Why Do I Care About the Game Outcomes Project?

Posted by Jonny Arnold on 8th January 2015

This article dropped into my Twitter feed, courtesy of Jeff Atwood, and reports some interesting findings from The Game Outcomes Project:

The Game Outcomes Project was a systematic, large-scale study designed to deduce the factors that make the most effective game development teams different from the rest.

As it provided an interesting set of findings (and because I'm a self-centred soul), I wanted to discuss the question of whether its findings applied to web application development.

Who Cares?

The biggest reason why this project should be taken seriously is one of scale: 771 questionnaires were filled in to make up the data set for this project, with each respondent being asked around 100 questions each. This is a few more questions that we would be comfortable asking at Reevoo, but it does give a large data set to work on.

What the Article Says

If you've got this far, and you haven't read the article, do it now - like all good articles, the pretty diagrams and tables hold the greatest importance, so you can skim it.

By looking at the correlations between developers' opinions of teams and the feedback on the finished product, the authors have shown first-hand that culture is one of the most important factors in product success.

From the article we can come up with a number of strategies for effective teams. I've listed the top 3 (based on correlation score) here:

  1. A stronger product is created by developers that are motivated to succeed. (Hackman's Compelling Direction and Lencioni's Absence of Trust)
  2. A stronger product is created by teams that agree with the majority of decisions. (Lencioni's Lack of Commmitment)
  3. A stronger product is built by individuals who feel they have a connection with the mission of the company. (Wagner & Harter)

Does It Matter to Me?

An important question to answer is whether the findings from the Game Outcomes Project are applicable to general software development. To answer this question, it's useful to list the places where games development is different from web application development. Personally I don't feel there are many differences, but something that is often more prominent in games development is pressure, as mentioned in this Stack Overflow post.

Does the increased pressure exclude the findings of the Game Outcomes Project from applying to web application development? I would propose not: instead I would say that it may make it easier to spot the important things.

I suggest that the increased pressure would cause respondents' opinions to be more extreme. This would manifest itself in more extreme scores in the questionnaire. If my suggestion is correct (and I emphasise that I'm making things up here!) then I believe the net effect would be that it is easier to spot the most important issues developers face.

If my hypothesis is correct, that means we can use the findings for web development - but how do I use the findings?

What Does It Mean To Me?

The listed strategies above are rather high-level goals. What can I do to encourage these behaviours for success? Here are a few of my suggestions:

  1. In the majority, do work that you want to do. There will always be times when you have to do something, but you should primarily be working on things you want to work on. If you aren't, ask yourself why you don't want to work on it and discuss with your team how you can avoid the issue in future.
  2. Be loud. If you don't tell people what you're feeling, they will make a decision without your input. If you're a naturally shy person this is hard, but it's even harder living with a decision you didn't agree with. Alternatively get a loud friend in the team to stand up for you.
  3. Get involved. You get out what you put in. Socialise and play sports with your colleagues. Form an interest group in Hardware Hacking or Animated Cat Gifs. Make your workplace somewhere you want to go to when you get up in the morning.

You should be able to see the direct relation between these points and the findings from the Games Outcomes Project.

To paraphrase myself (already!), I would suggest being enthusiastic. If you aren't, figure out why and change it. It may well be that the company you're working for doesn't think the same way you do - if it does, change it or move!

What's Next?

Two parts of the Game Outcomes Project have been released: the first one is here, but is much more games-specific.

Follow @GameOutcomes on Twitter for more interesting nuggets of information and announcements about further articles.

Thank you to Reevoo Engineering, who were subjected to this article before it was released from captivity. Special thanks to Jayson Robinson for helpful input.

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