‘Starter Kit’ Team for Game Development

Olia Fe
Olia Fe
Aug 2 · 8 min read

Articles, like everything that happens in a manager’s life, are written according to plan. Well, when I decided to write an article on “How to gather a dream team ”🦸‍♀️ 🦹‍♂️🦸‍♂️ 🦹‍♀️ ,, the art-lead had a fight with an outsourced animator, while the product manager is hectically running between them and periodically tears at his hair🤯.

Doesn’t sound like a promising start, does it? So I’ll probably write about the “dream team’ some other time🙂. And yet, my team is working, the product is being made, and so there is something worthy to tell.

First of all, let’s talk on who is needed to create a game, ‘coz there are roles that are absolutely a “must-have”.

The minimum set of a team should look like this: game designer, art (lead), product manager, producer, SMM-manager, developer (lead) and DevOps.

This set contains both managerial and expert roles, and, if the balance is maintained, your small ship will definitely sail!

Probably, it is necessary to dwell on what roles are related to managerial and what roles are related to expert ones.

Managerial roles are based in the first place on soft-skills. The most important feature of a manager should be absolute flexibility. A manager who reacts according to the environment and can change his strategy in time, develop a plan B, redistribute capacity or bring coffee☕️ to a sleepless programmer😴👨🏻‍💻 on the day of release — here he is, your priceless manager🤴🏻. It is important to understand that management is not about importance and status, but support and ability to direct and supervise fragile human resources.

It is often said in jest that there are more managers than employees, but this is only because the employees are eager to become managers often without the necessary managerial qualities.

Experts, on the other hand, are mainly the owners of hard skills. They know something special, something that is not given from birth. They have acquired and developed their skills on a specific instrument, have learned it deeply and can boast of a narrow specialization with an excellent understanding of the case. Being an expert doesn’t mean that one doesn’t possess soft-skills. It’s just not so important for an expert, because if a specialist has a good manager who provides him with the necessary working conditions, this tandem👩‍🎤 👨‍🎤 will be able to do more than each of them separately.

Leads of narrow specializations usually evolve somewhere at the junction of expert and managerial directions.

And now let’s move on to the consideration of the roles that are necessary for game development.

Management roles

Ok, so not let’s move on to the roles that are actually needed for game development.

Product owner

Everything starts with an idea. Thus, usually, a person who initially bears an idea, or brings it to investors, or someone who makes a game for himself, — takes on the role of a product owner (PO). This person makes all the final decisions, understands how the product should look like in the end. In other words, anyone who can coherently express his or her idea and has more or less developed imagination can be a product owner. In the case of the Altar, I am the PO of the game. That is, no one but me knows fully what the game will be like (unless I tell you what it should be).

Project manager

The next role that we can’t do without at all is the project manager (PM). This is the person who takes all (my) owner’s ideas and puts them in the framework of budget and resources, keeps records, leads documentation. PM also tells me why we can’t add some super-mega-cool animation into our game if it costs a thousand-billions-of-dollars. Roughly speaking, he is a bridle for the product owner. And if the product owner “rules the world”, the project manager “rules the resources”.

Product manager

The next super-important role is the product manager. This is a person who answers the question “What are we doing?” He is immersed in the development process and in what is going on with the product. The product owner transmits to the product manager everything he knows about the game, and the product manager thinks about how to make it a reality. For example, I (product owner) want my game to have an awesome tutorial so that people would understand everything and it would be cool, etc. While the product manager says “Okay, then here we take the spin animation… and here we take this part of the code… here we optimize this, etc.”

The position of product manager requires certain soft-skills, because being a manager, one has to be able to communicate well with people. At the same time this person should possess a number of hard skills — e.g., understand the tools that other project participants work with. For example, I, as a product owner, can’t transmit my ideas or have a full-fledged dialogue with developers, because I speak a completely different language to them. As a rule, a product manager cannot code on his own, but he is more or less familiar with what is going on and can direct a development team accordingly.

