Working on a Team vs. Flying Solo

More times than I can count, I’ve heard people say: “You can’t be the master of all trades.” While that may be technically true–no one can singularly master all trades alone–I don’t accept that motto as a general philosophy. I aspire to the ideals of a Renaissance woman: someone who seeks to achieve excellence in as many crafts as possible. I can’t help myself. I have a lot of interests, and I’m generally skilled enough to at least achieve competence in whatever I pursue, so I tend to keep trying!

As a result, I’ve often worked on my creative projects alone; not by deliberate choice, necessarily, but simply because I can. For someone with multiple interests, it’s often easier to go ahead and do everything yourself rather than take the time and energy to find other people to help you. Many times, this has saved me from failure; plenty of projects never would have been completed if I didn’t eventually do everything myself. I’ve recruited other people to help me in the past, only to find that they drop out or else vanish shortly into the project, never to be heard from again. This makes me reluctant to trust new people.

But that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t try.

Over the last year, I’ve made ongoing efforts to work on creative teams any chance I get rather than flying solo. Game Jams have been great exercises in this respect, forcing me to focus on one specific role for 48 frantic hours of cohesive production. But the games I make at jams are very different from the games I make in my own time, which are narrative-heavy visual novels. Therefore, it’s still difficult to take the lessons I learn at Game Jams and translate them into my ongoing work.

A better experiment was the recent 8-Bit Dev Pipe here in St Louis, where I worked on a small team to create a game in 8 weeks. Unfortunately, a couple weeks in, our programmer dropped out, forcing me and my one remaining teammate to completely reevaluate the project and our roles in it. He and I shared a lot of the same skills, so we were stuck in an awkward position. We couldn’t just split up the project based on our strengths and weakness. We had to really ask ourselves: which part of the project do we want to work on most, and why?

Altogether, I’ve come to the following conclusions about why working on a team can be beneficial or difficult, even to one such as myself:


1) Finding competent people to work with you costs time, effort, and probably money. Other people probably won’t feel motivated to help your project unless they’re getting paid *or* they feel like the project is theirs as much as it is yours. If you start the project on your own, it will be even harder (or simply impossible) to bring other people on board afterwards.

2) You must trust your teammates to work effectively. This is a big challenge for me. I find it very difficult to trust or rely on other people, due to how many times they’ve let me down in the past. But you must set your doubts aside and have faith in your team members for everyone to work well together. This is especially unfortunate if they do not, indeed, deserve your trust.

3) Different ideas can lead to a fragmented project. Most likely, every individual on the team will have at least a slightly different vision of the what the final product will look like. If not handled correctly, or if healthy communication isn’t constantly enforced, this can cause the final project to lose cohesiveness.


1) Two heads are better than one. Sometimes if you’re stuck, a second person’s perspective can help you out of the rut, even if they know less about the craft than you do.

2) Moral support. When you’re alone, it’s easy to get depressed about every failure within the project. You might start to feel as if you can never fulfill your hopes, or that maybe it was foolish to try in the first place. All of the weight lies on your shoulders. But if you have just one more person working with you, you can take turns feeling the lows and highs of success and failure. You can provide critical feedback as well as ongoing encouragement to each other. In a sense, the stakes are higher, because more people will suffer from an overall failure of the project. But this fact can also help motivate you to do your best at every stage in the process.

3) Different ideas can lead to … a better game! It turns out the third con of working on a team can turn into a pro if handled correctly. If everyone on the team remains honest about his aspirations for the project, and–yes–argues out the reasons to do something his way rather than another, you might find that you agree with him. If everyone remains open to new ideas and willing to discuss them until a consensus is reached, then you will probably find that your final product gets better and better as a result.

Moral of the Story?

I’m still learning how to work effectively with other people, and trying to expand my studio to include more creative people with new ideas and perspectives. It’s not easy by any means, shape, or form. But I do feel like I continue to grow and improve as an artist the more often I challenge myself by working with other people–not to mention forging fun relationships with awesome individuals in the process–so I do believe it’s worthwhile to keep trying.

Why Art and Business Must Intersect

The last few months have been exciting for me as a creative individual and a burgeoning game developer, because I am learning to think of my studio and my artwork as a real business.

Before you groan at the word business (sometimes it still leaves a bad taste in my mouth, too), allow me to explain why this shift in my perception has been so beneficial to both my emotional state and my artistic creations. I am going to use the term “business” in a very general sense, in that it represents any endeavor that can support its creator financially. I’ll also use the term “artist” generally to represent the creative individuals in the field of entertainment and gaming, be they visual artists, writers, designers, or even programmers.

