The influence of community on SSGX
24/08/2014 by Damon
So in a previous blog post I mentioned that I would go into more detail about how community affects the development of SSGX. That’s what I’m going to talk about today; Some history of the project, the influence the community has on development, and what we’ve learned about project management.
As many of you already know, Slipstream GX started as a post on a forum. Ricardo wanted to try and create a wipeout game for fun, and was looking for anyone who might like to assist. Pretty much everyone currently on the development team originally joined the project through this method; a decidely informal, “I can help!”. There was no real thought given to the skills or attitudes of those on board; if you turned up, you were in.
So, what if they couldn’t help? As it turned out, we were effectively taking a gamble with each new person who want to contribute; that they had the right intentions, the right skills, the same vision; but crucially the same motivation as the rest of us. And when they didn’t, the project suffered.
In truth, a development team needs a well-tuned group of people that are all motivated and willing to work together. We didn’t think about it at the time, but in hindsight it’s obvious that such a fractured set of contributors wasn’t going to work well. But where do you draw the line? At what point do you decide, “Okay, at THIS point we are closing down new admissions; but everyone before that, you guys are okay!”? Honestly, the current members of the team are a result of mostly luck; those that got in before the cut-off point. People left behind missed out. It’s up to you wether you think it’s our place to make a judgement call like that.
We made this call in late 2012, removing the “Contribute!” text from our website; partly because we needed to solidify the team so we could start getting to work, but partly because at that point the community started to have a negative influence on the game. This was most obvious during times when we needed extra people to complete tasks we weren’t capable of; such as web design. As it turned out, most people were either unable or unwilling to assist, and the ‘community-led’ project became more of a nuisance.
In addition, a bigger issue started to appear; people who would be interested and motivated for a while, but very soon after joining would stop showing up or responding to messages. It seemed that certain people would become very charmed by the idea of making a game, but did not put any thought or commitment into their offers to help. This would show itself later; tasks assigned to these guys wouldn’t get done, or they wouldn’t let us know about problems they had, preferring instead to let the task just hang around, stagnating. Invariably, they would be difficult if not impossible to contact, and would generally show no interest in being part of the team. A couple of people refused to use the group chat. These situations would always lead to a colossal waste of time for everyone involved.
This was the reason our website took so long to develop, by the way; our designer never used the group chat, and would never start any conversation on his own, instead waiting on us to fix various ‘issues’ that he never told us about (while making excuses to avoid doing them himself).
As game designers, we’ve improved in a big way since the start of the project, and it’s only in the past couple of years that we’ve started to realise the value of a solid team, a solid development plan, and people that are motivated and actively interested in working. I think that that’s the big difference between ‘us’ and ‘them’: we all share a singular vision for what we want to make; some contributors in the community only want to associate with something cool.
SSGX is arguably no longer a community-led project. Of course we are going to maintain close ties with WOZ and our friends, and we will continue to consult with players about how certain things should be implemented; but too many voices pulling us in other directions will cause the game to suffer. The development is now led by us and we have a specific game in mind that we are going to create.
Don’t worry. It’ll be good. 🙂