My friend Eric tweeted an expression a few weeks back that has been on my mind recently. I’m not sure where it came from, or I’d source it:
“If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.”
Frequently, I’m reluctant to bring in others on the projects I’m developing, and I’m not sure if my reasoning behind that is a fear of loss-of-control over the end result, or the loner side of my extrovert that just doesn’t want to worry about orchestrating or coordinating with anyone else.
I’ve been reflecting on this as well as what, if anything, I should do about it. I’ve looked at each project, how and when I’ve collaborated on it, and tried to form a mental model to help determine if or when is the right time to work with others.
Briefly / Not-so-briefly:
Mobility on Demand languished on the catch sheet for a year or more, before Andrea finally said “let’s actually DO this this year”, and we set about the process. We had inevitable disagreements on vision for the project, but in the end, we built and launched something far better than I had initially even hoped for, and it literally could not have happened without her involvement.
Short Story RPG, I knew from the get-go that I wouldn’t be able to complete on my own, so I recruited writers, artists, and editors across the involvement spectrum from partners, profit-sharing collaborators, to work-for-hire contractors. I maintained a fairly strong vision, and worked to get everyone excited to execute their own pieces of the process within that ecosystem. The first adventure(s) are coming out in a matter of weeks, and the hybrid approach of tightly-controlled core, with others free to exercise their creativity in a way that slotted into the overall objective, is why this has been successful.
“Project T” (what I’m calling it publicly until it’s closer to happening) is a something I’ve been exploring passively for about a year now. I approached my friend Rich for some customer validation, and he was excited to get involved. I recently told him that I’m bringing the project to the forefront in a measured way, and he leapt in with both feet. So, like Mobility on Demand, this will be an ‘even split’, and we’ll be able to draw on both of our strengths. He’s been able to make a lot of movement in areas I just simply don’t have time to right now, and I’ll be able to spearhead the things I have capacity for.
Valour, now, begins to look like the odd man out in this lineup, where I’m keeping the design, iteration, and work all carefully cloistered. Obviously playtesting and gathering feedback involves others, but more at arms’ length, rather than partners or collaborators. I’m well aware that with any luck at some point, this will get signed by a publisher, at which time I’ll be handing over near-complete control to an entire other group of experts. But right now, I don’t let anyone else in, which segues nicely…
A big motivator for putting these thoughts down in writing came a few weeks ago when a colleague from Protospiel wrote to me with a mechanic he’d dreamed up that he felt might address a very specific, very problematic area to polish in Valour. My inital reaction was “nope, don’t want to work with anyone, goodbye”, but after some reflection, I realized that for whatever reason, Valour is my only project where I don’t seem to be actively working with anyone, so I talked to him. We talked over a bunch of other game-design related stuff as well, and while in the end, I’m not convinced his suggested mechanic is right for this particular aspect of Valour, analyzing my initial reaction seems to have uncovered a blindspot for me.
Is this a discovery that I should collaborate on everything? Is there anything it’s best to go solo on for longer? Perhaps these different ways of “going together” I’m experiencing hint at some kind of taxonomy of collaboration archetypes. Perhaps it’s best to ‘go fast’ for a little while, then upshift to be able to ‘go far’. So many games seem to have a lone designer; are they designing to a point, then someone else takes it over? So many other things seem to be the fruits of epic team-ups. All of this might be yet another symptom of a larger issue involving discomfort around asking for help, which may be an entire topic for another day.
Am I just late to the party? How do you like to operate? Is it successful for you? Shoot me an email or leave a comment, I’d love to discuss!