In freelance dev work, this is the single most important question I ask:
“Imagine we’re at the end of the engagement and you’re really happy with the results. What does success look like to you?”
I ask this right at the start. Here’s why.
The Diminishing Value of Services
Before you perform any service, the client has a pressing need. They want something done. They need you to scratch their itch.
Once the itch is gone, they sometimes forget how bad it felt. They forget the pain you made go away.
Roger Dawson calls this “The Call Girl Syndrome”. Yeah, I’m sorry about that one – Dawson wrote that in a different era and I hesitated before quoting it – but it does give you the idea. Once the service is over, the client very often forgets how much they wanted it.
Getting the Goals Clear
So, I do ask this question to let us both establish the value of the work. However, talking about objectives upfront is more than just establishing worth.
“If you don’t know where you are going, you’ll end up someplace else.”
“Begin with the end in mind” is one of Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, but what do you do if you don’t know what the end looks like?
Very often working on a new video game project, you don’t. The first phase of most game design work is to find something fun. Identify a fun game mechanic and then build a game around it.
The thing is, what’s fun? If you knew before you started it would be easy – but you normally don’t. You can time box it, maybe, but you can’t even plan for it. You might find the most amazing, fun idea comes late in the day – and you need to change a lot of the game to make the most of it.
Luckily, a lot of the freelance gamedev work I focus on tends to be more discrete. Maybe you have an Xbox game but want it ported to Playstation? Or Switch? Or you might want an expansion developed for your already established game? You might just want some UI work done.
Here, it’s easier to establish what we’re aiming for. It’s a little box of work we can both agree upon.
But whatever you want to achieve, the very act of thinking about what success looks like should be the first step. It helps find a common goal. And I like to imagine the end result of any engagement. Right at the start.