How to build a great game development team

Raka Mahesa

October 23rd, 2017

What is the secret behind a great video game? Different people will give different answers to these questions. Some say that you need to have this unwavering vision of a game design and apply it to the game, but others say that you need to research the market and see what games people like to buy. However, there is one answer that everyone would agree with, and that is,to make a great game, you need to have a great team.

Before we go further talking about building a great development team, let's clarify one thing first. Forming a team can happen in two ways, with the first one starting with zero team members and recruiting new people into the team. The other one is adding to people from an already-formed team to make a new, additional team. Fortunately, the process of building a great team is the same for both methods.

All right, with that out of the way, let's proceed. The very first aspect to tackle when you want to build a game development team is about scale. How big is the game you want to make, and in turn, how big is the team you need to make that game? After all, making a big game with a small team is very hard, and making a small game with a big team is a waste of resources.

No matter the size of game you want to make, though, it's always better to start off with a small, core team. Keep in mind that the difference in scale will affect the type of person you want on this initial core team. In a small project, it'd be fine to have people that usually work alone in the core team. But in a larger project, you want people that have leadership qualities for the core team members, because they're expected to manage their own subordinates when the team size grows.

Roles are key

Now that we have determined the scale of our project, let's focus on the next important aspect: roles. When we're building a game development team, it's pretty crucial to determine what roles are needed and how many people are required to fill those roles.

There are a couple of things that affect team roles. One of them is the type of games you're going to make. If you're making a story-rich game with a lot of dialogues, then having a writer (or even multiple writers) on the team is pretty important. On the other hand, if you're making a racing game, which usually doesn't have a big narrative aspect, then having a programmer that can simulate car physics is much more important than having a writer.

And again, scale matters. In a big development team, you’re going to want specialized roles for the team, like network programmer, engine programmer, gameplay programmer, and so on. Meanwhile, in a smaller development team, you're better off with general roles and people who can work in various fields. And if the team size is small enough, it's not strange for people to have multiple roles, like a programmer that is also a game designer.

Explore outsourcing opportunities

Another aspect that you should think about is outsourcing. How much of your game development should be done in-house? Which part of the game can be outsourced to another party that turns out okay? It's quite common to contract third parties to produce music and artwork for the game, while programming generally tends to be fully done in-house. Identifying this aspect is quite important to determine the actual team you're going to need to build your game.

Okay, after determining the roles needed in our team, here comes the next important thing: what kind of people do we want for those roles? Sure, you're going to want the usual traits, like hardworking, honest, passionate, and all the other CV building words that all employers seek. But are there any specific traits that you want for a member of a game development team?

Collaboration and ownership

Game development is a massive collaboration between multiple disciplines. And in this kind of collaboration, communication is key to making a project successful. So that's the one trait that you want from the people in your team: being able to collaborate with others. For example, it's pretty great to have artists that are able communicate the visual that they want in terms that programmers can understand, and vice versa.

Having great people isn't enough to build a great team, however. To spur people to make great works, they need to have a sense of ownership over the project they're working on. There are many ways to foster this sense of ownership among the team members, but in essence, the people in the team need to feel like they're valued and they have some sort of control over their work. Instead of being told how something is supposed to be done, it's better to have a discussion about how something should be done.

There are still many aspects of a game development team that we haven't covered, but hopefully, all of the things we have discussed will help you in making a great team. Good luck!

About the Author

Raka Mahesa is a game developer at Chocoarts (http://chocoarts.com/), who is interested in digital technology in general. Outside of work hours, he likes to work on his own projects, with Corridoom VR being his latest released game. Raka also regularly tweets as @legacy99.