This week has been even crazier than the average week. Too my delight and too my horror, I was unexpectedly given the reigns in managing some of my company’s offshore teams this week. And by offshore, I mean really really offshore – several thousand miles and 11 hours of time difference offshore. While this has meant that I’ve had less time to work on AOTW this week – it has also been beneficial because it’s forced me to think more about the challenges of working “remotely” as a team. It’s absolutely amazing how easily things can be lost in translation. I mean, I’m good at pretending to be competent, and the offshore team members I work with are competent, yet things can still spiral out of control at the slightest email misstep. Before you know it, one error has been magnified 100x and the company database is engulfed in a Death Star-esque explosion. I needed some serious Ender’s Game motivation to get me through some of the days this week.
On the bright side I think there are actually some semi-useful parallels between my new work experience and some of the challenges we have experienced working together as an indie development team on AOTW. It may sound like a bit of a stretch to say that our AOTW team works remotely. If you want to get technical about it, I only live about 8.4 minutes away from Rich and Austin. Yet, in practice it can often feel like we are working remotely. We all have vastly different schedules, social obligations, and (occasionally) apartment cleaning tasks to which we attend. We only actually see each other in person for a meeting once a week.
Of course all this really means is that communication is super duper important. Sometimes this can be hard for me. We all know that technical people have trust issues when it comes to the business guy in the room. In fact I recently found some words of wisdom on the matter from one of my favorite management gurus, Dilbert:
Fortunately we’re not facing any sketchy re-organizations. We are facing plenty of other challenges though. One thing that I’ve been noticing more of recently is that dependencies and overlap are gradually increasing between our various tasks. Right now this mostly exists when I want to blog about a specific game development – I can only do this once I receive the necessary material from Austin, Rich, and Wu-Gene. For example, it would be pretty weird for me to write a post about the development of our artwork or of a specific dev feature without actually showing or describing the content in question. My self-serving jokes can only get me so far in these posts. Of course, every team that has ever worked on a project anywhere deals with dependency issues. I think better communication on my part would go a long way towards mitigating some of the stress that can arise from me. More frequent emails and texts between in-person meetings would probably be a good starting point (thank goodness we are at least in the same time zone).
Another challenge that seems self-explanatory but is perhaps even more important is keeping morale up. Not that we are despondent and flipping over tables, but keeping up that sense that you are fighting side by side in the trenches is necessary for long term success. As much as my introverted side stresses about my company’s “open office” seating, it does serve to keep up morale in this sense. After all, it is motivating to see your colleague working hard and developing cool stuff right next to you. Of course, this strategy backfires when you look over and realize that your colleague has been watching cat videos for 45 minutes straight, but I digress.
The point is – when working remotely I think it’s important to do little things to cultivate a sense of camaraderie. Dropbox has been surprisingly helpful with this. We use Dropbox to archive and share most of our AOTW documents and artwork. Those little pop ups that happen whenever someone updates something in a file can be really motivating because it lets you know that someone else is also working on the project while you are sitting there on your computer. To be fair most of these pop ups come from Austin since he has roughly 7.6 million different story documents. Still, sometimes everyone happens to be working at the same time and the notifications are absolutely blowing up – that is a cool feeling. To increase this sense of camaraderie I’m going to encourage everyone to send out more professional, personal interim updates such as – “I just finished shading a new tank sprite, f*ck yeah!!”
Finally, we need something of symbolic value that will signify group cohesiveness when we are meeting. The natural solution here is of course matching sets of company pajamas, but that may have to wait until we have some serious funding. However, what I’m going to do first is to get our company LLC documents framed and up on the wall in Rich and Austin’s place. I know, not the flashiest symbol in the world, but there’s something really cool and scary about realizing that you have formed a legal entity with your friends in order to bring a game into reality. Plus, with those documents on the wall we will always know when it’s business time.