[Experienced game developer and manager Troy Dunniway, a veteran of studios like Microsoft, EA, Insomniac, and Ubisoft, discusses some of the major risks involved in transitioning from a small to large development team and how to identify and avoid them. This, the first part in a two-part series, covers four of the 10 risks outlined by Dunniway, and is designed to help you get a general feel for the inherent risks in a large-scale project.]
Project risks in production can take many forms, and be as simple as something which could lead to a bad product, or a canceled project, or even your company going out of business.
Risks in your projects can affect every department and aspect of your company, and are often very different from project to project, team to team, and company to company. It is important that you objectively analyze the risks in your projects and company to see where the problems are and deal with them early on -- before it is too late.
The game industry has been undergoing a lot of changes these last few years. If you are looking into starting your own game development company, expanding your existing small studio into something bigger, or move from developing smaller projects on "easier" platforms into a larger game production, it is important that you minimize as many risks as you can. It also provides some tips on how to avoid or minimize common risks found in larger scale game development.
This list represents a lot of usually very obvious and common sense advice for people who are just getting into games, breaking off on their own, or taking on larger projects for the first time. Some of these tips may also be helpful for established developers and producers who are looking to take on larger roles in their organizations.
However, as I've found throughout my 18-plus year career, common sense is sometimes overlooked when it comes to making games, and many people tend to leap before they look. Hopefully this advice will help you avoid the mistakes I have made, or seen others make, over and over again.
It is nearly impossible to account for all of the risks in a project. Risks can come from every aspect of your company -- process, team, project requirements, publishers and many other internal and external factors which may be out of your control.
There are no solid rules for what risks to look for in a project, as almost all of them will exist in every larger project. The best approach is to get your most senior people on the team (usually the leads) to periodically assess the risks the project is facing.
For example, I was recently talking to a developer about their problems, and told them to revert some code they changed in their source control system back to an old version, and they responded that they didn't use source control.
As a seasoned developer, I would never consider not using source control for my source code, let alone my assets -- but some developers still haven't even learned some of the simple rules and best practices that a full veteran team is used to and takes for granted.
In other words, when analyzing risks, you really need to be able to objectively look at your problems and analyze them, and also be smart enough to know when you need outside help.
The top 10 areas of risk areas in a project are:
1. Business Risks
2. Pre-Production Risks
3. Process Risks
4. Team Risks
5. Schedule and Project Management Risks
6. Design Risks
7. Art Risks
8. Outsourcing Risks
9. Technical Risks
10. Testing Risks
These aren't the only areas of risk in a project, but they most probably cover the most serious issues on most projects. However, this doesn't mean that there won't be a million other things you should also be on the lookout for as well.
If you are working on smaller games for handhelds, mobile, casual games, and other "easier" to develop for platforms, some of these risks may not be as big or problematic. Also, if you are doing sequels or other kinds of games which are very similar to what you have already done, then a lot of these risks may not occur -- but always be watchful.