Over the last couple of months I have been talking to Paul Sztajer (@pdyxs, seethroughstudios) about the concept of a company identity and its importance in finding direction when deciding what games to make and how to go about it. It had been my opinion that Convict Interactive may benefit from a revision of our identity.
To this end I created a number of activities that we could perform that would help us clearly define not only the company’s identity but also all of our own personal identities (because I think that the two complement each other quite strongly for small/indie companies). I also created a number of activities for the purpose of identifying the types of games we wanted to make. I ended up making a sort of worksheet with the activities on it (available here) and organised ait into a workshop.
The activities were designed so that a group of individuals (or, in this case, a company) could identify an identity to assist in project development (however there is nothing preventing any individual from completing these activities to develop their own identity). The activities are also game development related but could be adapted for just about any field or profession. The tasks are separated into two parts; company/self identity and game development identity.
The company/self identity activities were designed to help gain an understanding of where each of us would like to be and what we would like to be doing and also what drives us to aspire for those goals. The activities were also a way of identifying our individual skill sets and which, if any, skills the company was lacking. I also took to opportunity to allow everyone to discuss their current positions within the company and address any issues or conflicts that may have arisen within the company (as a side note, everything is pretty good between us).
The game development identity activities were designed to help us all gain an understanding of what each of us would like to be working and on to give the company a more defined direction. As the lead designer, I also used these activities as a tool so that I can design games that the whole team would enjoy creating.
The company/self identity activities rely on a large amount of introspection and self-honesty in order to get the most out of the activities so I would recommend finding an environment where everyone is comfortable and can speak freely.
This section just goes through each activity and explains its purpose. Each question is listed below but, as a reference, the ‘worksheet’ can be obtained here.
COMPANY/SELF IDENTITY ACTIVITIES
ACTIVITY 1: What is your ideal game development job?
Activity 1 was designed to help identify what everyone’s goals are and what they are all working towards. It is used in order to find some direction of growth for the company in a way that tried to benefit each member. This is the ‘icebreaker’ activity so that participants understand the sorts of activities they will encounter and get used to the process of introspection (if they weren’t already).
ACTIVITY 2: List and explain three factors that led you to game development
Activity 2 is aimed at the individual understanding what it is about them that drove/drives them to where they are now. This activity not only help to understand what motivates each person but we also found that it is great for identifying what areas of game development are suited to an individual (for example, we found that our designers we motivated by a desire to create and our programmers to, in some sense, build).
ACTIVITY 3: What do you want to get out of your current game development job? List three ways you could improve your current development job.
Activity 3 was designed to improve the current work environment within the company. First individuals identified what they wanted out of their job and then what they would like to see improved. This activity also highlighted more of everyone’s motivators and a number of issues that we had been meaning to address.
GAME DEVELOPMENT ACTIVITIES
Activity 4 contained a table full of game development concepts that were grouped together (see the document here as a reference), each person was to rate each item in preference from 0-5 of how often they would like to create games using that concept. The concepts listed in the table are, by no means, comprehensive and some are open to various forms of interpretation as to what they mean or how much they encompass but the important thing is that each concept is discussed by the group. The goal of the activity was to identify the sorts of games we would like to make, what content we would like to have in them and how we would go about producing them. The activity also helped to highlight how (dis)similar our views on various concepts were.
ACTIVITY 5: List 3 games that you love(d) to play and one that you did not find at all enjoyable. State up to 3 main mechanics that make the game so enjoyable and up to 3 main mechanics that make that game bad
I created this activity to try to identify, as a gamer, which aspects of games we enjoyed and which aspects we did not enjoy so that in the future we could consciously consider these points about our own games to make them as enjoyable for players as possible.
As I previously stated, activities 4 and 5 were also used as a way to help me design games that would be enjoyable for the whole company to make. I believe that you have to love the game to make it any good so these were very important activities for me so that we could all realised what aspects of games we did love.
We set up in the meeting room of our office for a little privacy and to avoid distractions. It only took about 5 minutes before we began to notice that we were all benefitting from the workshop, the most important of which was that, based on responses from activity 2, we all had the right roles within the company that would best allow us to fulfil those needs that motivated us to become game developers. We also discovered that we are all motivated by learning and that everyone wants to have input in the design of games and much more. Discussions from activity 3 allowed us to identify which business practices were working and which were not and to finally resolve some discussions that we had been having for a while.
In the end I would consider the whole endeavour a success. Not only did we all have fun but we managed to learn a lot about each other and we plan to use everything that we discovered to better improve the direction of the company. As a final note I would like to point out that the workshop turned out to be a very good team-building exercise (something I had not considered) and that we will definitely be attempting something like this again.
Read Bec’s reflection on the activity here.
Also check out Paul’s approach to this concept (The Amnesiac’s Guide to game Development).