Professionalism in Gaming—Giving a Damn


Fair warning, gentle reader; today’s post is one that is highly personal to me and my writing is going to have a fair bit of my own emotions poured into it.
For professionals in the gaming industry, it can be easy to take the job for granted. I’ve found that this concept is just as true for the struggling-to-survive freelancer as it is for the highly-paid video game designer. The game industry simply promotes the idea that it is somehow okay to not care about your work. Medical professionals are the one job I can think of where not giving enough care and attention to your job can result in people’s death – so while it is true that the game industry doesn’t have quite as much at stake, there’s still plenty of good reasons why we should focus, why we should concern ourselves more with what we do—and even more importantly, how we do it.
I’ve talked about being professional before on the Warden. Integrity, courtesy, respect; these are the critical tools for earning respect as a professional in the industry. However, I promise this post isn’t going to just re-hash what I’ve said in a previous post—I wanted to revisit this subject because I feel like I have more to say.
Some simple tasks that promote more care and professionalism:

Improve Communication

This business runs on communication, and one of the primary methods of this is e-mail. Taking weeks to respond to an e-mail is generally unacceptable.
Note: Not to say that I haven’t fallen prey to this exact problem myself. I do always attempt to apologize when it does happen. Mea culpa – we all have ways in which we can improve!

This is especially true when you’re answering a question via e-mail. Many times, answering questions is core to doing business. Freelancers need to know when their assignments are due or asking for clarification on a developer’s feedback. The publisher may be asking for when they can expect to see a signed contract or when they can set up a business meeting at Gen Con.
Some people may think that ignoring e-mail is one way to get across that you’re really busy and/or important—instead, it’s a surefire way to look unprofessional.

Honesty

In my book, respect begins with integrity. A big part of integrity is honesty, commitment, and keeping your word. This applies to a professional’s dealing with customers, colleagues, and clients alike.
So, my words to all professionals: Be Honest. If you’re not passionate about a project, don’t try and fake it. If you feel like another assignment is going to be too much for you to handle before the deadline, say so. This goes both ways – publishers need to be honest too! Not ready to do business on a particular project? Don’t give a bullshit excuse – just say so. This industry has grown-up adults in it, we just need to remember that and act like it.

Take Responsibility

It’s easy to lay blame when something falls through with the gaming industry. Rather than pointing fingers, however, the right thing to do is to take responsibility for your work. This applies equally to both success and failure – it can be possible, for example, to be responsible for an excellent game that was still a failure in the marketplace. Or to produce a mediocre game that succeeds wildly. In any case, a professional takes ownership and makes no excuses. Your work stands on its own, as some of my friends like to say.
For myself, I take ownership of two products that are good examples of this concept:
For Rogue Trader, I am responsible for that product’s success in both design and market performance; the 40K RPGs as a whole make up (and have made up for several years) the third-best-selling RPG in the market. Whenever I need motivation, I often look at Rogue Trader and Deathwatch as examples of success despite the odds, and it carries me through to go that extra mile.
For Complete Divine, I take ownership of that book’s terrible editing. It was one of my first forays into the industry as an editor and it is a good example of why I decided my talents lay elsewhere! Fortunately, I’ve learned a lot and used that failure as an impetus to improve my skills since then.

Meet Your Commitments

In an effort not to unnecessarily repeat myself, I’m just going to mention that professionals turn in their work on time and sticks to agreements that he makes (i.e., honoring contracts and NDAs).
However, commitments are more than just contracts and deadlines – anytime you make a professional arrangement, you need to keep your word. This goes for meetings – be on time and in the right place, or inform the other party if you’re going to be unavoidably late. Be prepared when you’re in the meeting – take notes. Have something to say at the meeting – you don’t have to have all the answers, but if you can at least give the other person something they can depend on (i.e., “I’ll research that and get back to you by 4 PM tomorrow.”), they won’t feel like you’re wasting their time.

Storytime!

