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Creating an Iterative Culture
by Seth Sivak on 10/09/13 01:11:00 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.


This is cross-posted from the Proletariat Blog

The best games come from iteration, but how can we build that into our process and culture? This is something we have worked hard to create at Proletariat and we push every day to foster this culture. Here are three important steps to creating a culture of iteration within your own team:

1. Constantly review

Goal: Everyone on the team helps each other create the best work possible in a constructive manner.

The first step in creating an iterative culture is for team members to constantly review their work with the rest of the team. While uncomfortable at first, especially when work is in-progress, it’s critical to establishing feedback loops within the team. At Proletariat, we formally do this on Fridays in our weekly review meetings (which we stream live on Twitch) and informally with smaller groups.

Action Item: Create review steps in the process where people from all different disciplines can give feedback on ideas. Start these formally and then allow them to develop organically.

2. Nothing is ever “done”

Goal: Stay flexible with features so that team members can return to past work and polish it while the game evolves.

The constant review process will get the team comfortable showing work that isn’t complete. The next step is to make it clear that nothing is ever “done”. There’s always room for improvement or polish, whether it is art, design, or code. As the game continues to evolve and features are completed, multiple passes may be required. The idea that it’s not done means that the team can move on knowing they’ll have a chance to return to features later and iterate on them. This only works if the team trusts the producers and the schedule.

At Proletariat, we build lists into our backlog that contain issues the team wants to re-address. At the end of every milestone, we try to leave a week to work on the backlog, which we call a “debt” week. Team members can work on their own, prioritizing the parts of their work they feel need the most attention.

Action Item: Build lists in the backlog with pieces that require polish. Provide frequent breaks during the development process to let the team dig into the backlog.

3. Give it away

Goal: Allow for open and honest feedback and ideas to encourage the team to not hold on to a single personal idea.

It is common to see developers struggle to let go of “their” idea, hurting the process. Instead of focusing on letting an idea go, put the focus on giving the idea away so the rest of the team can build from it.

Everyone on the team is expected to throw ideas into the pile and what comes out is the result of the process. Each member of the team must understand that the moment an idea is spoken aloud to the group it is no longer their idea. This is the same for any art, music, sound, or code. I like to think about this as not letting go of your ideas but instead giving them away to the team. Members are expected to contribute their creative talents and that is a great gift to the final product.

Action Item: Be critical of ideas but not their sources. Develop a process that can objectively analyze options in game context.


Creating a culture of iteration takes time and focus from the entire team. Priorities need to be shifted and changes to the process can certainly take a toll on development. However, once this culture is established, it can enable the team to push each other to create their best work in a positive, collaborative environment.

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Christian Nutt
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Featured for Built to Spill video. Note to other bloggers: This will not work twice.

Seth Sivak
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Hahaha. I wanted to use images but one of the other members of my team came up with the idea for music videos. And that is the review -> feedback -> iteration process at work ladies and gentlemen.

Harry Fields
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I disagree with some tenets of this philosophy. At some point, you have to put a fork in things and reach milestones. The pursuit of perfection is admirable to a point, but there comes a time when someone has to be "done" with a task/asset/piece of code so they can move on. I find earlier feedback to be the most constructive. When someone is nearly done with something and you have a design review, everyone has an opinion. You don't want to take an item that is almost complete and have the creator go back, revisiting stuff so frequently they hold up milestones. If time allows and someone is ahead on their task list, then sure... iterate and polish away (or you could help with the departmental backlog).

I see what you're saying. But that can be a dangerous road to take. At the end of the day, you have to ship on time (rare exceptions aside). And in today's world of franchises and sequels, that is when you get a real opportunity to iterate and perfect.

Richard van Harten
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I agree with Harry. It is a problem that is quite prevalent in the game industry I think. So far no well working method of dealing with the end of the development process has been devised yet.

The things that still need to be done pile up and the only things you can do is prioritize them and start crossing them off the list. And as there is always a lot of "blockers" and "criticals" this usually means overtime.

Would love to hear more takes on this

Esteban Gallardo
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I don't think he is talking about traditional game industry, I think he is talking about Free To Play gaming industry. In the F2P industry games are maintained/improved for several years (if they have enough players to keep it running). It's not unusual that something that is working properly is totally redone just to improve a little the performance. That eternal development cycle means that, as the core elements of the engine change, new bugs are introduced so there is a lot of work for programmers to help keep running these games.

Another reason why I believe that he is talking about the F2P games is when he tells us about "Give it away" ideas for the project. Although I recognize that it's good for the project, I believe that could be not beneficial for the worker's career, since many of these games don't credit their staff in the game, then the full credit for the development is for the company.

Tim Page
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Agree on a lot of the points above. Iteration has been a great tool for us to find new and interesting ideas for our games. One thing to balance is the time factor and how involved everyone needs to be. We found (for us at least) the best method is to use iteration when focusing on specific things we want to evolve or solve that occur along the way. At the beginning of a project, the design should be fairly laid in concrete so the tasks ahead are clear. However like any project, there are always unforeseen things or triggers from other games that need addressing. This has worked well for us when focusing on specific areas and give everyone a chance to feel involved in parts of the design.