PMing and Gaming

The thing about being a good project manager is that you know how to design a framework which will allow a project to move from conception to completion efficiently and effectively. In short, an idea becomes a reality.

When I started to work as a project manager, I would never have thought about the possibility that this skill set could be applied to game design and development. Even though my entire career has been built on the idea of developing and maintaining a set of transferable skills, which would allow any idea – whether a film or a school curriculum or an advertising campaign or a singing contest or software deployment or city infrastructure improvement  – to come to fruition, I never considered the way that project management skills would assist in game production.

That’s on me. Because in my mind, games were play and work was not-play.

It turns out that work and play can intersect. Align, even.

This might not necessarily be a skillset which every developer believes is worth an investment. In much the same way that not every writer will choose to invest in an editor’s expertise. And, perhaps for a writer who has a keenly developed editorial eye, an editor’s contribution is not essential for a manuscript’s publication. But for a writer to have not just another set of eyes on their project but a set of eyes with experience in the sector, the rewards are multiplied. A draft is more professional and better prepared to market, so it’s bound and published faster, reaching an audience rather than stuck in a folder unrealised.

In game production, a project manager with experience in the gaming industry and community can shorten your timelines significantly. (Shorter timelines on a successful project mean a shorter wait to recoup your investment. In other words, you see a pay-off sooner.)

An experienced PM will identify risks and pitfalls in advance and arrange the timeline to accommodate solutions. (Anticipating problems rather than reacting to them means you make the deadlines to which you’ve committed. You build your credibility rather than fumble with it.)

A team member with unflagging communication and negotiation skills can help resolve conflicts before projects are derailed and can mitigate even unexpected disruptions before they spiral into unmanageable situations. (Passionate creators can have passionate disagreements, but tact and discretion can keep a project on track: everyone can focus on pitching new work, not pitching a tantrum.)

I’ve never been one for drawing boundaries and borders. I think we create the life we live every day, whether that’s time spent at work or at play. And I’m suspicious of professional organizers who can’t keep their personal appointments, who seem to function adequately in the workplace but can’t schedule their everyday existence. But I didn’t understand how seamlessly my business career could fit with my off-hours passions.

I’ve also enjoyed seeing a project come to fruition, always been excited by a process design which was successful and profitable, but I’m truly passionate about managing game development projects. No more borders: I’m bringing every part of myself to the table now.

The Game I Want to Play

You hear writers talk about it sometimes. About that point at which they stopped being simply readers and recognized that they were readers who also wanted to be writers. Many of them speak of realizing that they wanted to read a particular kind of story that they weren’t finding on the shelves of bookstores and libraries. And a new sense of wanting to create intertwined with that familiar desire to consume.

For me, the idea of not only wanting to play games but also create them was not entirely new.

As a kid, I made up my own card games. Out of boredom as much as it was out of a creative urge. As a teenager, I imagined my own video games. As an adult, in the ad world, I worked on projects revolving around contests and competitions. Occasionally meet-ups with other gamers led to discussion of concepts and possibilities for PC and mobile platforms. Once or twice, these conversations translated into action.

What was new about the idea of designing a tabletop game was a sense of simultaneously being inspired by what was present and what was lacking.

Over the past three years I have logged just under two thousand hours of tabletop gameplay as a casual player. A player with a passion, yes. But a player who had to be skilled at playing grown-up too, with that set of unshakeable responsibilities that claimed the bulk of my waking hours. And, still, a bulging log of gameplay hours.

Building on a history of classic board and card games as a kid, video and RPG experience as a teen and adult, I was adopting a new set of vocabulary, spending evenings and weekends with ‘worker-placement’ and ‘light strategy’ and ‘4X’ entertainments, with family and friends and small groups dedicated to the pastime.

I’ve discovered so many awesome games. So many talented and dedicated designers and creators. If time stopped right now, in the tabletop world, I’d be entertained for the remainder of my days.

Simultaneously, with all these new experiences, I am also keenly aware of having something to contribute myself. Of recognizing where there are possibilities and combinations which have not yet been boxed and sold.

From my experience in the ad world, I know that personnel are often divided into creatives and non-creatives. But in these environments I’ve met many problem-solvers and managers who exhibit creativity in their problem-solving and team management daily: a lot of creative thinking for ‘non-creatives’. And I’ve met a lot of folks working in ‘creative’ departments who are skilled at mimicry and patterning: not much innovation for these ‘creatives’.

Tabletop gaming has corrected my binary thinking. The line between players and creators is blurred. And I’m ready to give back. Ready to work. Ready to put all those games I’ve been playing to work.