Thursday, 5 June 2014

Finding Our Feet

For the last four weeks we have begun to stride into unfamiliar territory. For the first time in our short history, we are responsible for coming up with the next project. This is simultaneously liberating and terrifying. We are in control of our own destiny, we can dream as big as we want, but any failures are completely our own. This post will be a bit of a run-down of our current business strategy and how it came to be. We’ll discuss some of the benefits the methodology brings and also some of the sacrifices we are making to have it happen.

Proleague

Coming off the back of Proleague (maybe we’ll do a round-up of that some time), we had a few key learnings to take away from the project.

1 Kill a project early

Anyone in the industry could tell you this one, but despite how simple it is, it can seem tremendously difficult. You have to tell the board, you have to convince the team that the work that is set to be scrapped still has value, you have to give up guaranteed money… and all that while trying to nail down the opportunity cost of a completely immaterial alternative, your new ‘project.’ Through the lens of hindsight, it’s easy to see how essential this step is. At least take the time to flesh out what exactly that immaterial alternative could be, you never know what ideas will pop into your head if you take the time to step away from work for a week.

2 Paint with the same brush

Proleague’s development had a number of sticking points that caused us to make pretty big changes to our goal. It was built with a client in mind but later had to be scaled way down to better suit that clients needs. We had a number of meetings discussing business strategy at every step but before we could convince the client of our ideas, we needed something good to show them. We had to be realistic, we’ve met people who can sell the earth with both feet off the ground and we knew that just wasn’t us, we are product guys and we needed something to wow the client.
Anyone will tell you showing a client a half-finished product is a mistake and while we avoided this trap we fell into another and polished a game to show the client before the concept was completely resolved. This is a really yuck place to be! You will never want to go back and rip apart your polished game, no matter how many changes you know it needs, so make sure that everything evolves together. We found ourselves with half resolved business plans, mediocre game-play and tightly polished animations… It felt just as gross as it sounds.

3 Understand what you have

While we may be sounding a little bitter, the reality is quite the opposite, there was so much that Proleague taught us that no amount of mentoring or guidance could have. We are glad that we took Proleague all the way through to release and we are proud of what we accomplished, but the key benefit of the project was teaching us a lot about how we didn’t want to work. We spent a lot of the time unfocussed and worrying about how to make the game popular, how to ensure it made money, how to best contact clients etc. rather than just ensuring the game was good. We attended a short presentation yesterday by Tim Knauf formally of Launching Pad Games and he identified one of their companies issues as “…trying to run before we could walk.” I think we fell into the same trap, it’s really easy to want everything now!

Crab’s Law

So with all the learnings of Proleague fresh in our mind, we devised a twelve week strategy for the company built around a strict series of guidelines I will tentatively name Crab’s Law (having not discussed it with anyone else from the team). Crab’s law states:
  • Games will be produced in two weeks or fewer
  • Each ’round’ of production will begin with a rigorous conceptual debate and end in a hasty blog-post writing session.
  • Each game produced will contain a single novel idea that the game is built around, whether it be for game-play, distribution, production etc.
Some projects will be worked on by all of us, others will be individual endeavours but we are expecting to have a good collection of prototypes once the twelve weeks are up. They might be a little bit scrappy but by making the deadlines so short we ensure that there is no chance to explore any more than the core idea/mechanic.

Just Mucking Around?

The hardest part of the process is convincing ourselves (and relevant stakeholders) it is constructive to the companies best interests, because it is just so damn fun! It very rarely feels like a job in the offices these days and while it might sound like we’re mucking around, the truth is that this process has its grounding in a very real business problem. It takes a long time to produce a game (or indeed any other creative endeavour) and often times the process can be gruelling and demoralizing. By prototyping prolifically we can ensure that everyone understands the project before it is undertaken and we can also make sure to avoid the sunken investment that prevented us from dropping Proleague. The idea is that after the twelve weeks we should have at least one prototype that has caused the ‘aha!’ that qualifies it for further pursuit. If we don’t have one, well then it’s onto another twelve weeks of good times.

So where’s the flip side? Well as hard as it may be to believe it’s very difficult to find anyone who will fund Crab’s Law (Which I am largely attributing to discrimination but that’s a rant for another time). It hasn’t phased us though, we are young and nobody to depend on our income but ourselves, so we fund the venture however we can. Thankfully it’s never come too close thus far.
My last words are these, if you are young and starting a company, do it exactly your way. Listen to advice, but think very critically about it before you take it on board, because if you find yourself running your company someone else’s way, then you’ll just grow to resent it. We are having the most fun we’ve had since we started the company and I think it’s already beginning to manifest in the prototypes we are producing. So be brave and give it a go, it’s your company after all.

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