Communication is a Game Development Skill (Part 2 of 2)*

Feb 1, 2014

…if you communicate masterfully enough – persuasively, clearly, fairly and reasonably – then the scale and types of projects that it’s possible for you to work on expands tremendously…

Last month, in part one, I identified a couple of common points of trouble that arise for videogame developers. Communication matters! If communication skills are in bad enough shape, no matter what other technical or artistic skills have developed it’ll be hard to get others to collaborate, and hard to get players and reviewers to hear about the work. On the other end of the spectrum, if you communicate masterfully enough – persuasively, clearly, fairly and reasonably – then the scale and types of projects that it’s possible for you to work on expands tremendously, because being a good communicator is essential to winding up as a meaningful part of (or even starting and leading) any team of other developers who are bringing their own respective skills, experience, and inspiration into the picture.

Listening and Taking to Heart

You’ve heard this all your life. You’ll no doubt hear it again. Hopefully every time communication comes up this gets mentioned too, first or prominently.

Listening well, meaning not just hearing what they have to say or giving them an outlet but trying to work with them to get at underlying meaning or concerns and adapting accordingly, is way harder than it sounds, or at least more unnatural than we’d like to think. You can benefit from practicing better listening. I can say that without knowing anything about you, because everyone – presidents and interns, parents and kids, students and teachers – can always listen better.

There’s a tendency, even though we rationally know it’s out of touch with reality, to think of oneself as the protagonist, and others like NPCs. Part of listening is consciously working to get past that. The goal isn’t to get others to adopt your ideas, but rather it’s to figure out a way forward that gains from the multiple backgrounds and perspectives available, in a positive way that people can feel good about being involved with.

Don’t Care Who Wins, Everyone Wins

There’s no winner in a conversation.

This one also probably sounds obvious, but it’s an important one that enough people run into that it isn’t pointed out nearly enough. Development discussion doesn’t need to be a debate. Even to the extent that creative tension will inevitably present certain situations in which incompatible ideas are vying for limited development attention on a schedule, debate isn’t the right way to approach the matter.

In one model for how a dialog exchange proceeds, two people with different ideas enter, and at the end of the exchange, one person won, one person lost. I don’t think (hope?) that anyone consciously thinks about dialog this way, but rather it may emerge as a default from the kinds of exchanges we hear on television from political talking heads, movie portrayals of exchanges to establish relative status between characters, or even just our instinctive fight or flight sense of turf… (continued in ebook)

*This entry is now in the Videogame Developer’s Strategy Guide, available through membership in Gamkedo Club.

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