GDC 2012 Education: “Team Dynamics for Student Projects”

I went to some of the GDC Education summit talks. I doubt Gamasutra was there, as Education talks are among the least attended at GDC, but these talks still deserve coverage, so here it is!

Mia Consalvo is a researcher at Concordia, but she was giving a talk about a project she headed while at MIT-Gambit. This game is Eksa.

The original research impetus was about “what is a meaningful social experience?” They thought about the nature of asynchronous play and giving gifts. Eksa focused on building a mazes you share with your friends — sharing level designs and stuff.

In making a “social game” for Facebook, they had to decide what audience they were targeting and deconstruct player expectations, and that quickly became the central research focus. Facebook games are consumed by a diverse audience, often women — and often older women. After a bit of flailing about with miscommunication between her and art team, Consalvo realized that she could just research past data on this demographic to better direct the artists, and it turns out that 90% of women prefer female characters! Conduct research to help sell design decisions to your team.

Then Consalvo talked about how gendering affects a team dynamic. She thought that talking about teamwork would smooth all the different dynamics going on within the team — well, she “foolishly thought” that — and suddenly she had to confront what was going on, and she realized that it was a process.

The game industry’s been wrestling with gender lately — in a good, much needed way — and they found gender dynamics on the team kind of subconsciously affected the discourse on the game design: the player was often referred to as male, for example. The art team’s leader, who kind of just took charge, also happened to be a white male. Again, there wasn’t any conscious oppression here — but societal norms afforded him stronger influence, and it was important to talk about it and face it.

In the end, Consalvo recommended “choosing your battles.” She recognized there was tension in constantly decrying an unequal team dynamic vs. letting it go unrecognized. For example, she thought the art direction on the player avatar gender was ultimately inconsequential because the player avatar was so small on the game screen.


  • Communicate in your team, make sure everyone is comfortable.
  • Don’t treat team dynamics trivially; if you assemble a team, you have to help that team work together, don’t just assume they’ll figure it out.
  • Be conscious of how your team internalizes your game and the terms you use to discuss it.
  • Choose your battles, prioritize design problems based on what is most visible and prominent in the game.

One Response to “GDC 2012 Education: “Team Dynamics for Student Projects”

  • Kan Yang Li
    12 years ago

    Those are not just for students, especially when working with folks from other professions. These are great advises!