Building a world-class development team

Building a world-class development team

By Chris Roberts & Rob O'Farrell

February 3rd 2014 at 3:46PM

Dovetail Games execs discuss what studios have to consider when expanding their workforce

How do you build a world-class development team? Top development executives at Dovetail Games, Rob O’Farrell and Chris Roberts believe the answer to that question lies in vision and teamwork. 

Rob O’Farrell, Executive Producer & VP

Growing and shaping a premier development studio is a challenging and sometimes daunting task. You have to start with a solid foundation from the outset and then identify the most important ingredients that need to be added to deliver the perfect blend of creativity, innovation and high performance. And then you need to find the right concoction of individuals that can take those ingredients and bring them together seamlessly.

Building a foundation requires a vision; a vision that is strong and believable, something the wider studio team can believe in, drive towards and (with focus) can deliver too. At Dovetail Games our vision is strong and clear. We are aiming to be the No.1 simulation entertainment company in the world. It’s a bold statement, but if the aim is to build a world-class team, then you have to have a strong, bold statement of intent to attract and recruit the right talent.

Once the key elements are in place, the focus shifts somewhat to the interaction across the team and between individuals. You need to build great partnerships so that people can bounce ideas off each other, challenge what is being created and ultimately support each other in developing the game. As part of the process, we never underestimate the importance of creating an environment, which whilst it is hard working, is also fun. With fun come motivation, dynamism and ultimately delivery. A lot of developers think that it’s the game, the brand that is the most important thing when they decide where to take their careers. My time in the industry has taught me that working in the right environment, where you have a chance to influence and make a difference will ultimately offer the greatest job satisfaction. 

Chris Roberts, Creative Director

For me, the key to building a world-class creative team lies in the word team; you can have a group of incredibly talented individuals, but as in any team sport, if any or all of them are playing out of position, the results will usually be below par.

As Creative Director at Dovetail Games, this is currently top of mind for me, as we grow our team and expand our horizons into other areas of simulation entertainment and digital hobbies.

When starting from scratch, it is vitally important to identify not only the key roles you need to fill, but also how they will mesh when working together. Game development has its fair share of star players, but it is also littered with stories of key creatives becoming detached from the team that has helped make their ideas become reality, leaving to start a team all over again and rediscover that earlier magic. 

I like to use football as an analogy; a great development team needs everyone to want to play to the best of their ability for one another and support and feed any key creatives that may spearhead the team. It needs to be a two way street, feeling like a group effort where everyone has a stake and sense of responsibility on what the team produces.

In my experience, the most engaged and creatively prolific periods of my career have been when I’ve been part of tightly knit teams that are all pulling in the same direction, allowing everyone to perform to the best of their ability in roles that suit them. Achieving this requires strong and consistent communication.

Unlike a football team, a development team needs a number of captains, who can all work together to support their sub teams and link up with other sub teams, while maintaining constant communication and contact with the leadership group. You need to be constantly aware of this, as when a team scales up, it is all too easy to lose all the advantages of a tight, focused and well-motivated team.

I also think there are some particular character traits that need to be present in the team, to compliment quality skillsets. You need people who:

  • Challenge conventional ways of thinking to solve problems.
  • Help motivate the team around them by doing inspiring work or seeing inspiring leadership qualities in themselves or others.
  • Don’t sit on their hands, but come forward with possible solutions to problems, even just being enthusiastic and involved when the team needs to stay focused.
  • Learn quickly; it’s not about how much you know but how quickly can you learn.
  • Understand the medium they work in - we need people who understand the language of games. In recent times the games industry has had its talent pool bolstered by some incredibly talented people from different creative industries, but it is important that they understand the world they are working in without losing their fresh perspective.
  • Can react positively to change.
  • Can take and give constructive criticism.
  • Iterate ideas quickly.
  • Can communicate their ideas clearly to one person or many.

To achieve all this you also need a supportive and understanding backer. Whether you are part of a large company or an Indie start up, you need someone who ‘gets’ what it is you are trying to achieve. It really helps if you are building a team with a specific game, direction, platform and ethos in mind right from the start of course.

The other, slightly trickier, element to achieve is to give the team (or even each individual sub team) a target, something to beat, something to chase. This needs to be emotive, achievable, even a little dramatic. Picking the right fight can really fire up a team and spur them on to deliver bigger and better things. The hard thing is making sure you never run out of targets to hit.

I’ve had some pretty ambitious targets to hit in my time but they have always been clearly communicated to me and as such, I’ve been excited to work to them, and bloody chuffed when we’ve smashed them. The great news is, I feel as challenged and motivated in my new role at Dovetail Games today, as I’ve ever been at any point in my career. We have a lot of exciting times ahead and I’m glad to be part of the journey.