BECOMING THE BEST IN GAMES
A couple of years ago, I was fortunate enough to run into someone who would define for me what a true leader in the games industry is all about. His name is Keith Fuller. At the time, I was doing some writing for IGDA, and, he, I believe was doing some leadership forum speaking for the same org. He and I have had several business conversations and I have referred people to him more times than I can count. I do so, because, while his mad skills and veteran expertise in production management is impressive, I’m more impressed with his passion for the people in this industry. He leads and he inspires, and I absolutely love that!
Fuller wrote a book that was published last year entitled, BEYOND CRITICAL, Improving Leadership in Game Development.” Filled with advice and real examples, Fuller aims at helping decision-makers to make better choices...the kind that lift you out of mediocrity...the kind that saves money, time, hiring/partnering blunders...and, the kind that makes you look good in the eyes of prospective investors.
I think this book is such an honest and relevant work that I intend to gift each new client of mine this year with a copy.
Below I’ll share a bit from his book, but, first, here’s a little about the author:
Fuller is a 15-year veteran of video game development with 12 titles to his credit, such as Soldier of Fortune 1 & 2, Marvel: Ultimate Alliance, and Call of Duty: Black Ops. A Certified Scrum Master and Project Management Professional, Fuller brings his training and experience to companies of all shapes and sizes as a production consultant. He founded Fuller Game Production with the express intent of improving leadership, studio management, and production practices across the games industry.
What follows is an excerpt from BEYOND CRITICAL.
Especially for an independent consultant such as me it might seem a little questionable to list embarrassing mistakes of the past. I suppose I could’ve spun this next part with a name like “5 Ways to Improve Your Leadership Skills”. But I wanted to be honest and drive home the applicability of these examples by admitting to my own errors. It’s going to be an educational bit of writing for me, too, as the act of recollecting these events will involve no small amount of introspection. I want to make sure I’ve learned something from these failures.
As a leader of level designers it was my job to buffer the relationship between designers who needed environment props and the artists who were providing them. Although we were working on a sequel with no major tech changes, we were still experiencing asset errors that frequently prevented the art from being useable by the designers. It was a serious recurring issue but that was no reason to speak badly – out loud, no less – about the art department. I didn’t handle it as professionally as I could have and some bad blood resulted.
You will make mistakes. Everyone does at some point. When you do, it’s up to you to recognize it, own up to it, apologize, and do your best to fix it.
Just because you’re a leader – even an effective one – doesn’t mean you can rest on your laurels. Simply maintaining the status quo does nothing but invite entropy. Unless you never want a promotion and your company is happy losing its competitive edge, you should be trying to learn and improve. For a period of more than a year I languished in a particular role, foolishly waiting for someone else to tell me how to grow or what to do. It didn’t happen, and I didn’t pick up on the fact that my career was flattening out until I saw the majority of my peers getting noticed for contributions and obtaining promotions.
Earlier I spoke about being in a production position on a title that was out of control and eventually saw everyone in the company brought in to help. I didn’t speak up to the studio head and describe the plain reality of how far out of control things had gotten – I was too afraid of losing my job. I thought the worst thing that could happen is that I would get fired for telling the truth, leaving me with no choice but to suffer where I was. Now that I’ve moved on from that studio and have a chance to look back, I realize just how many options I had (and still have). Of all the people I’ve known who were involved in layoffs (and even firings), none of them are currently living in cardboard boxes or homeless shelters. Many of them are much happier, in fact, having found better jobs because they knew some of the things to avoid in potential places of employment.
When I was first offered a leadership role I had no training and little idea of what to do. I was put in the position because I was the best person for the job, but that’s not the same thing as being qualified. I wish I had spoken up and asked to be mentored. Later on, when I had been a producer for a few years I didn’t do enough to pass along my knowledge to others. A couple of folks picked up things here and there when I worked alongside them, but it definitely wasn’t an explicit process. I lament having missed opportunities both to learn and to teach.”