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 masterĀ 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:

TEAMWORK CONS:

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.

TEAMWORK PROS:

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.