Laura Fryer, VP and General Manager of WB Games and former executive producer on the Gears of War franchise, said today that "slash and burn" management styles are harming the industry.
Speaking at a Gamasutra-attended session at the Develop conference Brighton today, Fryer likened management of creative studios to farming styles, saying that studios too oftenfollow a "slash and burn" agriculture style -- hiring a team, then burning them out, then hiring in a replacement team for the next project.
"This is like ploughing a piece of land incessantly until, after three-or-so years, the plot of land becomes unusable. I believe this is an unsustainable model for the games industry," she said.
Fryer instead urged developers to find a way to create a "Permaculture," that can be a self-sustaining ecosystem. "Manage this, and you as a 'gardener' have very little to do. As such, I believe the key is to find a way to create a permaculture in game development, to foster creativity in such a way that it becomes entirely sustainable."
One of the ways in which studios can achieve this is by "accepting that game development is a dynamic, fluid process," she argued. "There is no one way to ship a game, period. Every game is different and every team is different."
"As such, it's best to give people a toolbox full of tools with which to solve issues. That way, when the team next runs into a problem, they choose the right tool from the toolbox," she continued. "And if they don’t have the right tool to solve the issue? Then they make a new tool: which is how we gain new tools for the box."
"It’s very important that you do not become a slave to dogma," she said. "Sometimes the processes we have don’t make sense in terms of our ultimate goal, namely to ship a good game."
Fryer gave the example of a 170-page design document, which may be satisfying to write but isn't worthwhile if it's not going to be used.
"The question any creative on a game project needs to ask whenever they are asked to do something is ask: 'What problem are you trying to solve?'" she said. "Maintaining design documents is no good if nobody reads them. It becomes a solution that simply doesn't work."
Fryer urged developers to hold a postmortem not only at the end of the project, but after every milestone in a game's production. Mini-postmortems can be extremely helpful to development, because the team on the ground knows exactly what is working well and what is working poorly during the development of a game.
"Inviting this structured feedback after each milestone can allow you to tweak and manage the process," she added. "This allows you to keep fostering creativity over the course of a project, rather than squashing it."
At the same time, it's important to treat the core team like adults. "Too often you can have a parent/child relationship between management and creatives," she said.
"It's important to hold people accountable to the dates and deadlines they have set for themselves. Combine this with honesty, where you are free to talk about where and, most importantly, why a game is falling behind, and you will inject positivity into the team."