Thursday, May 8, 2014

Post: Mobile Gaming Hall Of Fame!


Hall Of Fame: Scott Foe















Hopefully, winning a lifetime achievement award is no indication that my lifetime is over!

Thank you to my dear, old mother, who confiscated my Nintendo Entertainment System when I (always) misbehaved, who patiently typed "pick up the carrot" into King's Quest as I directed her, and who bought me an Intel 80486 computer to mollify my incessant begging. My mother is truly deserving of first-ballot induction into the Mom Hall Of Fame.

Thank you to Gerard Wiener, who believed in me, mentored me, and who never confiscated my Nintendo Entertainment System when I (always) misbehaved. Innovation simply cannot happen without full and unflappable organizational support, and, no matter how way-way-out-there my dreams and schemes, Gerard signed the checks without blinking.

Thank you to the amazing writers and publishers out there who have given me so much editorial love over the years: Anybody who thinks press doesn't matter isn't thinking at all.

Most-of-all: Thank you to all of the wonderful creative, technical, and business people who have led, followed, and marched alongside me over the years. Your ranks are legion and to name some would be a disservice to hundreds of others - each of you has been invaluable to my growth as a game developer.

And thank you in particular to the awesome people over at Pocket Gamer for inducting me into the Hall of Fame. You always hear at awards shows, "it's nice to be recognized," which is total codswallop: Unfortunately, there is no word in the English language to describe the indelibly positive rush of emotion that comes from having your life's work recognized by your industry. (Well, there is "alate," but, like most people, I don't know what that means, and I'm still kinda iffy on the definition of "codswallop.")

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Opinion: Computers Are Gay















The good folks over at Pocket Gamer asked for my opinion on homosexual characters in video games: Unluckily for them, I happened to have twelve hundred words-worth of opinion on the origin of computer science, how face-meltingly awesome I am, C3P0, and what is possibly the first same-sex marriage in the history of game narrative design.

It just so happens that Computers Are Gay.


Saturday, February 15, 2014

Video: Casual Connect Europe 2014

The first Evil Game Design Challenge is billed by the good people at Casual Connect as, "The most-popular session in Casual Connect history." (I don't know how they qualify that, but, The Evil Game Design Challenge was definitely the most-watched talk from Casual Connect USA 2013.)

This second Evil Game Design Challenge is much, much better ...

Within the below video, you will find three luminary free-to-play game designers - Ben Cousins of DeNA, Laralyn McWilliams of The Workshop, and Teut Weidemann of Ubisoft - each murdering the game of Minecraft in their own individually evil ways, turning Minecraft out for player acquisition, retention, engagement, and, of course, monetization.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the second Evil Game Design Challenge.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Video: Casual Connect USA 2013

*** UPDATE! According to the good folks at Casual Connect, The Evil Game Design Challenge is now "the most-popular talk in Casual Connect history!" Thank you all very much for the interest and support! ***

In 2005, when I pitched my first free-to-play game, Reset Generation, people truly thought I was "crazy." Crazy is fine, because crazy is the calling card of market disruption. I was already branded "crazy" for leaving console for mobile gaming in 2003, and, even before that, all the way back in 1999, people were calling me "crazy" for filling a Nerf Super Soaker squirt gun with my own urine.

Crazy is all well and good, but, somewhere along the line, the industry has gone from seeing free-to-play game design as "crazy," to seeing free-to-play game design as perniciously "evil." Well, to flip a phrase, "The only way to deal with idealists is to terrorize the bastards." So, let's get evil.

Within the below video, you will find three luminary free-to-play game designers - Greg Costikyan, Dan Rubenfield, and Ethan Levy - dressed as the super villains that they are. Therein they present game designs geared toward the most-evil pursuit of discovering scalable, repeatable business. One design loaded with thoughtful insight, one design a flight of wild imagination, one design a deeply evil winner ...

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the first Evil Game Design Challenge.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Video: Garage48 2012

No slides, no practice, no need to know a video game from a marmoset's mammary, there's something for everybody here: Entrepreneurship, innovation, trickery, heartbreak, random luck, a mother's love - a Burberry scarf - yep, this is probably my favorite talk. Ever.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Opinion: What The Fuck N-Gage?

i.

When life gives you urine, you make lemonade: You are one of my readers, a dystopic manticore, part of the rare and alluringly terrible sub-percent of games industry executives who wants wildly impeachable and sometimes actionable insights accompanied by shock-humor allusions that aren’t torrid, but fucking foul. You’re an indelibly splattered canvas of entrepreneurial management, big ideas, and screw it: To make this worth reading, you’ll need to see the name of Jack Welch dropped into the same sentence with the words “semi-translucent salty string.”

To be perfectly fair, you’re me, the most-spectacular failure in games industry history, the first mouse, neck-snapped in the trap. Welcome to my web log, wrongfully accused of being one of the best game design blogs out there. Here we don’t give a backflip in midair about the fact that 70% of internet readers drop out after page-two of an article. Today, dear diary, we’re in for a three thousand word treat.

