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My game hobby project is starting grow rapidly lately, with over 10 members who are actively contributing. In the team are currently two pixel artists.

There is a third artist who I worked with before, and he has exceptional talent and experience. He is however very direct with giving feedback, and this often backfires at the other artists.

I'm facing a dilemma here. In the end, we're all working on a hobby project here. Do I let him join and face possible consequences? Or miss a great opportunity of having exceptional art in-game? Could I somehow have the best of the two worlds?

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Being direct isn't a bad thing. Is it possible your other team mates are just too sensitive and aren't capable of accepting criticism ? People can be very touchy when it comes to their own work. –  Sidar Jun 16 '13 at 0:12
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There is a vast difference between being direct and being unfriendly. Which one is it? –  Thorbjørn Ravn Andersen Jun 18 '13 at 8:31
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Everyone has positives and negatives. If you are "in charge", you get to determine if his positives outweigh his negatives. Have you discussed this directly with him? –  Joe Strazzere Jun 18 '13 at 11:35
    
Imo, Being direct is way better than beating around the bush or worse, telling others that they are doing a good job when they're clearly not. Being direct while being an asshole however, is a completely different story. –  l46kok Aug 22 '13 at 15:44
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5 Answers

If a person can't mesh with a team and if that person can't communicate effectively in a professional environment - including the ability to deliver constructive feedback in a politically-palatable way - that person has no place in that professional environment. And yes, an online or hobby project is expected to be handled with a professional quality.

Either speak to the person and assure yourself that their communication problems can and will be addressed before ever becoming a problem or save yourself the trouble of firing them later and opt out of ever hiring them in the first place.

Remember that in a "real work" scenario as much of the interview is about assessing character as it is about assessing skill. Likewise, an interviewee should be assessing the work environment as to how well they can fit in and mesh with existing infrastructure and personnel. A team that can't work together effectively is a team that can't make a game together effectively.

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Talk with him beforehand and voice your concerns about his method of giving feedback to his peers. Make sure you both understand each other. If this artist seems resistant to the idea of tempering his interactions with others, don't bring him on to the team. No matter how good he is as an individual it's not worth damaging the unity of your team.

With that many people on your project, managing their interpersonal behavior is a full-time job and you should ideally start to put some structure into place for the resolution of disputes and conflicts; you need to make sure that each member of team knows who is charge and where the buck stops. You should ideally also have had them sign contracts stipulating the terms under which they're contributing to your project and what happens to their work (in terms of intellectual property assignment) should they leave the project, either because you "fire" them or because they get fed up with you or somebody else on your team.

Consider reading this post on legal issues for game development teams for your own edification.

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Here's my opinion.

You should not miss the opportunity to have great in-game art. You should try to harness this person's capabilities as best you can.

At the same time, what Sean is saying, is toxicity is unacceptable and can kill your team. If he demotivates the other artists and prevents the game from getting finished, that's not too good.

So there are a few ways you can handle this.

1) One is, make him aware that his comments are hurtful. Explain to him that he needs to be tactful in commenting on other people's work. You'll never reach your goal if your team is continually sabotaging itself.

2) If you can modularize the work, and act as the middle man, then you can kind of reduce reason for Mr. Direct to put other people down.

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Is His Communication Style Really a Negative?

As a person who has been accused of being unfriendly to others and who has actually been fired for such from a real, paying job, I'd encourage you to take a step back and consider that the very thing you see as problematic may in fact make him a huge asset to your team. Consider that the fact that he wants to offer feedback may be a sign that he's committed to a much higher level of quality than your other team members have previously encountered. The fact that he's willing to tell people where they could improve means that he can actually serve a valuable mentorship role if you can persuade the other artists to put on their grownup panties and take what he's so willing to offer.

In addition, it's quite possible that he offers frequent feedback because his greater experience has taught him where the pitfalls lie. Less experienced teammates might well discount or ignore his feedback because he may not be fully articulating the thought processes that have led him to point out things they think are trivial. Or possibly other team members don't yet have the experience to see why those things are not trivial. His experience may also be that trying to be diplomatic doesn't work, either because it doesn't yield the desired changes or because the communication he worked so hard to make "better" still offends people.

He's not Going to Change

In short, nothing you've said about his feedback style suggests that there is any meanness or anything self-serving about it. I would not expect that you'd get him to change his feedback style for a volunteer project. I consider it unlikely that he is not aware that other people consider his feedback style problematic, so if he is still doing it he is unwilling or unable to change. In my case, I finally came to the conclusion that if I held back on what I considered to be necessary feedback I was short-changing my employer, because all that experience and the willingness to share it is part of what I bring to the table.

On the flip side, this is a volunteer project and the other artists may well not be impressed with the opportunity to improve their skills by working with this talented person, particularly if they can't see his feedback as anything other than abuse. How willing are you to take the chance that they'll simply walk? How committed is he to the project? If they walked and you had to do it with just him, could you? If they walked, would he be likely to stay to the bitter end?

So Now What?

If you want to bring him on, I think you have one of two options.

  1. I think the better one is to talk to the rest of the team and couch it as a fantastic opportunity to learn from his greater experience "yes, sometimes his enthusiasm gets the better of him and he says things in a way that I wouldn't have said it, but he's always going to be pushing us toward greater quality." If the team isn't fully behind that, don't include him unless you are willing to lose the other artists.

  2. Tell him of your concerns and ask that all feedback he has about others on the team go through you. This makes the decision of what to share and how yours. If he is aware that others have a problem with his communication style, he might actually find this to be a bit or relief--he might be just as concerned as you are about his interactions with the other artists, but unable to stop himself from saying the things you fear he'll say.

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Honestly, I have never had any experience, but I think I can give advice. Is there a way for him to remotely contribute? That usually deals with "direct feedback" fairly well, if only you has contact.

Another way to deal with this, though, is to not include him. Even if he has exceptional experience and talent, it is not always a good idea to have too many artists, or too many programmers. Two people usually do better than three, in my experience. Too many get in the way, and do not usually produce top work.

Also, it depends on what type of art you want, and what type/theme your game has. One of your current artists may do better than him. I personally think you shouldn't include him, as long as the current setup works (and it is just a hobby, anyhow) but it is ultimately your choice.

Here's a link that I think could be useful to you, if he does end up getting involved

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