough to act selflessly.

Anywho, this is not my area of expertise, just what I think. I'm still learning more about it each day.

Interesting topic for sure. Thanks for the article!