3 minute read
When I set up International Hobo back in 1999, we were something of a conundrum. There were a great many game developers who could not understand how what we were offering could possibly work. "But what do you do...?" seemed to be the main question. After more than two decades, I feel that we've more than proved that our model of providing game design and narrative services to developers and publishers via external consultation works. But there is still some mystery about just how it works. I thought it might be useful to provide a few short articles about how game consultancy operates, why International Hobo is still a unique example among the companies that provide game consultation services, and some advice about how to get the most out of working with game consultants.
Perhaps I should start, however, by answering that question:
But What Do You Do...?
When it comes to my company, the answer to "what do you do?" is "everything an in-house game designer, narrative designer, or scriptwriter would do - but externally". In 1999, this might have seemed like a crazy proposal because most people didn't understand remote working. After 2020, that mystery has rather fallen away, and it's become clearer how remote working can function effectively. Actually, putting aside the depressing big issue stories from that year that affected everyone, 2020 was only unusual for International Hobo in that we didn't get to go to conferences, because in all other respects we carried on working with our clients just as we had every other year.
However - that skips over the toughest part about being a game consultant, which is that you are on the outside.
This turns out to be both a benefit and a cost. On the negative side, being outside means you are quite insulated from the internal development culture, which creates a very specific problem I'll explore next week. But it is precisely because we are outside our clients' company culture that we can bring the kind of insights into a project that we always do. It's not because we are 'more objective' - that word gets sorely misused. It's because when you're inside the maze you can only see the walls and the dead ends, but from the outside you're ideally positioned to offer guidance.
The heart of what we do at International Hobo is provide documentation that helps clients navigate a different aspect of the game development labyrinth.
A concept design provides raw material for developers to make technical assessments or to pitch to publishers, bringing focus to the early stages of development when focus is hard to come by.
A core design (or GDD) provides a framework of how all the eventual elements of the game will work together, and on some projects will be a 'living document' that changes every month or week (at times, every day!).
A narrative design explores how the game's assets are used to create a story experience - with or without voice over. It's like a core design for the way the game will create engaging story experiences.
A game script provides dialogue that a voice actor can use to make sound files that deepen the player's emotional engagement with the game.
A game audit explores how well the existing design or build meets the client's creative and commercial requirements, providing a map of where the project is strong and where it needs some work.
What We Do
What we do at International Hobo is listen, ask, play, write, and edit.
I've heard it said that game developers don't need documentation - and if you have a tight development culture, you certainly can minimise this requirement! But in our experience, every project that doesn't have adequate documentation has a problem and just doesn't know it yet. And the more systems the game entails, the more unreasonable it is to just try to play the design or narrative design process 'by ear', as it were. Games are expensive... you're almost certainly wasting money if you're just trying to 'wing it'.
I used to say that what we do is help our clients make better games. But 'better' isn't quite right... if you're trying to be 'better' you don't really have a clearly defined goal.
What we do is help our clients understand what is good about their game project, to eliminate as early as possible anything that doesn't contribute towards what's going to be great about the final game, and to ensure sound practices underpin every design and narrative decision.
What we do is help clients navigate the maze.
We don't pretend that we 'know better' than our clients - we trust them to know what they're doing. What we bring to them is decades of experience honed from working for clients all around the world on projects at every scale of development. That's what a good consultant always brings to the table - experience. The trick is in knowing how to use that experience to foster co-operation. And that's something you can only learn together.
Next week, some good advice for working with any kind of consultant.