Making milestone reviews matter – Caspar Field, Talk Management

You’ve done some work on your game, and now it’s time to gather some feedback on it. Doesn’t sound too tricky. If only life was so simple, says Talk Management’s Caspar Field

“Talk, plan, make, review.” That’s the the production mantra that I included in the course I wrote last year for career-starting organisation, Into Games. It’s a simplified view of the development cycle, for kids just out of school. And on paper, it feels like making games really could be that simple. But in reality, on larger-scale productions, the detail in each of those four steps is rather more complex.

I’ve recently being doing some work on the last of those steps: reviews. And specifically, milestone reviews. Milestones are the classic ‘big beats’ of a project, where weeks or months of work come together in a cohesive piece of software. For many teams, they’re important moments in the schedule – especially if you’re working with a publisher, when milestone approval is connected to that most important of things: getting paid.

In my 20-odd years in production, I’ve had some great review feedback, with each item prioritised and tied to a pre-agreed piece of work. And I’ve had some funny feedback, such as the comment that the music felt ‘flat’ in our game, so I turned up the volume on the TV while the person took a call, after which they declared it to be actually okay. And, I’ve some terrible, late, irrelevant feedback that has caused me enormous headaches to deal with in the middle of finishing the next milestone.

It’s important to dig into the detail of your process for reviews, whether you’re working with a publisher or flying solo. There are so many questions to consider, such as: who does it, when do they do it, what exactly are they reviewing, what level of detail should their feedback go into? How do you capture the feedback, filter it, turn it into actionable work – and how do you prioritise it? What do you do if someone goes off on a wild tangent and dumps a load of ‘exciting’ new ideas on the team? I’ve seen producers quietly ‘forget’ to include comments, in the hope an awkward piece of feedback is forgotten. I might even have tried that trick myself, once or twice…

If you’re in a larger team with layers of management, how much review work has been done before work bubbles to the top? What work should only be handled lower down and never bother those at the pinnacle of power? If you’re working in Agile development-style Themes, Epics, User Stories and Tasks, who is reviewing each of those levels in the process?

Most important of all, remember that someone in the process needs to be keeping their distance from the finer details so that they can take the long-term view, gazing to that far horizon when your game faces public and critics. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter how much effort has gone into making something, it only really matters whether it’s good. What’s on screen, does it have that spark and shine, will it put a delighted smile or determined grin on the player’s face? Getting your review process running right is an important part of making the magic happen, so give it the attention
it deserves.

Caspar helps game companies with management & production. The former CEO of two-time ‘Best Places to Work Award’-winning Wish Studios, he has over 25 years’ experience of managing creative teams.

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