About Project Management and Game Development

Over the years, I’ve learned about how a video game project can be brought together. In college, through panels at conventions, through research, and some first-hand experience, I have learned that game projects can be very time consuming, have large budgets, and can fall apart for a number of reasons (feature creep, project team members quickly leaving the project, poor definition of scope, and others). While each game project is different, there is usually one reason why a game project eventually ships a final product, and that’s due to the project’s management.

A project manager’s duty is to make full use of the resources at his/her disposal to meet the goals of the project, and to eventually release something of value. In the business of game development, the project manager steers the developers on their team to meet the goals set forth by the project owners (the studio management, the publishers, and/or the development lead), meet deadlines, and eventually release a video game product.

To that end, the project leader(s) learn about what their developers are capable of, their strengths and weaknesses, and whether the developer can deliver on their goals in that position (e.g. the likelihood a level designer can create a level which works well in the frame of the game’s genre, its setting, and mechanics). The leaders works with planners to set up milestones, deadlines, and dates so that the project will have a finish, and those invested in the project will have reassurance that their funds are being properly used. The project management then selects coordinator(s) who can ensure that the team members will be able to reasonably meet these expectations and milestones. Next, they must select members who can test and verify that the project is meeting its goals, i.e. quality assurance testers. Other managers and leads in the project include those who have working knowledge of how to put together the resources so as to create the final product. This includes senior programmers, artists, writers, technician, and other creative people with the skills and experience to see the project to fruition. The inner workings of the project are not only set by the manager; other parts are set as well.

The outlook and pace of the project are also set by the project leaders. Since project management are the ones responsible for hiring and directing the team members, they must also set the tone for the project. The flow of the project, how critical certain parts are, and even how the project’s team members are treated are set and maintained by project management. A single developer, left to their own whims, and with little direction or insight into the goals of the project, will most likely fail in the goals set for the project. The developer should be given enough direction (and instructions) such that they can reasonably finish their job. Not only that, but they should be supervised just enough to keep them on task, and not too much to frustrate their efforts, i.e. not “micromanaging” them. It is this balance that the project lead must maintain. Public image is also set by project management.

How the managers conduct themselves to outsiders should reflect how the manager treats team members. For team members seeing this other side of management, it could be damaging to their creativity. When management speaks warmly to the publishers, and soon coldly dictates orders to team members, the team could lose moral, trust in project leaders, or team members could even leave the project. Game project teams that lose moral quickly let deadlines slip, and eventually pushes back the release date. This translates into wasted money and time for financial backers. That is why it’s critical for project management to set forth a good image, and to treat their team members the same as they would for important people outside of the project. It’s not to say that the project managers should be lenient with team members. If a team member is causing harm to other members and to the team, it is their responsibility to see to the issue. The main goal with regards to the individuals on the team is to ensure that the team members are taken care of, know their job, and can deliver (on time) at the level of quality set by project managers.

Jason Anderson

Jason Anderson has been hacking up computers for nearly 20 years and has been using Linux for over 15 years. Among that, he has a BBA in Accounting. Look him up on Twitter at @FakeJasonA and on Mastodon on @ertain@mast.linuxgamecast.com

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