Management lessons from Gears of War 2

Recently I’ve been playing tons of Gears Of War 2 for XBOX 360, because of it’s fantastic HORDE mode. I’m not a huge gamer. But find me:

  1. A game/mode that has well designed UX
  2. Is easy to learn, but hard to master, and fun to fail at
  3. Has few annoyances (mandatory tutorials, non-skipable intros, etc.)
  4. Has a team based, rather than purely competitive, mode

And I’m in. Great games, as rare as they are, are the perfect relief from long hours of writing. And if I can play with friends on the same team, all the better.


(image from Matt’s Journal)

Like real life projects, where you can can only survive by working together, the HORDE mode is based on co-operation. You can’t get very far without working as a team.

However this doesn’t stop many players from trying to do it all on their own. It’s funny, gut also sad, in HORDE to see players make the same mistakes again and again and again, just like in the workplace, for not recognizing they need a team strategy to win, not just solo tactics.

Here’s lessons from HORDE that apply to many project teams:

  • team co-ordination > Individual talents .  Early on you can get by with how good you are alone. But as soon as things get intense, or you fall behind, working solo is a liability. Programmers and Managers who insist on doing everything themselves are set up to fail when that approach reaches it’s inevitable limit.
  • Have a fallback position everyone knows. When everything is going to hell there is no time to make a plan. People are too stressed to think clearly anyway. This means you must have a fallback plan defined at the beginning. My friends and I call it the hiddy-hole – a spot where we will all fade back towards, that is defensible, easy to find, and likely to be where other teammates are.
  • Over Communicate.  Talking matters. In Horde you have to share what you see, and take advantage of all the viewpoints. Teams that talk more last longer – it’s nearly a rule in Horde. If a minute into the game no one has spoken, it’s going to be a short game. Same goes for project management – teams that are good are sharing useful info with each other prevent things from going from.
  • Stay together. The temptation in HORDE, and in life, is to seek your own glory. To go out away from the pack.  But as soon as the waves get hard enough you can’t do it alone and before you know it you’re dead because something snuck up behind you. If you stick together it’s surprise is less likely, and since you have two people dealing with it, survival odds are much higher.
  • Watch your buddy’s back. One of the most interesting elements of Horde is when you’re wounded another player must come and revive you. The teams that last longer are the ones who make reviving other players a priority. It’s a reciprocal trust thing – someone has to do it first and if you don’t reciprocate they might not do it again.
  • Develop a shorthand. The more you communicate the sooner you develop a shorthand. Novice players say things like “Lookout, it’s coming!” Without telling you where the bad guy is or what it is, which is useless.  He may as well just say “aaaaaaaahh!” You want an efficient shorthand that makes frequent communication efficient. “Butcher at 2’oclock from fallback”. Shorthand makes it easy for many people to communicate without burying people in noise.

Recently I’ve started playing Left 4 Dead with the same circle of friends – It’s been great so far. Also excellent team based, co-operative game design. Easy to learn, fun to play.

Are there any other XBOX 360 games with excellent co-op modes? Let me know.

9 Responses to “Management lessons from Gears of War 2”

  1. Terry Bleizeffer

    I wish I had played GoW2 before I played L4D. Horde mode is great, but unfortunately L4D is so incredibly wonderful that it simultaneously made me appreciate what online cooperative gaming could be AND made every other online coop game seem clumsy by comparison. I think I would have enjoyed GoW2 even more if I wasn’t unwillingly comparing it to L4D each time.

    BTW, I made a post about L4D and UX on my blog awhile back -> http://uxsoapbox.blogspot.com/2009/01/killing-zombies-in-name-of-user.html

    It’s about L4D’s inability to have a tutorial mode at the beginning of each campaign and what they did about it.

    Come to think of it, it might be time for me to take out a few smokers…

    Reply
  2. Scott Berkun

    Terry: Great link! Hadn’t seen the L4D blog before.

    I miss the pacing of GoW2 – the horde games can last quite a while – much longer than survivor mode on L4D.

    Anyway, it’s all good. Co-Op games with great gameplay are so rare.

    Reply
  3. Jinny

    Resident Evil 5 co-op mode is great too. First half of the game is incredible and the second half is good. Also, Microsoft press conference at E3 today announced Left 4 Dead 2 coming out November 2009.

    Reply
  4. Maxim

    Team Fortress 2
    Game matches all requirements you stated.
    It’s fun to play alone but it is even more fun (and more success) when you do it as a team.

    Reply
  5. Ian Collingwood

    Scott,

    I’m assuming you must have played the Halo series. I’ve been gaming since Space Invaders, but never have I found a game that I feel is so balanced, and that rewards teamplay so effectively.

    If you’re playing as a team and the opposition aren’t it’s almost impossible to lose, even if (like me) you’re individually not that great. If you aren’t teaming up, it’s virtually impossible to win – even if you have several 5 star generals on your team.

    What you say about communications is also true on Halo3 – you can almost predict the winners by seeing at the game setup how many people have mics. In fact, I’d love to get data from Xbox Live to see if the ratio of mics to non-mics acts as a predictor of victory.

    Anyways. If you happen to pick up a copy of Halo 3, hit me up and I’ll send you my gamertag.

    I might check out GoW on your recommendation.

    Laters

    Reply
  6. Scott Berkun

    I played Halo 3, but my friends and I simply can’t stop playing deathmatch. So I’ve never played Halo3 with teams. I’ll have to give it a try.

    Reply
  7. François Cassin

    You should try playing coop Portal 2.

    It’s very different (slower paced, less action and more thinking together) but I find it to be great fun :)
    Do no cheat by looking at walkthroughs, you’ll ruin the experience !

    Reply

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