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It's amazing how much food can motivate employees, especially good food. Not only does it make employees feel like they are being taken care of, reducing their stress and increasing goodwill, but it also draws people together for conversation. When employees eat together, they begin sharing information, sparking new ideas, or remembering to take action on particular tasks.
Film crews have this one all figured out. Movie sets are fully catered, often with an on-site food truck cooking meals to order. All meals and snacks are free to crew members, with catering showing as a regular line item in any standard production budget.
With crews working around the clock, often at remote locations, having food on set is a must. Lunchtime is at the same time for all crew members, and after lunch is served, crew members promptly go back to work.
Understandably, game production doesn't work in the same way. Developers are not on set. They are in the same office every day, and can bring food from home or go out to lunch at nearby eateries. In general, food for developers is looked at as a luxury or special occasion, and not as a mandatory part of what is provided to employees.
Game producers often provide food during crunch periods or at the end of a milestone. Some companies have food cafeterias set up as a way to offer convenience and community. This may be as close as the game industry will get to the luxurious meals provided to the creative talent on film crews. I'd like to challenge that, and say that if you want to generate happy creatives in your own game production office, food is a key tool in your toolbox.
When you start thinking of your developers as a team of creative resources instead of as a legion of office workers, this starts to make more sense. Creativity flows more naturally when stress is reduced. Having food on-site means one less thing to worry about during the day, gives developers a clear lunchtime to take a break, encourages community and makes them feel taken care of.
There is one caveat with food, however, that can actually end up making your teams less productive in the long run. Providing unhealthy snacks, soda, coffee, pizza, and heavy foods is not going to help your cause. In the long run these drag energy down, providing quick fixes but later resulting in an energy slump. Some of these foods can even lead to weight gain and health problems if consumed long-term.
Try to focus on providing high-protein foods, fresh fruits and vegetables, grains and legumes, and stay away from sugar or caffeine-loaded products.
Film directors have absolute power on set. The film director assembles a crew of creative leads that greatly influences the film's final product including a cinematographer, production designer, and casting director. But if there is a question on set, the director always has final say. They are the primary vision holder, harnessing the creativity of many into a final, cohesive product.
Game designers play a similar role with their teams, but there are things that can interfere with their ability to fully be in control. Game crews often pride themselves on their team approach, and the culture tends to lean towards a more collaborative mentality when it comes to the game vision. Another obstacle to having one clear director is that game designers often find themselves playing dual roles and writing the dialogue, designing levels, and doing other tasks that interfere with their ability to walk the floor and provide creative leadership.
If the game designer isn't leading the creative vision, who is? Some companies have engineering, art, or other department leads in positions that wield more power than others. Upper management could be holding the reins, or a marketing division could be making demands.
A publisher may have an acting producer with an invested interest in the final product, and actively push their design ideas onto the team. Many companies take a team creative control approach, sometimes creating great products with an open-door culture, but other times allowing for unclear roles and negative feelings when creative ideas aren't used. Each company has unique politics, history, and teams that form the power structure for creative control.
In the filmmaking world, there may be an actor with clout, a producer with money, or a revered cinematographer that use their power to control things on set. Yet the role of director is so clearly laid out and respected that the film crew's daily production pipeline is not usually affected. There may be squabbling at the top, but the crew takes their orders from the director. This reduces team member politics and streamlines the production pipeline. Film crews have figured out that it is much easier to coordinate a creative vision made by 200 people if there is one person to answer to. In time, game production teams may figure this out as well.
Everyone has heard the horror stories of prima donna film directors demanding full control on their movies, and I'm not suggesting that game designers swing to this extreme side of the pendulum of control-crazy leadership.
That said, I think everyone on game teams can learn something from the clear hierarchy laid out consistently on film sets time and again. Establish roles on the team and make sure your team is aware of these roles. Producers and directors should walk the floor twice a day and be open to answering any questions that team members have, keeping an eye out for creative elements that may be off track. Free up your day for office hours and remove yourself from tasks that can be done by others.
And that brings us to…