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I ask this because I'm curious to know from people who actually support themselves by making games, if their project management skills contribute to determining the success of a project?

I also have this feeling for some reason that having too much project management can strangle the creative process. Maybe there is a way to prevent that from happening. I don't know.

Thanks to all that reply.

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From a few indie developers I know in a group of 4-5 people Project Management is a full time job. – Jonathan Connell Aug 4 '11 at 15:31
Agree wholeheartedly Jonathan -- I've recently had this experience with a team of 3 -- that number took up more than half my day in management, and I am insanely energetic. It all depends on their degree of experience and intiative, and the amount of control you want to have. – Arcane Engineer Aug 4 '11 at 16:29
up vote 7 down vote accepted

Sometimes "strangling the creative process is necessary", if the creative process is so out of control that it's preventing you from shipping a game.

PM (project management) is one of those things that, if things are going smoothly, you hardly notice that it's there. It's primary goal is to keep the team focused on what the real goal is.

Some things in the PM toolbox can actually help the creative process. The idea of short sprints to a "shippable product" can put you in the quick iteration mindset. Daily standups are useful as a communication tool. But it's all about how you apply it and where.

The relative importance of PM depends on the project and the team. Sometimes it doesn't add anything. Sometimes it's the difference between success and failure.

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Caveat and summary - I'm basing my answer on the idea that you have a good team to start with. A good team doesn't need a project manager, but can work together towards a common goal as a team. "Bad" teams (or really complex projects) need a project manager.

There's an old joke in the modding world of the guy who posts on some forum that he has an awesome game idea, and he just needs a coder, a modeller, a skinner, a sound guy and a level designer. And what's he going to do? He's the "leader" or the "idea guy". The point being, the poster doesn't have much to offer, and really needs to be part of the development team.

Don't let your desire to add project management to a game turn your project into one of these. Indie implies small team, and small team implies very flat organizational structure. And that implies that your team can work independently towards a common goal that they all share and understand.

Some teams need no management and are self managing - a team of equals who's synergistic efforts combine into something good. This is true when the developers are working towards a common shared vision and goal.

If that vision is not shared, then there needs to be something that guides everyone towards the same goal. That can be a project manager, but it just as easily can be a good design document that everyone follows.

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+1 last paragraph answers it perfectly! :) – iamcreasy Aug 4 '11 at 21:29

It is pretty important, just like a cooking oil: its presence seems inessential, but its absence becomes noticeable with passing of time :) Well, game project's activity can be divided into two categories: enjoyable and painful. Consider this:

  • Writing a complex artificial life simulation or complex particle system feels good and rewarding.
  • Analysis of competitors, accountancy and various evaluations feels like abominable waste of time.
  • Its only natural for one to strive for a pleasant while avoiding unpleasant.
  • Success comes naturally to those who diligently challenge painful tasks instead of just happily coding away from them.

It is easy to spot a problem here, without proper project management you may fail to adequately deal with accumulating problems, arising challenges and various other things which come up in project's lifetime.

So project management is not here to strangle creativity, it is to aid you by providing a systematic way of solving both pleasant and unpleasant tasks.

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I think the first question you have to ask (perhaps clarify in your question) is: Are you managing only yourself? Or are you managing others?

Because if you're only managing yourself, I would frame it as "self-discipline" and "effective time management" as opposed to what PM generally refers to, which is managing a group who are on the floor, getting the actual nitty gritty done.

From my experience, being an "individual indie" means having a solid grip on where to dedicate your time to what, eg. production, support, networking, promotion, etc. And once you can effectively manage yourself, that's when you have something to offer (your indie business) as a manager of others.

I guess what I'm saying is, everything comes with time. If you're not at the point where you have to worry about traditional PM skills yet, then don't. Focus on improving your ability as a creative, a developer, and a businessman.

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