Jeremy Gaffney, executive producer at Wildstar MMO developer Carbine Studios, offered producers important tips on team building, interviewing potential job candidates, and dealing with conflict head-on.
Often, producers will find themselves involved in the hiring process, he said. What producers need to do is try to go beyond just gathering facts and trivia about the candidate, and instead drill down into who that person really is and what they find valuable.
“Ask questions for which there are no uninteresting answers,” Gaffney said. For example, a producer may ask, “Who’s the last person you fired?” He explained, “What you care about is digging out an interesting [aspect] of their past.”
The interviewer isn’t necessarily concerned about about “who” the job candidate fired, but the answer will reveal values that the candidate thinks are important.
Another revealing question could be, “Who are the best and worst people on your team?” said Gaffney. Again, it’s not the “who” that the interviewer should really care about, but the values that manifest in the candidate’s answer.
Yet another question with "no uninteresting answer," said Gaffney, is “What questions do you ask when you’re interviewing?” as it directly reveals what’s important to the candidate. From there, a producer can think about how that person and her values fit (or don’t fit) with the rest of the team.
On the topic of maintaining a strong team culture, Gaffney said, “Don’t suffer the ‘brilliant jerk,’” also known as “irreplaceable jackass” -- the guy who is a jerk to everyone in the studio, but seems to do solid work. That jackass might not be as irreplaceable as a boss might think, Gaffney said.
“Rarely waste an opportunity to fire a brilliant jackass,” he said. In his experience, it has improved the team culture. “It’s been worth it every time.”
Gaffney also stressed the importance of producers to regularly interact with their teams. He said “MBWA,” or “management by walking around,” is the “best tool” for producers both in physical and virtual work environments.
The three great things a manager can do is “get out and about, often,” “Praise awesome stuff” and “Fix stuff that’s broken.”
"Fixing stuff” means identifying, for example, the biggest problem that is standing in the way of an employee's ability to reach a goal, and as a boss, doing everything in your power to fix the issue. “Be that boss,” he said.
He also stressed informal studio "show and tells," in which the teams will show each other on a regular basis what they’ve accomplished. For example, they can show five minute Fraps videos of their work to one another at meetings. “When they know that someone’s looking, then they care,” Gaffney said.
He added that, while it may seem obvious, game makers need to have regular play days for the game they're making. “Play your damn game,” Gaffney said. “Have fun with your game.”
Gaffney also emphasized the importance of strong communication between a producer and the game development team. One aspect of communication that producers should embrace is conflict, he said. Bosses should use crisis and conflict to strengthen their relationship with staff.
“The worst thing you can do is avoid conflict. When you have a conflict-avoidance boss, it sucks,” he said. The boss needs to let people know right away about what they’re doing wrong, so that they have the time and information to correct issues, and not be surprised about their shortcomings six months later. “Conflict is generally good,” said Gaffney. “…You need to not be afraid to fight for what’s good.”
But a boss not only has to think about improving the team dynamic, but also has to think about self-improvement. “You are more important than what your job is,” Gaffney said. Everyone needs to find out what’s most important to them.
“You need to know what your [most important thing] is,” he said. “The only dumb thing is to be unsure of it. … The time to think about this is now.”
“Be the person you wish you were,” said Gaffney.