What did I learn about teamwork playing stupid mobile game?

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In “real”, professional life I am (front-end) web developer with few years experience in working remotely and stationary in the office, as a part of big international teams as well as doing individual projects and freelancing. But after hours I love to play games. And this article is about one of them.
This is also my first article written in English. I hope you forgive me, Mr. Shakespeare.

The game

The mobile game I write about here is named Portal Quest and is available on Android and iOS. In a few words, the game is all about brainless grinding your heroes, where every one has his unique skills and the only creative action is to create teams in which skills of each character are complementary.
But still the major issue is level and amount of stars which you have to grind like crazy or spend some (or many) real money.

To be honest, I installed the app accidentally, because I needed premium tokens in other game I’ve been playing like crazy, the Top Eleven which I consider the best mobile football manager. The requirement was to achieve 30th level and then I planned to uninstall the game, but… I did recognize that, unlike many other MMO games, interaction with other players in Portal Quest is focused on team work rather than Individual rivalry. There is PvP, but it’s what I call “passive PvP” where you don’t fight with other people in real time.

So, why this game is stupid? It isn’t stupid! But when you think about game which can you learn from, you probably think about Chess, Go, any strategical or crazy tactical challenge where your brain is going to burn/explode during the encounter.
So in this context, the Portal Quest is a very light, casual title with a few simple patterns you have to bear in mind.

The guild

The first, most important in-game action you should take is to find a guild which we can compare to the company in real life. It is like going to job, where the guild master is your boss. I like this comparison, except the one thing: in the game your goal is to be stronger and stronger rather than to earn money, so you are doing everything to increase your skill.
Ok, you always want to earn better gear and XP, but it’s possible even when you play alone. But being a member of guild you can grow faster.

Guild Wars Mode

There is yet another reason why you want to be part of the guild. It’s one of the game modes called Guild Wars where everyday starts battle between your team and randomly assigned other guild. This is a battlefield where guilds build towers occupied by players’ heroes and the objective is to destroy the last one — the Keep. This mode require require excellent teamwork unless all players are this kind of nerds who can pay any amount of real money in order to have every hero available in the game as fast as possible.

What I like in my guild is the fact, that the Dragon Warriors are in the top 10 rank despite of the fact that only two of us are in top 100 in rank of players’ total power. And my teammates makes the competition so enjoyable.

What did I learn?
Individual skills are important, but it can be strengthened if people are involved in teamwork and they can see benefits from working together.

Communication is the key to the success

To be honest I think that complexity of informations is much lower in the game than in the real job. The most important thing to share and then to control is the attack plan which is the list of hitters(players assigned to attack) and their targets. Next, we have instructions about who needs more attack points at the time and who can donate this points to him. It require us to often look at the war chat and response ASAP.
This is similar to pushing project to staging (sprint review) and reacting for requests from the stakeholder. We often talk about best heroes setup, we test them against mirrored teams prepared by our teammates, so we can simulate the incoming fight and experimenting with setup without worrying about result. We also share our experience and motivate each other.

What did I learn?
It’s easy to Take on a difficult challenge (fight against strong guild) when people talk with each other often. The leader has a comfort because he sees that people are involved and he can be sure if all understand him, and all players see high activity which is good for our morale. Our chat is a living place.

Cooperation across many time zones

As a developer I have been working with people in many countries located in different time-zones. And it isn’t easy.
In the guild there are people from almost every continent, so keeping good communication is even more challenging, because we have to share plans, strategy and feedback between units and not between groups like offices or departments. Team is as dispersed as it can only be.

We use one great trick to better recognize who can already do something in game without spamming this person on private channel: everyone have to set his time-zone (related to GMT) next to nickname in chat, so when you look at chat member list you can see who will be available in the near future or who is probably sleeping or working now.

What did I learn?
I love the solution with time zone in the nick name. The fact that people are available on certain time of the day give us ability to fight 24 hours a day.
And because we have more than one person with War Chief role (it’s something like the Team Leader in software project) we can adjust our war plan every time it is required without wasting time to wait for the One And Only One True War Chief.

This is how our chat looks like during the war:

The silent leader.