I’m going to present here a perfect example that combines much of the above points. This is a true story in that it comes directly from my experience. To keep things on a professional level, I’m using the story as an example but I’m keeping any specific names out of it. The core of this story is “How NOT to act as a professional game company.”
I approached a game company that had a really exciting new product they were working on and a solid history of producing good games. The new product was an all-new IP and I approached them about helping them create and manage the narrative and setting for this property.
The very first warning sign was that, while the company was certainly interested in talking to me about doing some work with them, they absolutely could NOT settle on a time and place for a meeting. We were both attending a large gaming convention, and there was absolutely no reason why this company couldn’t have found a way to set aside 10 minutes to have a conversation about something as important as the core narrative and setting for their new property. (Commitments fail!)
 “We’ll talk about it at the show, just stop by our booth.” That was the extent of the communication from the company to me. I took them at their word and arranged to get into the dealer’s room an hour early on the first day of the convention. However, once again, the company failed to make any effort to set an actual time or place for a real meeting. I was told to chase down another member of the company who was in another part of the convention space. To make matters worse, this person wasn’t even in the space I was told to find him at! Instead, he was in a similar but completely different spot – all in all, it took me over 48 hours to arrange a 10-minute meeting with one member of this company about doing some work with them.
Needless to say, I already felt as if the company wasn’t taking me seriously by this point. At the actual meeting, the person I was sent to speak to was in the middle of a demo. Did he ask me to stop by after the demo? Did he maybe set aside some time to speak to me like a professional? 
Nope. He chose to talk to me during the demo, interrupting what should’ve been a short, easy-to-conclude discussion every five minutes with answering questions from the folks in his demo. He failed to discuss things with me on a professional level and failed to present his product demonstration to potential customers in a professional manner. Red alert! Alarm bells were ringing hardcore for me at this point, and my instincts were telling me that this company was having serious problems dealing with professionals.
At the end of the meeting, the person I spoke to had no real answers for me – despite his self-described role in the company as “the decider.” In order to get any momentum out of the meeting at all, I was forced to suggest to him that he take my proposal to his partners and think about it overnight – I’d return to find out a decision on the next day.
Coming around to the booth the next day, I got a chance to speak to another representative of the company (I had no desire to talk to the previous representative!). He regretfully told me that there was no way they could afford my previous proposal. I pointed out that the kickstarter for the property had taken in hundreds of thousands of dollars and showed him that I could add hundreds of thousands more with my contributions. He continued to insist that the company simply could not afford my initial proposal no matter what. The kickstarter for this project took in over $900,000. (Honesty fail!)
Having dealt with two major disappointments with this company, I was severely disinclined to consider any more business. However, the company did approach me with a third proposal, and we agreed on a payment for my services that was in the low five figures – a significant sum! Before taking things any further, however, I insisted in seeing a contract from the company so that I could gauge just how serious this company was about dealing with me in a professional manner. 
Considering the runaround and wasted time trying to discuss things with them in person, I was feeling understandably very cautious about trying to enter into a formal business arrangement.
Well, asking for a contract was responded to with – silence. Four weeks later, I received one more e-mail from the company. In this e-mail, the company wanted to move ahead right away and asked me when I could start. (Communication fail!)
Not only did they completely ignore my request for a contract, not only did they waste my time with weeks of non-communication, not only was I lied to and given a runaround for personal, professional meetings – now they just wanted me to jump on board and get moving without any kind of formal agreement.
Needless to say, this was the last straw. I had no intention of trying to work with this company any further, and despite the promised riches of the payment, I had no guarantee in the form of a contract and no confidence given their unprofessional behavior that I would actually ever get paid if I had taken the job.
My friend Jason Marker has a fantastic description of this company’s behavior and subsequent professional reputation: “Grab-asstic Amateurs.” I couldn’t agree more.

2 responses to “Professionalism in Gaming—Giving a Damn

  1. You tease. Now I’ll have to make sure to get you aside next time we meet so you can give me specifics. 😉

  2. I am impressed that you stuck with them that far, good sir. Leading by example, are we?

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