Modding: Avoid making the same mistakes that I did #5

The mod leader must do something tangible

I should qualify this post by saying this is not a dig at those who led at FF towers.  I was part of the leadership and we made plenty of mistakes in the first year or two, but in the year before the first release we learned from the mistakes and made changes.  We didn’t change personnel, we just changed the way we worked.  Without those guys heading it up, we wouldn’t have released anything.

If you have a leader (or even the leads that so many people detest!), then those people have to be amongst the most active on the mod.  Who wants to work hard if their leader(s) aren’t doing the same?  This is also a fundamental problem in a lot of mods — leaders don’t do anything but try to manage (or meddle with) people.  In some situations this is OK, but I personally feel that on an unpaid mod you want to see your leaders getting their sleeves rolled up and doing something more tangible.

The danger is that people will look upon the leader as one of those folk who basically go “hay guyz I had an idea and you are going to do all the work”.  Regardless of leadership qualities, let’s face it — it’s not particularly inspiring stuff.  If a team grows to a size where it is not feasible to work on producing content for the mod as well as leadership duties then it’s understandable.  However, until that time comes, it’s heartening to see the leaders mucking in with you.

I had a few discussions with other modders about this, and quite a few of them claimed to be working under leaders who seemed to spend all of their time hyping their non-existent mod, bragging about their ‘talent’ and meddling.  They didn’t seem to do anything.  The modders openly bitched and disrespected their mod leaders on editing forums/chat channels and claimed that the people in charge were hindrances.  None of these mods have shipped, so I am guessing there was some truth in there.

Technical skills are valuable

If a leader has technical know-how, then they will also have a better idea of what is and is not feasible.  When mapping out the features to be implemented/cut or even just discussing progress with the team, it is helpful to have technical knowledge.  It doesn’t have to be a scary level of expertise — just a coarse understanding of some development areas will be beneficial (E.g. programming, scripting, art & modelling, pipelines to getting assets ingame etc).

This doesn’t just apply to leaders, it applies to all modders.  Microsoft and co. talk of so-called ‘T’ shaped developers being important and this is much the same thing.  Simply put: If you can understand another developer’s vocabulary, it becomes easier to talk about things and relate to their point of view.  For example, I know what someone is talking about if they’re speaking to me about shader constants, batches, unwrapping, texturing, normal mapping, bones, rigging, lua scripting, source control branches etc.  I may not be particularly great at some of them, but at least I understand what they’re talking about.  The only caveat with acquiring this knowledge is realising that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.  I.e. Make sure you don’t go meddling too much.

As with everything else, there are exceptions to this rule.  Some people are exceptionally good at working with and motivating others regardless of technical knowledge.  Even so, you should try to pick up bits and pieces as you go.  You never know when it can come in handy.

Charts are nice.  Looking at the game is better

Make sure that everyone — from top to bottom — regularly jumps in and plays the mod so that everyone is aware of its state.  I’m sure that it’s great fun checking off ‘done’ features on forums/bug trackers and looking at screenshots, but in my experience this doesn’t really keep you abreast of the actual state of the mod.  You may have a spreadsheet full of green cells indicating that things are ‘done’, but if the mod looks horrible, crashes 30 times a minute and plays like a dog, then you’re kidding yourself.  Always play the mod.

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