About Game Development are short essays exploring the world of game development at Bethesda Game Studios. Today’s post is about how a team is like a family.
We spend so much time at work, a development team becomes like a family. We fight. We annoy. We eat. We have kids (well, the married couples working on the team do).
We hire slowly here at Bethesda Game Studios. It’s no surprise that we want to find developers who fit our culture and team. People who aren’t a good fit can often bring everyone else down; they become a massive negative buff. Flip side to this, losing folks hurts. It takes time to make up the lost knowledge and talent that people take with them, and when someone leaves, it usually means we’re losing a friend, too. That makes us sad pandas.
Institutional knowledge or corporate memory — depending on what business self help book you are reading — is how a team learns to make games, learns to work together, and most importantly, learns to get better at makes games. Malcolm Gladwell writes in his great book, The Tipping Point, the following:
…the benefit of unity, of having everyone in a complex enterprise share a common relationship…in a family this process of memory sharing is even more pronounced. Most of us remember, at one time, only a fraction of the day to day details and histories of our family life. But we know, implicitly, where to go to find the answers to our questions – whether it is up to our spouse to remember where we put our keys or our thirteen year old to find out how to work the computer, or our mother to find out details of our childhood…when new information arises, we know who should have responsibility for storing it. This is how, in a family, expertise emerges… mental energy is limited, we concentrate on what we do best.
A team that has worked together for many years and shipped multiple projects benefits from “transitive memory: it’s knowing someone well enough to know what they know, and knowing them well enough so that you can trust them to know things in their specialty…recreating, on an organization wide level, of the kind of intimacy and trust that exists in a family.”
This is the kind of culture every game developer hopes for. Making a truly successful game is hard enough, and there are so many factors outside your control that decide the success of your game. There is no replacement for having a team you trust to get you there.
Ashley Cheng is the Production Director at Bethesda Game Studios. His credits include The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion and Fallout 3. He also authored a car buying guide and produced consumer segments for NBC’s Today Show (but that was like almost 10 years ago so really, he needs to let go). Read more at his mega popular blog, Rice Always Wins.