Game producer

This position lies somewhere in between the product owner and the product manager and is essentially responsible for the product that is being created. He also takes responsibility for the communication between departments and ensures that external contractors communicate with the right specialists, receive the necessary materials, etc. In the case of the Altar, I also took on the function of the game producer.

Expert roles

Now we’re smoothly approaching the expert roles. Speaking of the production of such a product as an online (video) game, one would certainly need such hard skills as development, known as “the back” and art, known as “the front”. After all, the game should be beautiful and somehow it should work.

Developers

A team of devs can be made up of one person. Everything depends on the complexity of the game and the timing. In case the product is complex, besides the developer itself, you may need an additional role of a tech-lead. Tech-lead cuts the tasks, sorts them by complexity and gives out to the specialists of his department in accordance with their abilities and skills. However, in small projects, it can be the same person who is a developer.

Tech-lead

Tech-lead is a person who takes the beauty of what the artist painted and implements it on what the developer wrote.

DevOps

Another necessary role in game development is DevOps. This is a specialist who works at the intersection of two areas — development + operations and automates the gaming application lifecycle (including design, development, testing, deployment, support, and monitoring).

Artists

The same story with the art that can be represented by an art-lead and his team, or it can be one person, drawing all the parts of the game.

Game designer

Game-designer is one of the key expert roles in game development. This person keeps all the documentation on the structure of the project. He knows what the game should look like in terms of mechanics. Game designer leads the so-called “game design document”, which is something similar to the thesis — it contains the whole project, all the flowcharts, the sequence of windows and clicks, the logic and balance of the game, the algorithm of increasing the complexity of the level, etc. Therefore, this person gives out the necessary information to artists and devs.

Ironically, my team doesn’t have a game designer as such, but his functions are distributed among the product manager, myself (as a product owner) and our balancer. It’s not hard to guess that the balancer is responsible for the balance in the game. Since the Altar is a collector’s game, which comprises units of different force fields, with various protection, diverse attacks, and multifarious abilities, and so to prevent the game from “breaking” it has to be balanced.

Character artist and Narrative designer

At the heart of any game lies a story and characters that embody it. Therefore, your team will need a person taking responsibility for these components. In some games, where the development of the whole scenario is required, with numerous characters and dialogues between them, there is a need for a character artist, narrative director, and narrative designer. In the situation with the Altar, it is not so much about the scenario as the selection of characters and stories they contain.

Marketing

Let’s suppose we already have a situation where an art-lead with a tech-lead and a product manager somehow create a game and everything is great and cool, but this game still has to emerge for people. If you don’t show it, if you don’t talk about it, the goal of the game won’t be achieved.

Therefore, the next part, which is worth talking about and which should be one hundred percent in the team, is the promotion team, also called a marketing team.

Social media manager

Even if we don’t have our marketing team inside or don’t apply to an agency (in case of a small project), we should at least have an SMM-manager. This person conducts all communication in social networks, as well as works with media and community.

Designer

Ideally, a community manager should have his designer who will create visual content at his request. But in the case of small and limited-budget-projects, the designer’s function can be taken on by an art-lead.

Finance & Legal

Let’s say we’ve already made a game, we know whom and how to tell about it, everything seems cool, but there is one thing. For the game to really come to life, it has to “feed itself”. Therefore, there is a need for experts in finance, to take care of debits and credits, as well as someone to be responsible for legal issues, in particular licensing, especially if we are dealing with the RNG (random number generator) and other systems. If the game is small, then these functions can be omitted or outsourced, setting a one-time contract and making relevant payments.

Conclusion

As you can see, creating a game requires a lot of expertise. Ideally, each expert should be responsible for his or her area of work, while managers should make sure that all processes go smoothly. However, in life, everything is much more interesting. And if you are not a super-mega-cool online-game-development-studio, having already tested all the skills within numerous projects, then get ready for the fact that you will have to face difficulties, take on more responsibilities, learn from scratch and stuff your own bumps. If that doesn’t scare you, or it does yet the desire to try still prevails, then gather your team with a starting set of skills and give it a shot!

Olia Fe

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Olia Fe

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