Dev Blog #3 Communication is Key

Team Organization, Part 1: Communication

 

Hello Althas Fans!

 

My name is Matt, and I’m one of the Team Leads here at Epoch Games. If you’re at all like me, you’ve always been interested in creating your own game. What does it take to create one? Well, I’m definitely not here to give you the technical details, but I will give you a little insight into what I do know:

 

I started out as a rookie modder probably as far back as the early 2000s (someone who modifies games, a “mod” creator), until I eventually ended up working on the MERP mod project back in ‘09, which was eventually shut down and lead to the formation of Epoch Games. Unfortunately I’ve come to find I’m not particularly talented in programming, and definitely not art, but over the years I have learned a thing or two about organizing online teams. If the subject of team organization doesn’t interest you, then I recommend turning around right now.

 

There are countless books out there about creating video games, as well as books on forming a small business. I doubt you could find me one on creating a completely-online, volunteer team. All my experience comes from over a decade of working on various team-based game modifications, a few years working on LoA:SO and some of what I’ve applied from university courses and my daily job in IT.

 

The key is (undoubtedly) communication. You have people from around the world, all in different Time Zones. There are several useful tools at your disposal:

 

  • Skype: Love it or hate it, Skype is your friend (although you can find other real-time chat programs). This is our main form of communication. We particularly use Skype because A. Everyone has a Skype account, B. Skype is an industry standard and has a version in just about every modern OS, and C. The ability to create group chats. We have our team organized via Departments (3D Art, Animation, Writing, etc) as well as group chats for the whole team, department leads, etc. If you have a large team, it is vital that different discussions are organized appropriately.
  • Forums: In case you weren’t aware, we do have an online forum (aka bulletin boards). You may think its just for you, the fans. You would be wrong. There are private boards there as well, for the Epoch Games team. Discussion boards that are separated in much the same way as our Skype group chats. Forums have their advantages and disadvantages over real-time chatting: yes you lose the instant feedback (although you may be able to add a chat plugin), but forums are great for lengthy discussions (posts are always saved), polling, and debates. I personally recommend using phpBB.
  • Google Groups: Not a particularly well-known Google tool, but Google Groups I’ve come to find is a wonderful tool. With Google Groups, you will get a bulletin board (I personally don’t recommend this feature, but it’s there if you want it), but you will also get the ability to add members into a single @googlegroups.com email address. This single email address, you can use that single email address to send out a single email to everyone in the group. You can also use this single email address to give permissions to everyone in your Google Group access to Google Docs and Google Sheets (two tools I will talk about another time). Only downside: there is no proper Google Groups app for iOS or Android, so don’t expect to add/remove people to your group if you’re on-the-go.
  • Google Calendar: Another valuable Google tool. Use it to create dates for team meetings and other team events. You can have notifications sent out via email (and, again, you can pair with Google Groups).                                      
  • Email: Be sure you have email addresses of everyone on your team (and that it’s an address they check regularly). If you want to announce something, Email is your best friend. Also, if you have your own site, setting up your own web domain is certainly useful. If you’re using a propensity of Google tools as we do, make sure the email account you are using (and others on the team use) are compatible (for example, Hotmail addresses cannot have their own Google Account, but Yahoo ones can).

 

No, we’re not being endorsed by Google, we just happen to end up using a lot of their tools. They are great for an online group such as ourselves.

 

And lastly, here are a few tips I can give you:

  • Know your Timezone, and make sure everyone on your team knows their own. This is particularly useful when setting up team meetings. I would personally recommend setting using the GMT standard where possible.
  • Find out which of the above communication platforms your team is most familiar with. If you’re forming a development team of forum-goers, online discussion forums may be the best way to go (although a real-time chat plugin, doesn’t hurt).
  • Keep track of everyone on your team. Know when they’ll be out, and if they haven’t been responding for awhile (and haven’t explained why prior), call them out on it and ask why they’ve absent.
  • Keep a Contact List of everyone on your team, as well as other contacts in relation to your team. Be sure that everyone on your team has access to such a list, so that they know how to get in touch with anyone else on your team.

 

Do keep in mind, some of these tools and tips are particularly useful for a larger-sized small team, where a lot of team members can come and go (and I’ve seen a lot of that).
If you’ve enjoyed this, please let us know and stay tuned for Part 2, which will likely be covering either Recruitment or Assigning Tasks.

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