Leveling Up as a Video Game Designer, Part III

Here we come to the conclusion of our video game designer odyssey and discover what exactly separates the wee tadpoles from the mighty bullfrogs.

The Lead Designer
Or, now it's your job to make people panic

Whether you're called a lead, supervisor, manager or some other title, the role takes a big step into a vast new realm - the world of management. What people often don't realize is what exactly management actually entails.

Management is the capability to have uncomfortable conversations.

Managers make demands of their people. Managers ask people to do hard things and accomplish challenging tasks. Managers tell people when they are not doing a good job. Managers direct people back onto the path when they go astray. Managers probe to discover problems. Manager cut to the heart of conflicts. Managers seek ways to keep their people from growing stale.

In other words, it's a manager's job to put themselves directly into uncomfortable situations and in many ways, to prevent the status quo from creeping in to the workplace. Unless of course, the status quo for your organization is that everything works perfectly, everyone gets along splendidly and everybody is performing at the optimal level. If so, congratulations to you - life at Gumdrop Studioes on Lollipop Lane in Happy Land sure sounds swell.

But unfortunately, the rest of live in a slightly different realm. Besides all their functional design skills, the Lead has the ability to manage a team. They can guide and nudge the work of other Designers without being intrusive and meddlesome, as well as handling the issues that come with personnel management.

The Lead has developed the ability to work with a wide variety of people and personalities from a variety of levels within the organization. No longer are "the suits" simply the enemy. Or, well, at least the Lead has learned to carefully hold close to their vest their feelings. They can interact effectively with a first day intern as well as not becoming a tongue-tied stuttering mess when encountering the company CEO. They can communicate effectively to groups in a variety of situations and formats including the dreaded all company Powerpoint presentation.

When you boil it down, a Lead takes responsibility. They are invested in finding a way for the team to succeed on both a personal and professional level. They actively look for thorny project issues and find ways to resolve them. The Lead identifies the needed work across a project and matches it up with appropriate team members (including themselves).

Creative Director
Or, welcome to your sales career. 

Many people have what I consider a very mistaken notion about what it is to be a Creative Director. They think being a CD means you finally have all that power you've always dreamed of. You have been crowned the Mighty Design King. Finally, you can sit up in your Tower and tell everybody what to do - dropping those creative missives on the puny underlings below (or dousing them with flaming oil if they grumble too much).

In my experience, being a Creative Director means almost the exact opposite. Sure, you do have genuine power and influence - but often, your influence is as much based on personal skills as title responsibility. In many ways, being the CD means suddenly, you have so many more people to convince and constantly sell on your vision.

You can bark orders are underlings - but that won't make them believe. And it certainly won't get them to embrace your idea and run with it as if it were their own. You can throw your weight around, but often times that comes back to haunt you. And when you are the Big Boss, one of the hardest things to do is influence a project in a way that empowers a team and never makes them feel demoralized or inadequate. The very best Creative Directors have an uncanny knack for getting a team enthused about an idea...which just so happens to be the CD's.

CD's have a comprehensive vision for a product and a variety of tools at their disposal to communicate that vision to the team. They understand the competitive landscape for a product and can effectively position a new idea within that context. They have a keen sense of what the layperson simply calls ‘fun’. They can Lead other Leaders and give effective guidance to highly experienced professionals.

They have the skills to entertain, educate and charm large and small groups, as well as individuals. They can sell a vision for a product to a design team as well as people with no design background. They are comfortable interacted with managers and executives across a variety of disciplines. They have the ability to draw the best work out of talented people, inspiring and challenging as needed.

They can get people excited and interested in a game that exists only in their mind and find a way to get a team to make that idea their own. The Creative Director is patient zero for the viral idea that is a new game. And it's the job of a good CD to infect everyone around them with their enthusiasm.

- Sean Dugan is a designer who wants to know what its going to take to get you to drive off the lot with this fantastic new game idea....

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