Game Development Reference
This is a common problem because it springs from deep-seated cog-
nitive biases. Game designs are full of hidden possibilities. One level or
system might play out hundreds or thousands of different ways, so watch-
ing a game in a review isn't enough to understand a game—but it feels like
it is because of the brain's deep-seated WYSIATI (what you see is all there is)
assumption. The leader doesn't know how much he doesn't know, because
he has never seen the things he doesn't know. Since he can't perceive his
own lack of knowledge, he thinks that his understanding is complete. So
he arrogates the decisions because he thinks he can make them better, and
the subordinates walk away fuming.
The root cause of arrogation is leaders not trusting their subordinates.
They know they're more experienced than those following them, and they
don't want to give others the chance to screw up important decisions. So
they take those decisions away. But it doesn't work because the leader can't
know everything in the process. Ultimately the decision ends up worse.
To work together on a game, we must trust one another. This isn't a
pro-teamwork rallying cry or a motivational slogan. It's a cold statement
of fact, and I use the word must in the most literal sense. Trust is non-
optional. We can't possibly cover one another's mistakes because we can't
possibly understand one another's work. So a game design leader direct-
ing a group of fools is doomed. There is no way for him to defend himself
from their idiocy because there are too many decisions happening all over
the studio for him to possibly understand and influence them all. Any
effort he makes to defend himself from people he thinks are dumber than
he is will only hobble the team. The only option is to get people you can
trust, and then trust them.
We want to distribute decisions—but this doesn't mean we can just toss
a team into a room with pizza and computers and come back two years
later expecting a game. Even with distributed authority, leaders still play
a necessary role.
Leaders know a game's macro structure. They know the game's emo-
tional goals, market strategy, business strategy, narrative theme, mood,
design style, design foci, and overall mechanical structure better than
anyone. These topics are where leaders have natural authority, and where
they make decisions.
For these decisions to have effect, the leaders must still be able to
direct subordinates. The key is that they should be directing them toward
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