Game Development Reference
Some try to do the opposite. They treat others poorly to try to get them
to work better. The implicit belief behind this is that they'll push back
and try to prove everyone wrong by being awesome. But this doesn't work.
There's nothing more demotivating than being treated like an incompe-
tent. It creates anger, which destroys creative capacity. Worse, it creates a
feeling of helplessness. If you're treated like a fool after doing good work,
why should you keep investing emotional energy into it?
T hat 's why the best game teams tend to foster a sense of eliteness.
They develop a camaraderie around some symbol or idea that separates
them from others. They might just be average developers, but that belief
in the specialness of the group pushes them to do more than average.
This is why Walt Disney didn't just have theme park designers—he had
Imagineers. It's why armies constantly emphasize the unique history of
each unit. A sense of eliteness creates a precedent to live up to and an iden-
tity to inhabit. Developers who are treated as nothing special, in a gray, cu-
bical, typical organization, have no reason to excel. Set those people apart
from the world, let them create a unique identity, and they'll live up to it.
Nonserious, nonexplicit, occasional social rewards and punishments can
send a message without destroying creative climate.
For example, consider how to solve the problem of broken builds. In video
game development, a one-line code bug, a badly configured piece of con-
tent, or a malformed script can “break the build” if submitted to the cen-
tral database by making the game unplayable. This imposes a great cost on
the team, since it interferes with everyone's work until the build is fixed.
There's not enough natural motivation to avoid broken builds. The
costs of a broken build are mostly borne by the team, not the person who
broke it. This creates a systematic motivational bias in favor of breaking
the build more often than would be optimal. So how do we stop people
from breaking the build?
Build breakers could face monetary penalties, but this would lead to
anger and wasteful paranoia as people made too sure that their work was
safe. Verbally confronting the build breaker doesn't work either—it could
easily damage relationships and degrade the climate. It's better to use a
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