Game Development Reference
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that makes for good presentations are resented by those doing under-the-
hood technical tasks that never get shown off. People spend their time
perfecting their show-and-tell presentation instead of doing work that
actually helps the game. They have to spend time thinking about these
stupid vouchers and whether they might get one. And ultimately, they will
grow to hate the system that treats them like a dog jumping for a treat.
meaningful woRk
So how do we motivate designers? We can't pay game designers per me-
chanic or per idea—this leads to a proliferation of worthless mechanics
or ideas. Punishing failed ideas, prototypes, or tests just suppresses risk
taking, which destroys innovation. Rewarding hours worked leads to lots
of bodies in chairs, but deceptively little real productivity. Rewarding indi-
viduals for anything at all creates jealousy and team rivalries. Rewarding
groups divides a team into slackers and unofficial slave drivers. It seems
that no matter where we turn, every option creates some horrible perverse
Yet games get made, and some are very good. Though the motivation
problem is structurally very hard, one special fact about developers makes
it tractable.
Developers want to do meaningful work.
More than anything, creative people want to apply themselves to do
work that makes a meaningful difference in the world. Developers will
push themselves to find the best way to improve the game. Nobody else
needs to even understand what he is doing in detail, because this motiva-
tion is entirely internal. If the developer knows he has done well, he will
feel good. If not, he won't.
But it's not always easy to offer this kind of meaningful work, espe-
cially in larger organizations. There's a delicate recipe to creating mean-
ingful work. The task must make a difference, but there are other aspects
of meaningful work that are important. Ideally, it should offer a creative
outlet, a balanced challenge, pride, recognition, ownership, belonging,
responsibility, and freedom. The challenge of team organization is in cre-
ating an environment that consistently provides work with these qualities.
John Lasseter of Pixar put it this way:
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