Making a collaboration work

This post is made by Esteban Gallardo from Free Creation Games. Esteban is highly interested in the work organitzation to maximize profitable work of a team, so any new information of how to manage the work organitzation in small teams is more than welcomed.

« Since I began with Flash games and considering my awful artistic skills, I have had the chance to collaborate with several kind of graphical artists. I’m quite fortunate since most (not all) of the experiences has been good. So, from all these years I have seen some common key points to keep alive a collaboration and try to finish your project with a good quality.

Let’s suppose that you are like me, a normal people who doesn’t excel in all the skills to make a game. So, you maybe are a programmer, or a game designer, or a graphical artist, or a musician or even a producer with a game idea you would love to see realized and… this is important… you don’t have a penny (or an extremely limited symbolic budget, let’s say less than 300$). So, it’s time to look for people who can be interested to participate in this idea.

Part 1: Looking for people
Some points that to present the idea:

Prepare a good headline:
The newspapers know really well the importance of the initial headline to attract the readers to keep reading. So when you present your idea, reserve the first lines to explain it in a short paragraph in a clear way what the idea is all about.

Explain the things clearly:
In this presentation, you must explain with a more details more things of your idea and its production, your experience, the people needed, the possible graphic style looked for, the target audience, the possible ways of monetize, etc… It’s important that in this presentation you keep the things ordered and clear. Remember that you are looking for collaborators so people won’t like confusion or feel that you don’t have a clear idea of what you want.

Don’t say you are going to do “The Next Best Thing”:
This is something clear for almost anybody who is minimal serious. Don’t speculate if you pretend to get serious people in your team. To get involved serious people takes times, sometimes years. Sell your idea like an interesting, challenging project.

Begin with small author projects:
Maybe you have bigger game ideas, but since to create a team takes time, it’s necessary that you begin with a small project. This small project can be inspired by other games, but you must be able to offer something really unique and appealing. If you don’t try to be really different from the crow, better quit, because there will be always others with money that are going to do a much better game clone that you can do.

Nobody is going to steal your idea:
Like someone said, ideas are a dime in a dozen, but implementation is priceless. Sure that you have some important key features or dynamics that will make the game different from the others, but the general idea of the game can be told without any problem, beat-em’up, shoot-em’up, puzzle, isometric, point&click adventure, physic based…. Even if you try to make an experimental game you can manage to look for references or explained without entering in this key details.

Save money for the project:
To get involved a talented artist when you don’t have any previous experience can be impossible. So if you really believe in your game idea you will be able to keep some of your savings for the project and then attract experienced people to the team.

Part 2: Keeping the collaboration integrity
So you finally made it. There are people who really like your idea and want to participate in it. So now it comes the really hard part. Making the things work:

Remember: It’s your dream, not their dream:
You can’t pretend that collaborators be from the beginning of the project as passionate as you about the game idea. They like the idea, they would like to participate, but they won’t like to feel any, I repeat, any work pressure.

Make the possible for them to enjoy the work:
If you manage to get the people gradually involved to the project, then the collaborators will begin to like it and maybe love it as much as you do.
For that happens you have to work hard to make their job the easiest so they can concentrate in the stuff they do best, if you are a programmer then make bad graphics that represent the exact meaning of what is supposed to be there, the character shooting, the character being hurt… If you are a designer, write clearly the rules, the actions, the flow of action, the screens, the effects… so the programmer can do always profitable work.

Do your best in the communication, even if they don’t care:
Prepare carefully the stuff so the collaborator can do the minimal effort to understand what is needed. Clean documents, clean email communications. Even if you prepare stuff that’s not going to be read, the collaborator will see that you are doing your best and he will work more comfortable in his side.

Be communicative, but not annoying:
Don’t send multiple emails daily, telling little or no useful information about the project. The good artist collaborator is quite independent, he wants the minimal amount of information really important so he can to work on the problem at his own pace. So be clear and concise, and add additional information so just when the artist has doubts he can come back to the email/document and consult that additional information.

Be open to talk about everything:
If you really want that the collaborators get in love with your project, listen them, don’t directly discard never an idea, think about it, consider the advantages and problems, if it’s possible program this idea to see the result, talk with the artist and take decisions together. The best things many times comes from fusion of different talents and points of view. Anyway, don’t change constantly the things only by the minimal request, try to keep a game vision and incorporate the ideas that can benefit the game. So, listen, think, talk and finally act if the new idea can improve the game.

Take it easy, don’t set any extremely fixed deadline:
It’s good to set deadlines, but the must be really long and really flexible. Again, it’s your game project, not theirs, so they don’t want to feel the pressure of a too short deadline.

Respect and Honest:
Amateur game developers are full of passion, and it’s terrible easy that this passion can cause to lose the nerves. So, when you feel that you blood is burning and you feel that you can say something you don’t want, stop for a while, take a walk, go to the cinema, rest and try to relax… and after that you maybe would be able to deal with the problem without sending everybody to the hell.
Also be honest about everything related the project, don’t hide information that can affect the others. It’s supposed that you are all in the same ship, and the people wants to be aware if the ship is facing an area full of icebergs.

Relationship broken:
Sometimes there is no way to make the things work, maybe the other person is involved on other things, or has personal problems and can’t put time on your project. That happens. The most important is to break the relationship with respect, even if the other part doesn’t want to, sometimes even the good people say things that they regret, so you are leaving open a door for reconciliation.

Part Extra: In the case that you are a collaborator
Some words if you are a collaborator, as I have been in several projects:

Don’t do it for the money:
Really, if you are doing for the money you are going to do a cheap job, because there is almost no money in collaborations. The worst is that you can damage your own image showing that you don’t care about your work, and the bad reputation can be something really dangerous. Do it because you like the idea, do it because you would like to collaborate and know this person, do it to increase your knowledge about an area, do it because you want to get new friends… »