Revitalize your art pipelines by participating in continuous reviews.

Jordan StevensAtlanta, GA • September 10th 2020
Best Practices

About the Author

Jordan is the founder of mudstack. He's also a writer, engineer and graphics enthusiast. Hacker of all the things, he wishes he was a viking.

Art review is a critical step in managing any art pipeline. As more and more of our lives are lived in the digital space, the desire for instant gratification continues to revolutionize how we approach work. It’s time for it to revitalize how we review our work as well.

Artists thrive with continuous feedback.

The very nature of game development demands a high level of collaboration, and feedback is a key component to collaboration. Artists act on feedback in order to improve their work. Provide an environment that fosters constructive feedback and an artist can excel, producing significantly higher quality works of art.

Always seek continuous feedback from stakeholders and peers.

Early feedback = less change later.

In an environment where feedback is continuous, artists can avoid downstream changes by acting on feedback earlier in the cycle. Nobody wants to work with their head down for 5 days to then get late feedback or change requests. Iteration is important, obviously, but we want to limit destructive iteration.

One of the biggest challenges artists face is changing expectations and rapidly moving targets. That stuff will likely never go away, but by getting feedback earlier, artists can mitigate the damage and delays those scenarios create.

The rise of remote work has changed how people collaborate.

Even beyond COVID-19, remote work has been increasing in prevalence. More and more teams find themselves working remotely, and contract workers have always been largely remote. With the rapid rise of remote work, studios have had to embrace new tools and processes to handle the changes that come with adopting remote pipelines.

Gone are the days of giant in-person meetings and art reviews. Those practices must be replaced with remote alternatives.

Art review meetings are not constructive, by comparison.

Getting a bunch of stakeholders and artists in a room to review work is a recipe for disaster. Conflicting personalities, motives, opinions, and tastes have a tendency to clash. Combining all of the above with corporate power structures, executive assertiveness, or any real hierarchy of command and you are well on the way to wasting an hour or more of everyone’s time.

That doesn’t mean that these processes aren’t important and the review should never occur. It just means that a different, yet more constructive, approach has significant merit. Gone are the days of giant in-person meetings and art reviews. Those practices must be replaced with remote alternatives.

The goal of art reviews is ultimately to achieve alignment between artists and stakeholders. By breaking down art reviews into a continuous remote process, artists have more opportunities to iterate constructively earlier in their workflows. Don’t work for a week to find out that a stakeholder is expecting something wildly different than what you’ve been creating. Align earlier.

Reviewing work has to become a consistent activity.

Just like checking your email or messages in your chat app of choice, reviewing your work or the work of your peers should be a consistent activity. By adopting the habit of continuous review, artists create a collaborative environment that fosters improvement, increases alignment, promotes constructive iteration, and revitalizes their art pipelines.

Create a culture of collaboration by continuously engaging with your peers through review. In order for this to work, however, there are some important considerations when teams set out to adopt continuous review processes. Many of these considerations are all about perspective.

So, how do you do continuous review the right way?

Frequent and continuous review provides meaningful direction and increases alignment between artists.

To get the most out of continuous review, keep the following concepts in mind:

1. Continuous review is not production tracking.

Production tracking is very valuable and important to the success of many teams, especially teams that rely on outside resources or contractors to do work. Do not confuse art review as a means of production tracking. Can production tracking use art reviews to inform status? Yes. But the distinction between the two is very important.

2. Continuous review is not an opportunity to micromanage artists.

Art review should always be given with pure motives. Continuous review is about providing constructive feedback, direction, and insight to artists. If teams embrace continuous review but leads and stakeholders use the increased level of collaboration to micromanage or carry out oversight responsibilities then they are corrupting the process.

3. Continuous review is actual work and part of every artist’s job.

If studios want artists to do art reviews but do not value the time spent on them, then continuous review processes are wasted. Art review should be considered and rewarded from a performance evaluation perspective, and appropriate time should be allotted for artists to participate in reviews. When doing any type of capacity planning or evaluation, teams should include time spent participating in reviews in their estimations.

This is definitely not how you want people to participate in continuous review.

4. Continuous review should improve art pipelines. If it doesn’t, you're doing it wrong.

If continuous review creates disruptions instead of improvements, then teams should seek to determine the cause of these disruptions. If reviews frequently reduce themselves to bike shedding, conflict, or other destructive behaviors, leads and peers must take action or risk a dramatic reduction in efficiency and team morale. Continuous review can be an extremely valuable tool for teams when done correctly. However, if the continuous review process becomes corrupted, it will only create chaos, which leads to anger, which leads to hate, which leads to suffering, which leads to the darkside. Avoid the tilt. Stay constructive. Keep it continuous.