It doesn’t really matter where you work or what you do — our discussion with production consultant Xinwen Chen is about work, period. It’s about communication, collaboration, and resolving problems as efficiently as possible to keep things moving along.
These concepts can be applied to just about any work scenario, and right now especially, when the nature of work and collaboration is up in the air, understanding your coworkers and being able to work together smoothly is more important than ever.
But before we talk shop, let’s give Chen a proper introduction.
Meet: Xinwen Chen
Currently, Xinwen Chen is a full-time production consultant at Share Creators Inc., which is a design and engineering company based in San Francisco that offers “high-quality art consulting, art production services, and engineering services for game companies around the world.”
Chen’s biggest responsibility is to manage game projects’ art, budget, schedule, and solve basically any problems that come up during production. On top of that, Chen communicates consistently with artists working on these projects and contributes ideas of her own as well.
Previously, Chen worked as a programmer and project manager for the Los Angeles Chinese Film Festival and AFI DOCS.
Some of Chen’s past game projects include Call of Duty, Diablo, and Rise of Kingdoms. At the moment, Chen is working on a Lord of the Rings game and PUBG as well.
For Chen, this is a dream come true, and she sees her video game work as a culmination of her past experience in the arts.
“It’s quite fulfilling that I’m working on big IP games that I’ve played before. A game is a combination of all kinds of art forms, and it connects all the dots in my past. I learned film, music, painting, and dance for years, and my work involves all of those. My past experiences help me to understand clients and the market and also provide me with inspiration.”
Another major reason why Chen is so passionate about her work is its inherent inclusion of international and inter-cultural elements.
Chen herself has a multicultural background, having lived in the United States, United Kingdom, and China. On top of that, her work involves collaborating with individuals from all over the world, which we’ll be talking about later.
“I’ve met people from all kinds of backgrounds, and listening to their stories and perspectives is a lot of fun for me, and it can be useful, too. In a game, there are no cultural barriers, and I believe that cultural elements are great for promoting cultural exchange.”
In fact, let’s start things off by hearing more about the value of bringing together different perspectives to create something special.
Each person’s perspective is formed by many different factors, including their experiences, their upbringing, their culture, and their heritage.
It’s possible for people from very similar backgrounds to have differing perspectives, but including people from many different backgrounds really takes things to a whole other level.
Chen’s workflow involves communicating with many different people from vastly different backgrounds, and she’s doing this constantly.
While some might find this exposure to so many perspectives challenging or maybe even overstimulating, Chen sees it as an advantage, not only for her but for the projects she’s working on as well.
“I work with artists from all over the world, and it’s quite interesting to learn new things and different perspectives. It broadens my own perspective and helps me become more open-minded. I think it also benefits projects a lot. Art is about creativity. Having people contribute different perspectives can help us to find better creative solutions for projects.”
Of course, international collaboration is a somewhat recent phenomenon. Remote work and collaboration tools have made it possible to engage with team members from all over, and especially over the last two years of Covid, remote work vs. in-person work has been a hot topic.
Will remote work dominate the future? Will traditional workplaces survive? These are questions we’ll have to set aside for another day, but Chen did share her two cents on the matter:
“I don’t have a preference between remote and in-person work. Right now, I use virtual conferencing a lot. It definitely offers more possibilities for collaboration. For a single game art piece, I can work with people located in Europe, Asia, and North America at the same time, and I think it’s really cool to have access to that level of collaboration.”
At this point, it’s best to ask whether remote or in-person collaboration is best for the project you and your team are currently working on.
Regardless of the method, active collaboration with people who are bringing different ideas to the table is a huge advantage in any industry.
Projects with impact
Chen has also managed to conduct her career while keeping her principles at the forefront. As a leader and collaborator, Chen doesn’t have any interest in working on projects that aren’t going to have a positive impact.
This is very important to Chen, and it’s something she has demonstrated outside of her game industry work as well.
Earlier this year, Chen organized and led two different events, both of which had altruistic goals: the 2021 LGBTQ Short Film Showcase and Documenting the Pandemic.
Chen really wants to contribute to projects that are going to change things for the better, and her past and current projects are certainly proof of that. Here’s what she had to say on the topic:
“My personal values align with my work and I’ve always wanted to have a positive impact through my work. I believe art can inspire people, bring people together, and stimulate discussion. I take this into consideration when I choose game projects to work on: the game’s premise, its values, etc.”
Every professional has to navigate the ways in which their principles align (or don’t align) with their work, but Chen has made it clear that it’s definitely possible to be successful and keep your soul at the same time, and in addition, your peers will respect that you stay true to your convictions.
Every aspect of working with a team depends on communication of some kind. It might be a simple conversation in the office, an email thread sent to the whole team, or a long-form video conferencing call.
Communication can take so many different forms, and depending on the specific people involved, problems can pop up at just about any moment.
Sure, it would be great if every team could just work together efficiently and without issue, but disagreements are a natural part of any collaborative process.
For leaders in a professional work environment, a simple disagreement could lead to significant delays for a project or even the loss of talented team members.
Additionally, that style of international, multicultural collaboration we were talking about earlier can make resolving these issues much more challenging.
Something that Chen rightly pointed out as a crucial factor in these scenarios is that even when someone seems upset, they may not be able to completely explain their frustration.
Feelings can be hard to define sometimes, particularly if they’re wrapped up in personal matters or cultural differences that have nothing to do with the project.
Chen has developed an effective means of communicating with team members to resolve issues, which she details here.
“It’s important to understand everyone’s cultural backgrounds and communicate my ideas clearly with them. Based on my experience, dealing with production issues is dealing with emotions. I think it’s important to identify a coworker’s emotions and also find the reasons behind those emotions. It sometimes requires lots of patience and time learning their thoughts.”
Though it may slow things down a bit to resolve key issues and disagreements, in many cases a project wouldn’t be able to move forward without taking that time to make sure everyone involved is on the same page.
It’s a tricky business, but good communication pays off in the end.
Lastly, let’s discuss leadership in a professional setting. Yes, we know, everyone and their brother has weighed in on the nature of leadership, especially when it comes to leadership in the workplace, but Chen has an interesting take, one that she’s formed through years of real-world experience.
“I think leadership is about taking responsibility. My leadership style is a combination of transformational leadership and service-based leadership. I care about my team members a lot, and I want to create a great team environment for them and give them a sense of belonging.”
It’s a very human-centric approach for sure, and it acknowledges the unique talents and perspectives that every single person brings to a project.
However, Chen’s comments also highlight just how personal a leadership style can be. Not every person is going to be successful using just one leadership style. It takes time and effort to learn how to use your own skills to your advantage to help a team reach its full potential.
We hope that this has been a useful look at leadership and collaboration, and we encourage interested readers to re-assess their own approach to workplace communication and team engagement.