Posts Tagged ‘round table’

GDC Online: How to create a diverse team and keep it

2010/10/19

Donald Harris and Sheri Graner Ray hosted a round table on my last day at GDC Online about diversity in game studios.

Why I Went

The topic sounded interesting to me – diversity in my mind was a given as I have seen the power of mixing people from different backgrounds within the talent melting pot of Lionhead Studios.  Encouraging retention in particular was interesting to me, as people sometimes do not just leave a studio but the entire game industry itself.  I believe some of those leaving would have chosen to stay if there was a better work-life balance; e.g. improved working practices that supported fathers and mothers spending time with their children, rather than have them routinely spending extra hours at the office.  Those reading this blog entry interested in overtime practices and their impact on the workplace should review DeMarco(1999) and Keith(2010), as this topic was not discussed in depth at this round table.

First Impression

The round table discussion started with Donald asking everyone to introduce themselves and to explain what they wanted from the hour.  Diversity was understood by the room in two ways, genetic and skill.  Despite the room being mostly white and male, the entire room did declare interest in diversity in both regards.

Proceedings

The first question after introductions was “why would you want diverse teams?”

Diversity in skills was briefly addressed, with some questioning the value of mixed discipline teams.  Questions about improving communication between artists and coders were asked but never really answered.  The meeting was steered back to people with diverse skills rather than mixed discipline teams.

Personally I can see the value of mixed discipline teams as suggested by some in the industry including Keith (2010 pg.160-161); but in larger studios these disciplines do seem to be organized in to single discipline departments.  The different terminology and ways of communicating between disciplines does make people who can communicate easily with each very useful.

Interestingly during career track talks on Friday this kind of generalist attitude seemed to be under-valued, as graduates were being repeatedly encouraged to be more specialized.  I do wonder if the message of specialization given through career advice both before and after entering the industry could be creating deeper communication silos, thus hindering integration of disciplines in to cohesive cross-discipline teams.

Donald made the point that a modern game set in a city made by a diverse team would be inherently more believable because of the combined cultural knowledge of a diverse team.

Sheri steered the room towards recruitment ideals, clarifying the “how to create a diverse team” part of the title into “where to source skilled diverse people from”.  A side point here quickly resolved is that hiring an under-qualified candidate from a under-represented type of person is counter-productive.  Fulfilling corporate targets based on genetics rather than required skill builds weaker teams and breeds contempt.  The room declared the door was open to candidates with the right skills from diverse backgrounds, but sourcing those people can be difficult.

A grass roots suggestion about working with schools to encourage more diverse candidates interested in developing skills useful to the game industry was quickly discussed but ultimately the room was steered back towards addressing more immediate recruitment.

Places suggested included:

  • College campus
    • Talk to instructors directly, ask for interns
  • IGDA diversity groups
    • Cannot directly advertise, but there are networking opportunities
  • Mod Community
  • Linked in
  • Different types of colleges and universities
    • Architecture School
      • Level designers
    • Art School
    • Business School
  • International candidates
    • Localization & bring knowledge about their own culture
  • Community and customer management candidates
    • Starbucks, PapaJohns, etc
      • Received good customer service while serving studio,  worthwhile interview to represent studio.
    • Customer base
      • Passionate about product, though can be double edged sword
  • Game forums
    • Fans can be recruited in to community management
  • Poaching from other studios
  • Poaching talent from other industries

At one point I did suggest to the room that if working practices were to be improved that mothers and those physically unable to work a full day could be an untapped source of talent, especially if they could job share.

Behavior interview techniques were mentioned, with a split about whether the practice of letting every member of the team spend a few minutes with a candidate being interviewed was good or not.  DeMarco (1999) also advocated using a similar technique.  It was suggested that perhaps this practice is better for smaller teams, though some said that it worked with larger ones too.  An objective set of criteria for questions to be asked by the team if a team interview is done was agreed to be crucial for the practice to be effective.

Conclusion

In the closing minutes the elephant in the room was the word “diversity” itself.  It is a big word that can be quite confrontational (“You’re not diverse… you are BAD people!”).  Someone else said “I hear diversity, I think of lawyers”.  Corporate diversity training was spoken of briefly – some found it comforting, others thought it was just a box ticking exercise providing some kind of metric proving to someone somewhere that a company was diverse.

I found the round table discussion interesting though not quite what I expected  – it focused on recruitment rather than team cohesion and retention.  It was comforting to hear that my experiences working within a diverse team in Lionhead are repeated in studios elsewhere.  From my experience, Lionhead has recruited from many sources. My own recruitment into the studio was from a different industry – I used to create software for libraries and learning centers!  It was good to hear that many other studios also have open minds when it comes to recruiting from different pools and developing talent.

Links

Donald Harris : www.donald-harris.com

Sheri Graner Ray: http://sherigranerray.com/

Keith, Clinton. (2010).  Agile Game Development With Scrum. Pearson Education, Inc. Amazon UK, Amazon US.

DeMarco, Tom. & Lister, Timothy.  (1999).  Peopleware: Productive Projects and Teams.  Dorset House Publishing Co., Inc.  Amazon UK, Amazon US.


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