Let’s imagine that you were tasked with digging a hole to reach a particularly desirable outcome. If you dig the hole, your work is valuable. But, if you know where to dig, how deep, and you provide the tools, you’re even much more valuable. It’s not enough to just have the idea — you have to formulate the plan and have the know-how to pull it off as well. Which is where your role as a potential project manager of sorts comes in. So what’s the secret? You’re a producer, so you better start acting like one if you want to get paid for your ideas. It’s hard to really understand how hard management can be if you’re new, and as much as it sounds like, it’s not always just sitting around telling other people what to do — especially in the budget-starved world of indie game development. Here are a few tips though.
Firstly, you can’t be a perfectionist. You can’t demand absolute perfection from others, or else you’ll be bogged down in micromanagement. You’ll have to deeply assess what a person can and cannot do, and assign them tasks that are within their abilities and the project’s scope. Don’t set up people for failure. As an idea guy, you’re probably not going to get much done yourself, and you have to be available to be interrupted quite often depending on the size of the team that you’re managing.
If you’re doing your job right, you’re the most enthusiastic and supportive person on the team. Treat everyone on your team as a hero (because they really are), no matter how much they can accomplish or how well they can do the task. The most important responsibility is planning the world is you know what needs to be done, and you need to make sure that you have the resources before you get there. There are so many things to do and decisions to make, and as a manager, it’s your job to outline these plans and set them in motion.
Remember to let other people manage specific areas. For example, I’m honestly not the best writer, and when working on my indie roguelike SanctuaryRPG, I actually delegated the writing to a small close-knit team of writers. This consisted of a “Lead Writer” and several other writers who were working under him. This streamlined the management process, making it so that I only had to manage one person in that particular segment of the team instead of each person individually.
As a manager, you’re making sure that everyone else can do the tasks that you gave them. Check in on them and see how they’re doing. Help them if they’re having trouble, or assign other people to do tasks that you don’t want them doing if it’s not something that they’re particularly adept at, or if it’s not worth the time investment for them. For example, I’m not the best at pixel art. When making an indie game, I usually am presented with the following two options: I could go out and attempt to learn pixel art and do it myself, or I could hire someone to do pixel art for me. Considering that I’ve spent the past decade doubling down on my knowledge of game design, game production, programming, and marketing, it would make little sense to try to do art myself. It would take far too long to shore up that particular weakness of mine.
Important Takeaways: Idea guys make get a bad reputation in the industry, but they’re actually instrumental to a project’s success. Don’t be afraid to be the idea guy. As a person who has ideas, your value lays not only in what you could do but in what you know and your ability to communicate and plan effectively. Keep learning, have a solid track record of having great ideas and strong managerial skills, demonstrate value to your team, and you too can play a role in the industry as a so-called “idea guy.”