1) Being a business lets you take your work seriously

If you’re a creative type like myself, then I’m sure you’ve encountered plenty of people in your life who sneer down at the time you spend making art. They tell you it’s fine to practice art or writing in your free time (i.e., such pastimes are just personal hobbies)–but if you want to survive in the real world, then you need to get a real job. I understand the practicality of this mantra. I’ve had to conform to it many times, myself. There’s nothing wrong with keeping your art and work separate if that balance works well for you, or if it’s simply necessary for you to get by. Surviving in the physical world means that all of us must feed, clothe, and shelter ourselves, as well as do our part to keep society as a whole functioning peacefully. To accomplish this, most of us have to perform a lot of tasks we’d rather not, and that’s okay. Such is life.

But while completing practical tasks is a significant part of living in the real world, I’m here to argue that creating art is equally important. Just as we must all support our physical bodies, so must we nourish our minds. Art allows us to do this, whether we create it ourselves, or we take time to absorb/reflect upon someone else’s work.

When you think of your artistic work as nothing more than a hobby, you’re accepting the belief system that your work is not significant beyond personal gratification. Inevitably, you let your artwork itself become trapped by that definition. If you consider it of little real importance, then you will likely not give your craft the attention and dedication it deserves.

The first step towards becoming business-minded is realizing that your artwork is valuable in the real world. Then you can state that you’re an artist with pride, rather than giggling nervously and saying, “Oh, I fiddle around with making games in my free time.” You can start to take your own work more seriously, and thus expect others to do the same.

2) Being a business forces you to work in constraints

You might look at that heading and wonder, “Is that supposed to be a good thing?” The answer is yes, working within constraints is a good thing. If you don’t understand why, I’ll do my best to explain.

A common misconception is that greater artistic freedom results in greater artwork. I’m not saying that freedom is bad; obviously, artistic freedom is incredibly important in that it allows an individual to express herself in her work. Those aren’t the sort of constraints I’m talking about. When I talk about constraints, I mean practical restrictions within your production process. For instance: a time limit, a budget, a certain number of available resources, etc. Instinctively, most of us would choose to work with fewer constraints rather than more.  However, what many people fail to realize is that working within constraints can lead to better artwork.

But why? I could probably write an entire essay on the many ways restrictions lead to better artwork. But I think that the answer boils down to this: when you work within constraints, you are forced to trim the fat from the globby mess of your artistic vision and find the true core of your creation. When you comprehend the true heart of what you’re producing, then you can focus all your energy on making it sing. And in the end, you will probably communicate your vision more clearly when you trim out all the fat that results from unlimited time and resources.

Game Jams are a great example of how working within constraints can result in great artwork. In a Game Jam, developers must try to complete a game in 48 hours, and on top of that, their game must adhere to a specific theme. You don’t get much more restrictive than that. And yet developers who have spent months trying to complete a project without success often find themselves cranking out a fantastic new game in 48 hours. I believe this is largely because they’re forced to focus on the heart of their vision and yank it out into the open.

3) Being a business brings you closer to your audience

If you’re stuck in perceiving your artistic creations as “hobbies,” you will rarely pause to ask yourself, “What can this project offer to my audience? If I’m sending a message, how do I ensure that I send it in a form my audience will understand? Which parts of my project will my audience appreciate the most, and which parts might they least enjoy?”

When you begin to function as a business, you recognize that your work has true financial worth. And at the same time, you acknowledge the importance of your audience, because in order to succeed, you must provide work that your audience values. This means being open to feedback, even if it comes in the form of scathing criticism. You must listen to your audience, taking note of what they love and what they abhor.

This doesn’t mean that you have to bend everything you create to appease the raging masses. Besides, it’s impossible to please everyone. What it means is that just like you expect your audience to value your work, you acknowledge the value of their opinions, and you use it to constantly improve your own work.

So then… is it all about making $$$?

I’m not here to say that every artist should be scrambling to make a fortune, nor even that they should prioritize making money over genuine creative expression. But I believe that art and money exist in the same world, and because we all need money to go about our daily lives, we need to find ways to harmonize artistic creation with financial sustenance. As an artist, the first step is acknowledging that your work is valuable. It is significant. And if sustaining a comfortable, physical life means slapping a dollar value on your artistic creations, then so be it.