Developers, Don’t Miss This Guide to Healthy Studio Conflict

GDC is happening this week, and with it comes a treasure trove of interesting talks and game news. One of those talks was Managing Conflict on Small Teams from Rebekah Saltsman, CEO of Finji (publishers of Night in the Woods and developers of Overland). Saltsman works on a team with her husband, Finji cofounder Adam Saltsman.

Luckily, Alex Wawro was there to report on the talk for those of us who couldn’t attend. Wawro shard his report on Gamasutra.

“Adam and I get asked regularly how we can possibly stand to work together day in and day out, since we’re married and run an indie studio,” said Saltsman, skipping past the basics of maintaining harmonious working relationships (“I’m straight up gonna assume that you’ve been to preschool”) to zero in on something she says they’ve noticed in multiple development teams: a basic failure to effectively communicate about changes to a project.

This seems intentionally broad: we’re talking here about anything from changing how much screen space an inventory screen takes up to rewriting the ending of the game.

Whatever it is that you want to talk to your team about, Saltsman first recommends phrasing it as a pitch, rather than a complaint or a notification that you’ve identified a problem (for someone else to deal with.)

Keep your ego out of it, and communicate in clear, concrete specifics

Instead, Saltsman recommends you keep ego and personal feelings out of your pitches by identifying a problem (“this thing we already built totally sucks!”) you think the team needs to address — and you need to be specific.

Next, you (the person who identified the problem) has to formulate a solution, not ask someone else to fix it. It may be that the solution you come up with isn’t ultimately the best one, but you putting in that initial effort demonstrates solidarity with the team and helps your colleagues better understand what the game could be if the problem you’re identifying was solved.

Keep reading over at Gamasutra for more of Saltsman’s superb advice. As with all GDC talks, this one should be available in the GDC Vault later this year.