DSGA year one recap, part 3

19 Jun

Last time, I talked about finding a focus for the DSGA, one that met an industry need and differentiated us from all the other programs out there. Once that vision was in place it was time to find people who could help take it from conception to reality. In that sense, the situation wasn’t much different than the complex but fascinating process of putting together a game team.

I knew I needed people with real and recent industry experience – people who had built teams, run studios, managed real projects. I’ve never seen the point in having instructors who’ve never worked on a game, or who worked on games ten years ago. Even though lessons of leadership are, to an extent, timeless, the games industry changes so rapidly that recent experience seemed like a must if for no other reason than to provide appropriate context for the lessons we want to teach.

In addition, I needed staff members whose experience didn’t just mirror my own, but differed from it, in terms of the scope and type of games made, the size and makeup of teams managed and the studio/publisher cultures in which they had worked. Varied real-world experience was critical to me and, I thought, to the mission of the DSGA.

Why is that? Well, I’ve hired lots of developers straight out of school and a surprising (and, frankly, distressing) number of grads come to professional development with the idea that there’s One Right Way to do things. I mean, they learned it from their teachers so it has to be right, right? (The power of teachers is pretty remarkable, actually, which offers great benefits, but at some cost…)

Certainty about the One Right Way has always frustrated me. First of all, every team and every project is unique. What worked on one project might not be appropriate on the next. Second, every studio and publisher is different – often to the extent of having radically different vocabularies to describe the same things. And finally, speaking strictly for myself, my teams and studios have typically made different kinds of games than a lot of other developers so, not surprisingly, we’ve had a different way of thinking about and doing things than others. Applying a “one size fits all” philosophy just doesn’t make sense.

But I only know what I know – my way. And my way was born in the crucible of triple-A PC and console games. I’ve never worked on anything small, anything mobile or anything multiplayer. So, I needed people with different experiences, who’d disagree with me on all sorts of topics. (We’ll talk about how that worked out during our first year in another blog post. For now, suffice to say, differentness was a key criterion for me in the staff search.)

Finding people with recent real world experience – and different experiences, to boot – wasn’t easy. The search involved months of outreach and interviews. I talked to a lot of people! I talked to some great teachers with great academic experience. I found great developers without proven teaching skills. Ultimately, I found the two people I wanted and needed to make the DSGA a success.

The first staffer to sign on was Joshua Howard. Joshua was a 15 year Microsoft veteran, filling a variety of positions there – Program Manager… studio head at MS’s Carbonated Games… Executive Producer for the Microsoft Flight team… He also put in some time as Executive Producer at Crytek. That was the kind of professional resume I was looking for. And talk about different experience! But there was more.

Joshua had been a regular speaker at GDC Online conferences and IGDA Leadership Forums. His topic of choice? Leadership. He had studied the topic more deeply than I ever had and was able to articulate core leadership concepts in a way I never could. (Face it, for better or worse – mostly worse, I suspect! – I’m a fly by the seat of the pants guy…) If you’re interested in some of his talks, check them out on Slideshare at http://www.slideshare.net/MrJoshuaHoward?utm_campaign=profiletracking&utm_medium=sssite&utm_source=ssslideview and if you want to check out his blog, it’s at https://thereisnothem.wordpress.com/. He hasn’t updated it in a while (and feels appropriately guilty about it) but what’s there is well worth reading.

Oh, and I’m totally jealous of Joshua’s lecturing ability and style. Damn it.

Then it was on to the search for staffer #2. That search led me to David “D.S.” Cohen. David’s background is as different from mine as Joshua’s was, and different from Joshua’s as well.

David comes to the DSGA with 16 years of videogame experience. He started in 1999 as a Marketing Coordinator on the publishing and licensing side before moving into Producer and Senior Producer roles for companies large and small (Warner Bros. Interactive/WB Games, Brash Entertainment, Oddworld Inhabitants, National Geographic Society, and Schell Games). He’s also a student of video game history (see http://classicgames.about.com/) writing and editing series of articles about classic video games for About.com.

David’s experience runs the gamut from small projects to large ones… casual, educational and elearning… ports and licenses… mobile, PC and console.., online, multiplayer, single player… Like I said, very different from me!

Oh, and David wrote a book about game production – Producing Games: From Business and Budgets to Creativity and Design (http://www.amazon.com/Producing-Games-Business-Budgets-Creativity/dp/0240810708/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1366136278&sr=8-1&keywords=Producing+Games).

Both David and Joshua were clearly committed to helping leaders-to-be achieve both personal and professional growth. I was sold and convinced them to join me at the DSGA.

We had a staff.

Next time, we’ll talk about students.

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