Press Start Leadership Podcast

The Unseen Game Developer: Triumphing in Scope Reduction

October 23, 2023 Press Start Leadership Season 1 Episode 117
Press Start Leadership Podcast
The Unseen Game Developer: Triumphing in Scope Reduction
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Show Notes Transcript

Are you ready to master the power of prioritization in game development? Join me, your host Christopher Mifsud, for a deep conversation about the often misunderstood process of scope reduction. We'll unravel the potential hazards of overscoping, from skyrocketing budgets and postponed launches to compromising the quality of your game and overworking your team. Exploring the wisdom of 'less is more', we'll look at how embracing this philosophy can lead to more streamlined, impactful games.

I'll share practical strategies for efficient scope reduction, such as honing in on core game mechanics, adopting modular development, and the importance of continuous play testing. We'll tackle the emotional aspect of cutting cherished ideas and talk about keeping the end goal in sight. We'll even discuss the role of tools and tech in managing scope and the crucial task of effectively communicating scope reduction to stakeholders. Whether you're a seasoned veteran or fresh to game development, this episode is teeming with insights that can help you make tough calls without sacrificing your game's primary vision. Let's make hard decisions a little less hard, shall we?

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Speaker 1:

Hey there, press starters and welcome to the press start leadership podcast, the podcast about game changing leadership, teaching you how to get the most out of your product and development team and become the leader you were meant to be leadership coaching and training for the international game industry professional. Now let me introduce you to your host, the man, the myth, the legend, christopher Mifsud.

Speaker 2:

Hey there, press starters and welcome back to another special edition of the press start leadership podcast. On this week's episode, we're discussing trimming the triumph mastering scope, production and game development strategies for discerning what stays and what goes in video game production for optimal results. In the world of video game development, there's an adage that's been passed around for years, both humorous and sobering Kill your babies. While the phrase might initially sound jarring, its message is clear. Sometimes you need to let go of cherished ideas or elements to ensure the larger project thrives. This process, often term scope reduction, is a crucial aspect of game development, ensuring projects remain feasible within budget and timely. This podcast delves deep into the intricacies of scope reduction, offering strategies and insights to make these hard decisions without compromising the game's core vision, the dangers of overscoping and game production. Before we dive into the nitty gritty of reducing scope, it's important to understand the perils of overscoping. First off, budget overruns. Every additional feature or element requires resources, from design to testing. Overscoping can quickly escalate costs, potentially making the project financially unviable. Then there's delayed launches a game that's forever in development risk becoming outdated or losing market relevance. Think about quality compromises. Stretching resources to accommodate every feature might mean each element doesn't get the attention it deserves, affecting the overall game quality and team burnout. Continual crunch time and ever expanding to-do lists can exhaust teams, leading to decreased morale and productivity. Embracing the philosophy of less is more, a streamlined game with a clear focus can often be more impactful than a sprawling one with multiple underdeveloped features. Consider iconic games like Flappy Bird or Tetris. Their simplicity is their strength. They offer engaging gameplay without overwhelming the player with myriad features. As a game developer, embracing this philosophy of less is more can be the step towards effective scope management.

Speaker 2:

Strategies for effective scope reduction Think about how to prioritize core game mechanics. Identify the heart of your game, the primary mechanics that drive gameplay. Any feature or element that doesn't enhance or support this core can be a candidate for elimination. Consider modular development. Design your game in modules or segments. This way, if a particular module is causing delays or doesn't fit into the broader narrative, it can be removed without affecting the overall structure. Always think about continuous play testing. Regular play testing can offer insights into which elements of the game are truly engaging and which feels superfluous. Feedback from real players can be invaluable in determining what to trim.

Speaker 2:

Set clear milestones. Break down the development process into clear milestones. If certain features are causing consistent delays in achieving these milestones, it might be time to reconsider their inclusion. Remember to embrace agile development. Agile methodologies prioritize flexibility and iterative development. By adopting an agile approach, developers can regularly assess project scope and make necessary adjustments. Avoid feature creep at all costs. It's not uncommon for developers to continually think of just one more feature as the game progresses. While innovation is great, there's a need to avoid endless additions that bloat the game without substantial value addition.

