Thursday, August 09, 2007

10 steps to a perfect SL corporate project

It could be said I’ve been around the block a few times with contracts. I’m currently working with 5 companies on 6 separate projects, all with their own unique problems, glitches, and issues.

It’s interesting to me to see how certain companies do business, how much paperwork varies between jobs, and how well management reacts to creative problems/logistics issues.

Off the top of my head, here’s my personal pet list of “The best project to work at evar”. This includes both sides of the equation, management and creatives (although, it should be said that I’m firmly a creative, so the list will probably tilt that way).

The Holy Grail of Corporate Projects should:

Involve the creatives very early on. One mistake I’ve seen lately is the tendency to let management handle “the talking stuff”, and then suddenly throw 4-5 creatives onto a project with a week deadline. The creatives have no attachment to the product, they have no input as to how to fix things, and generally the project shambles along, a soulless hulk of an idea. This puts strain on management as they struggle to explain to their clients why the build looks like crap, and this puts strain on the creatives because while they’re getting yelled at by management to fix the issues, the deadline is marching ever closer. Instead, invite the creatives to the concept meetings. Ask for their input every step of the way. If a project looks like it might have an issue, having the creative say “hey, this won’t work” 2 days in is better than saying it with 2 days left.

Assemble a mobile “team” of creatives. I’ve seen many times companies that toss disparate people together on random projects. On the upside, you get to work with a bunch of creative people. On the downside, everyone has their quirks, their weaknesses, their non-specialties. The solution, I think, would be to assemble small teams — a builder, a scripter, and a texture artist — to work as a single unit on projects. The builder handles the geometry, the scripter handles effects and scripts, and the texture artist paints a pretty picture on the geometry. Eventually artistic cohesiveness is achieved, meaning less work for the creatives, and a much better outcome for the clients.

Give them time to work on the project. This is key. I hate insane deadlines. This might sound like stock bitching, but seriously. 48 hours to build an entire sim? Fuck no. But it happens. 3 weeks to cram 10 highly detailed buildings into an urban area? You’ve got to be kidding. But it happens. Look, I know that your clients can be all “get this done yesterday”, but it’s management’s job to herd these ridiculous demands into a corner. There are some things that cannot be done quickly, especially when it comes to concepting and design. I’m not saying take 6 months just to get a concept, but get an idea from the creatives (by involving them in the process earlier, natch) and gently work from there. Shoehorning “creative solutions” into a short timetable is a recipe for a disaster, not only for overworked creatives, but the final product will look like shit. If your client says it should be done in a month, say two months. If MANAGEMENT thinks it should be done in a month, it’s two months. You hear that, guys? Double it.

Don’t lie about deadlines. Don’t send frantic emails that shout “this job needs to be done by tomorrow or we’re all dead! aaaahhhhhh” that send the creatives into a frenzy of half-baked ideas. Then, when the deadline comes, management is nowhere to be found. Ah, we find out later that it wasn’t really a deadline at all. Thanks for the info.

Keep the paperwork to a minimum. I won’t lie, I’m horrible with paperwork. I forget to pay bills, forget to sign NDAs, and mailing things goes right over my head. I’m working on it, though. But one of my big pet peeves is an endless mountain of paperwork. NDAs for every single project. Contractor agreements every time a check goes out. 40 pages of legalese. I’m a busy guy, I want to create stuff for your company, not spend a couple days poring over the mountain of dead trees you sent my way. Double bad points for insisting it be mailed AND emailed/faxed over.

Give time to polish. This part is epically important. Too often a project is considered “done” whent he original deadline hits. Wrong. That’s the time to move on to the next phase: polishing. This is when the creatives and management go over the sim experience, looking for bad texture alignment, poor effects, holes in the walls, and so on. This is critical. Punters won’t care that the sim was done with 3 days to spare. You didn’t spend the time polishing and making sure it looked great. As a result, your image suffers, and creatives get pissed because they know they didn’t have time to make it look good. This shouldn’t be a problem if given enough time (see above).

Keep management drama away from the creatives. If the CEO and CTO and COO and project managers are having a spat, it’s best to not let the creative guys know that the company is stalled and/or on fire. This hurts morale, and dragging creatives in to pick sides (like a ridiculous child custody battle) means bad blood all over. Management’s job is to insulate us “sensitive” creative types from the hustle, bustle, and toil and trouble at the main office or whatever.

Drop useless creatives. Sorry, it’s just business. If a creative type misses reasonable deadlines, or causes a shitstorm of drama every time they’re put on a project, it’s time to let them go. Dramabombs do nothing but hurt morale and ruin productivity.

Creatives can’t read minds. I know, sometimes the work creative types do is awe-inspiring (one look at Rez/Endira’s work for the Sheep is enough to make me weep and die a little inside), but we can’t do anything without sufficient information. Give us every possible scrap of information you have on the project. Give us source images akimbo. give us the backstory. Give us the company history. Tell me what their headquarters look like. Anything that would help the creatives get their job done, and tune into their client’s needs.

Cross promotionals. I’m surprised this doesn’t happen more often, actually. Got a build that has a parking lot? Do you have assets from a car company? Fill up the parking lot with cars from the company. Is your client Faboo Cola? Put your Faboo vending machines in Omnicorp’s office lobbies. Doing movie work for “Death Vengeance Rabbit Head 3?” Plaster movie posters on the car company’s build’s city billboards. This is called product synergy, and should be used as much as possible.

    That’s just off the top of my head. What else?


Anonymous Dobre Vanbrugh said...

First inspiration, second ambition and third the briefing, in that order.

Thursday, August 09, 2007 12:34:00 PM  
Blogger Aleister Kronos said...

So good you posted it twice! LOL

A couple of builds (at this time).

First: have a clear view of what you are building... and more importantly, why. Don't expect it to "just happen."

Second: As part of the de-wrinkling process, open the sim to people with no vested interest (and special rights or privileges) and elicit their feedback - a soft launch. And be prepared to "load test" during this time to make sure it won't collapse in a gibbering heap when you do Go Public.

Thursday, August 09, 2007 1:39:00 PM  
Blogger Aleister Kronos said...

Oh... it would be most useful to actual see a "perfect SL corporate project." I've been looking for some time - and not found one.

Thinks: "What criteria should one apply in assessing the outcome of the project?"

Thursday, August 09, 2007 1:41:00 PM  
Blogger VeeJay Burns said...

almost makes SL projects sound like regular projects. As a project manager I see much of the same issues every day.

So, it's a regular job, be sure to get regular payment ;)
It's a regular job, so don't try to push the creatives to a 24/7 job, but a 8/5 schedule suits fine.

As for polishing it would suit to have some rampant bloggers come in to have a preview and let them express their uncesored gut feelings. Do something with them and you'll have your blogsphere promotion.

Friday, August 10, 2007 12:16:00 AM  
Blogger Wonderwebby said...

great pointers.
Funny thing is, these all seem to be dilemmas creative online teams were facing 10 years ago. The job of a web producer was not only to lead the team, but also to promote the need for creative to get input real early! Still beats me why people still forget that when we are looking at visual and visceral communication there might be some benefits to creative input.
I think it is always a case of "oh yeah my brother made something in secondlife/website/is a photographer/is a plumber so it must be easy.
Here's the lesson - get a hack plumber to do the job and u will get crap everywhere ..

Friday, August 10, 2007 1:17:00 AM  

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