Guild leader is like CEO in the real company. The fun fact is that he is not the strongest player in the guild, but he has very good soft skills like negotiations, task delegating and… patience. Big respect for you, Waza!
(Because of the flag in his nick name I know he is British just like few managers I had before in my professional life). The fun fact is that he is the boss of one of the most successful guild in the game, but without special icon assigned to him on members list, I wouldn’t know he is someone, should I say, special. And this may be one of his most important soft skills that encourage others to be more pro-active.

When everything goes wrong…

What did I learn?
The Boss should have good soft skills and be strongly people-oriented. His opinions are always very important, but most of the decision are made by guild Champions — players with strong skill and experience — with consultation with the leader.
To be honest, I met this kind of boss in my professional career in Fingo — company strongly oriented on complex FinTech solutions across the world.

Roles are important

In game we have many predefined roles available. One them describe hierarchy:

  • Leader
  • Officer
  • Veteran
  • Member

They are very similar to the “levels” in development team: junior, mid, senior, team leader…

The others, like War Chief or Commander are more descriptive which helps me, the average member, to understand who should If am in doubt or I don’t know what to do during the battle.
For example, we have few Champions, but only two, or three, War Chiefs. As I sad, I am only a Veteran, so I don’t even know if the game allow the one person to be both Leader/Veteran and War Chief/Commander. I don’t suppose.

What did I learn?
One of the most important skill the leader should have is ability and knowledge how to assign roles to his people. I think this is a bit simpler in the game than in real company, because the skill and strength of the players is more obvious and transparent to everyone (level, XP, rare items) than skills of a programmer (especially if he doesn’t develop any open source project).
If you have good people on good “positions” the guild works more like mythic perpetuum mobile where the leader is the driver and he doesn’t have care about engine (War Chief), brakes (Officer) or fuel (Commander).

True warriors always help each other

This is the thing which has been inspired me to write this article, because from my experience, the help is rarely known word in introvert world of programmers. In the guild everyone serve each other and you can ask anyone about anything and, in the worst case, you don’t get a response. No one blame you.
I think this is a huge advantage of participating in international and multi culture team.

What did I learn?

There is almost no negative feedback, what for me, a man growing up in Poland, was a huge surprise. OK, this is a little sarcasm, but it allowed me to look at competitive team from other perspective.
And the fact that people strongly competition-oriented are helping others so naturally because they know that if they help someone other, they help the guild so… they help themselves. But such behaviour requires trust — one of the rarest character traits in polish mentality.

Atmosphere allow us to breath

The advantage the casual game has over the job in IT is the fact that there is big diversity of people and this is the reason why I am a huge fan of multidisciplinary teams like those in Scrum definition. And women.

Women

I had pleasure to work with fantastic designers, project managers and testers. There were women. Women can also be a good programmers. And they more likely to help other teammates than men. I even don’t want to say about their positive impact on atmosphere and team spirit because it’s obvious that an average woman is a social beast in compare to an average man. Even if they both are on the same level of nerdism.
I’m writing here about this, because I’ve heard many times among my programmers friends sentences like:

Women? What the fuck women do in IT!? Do you think they can be programmers? You are crazy!

No, I am not. Maybe because I think that soft skills are very important and know from personal experience that if all members have good/awesome hard skills, but lack of the soft ones, the project, sooner or later, will meet a lot of unexpected problems and people will start to hate everyone and everything. And they leave.

Warriors have a big hearts. And Dragon Warriors too.

One of the requirements I met when I joined to the Guild was to install and use external chat app — GroupMe. As developer I am used to using many communicators (Slack, Mattermost, Skype, Hangout, HipChat…) and this one was totally new to me, and, after few weeks of using it, I especially appreciated one feature: hearts.
Heart is an equivalent to likes in Facebook, or emoji such as “thumb up” in Slack, but this one brings great positive impact when clicked, because it looks like I want to say:

Hey! I noticed what you said and I enjoy/like it!

Even if the message posted by someone is negative, such as he failed his attack, when taping the heart I’m saying to him:

Don’t worry, mate, nothing happened. I appreciate that you tried your best.

Despite of country and culture, the heart always means the same. Simple, but effective tool for giving positive feedback.

Thanks for reading. I am going back to fight.

You can find me in game under the nickname JazzFlow and on Github as Fadehelix.

Agile Web Developer