GDC Session: Working at the Heart of a Team


GDC 2016 explored some unique and interesting views into the world of game development. One panel that stood out for our team in particular was Production: Working at the Heart of a Team. Presented by Grant Shonkwiler, producer at Epic Games, the session took a worthwhile look at how a producer can use their soft skills to effectively manage, mobilize and motivate their team.

Here’s the quick pitch (aka infomercial):

Lightning Rod Games co-founder Mark Laframboise attended the session at this year’s GDC and it left a great impression. Co-presented by Greg Stone (Sr. Producer, Backflip Studios), Matt Charles (Sr. Producer, Gearbox Studios), and Michelle Ducker (Producer, Media Molecule), the session talked about taking a more holistic, team-focused approach to production methodology. For small and large teams alike, it provided a great breakdown of the basics that go into building a successful team and project.

Here’s what we learned (Coles notes version):

Production: Working at the Heart of a Team

1. Help team build emotional connection with each other:
  • Synchronicity builds trust
  • Play games together; dance parties, karaoke, board games
  • Escape rooms or other physical activities
2. When things fail:
  • Remain calm (outward)
  • Diagnose the issue (ask why repeatedly)
  • Communicate the process/solution
Main types of failure

A. Miscommunication:I don’t understand…
  1. “Why don’t we find out”
  2. I don’t know is fine answer but follow up
B. Personality conflicts: eye rolling, curtness
  1. Pattern of disagreement; assuming the worst about someone
  2. Make them spend more time together; respectful disagreement at least
  3. Better results than separation
C. Team loses control: external force causes issue
  1. Publishers, etc
  2. Challenge people to come to different conclusion
  3. Stand up for teams best interest
D. Outbursts: passion / emotion boiling over
  1. Diffuse with humour
E. Disconnection: feeling dead to the team/me
  1. It doesn’t take much to feel like someone isn’t part of team
  2. Identify the source; communicate the stakes involved
3. Implement Production Tools: 
  • Overview tracker; milestones; tasks; holidays
  • Present information to audience’s preferred style
  • Create a weekly rhythm; picture of the week
  • Talking through problems. Be known as someone who is a good listener
  • Find someone on the team who can be your soundboard
  • If you need help ask for it

4. Prepare to thrive: HOPE

  • Make time for good diet and exercise
  • Practice gratitude
  • Try Meditation
  • Breathe deeply; gain perspective; focus on solvable problems; ignore things outside your control
  • Find a keystone habit; implement habits one at a time; build daily routine; protect what you’ve built
As the team at Lightning Rod Games moves forward on our new project, we look forward to putting some of these ideas into practice. Is your team using any production methods you’d recommend?




  • On March 29, 2016