Speaker 2:

Handling the emotional aspect of scope reduction. For many developers, their game is a passion project. Each feature, character or narrative thread might feel deeply personal. Hence making cuts could be emotionally challenging. Detachment is key here. While passion is vital for creativity, there's a need for a degree of emotional detachment when evaluating game features. Viewing decisions through the lens of overall game health rather than personal attachment can aid objective decision making. Keep in mind that feedback is a pillar. Sometimes feedback from team members or playtesters can help reinforce or guide scope reduction decisions. It offers an external perspective, free from the biases of personal involvement. Also, remember the larger vision. While a particular feature might be dear, it's essential to remember the broader game vision If a specific element doesn't align with this vision or impedes its realization. It might be time to let go. Document and archive just because a feature doesn't fit into the current game doesn't mean it's a bad idea. Document and archive these elements. They might be perfect for a sequel, dlc or an entirely different game.

Speaker 2:

Engaging the team in scope reduction decisions. A game's development is a collaborative endeavor. Engaging the entire team in scope decisions can make the process smoother and more effective. Start by having open dialogues. Encourage team members to voice their opinions and concerns. They might offer insights that hadn't been previously considered. Always do departmental check-ins, regularly check-in with different departments art design testing to understand challenges they might be facing. Their on-ground perspective can highlight areas ripe for scope reduction. Consider decentralizing decision making. While a project leader, director, will have the final say, decentralizing decision making to some extent can empower team members and lead to more informed choices. And always highlight the positives. Ensure the team understands the reasons behind scope reduction, be it improving game quality, ensuring timely launches or managing resources better, understanding the balance between vision and viability.

Speaker 2:

Every game starts with a vision, a dream of what it could become. However, as the development progresses, this vision needs to be weighed against the viability of executing it. Keep the end goal in sight. It's easy to become enamored with intricate side quests, detailed backstories or novel mechanics. However, always ask does it serve the primary goal of the game? Also, flexibility over rigidity. A rigid adherence to an initial vision, even when faced with clear signs of it being untenable, can lead to significant problems down the line. The ability to pivot, even if it means moving away from some original ideas, can be the difference between success and failure.

Speaker 2:

Leveraging tools and technology for efficient scope management. In the digital age, there are myriad tools and technologies available that can assist game developers in managing and reducing scope. First is project management tools. Platforms like JIRA, trello or SANA can help in breaking down the game development process, assigning tasks, setting priorities and tracking progress. These tools allow for visual representation of the project, making it easier to spot and address scope issues. Have feedback platforms Tools like User Voice or Canny can co-late feedback from play testers, beta testers or even team members, providing a clear picture of which features resonate and which might be extraneous. Consider analytics In-game analytics can offer data-driven insights and player behavior. Certain features or levels are consistently skipped or not engaged with might be an indicator that they aren't crucial to the game experience.

Speaker 2:

Communicating scope production to stakeholders. While internal team alignment is essential, it's equally crucial to communicate scope decisions to external stakeholders, be it publishers, investors or even the game or community. Always consider honesty is the best policy. When discussing scope reduction, it's vital to be transparent about the reasons behind such decisions, whether it's due to budget constraints, time limitations or quality concerns. Stakeholders appreciate honesty. Highlight the benefits, while the initial reaction might be disappointment. Highlighting the benefits of scope reduction more refined game experience, better optimization, quicker release times can help in getting stakeholders on board. Use visuals, sometimes showcasing a trimmed-down version of a feature or a level juxtaposed against the original can help stakeholders visualize why the scope was reduced. And always keep channels open. Regular updates and open channels for feedback ensure that stakeholders feel involved and valued, even if they may not agree with every decision.

Speaker 2:

We're visiting and reevaluating post-launch. Scope reduction isn't just a pre-launch strategy. Post-launch is essential to reevaluate. Remember DLCs and expansions. Some of the features that were trimmed might find a new lease in life and DLCs are expansions. This not only offers additional revenue streams, but also satisfies fans, who might have been looking forward to certain aspects.

Speaker 2:

You always have patches and updates Based on player feedback. Some aspects of the game might need refining, expanding or even reducing. Post-launch patches offer an opportunity to adjust scope based on real-world data, and there's always sequels and spin-offs, as hinted earlier. Just because a feature didn't fit into the current game doesn't mean it's lost forever. Sequels, spin-offs or even new projects might benefit from these archived ideas. Final Thoughts Scope reduction, or killing your babies as it's colloquially known, is an integral aspect of video game development. It ensures that the game remains viable and delivers on its core promise without becoming bogged down by unnecessary features or bloated ambitions. While the process can be emotionally taxing, especially when letting go of a feature one is deeply attached to, it's a necessary discipline in the high stakes world of game development. By prioritizing, staying flexible, leveraging tools and maintaining open communication channels, game developers can master the art of scope reduction, ensuring their projects are both visionary and viable. Alright, and that's this week's episode of Press Start Leadership Podcast. Thanks for listening and, as always, thanks for being awesome.