Archive for the ‘Business’ Category

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It has been almost 6 months now since I co-founded our games company Hogrocket. I’ve learnt a lot over this period and it feels like the right time to write some of that down and share it. I hope that it’ll be of interest to you. Some of the points may be obvious; all that I’ll say is that I set up the company to learn and I certainly don’t claim to be any kind of authority. The following constitutes the most important discoveries and lessons I’ve learnt so far:

Making decisions is critical for momentum: Indecision and constant discussion is a comfort trap and a big time sink. Make decisions with conviction and then learn your lessons. You’ll learn far more than endlessly debating over the perfect course of action (which doesn’t exist anyway).

You’ll swiftly learn your strengths and weaknesses: Which is fantastic because knowing them is a strength in its own right! Working in a small team is like a boiling pot, things will bubble to the surface quickly. This tends to give you a heightened sense of everyone’s skills and character traits, including your own, which is a welcome side-effect to the volatility.

You’ve got to be in the same room together: Working from home seemed like a good idea, we would save on fuel, use Skype and not have distractions. However, creative collaboration needs face-face communication to effectively exchange ideas and the energy behind them. Even more important is focus, when working remotely it’s all too easy for team members to start pulling away and heading in their own direction. Working remotely becomes an exercise in reigning things in rather than getting stuff done.

Running your own company is a different kind of stress: Note that I didn’t say more stress, I can certainly attest to the stresses of working for someone else. The difference is the increase in stress you place upon yourself. There is more internal pressure than the usual external because things matter much more to you personally. As a result I’ve gained more self-discipline, more appreciation for the benefit of exercise and just as critically, the need for rest.

Let your experts be experts: If you’re contracting people to do work for you then give them clear direction on what you want to achieve and then get out of the way. Just because it’s your company or your project it doesn’t make you an expert on everything. Sometimes sticking your oar in can serve only to muddy the water. You’re paying them for a reason; because they can do something you can’t do yourself.

Make money: This attitude you may think is not becoming of an ‘indie’ studio doing things for the love. And although I care a lot about what we’re creating ‘love’ is not guaranteed to pay the bills and I’m getting kind of tired of the romanticism surrounding being ‘indie’. I want to create a viable business, let’s not fool ourselves here, whether making games or crackers if you’re not selling then you’re screwed. Seth Godin always talks about the fear of shipping and he is absolutely spot-on. I think we’ve created a great first game and hopefully it will make money but I’ll be a lot more comfortable once we’ve shipped it and next time I don’t plan for us to take nearly as long.

Humility: I’ve gained a much greater admiration for those who manage to run successful companies and projects. This has been particularly apparent for me because after writing my blog for a year now I’ve realised quite how much of a difference there is between saying and doing. I’ll be held accountable to what I have written by the quality of our games and quite honestly this scares me to death! But there’ll be no greater judge on those accounts than myself.

That final point is a good place to conclude this review because it ties in with a broader lesson that I’ve learnt – which is the need to make mistakes for yourself, its one thing to be told, but quite the other to learn the hard way. Lessons tend to sink in more when they affect you directly! So in this regard the life experience has been invaluable and worth taking the risk for.

I would love to hear about your own experiences, feel free to contact me or comment below.

Mr Ego

Leave your ego at the door” is a well used phrase and so it should be. I don’t think many would argue that ego is good, especially in a team environment. Yet all too often ego is allowed in through the studio doors. As the very thing that defines a person it’s hard to simply say to someone to leave ego behind. Ultimately then, the best way to get rid of it is to not allow it in the first place. An effective recruitment process is therefore crucial to building a good team, but it’s easy to become complacent, especially when teams ramp up fast. So here is my list as to exactly how destructive ego can be as an argument for being as diligent as possible with your recruitment.

  • The problem with ego is that it can be quite deceptive – quite often people who have strong-armed a decision using bluster and belligerence are given the benefit of the doubt when it works out. Here’s the rub: with a talented team they’ll always find a way of making things work. Don’t let this cloud your judgement when looking at whether things could have been done better. Relief can hide a multitude of sins and ego can often be allowed to win again and again.
  • Ego takes the focus away from the work – We’re social animals and it can be very easy to lose focus on our work and concern ourselves more with pecking order. A well established structure where everyone’s role is clear will leave less room for social ambiguity and more room for effective game development.
  • Where there is ego there are irrelevant battles – I say ‘irrelevant battles’ because there are meaningful battles to be had on what matters, yep, the game. Ego battles become about who shouts hardest, longest and loudest. This creates what I like to call the black hole phenomenon where everything else in the room is sucked into a universe of meaningless bollocks. Ego is a big distraction away from what matters.
  • Where there is ego there is time wasted – decisions in government are made slowly because politicians must also consider their positions on an issue and the political ramifications as well as (and often more than) the actual decision in hand. Game development mired with politics is doomed to failure, or at best, massive expense.
  • Ego distorts effective decision making – if ego is the dominating force in your organisation the best politicians will rise to the top, but not necessarily the best decision makers. Ego tends to breed contempt if people don’t feel decisions are being made for the right reasons. I don’t need to tell you how destructive negativity then becomes.
  • Pandering to ego leads to compromise – and it is inevitable that you’ll have to pander to ego if you don’t want constant battles and strife in the team. Compromise is more often than not the most socially cohesive resolution, but alas, not for bold innovative design. Compromise leads to mediocrity. If Johnny Big Tantrum is always throwing his toys out the pram every time things don’t go his way, then however talented he is, you have a big problem.
  • Ego necessitates the need for damaging management mechanisms – even diligent management who recognise that large egos are having a distortive effect are between a rock and a hard place.  They’re forced to react with methods to reset team balance. However over-management can be stifling in a creative environment. Especially if the perceived solution is more formalisation in an effort to get everyone’s voice heard.

With ego running rife in an organisation the final result is always the same; people problems masked by project problems. Before they notice the difference, or indeed are willing to admit to it, it’s far too late to do anything about it. I would hazard a guess that this (exacerbated by other factors) is the root cause of most failed projects and companies. So let’s do our best to stamp out ego wherever we see it rearing its head, good luck!