No one will be surprised to hear that going from student life to the working world marks a pretty significant shift in your routine. It’s normal to find yourself actually eating this “lunch” meal on a daily basis and to trade sleeping in until 2PM on Fridays for homework-free Sundays. Having graduated earlier than most of my friends, it can be disorienting to adjust while they’re all still in college-mode. I still feel the palpable tension that comes around during at the deadlines for big projects, but as finals rolled around this Spring I was able to observe the building anxiety from a relatively safe distance.
For my friends in game design courses (both Intro and Advanced), a recurring theme in our discussions was the unique challenge of working in highly collaborative environments. Many times the subject of the conversation would revolve around the more technical aspects of group work: who’s taking on which role, schedule coordinating, best meeting locations. Occasionally everyone would stop to praise another teammate’s commitment or new idea.
Mostly, however, it was just a lot of ranting.
The last two semesters of my undergrad career I took a couple of the particularly “hands-on” Game Center courses: Intro to Game Design and Game Studio. Both classes were centrally focused around team-based projects, which entailed all of the expected obstacles. Some classmates wanted to assume dictatorial control over the creative process, others never bothered to attend a single group meeting, and there were a few that you wished wouldn’t have shown up.
There are plenty of hard and fast rules that go with working in a team, and none of them are strictly exclusive to making games. A few that are particularly relevant for students, however:
Rule #1: Do your job.
If you want to work in the games industry and are lucky enough to go to a school that offers courses in game development, you don’t really have any excuse. In my experience, slacking off doesn’t seem to reflect too negatively on your grades — provided that you have merciful group members and aren’t completely useless — but skirting by on the least amount of effort doesn’t actually do you any favors. You want to be the person that your peers respect, who they look forward to working with again. Make this your end goal; along the way your professor will notice your drive, you’ll make more friends, and ultimately you’ll produce better games.
Rule #2: Don’t be a jerk.
This is a good rule for life as a whole, but it’s especially true for game development teams. If you often find yourself snapping at other people, patronizing them, or just generally making people feel uncomfortable, you shouldn’t be making games. Too many people have to work too hard to be subjected to your ego. For that matter, you’re going to constantly be running up against the clock and time spent tiptoeing around a cranky team member is time lost.
These two elements are absolutely necessary for you to be able to trust your teammates, and for them to trust you. Being able to completely rely on every person in your team to do their job and do it to the best of their ability is invaluable. Worrying about what everyone else is doing — whether warranted or not — taxes your performance and the performance of your team. For students who learn to expect one or two slackers in any group, that added stress becomes background noise in the normal chaos of meeting deadlines. You don’t realize just how burdensome it is until you work in a team where every person is fully committed to the project.
This is the single biggest difference I’ve found in working in a team at a games company versus making a game in a student group. Trust is the alchemical magic of game development that turns iron into gold.
And Now, a Reality Check
By the end of the semester, especially if you’ve been assigned to random groups throughout the class, it will be clear who the star players are. They will naturally gravitate towards each other for final projects, when people with similar aesthetic styles and work ethics coalesce into powerhouse entities. There is something extremely appealing (and sure, game-like) about building a super-group out of the available pool of resources. However, while you should strive to work with people you can trust, avoid elitism at all costs.
You are a student working on a student game project. If you’re taking a class at the NYU Game Center, you and your teammates are probably undergrads, and none of you are in a Game Development major (yet). You might be aces compared to sixteen other kids in your class, but you’re still the smallest of small-timers. It is in your best interest to be as respectful and courteous to your fellow classmates as possible, even if you secretly harbor suspicions that you’re just better than them.
An otherwise mediocre teammate who doesn’t have delusions of grandeur is always preferable to someone who thinks they’re God’s gift to college game design courses because they have three board games under their belt. Never forget that at this level of experience, everyone is a scrub.