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Playing your employees: a game design problem
Playing your employees: a game design problem
September 15, 2013 | By Brandon Sheffield

September 15, 2013 | By Brandon Sheffield
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More: Console/PC, Social/Online, Smartphone/Tablet, Indie, Serious, Production, GDC China



Digging in to his long-held belief that game design maps to management theory, Crytek executive producer Joshua Howard dove into what game design can teach us about different management styles, in his GDC China talk.

Howard is often asked, what's the best management style? "What often happens in an environment where things aren't going well, is managers don't know where to go to next," he says.

"It'd be like asking what is the best kind of game," he says. "And game design would say there's different games for different players. You should understand your players first, and that'll help you design your game."

The game industry has come up with a lot of ways to think about players, such as Bartle's MMO player model, which is broken down into killers, socializers, explorers, and achievers. "It's a simplification, but it's helpful to think about how players aren't all the same," he says.

A lot of issues in game design can come down to what kind of fun you provide. "It turns out management has come up with similar models," Howard adds. "We know that every one of the people who works in the organization is a little bit different. While there are certain common things, we should understand and appreciate peoples' differences, not just their commonalities. And we know that the things the front-line team needs is different from what I need as a manager."

And those needs change as team members evolve. At first, you need your manager to be a teacher, then a coach, then a mentor, then a peer. It's important to identify where individual team members are on that spectrum, he says.

"You as a game designer use these models to think about how to make your game better," Howard adds. "There are ways of thinking and lessons and best practices that you understand that help you be a better game designer. Those same ideas exist in management."

"To some extent the models themselves even have some consistency," he concludes. "Even if you just take what you know about game design, that can be useful. You can even think about your employees and people on your team using Bartle's model, even if you haven't studied management."


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Comments


Jacek Wesolowski
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It's true - there's a management theory that says management style should depend on where a given employee is on his or her career path. We've all met starry eyed wannabes in need of training and jaded veterans in need of appreciation.

(There are multiple management theories. One says you should escalate punishment when your coworkers repeatedly fail to meet your expectations. Another says failure to meet expectations should prompt you to try and find a shift in your coworker's needs.)

That said, the summary reminds me of Thomas Grip's GDC talk, during which he pointed out that there's conflict between intellectual and emotional engagement. You can play by the rules, or you can play the rules, but not both. If the analogy between games and workplaces is valid, then you don't want the workplace to become an explicitly defined game (even if the definition never leaves your head), because that would encourage your coworkers (or yourself!) to forget that the team consists of real people and not tokens on a board.

(Also, there's at least one management theory that says there's no room for "killers" in any organisation, so you better try not to model your workplace after League of Legends.)

Alex Covic
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If you are wearing red lenses all you see is red.

Meaning, on a macrolevel, every theory (aka algorithm) works ... or not.

But no theory can teach you the fine lines of human interaction. We are social animals. Emphasis on "social" and on "animals".

See how obvious and meaningless my words sounded? I need to give some talks too...

[edit: I am taking issue with the idea of "playing your employees" - there is something in this line, that makes me angry, even though it was meant playful (game devs, duh!) and not dishonest. Nobody wants to be "played"?]


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