Why are both me and me so underrepresented in the games industry? Well, for starters, there are only so many Irish to go around the breakfast table. (Four-point-five million Irish, roughly, and I prefer mine creamed.) Fondness for freckled face fricassee aside, there is something else, something other than heavy gray matter and an almost childlike impatience for shanking social norms that canyons the gap. Heavy red matter: Right there, that gurgling in our chest cavity, brush away the model log cabin made of cigarette butts and you’ll find our people radar, our pipelining empathic processor - you’ll find heart.

No, there is a difference between having heart and having a heart - everybody has a heart. Each of the thought leaders and pro forma tinkerers scattered throughout the intellectual history of business had a heart. Apparent from their works, quite a few of the Brooks Brothers-clad corporate cannibals that ruled and refined this world of spreadsheets believed that the ends justified the means; perhaps the most heart-full keynote speaker in business history, even Karl Marx misled economists to forever define “the means of production” as “everything other than people.”

Now, in the year 2012, there are over one million items listed in “business books” on Amazon.com. Over ten thousand business books are printed each year. A shameful waste of trees that could have been rolling papers, as the second-to-last truly great business book was published in 1997, not very long after Amazon.com was founded.

In 1997, Harvard Business School Professor Clayton Christensen put into the conference ether The Innovator’s Dilemma, a three-hundred-plus-pages discourse composed of entirely one sentence, about hard drives, repeated over and over (and over) again …

“The leader in hard drives has difficulty innovating because innovation doesn’t fit within the leader’s organizational value framework, and so the leader risks being unseated by bottom-up market disruption.”

That one sentence was so powerful that it would crib-kill the quality of business books for over a decade, until a man named Eric Ries came along with The Lean Startup, the first great business book published in this century - the definition of the “Lean Movement,” a cult leader’s charismatic take on Managing For Results, which was put to print in 1964 by Peter Drucker and his Big Blue Ox.

Fun fact: Eric Ries’ grandmother is Al Ries, who helped coin the phrase “market positioning,” in addition to (in 1996’s Focus) putting forth the thinking that what businesses need are less good ideas on which to execute, not more. Eric Ries took grandma’s advice and economized, filling all 336 pages of his book with only three words, which are probably three of the four most-important words that a businessperson can know.

“Build. Measure. Learn.”

What’s the fourth word that a businessperson needs to know? Here, find a tale of two hearts.

ii.

I was raised by wolves: Japanese business wolves. And the Japanese business wolves howled home the concept of “kaizen” (改善), “continuous improvement.” Always be improving; always be improving.

How do I know that there have only been two worthwhile business books in the last 15 years? I have read them. All. And, after all of that reading, I have a hard time of rationalizing the aggregate intellectual history of business as anything other than damn-near autistic.

Today, games industry is becoming more and more industrial, with new avenues for raising game development and launch funding appearing every day. No longer are the drives of Sand Hill Road - the heart of venture capital investment in Silicon Valley - barred to gaming hows and whos. And there are a lot of advantages to taking venture investment: The general partners in a venture fund want to see your company succeed, even if a game launch or two fails. But, those are double-edged dollar bills: There should be a sign outside of Sand Hill Road that reads, “Abandon equity, all ye who enter here.”

A venture fund takes a piece of the company, not of the game, and the general partners in that venture fund will want you to sell your company at a high-multiple return on capital invested, eventually.
 
I’ve always said that the field of Mergers and Acquisitions, the buying and selling of business assets, is like sticky and sweet lovemaking: Everyone thinks that they are competently skilled, but few truly are - especially when it comes to the selling of your own company. Whether buy-side or sell-side, Mergers and Acquisitions work is better left to the investment bankers, the porn stars of the world of finance.

Lately, I have been thinking that maybe I have to back away from that “porn star” simile a little bit: While investment bankers are, in fact, the best-equipped big-swinging suits to manage the buying and selling of business assets, it’s hard to think of them as “porn stars,” because sticky and sweet love making has a strict operating requirement of at-least one human being. Taking a quick look at the tools and models used to evaluate assets, those tools and models are, in fact, mostly devoid of human-factor.

You put your spreadsheet in; you take your spreadsheet out; you put your spreadsheet in and you shake it all about. You do the Excel Pokey and you turn yourself around; that’s what it’s all about!

What is a company or business unit worth? Well, we could do a discounted cash flow analysis of free cash flow against some mathematical smudge tool of a discount rate (which we make up) to determine what we feel the asset will appreciate to over a somewhat arbitrarily procured growth period (which we make up). Or we can really get our make believe on with a synergistic analysis that models the rewards of leveraging buyer and seller activities across each other (with enough smudge tool to make Gerhard Richter jealous - because, you know, Gerhard Richter is a somewhat famous artist that smudges stuff). But, really, unless you’re buying intellectual property, you’re buying people, either customers or employees, and what does “0.4 Weight Talent” really mean, anyway? (Seriously, can somebody please tell me? My email is to the right of this article.)

