Level up game dev with one platform for all stakeholders

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Collaboration is taking over game development. As studios become increasingly global and start adopting agile project frameworks, silos are breaking down, connectivity is increasing, and teamwork becomes the gateway to games shipped intact, on time, and without the bugs that piss off the players who’ve been waiting for your newest release.

Open communication is key for identifying issues early, brainstorming new and innovative ideas, and coming up with solutions when a crisis occurs, especially as games become more complex — especially when you add virtual reality and augmented reality into the mix.

That means teams are becoming more complex too.

Rise of the stakeholders

“Software teams are evolving,” says Jacek Materna, CTO of Assembla. “Today, a good CEO is part of the software team. Marketing is part of the software team. Product is on the software team. The umbrella of influence of what a software team is and the makeup has changed.”

The change is especially marked in game development.

“You have much more creative-weighted software teams in gaming than in traditional software development,” Materna says. “You’ve got a lot of artists, a lot of concept people, people with vision and thoughts about how things can look. It’s a very physical, tactile industry than just vanilla-building websites or building apps.”

This means you have creatives alongside developers, project managers, and executives all working together — all highly specialized individuals, non-technical, non-scientific actors coming into the fold, and all of them are important stakeholders in how the game is built and delivered.

And in each of these roles, everyone has their own tools, close to their heart, built for their role — and their role only.

Developers have complex technical platforms, project managers are happily paddling around in spreadsheets, and CEOs are sending out emails, which can be especially disruptive. Email threads tend to get lost in the shuffle, along with accountability, traceability, and a master record.

When dreams don’t come true

The challenge in game development, Materna says, is when upper management, or non-technical, non-coding stakeholders are left unsupervised, and come up with the next big idea.

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“A producer says, ‘hey I’ve got this vision, I was up all night,’ and what ends up happening as you go down the line, you’re creating multiple conversation points, moving from one tool to the other,” Jacek explains.

And then you find out that vision and end result are not always the same.

“Everyone wanted a purple triangle, but out popped an orange circle,” Jacek says. “And then everyone looks at each other and says, you know what, we need to come back and we need to redesign that a little bit, and that creates all these feedback loops because again, the communication wasn’t super clear, and that’s just an artifact of having five different personas in the mix, and all of them are using their own tools.”

Instead of siloing these personas, a platform should be including stakeholders end to end.

“All stakeholders should be represented and should be facilitated on that single platform, not just the end-of-the-line wizard coders,” Materna says. “The more you can coalesce that into a single platform and have an inclusive culture, the better the results.”

The proliferation of tools

It might seem obvious. If you want to improve communication and work more efficiently, it’s crucial that the entire team on the project are using the same tools and services.

“You don’t need to have 20 different tools,” Materna says. “And I’m sure no one is excited about an environment with 20 different tools. It costs more money, and you’re always moving the same data around and just putting it into three different places.”

There’s a huge array of platforms out there for every role, which means too many game development teams are working in lonely silos. Developers are coding away in Github, dev and project managers are mired in JIRA and designers are paddling through the whole Adobe suite.

And while there’s plenty of comfort in sticking with what’s familiar and what feels like it has the shortest learning curve, the massive inefficiency of all these isolated incompatible tools being jury-rigged into a development cycle that sorta, kinda works for everyone is killing your team’s productivity.

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“Game development requires a platform that’s approachable,” Materna says. “If my CEO can use a version control system, that’s a great win. If he can get involved at some level in the process, the entire team and the whole product benefits.”

By bridging the gap between hardcore developers and stakeholders, games hit hard deadlines, the games get better, and the number of angry tweets directed your way dwindles.

Version control

Game complexity and team complexity go hand in hand, and version control has to become the central guiding paradigm. Digital experiences that incorporate virtual and augmented reality are requiring the creation of more rich, large assets over the course of the development process, which require collaboration across team members on every level—and that’s when problems can arise.

“You need to be able to facilitate the exchange of information,” Materna says. “The very nature of the things you’re working on in that space require you to take ownership of assets and have the team be able to know in real time that nobody else should be working on a version of that and trying to make changes.”

Source code can be merged; text files can be compared and reconciled. But you can’t merge two versions of a character, a model, any enormous asset comprised of so many moving pieces.

In other words, a collaboration tool that not only breaks down silos but protects the work of each team member, and the integrity of each asset, is not just a nice-to-have.

20-20, 360-degree hindsight

So the ideal collaboration platform needs to be a version control, project management, and developer tool in one, a central depository for every facet of every piece of your project, from the smallest code snippet to the biggest model.

And when every team member is connected to a single project, end to end, with the versioning of it, the control of it, the relationships all stacked in one context instead of spread over 14 tools, not only do you work more efficiently over the life of the project, you also give yourself a valuable post-mortem tool that helps you level up at the end of every successful (or less than successful) game launch.

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“When you deliver a milestone—for instance, you’ve created a new character that’s complete and playable — that’s a lot of stuff,” Materna says. “Different tools, projects,

five months of work and all the people that touched the character. Having that in a central spot is very powerful. You don’t have to dig through emails and spreadsheets and 16 different tools to try to get a picture together, which usually becomes very laborious.

And anything that’s laborious typically doesn’t happen. But with a central view, you have the power of a solid post mortem, a picture that’s useful for planning the next project, avoiding pitfalls and discovering solutions that will pay efficiency forward.

The solution in a nutshell

Game developers have to be agile. There’s no other choice, now, in an industry where the final product must be delivered on time and totally complete. The stress of “getting it right in the end” is compounded in this space, because you pretty much have one shot, and you better not miss it. There’s no do-overs or massive overhauls once it’s out there — and if there are glitches, you’re going to hear about it from the gamers on the ground.

Teams today need a core center for collaboration that’s easy to use, has the right integrations, and can handle large amounts of media files. It’s not enough to use what is comfortable especially when it doesn’t address the unique needs of your team. Not if you want to deliver a show-stopping game that’s on time, within the budget, and flawless.


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