Theses recent years have been the frothiest in games memory with Mergers and Acquisitions activity: Games companies buying other games companies. And, it would be quite glib of me to assert that there is no account whatsoever for human hearts in the world of Mergers and Acquisitions, as many of the recent purchases have been “acqui-hires,” as the craze has called itself, or “talent acquisitions.”

When it comes to the “acqui-hire,” the purchase of a company to obtain the employees who work and drink bad coffee within, there actually is a fairly sophisticated model with which to value an organization: “Some dollars, plus five hundred thousand dollars per engineering heart, minus five hundred thousand dollars for each business development heart.”

And, flawed by lack of people-focus as valuation models are, front end business planning - the thought-work that goes into the founding and formation of a company long before the investment bankers ever get the mandate to sell - is so arrhythmic as to make the investment bankers all look heartened like horses by comparison. The Excel Pokey that goes on at the front end of the investment and exit process is so arrhythmic as to be comically hallucinatory.



iii.

Being the most-spectacular failure in games industry history, there is one most-asked question, the albatross, the spiked bat dipped in salt that I am beaten silly with whenever I introduce myself: “What the fuck? N-Gage?” “Side talking!” “The digital taco!” “No landscape screen!” “You have to take the battery out to put a game in!” “What the fuck?”

Okay, already, I’ll write about the failure of N-Gage - but only, dear diary, because you put a curse word in your request. Before we go spelunking into failure, let me be perfectly transparent about the fact that I am not a bitter ex-Nokia employee: In fact, I feel infinite fondness for Nokia and all of the friends made there - and all of the opportunities taken from global company life have become like diamonds, impressively valuable and they cut through shit.

All of that said, who could deny that the N-Gage was a spectacular failure? A “failure,” because, today, there are more people who own my self-produced album of J-Pop lounge-covers, Sakura Scotty, than own N-Gages. A “spectacular” failure, because there wasn’t a man, woman, nor publisher-side producer in the games industry that didn’t see it fail.  

The logic of Nokia’s games strategy was so straightforward as to be un-ignorable, “We are Nokia, the largest handset manufacturer in the world, absolute masters of sourcing and logistics, capable of buying component parts for cheaper and putting the products for sale in more places than any other organization on the planet. The games industry is worth billions, and when we throw our winter cap into the ring, we will take a piece of that market.” The logic was also terminal due to a very straightforward lack of heart.

To their credit, the management at Nokia realized that they would need to build or acquire games competencies to compete in the games market, and they chose to do both. My first young brush with Mergers and Acquisitions came at Sega after the close of the Dreamcast era. I was part of the management team that packaged and sold our online games platform business to Nokia.

Yes, Mergers and Acquisitions is like sticky and sweet lovemaking, and, just like sticky and sweet lovemaking, the aftermath can be AIDS: Sometimes, the cultural antibodies of the acquired cannot hold out and, eventually, the culture of the acquirer subsumes and destroys any value that was there in the first place. Nokia did not inoculate the Sega acquisition from the Nokia culture.





iv.

The first thing you have to understand about failure is that failure is most-often a non-linear distribution (i.e. failure is rarely one bad atom but usually a gestalt of many bad atoms working in unison to cancerous effect). The second thing that you have to understand about failure is that, when it comes to failed business strategies, there is almost always one clump in the distribution that is acrid and dark, like one of Satan’s bowel movements. That nauseous clump is born of the immutable fact that no business strategy can be applied to an organization whose culture is not conducive, and, just like in hell, lighting a match does nothing to cover the smell.  

Apple is a design culture with engineers and MBAs. Google is an engineering culture with designers and MBAs. Microsoft is a MBA culture with engineers and designers. The old joke goes that, “Your product design telegraphs your org chart,” and, remember, dear diary, that your org chart is corporate culture’s ugly little birthday cake.

Nokia was a sourcing and logistics culture, and every last element of their personnel, process, resource, and risk management reflected that fact. Of course, a sourcing and logistics culture could never succeed at interactive entertainment. Of course, signing up partnerships with game developers is not the same thing as purchasing batches of microprocessors! “Why should we pay this established game development studio a lot more money to make this game for us when we can get a new studio somewhere else in the world to make the game for us? We must reduce costs!” (Oh, how I wish I could write with a stiff, Finnish accent - bigotry makes everything funnier!)

I’ll never forget when Nokia hired world-famous design firm IDEO to develop the concept behind the second Nokia N-Gage. (Yes! Believe it or not, there really was a second Nokia N-Gage!) IDEO’s tab for the project came to six hundred thousand euros, and there was no cost-center in the Nokia profit and loss sheets to account for that bill, which resulted in a bunch of Nokia executives sitting around a conference table, playing a game of, “Not from my budget!” Does that sound like a design culture to you?

You cannot escape your corporate culture, and, just like Jack Welch’s semi-translucent salty string left out on the table for a few hours, after starting up, your corporate culture becomes fairly inflexible, fairly fast. Following your first year of operation, you’ll have most-likely pivoted your strategy a few times, but pivoting your culture is a near-warlike task - war being nowhere close to the fun that Call of Duty makes it out to be.





v.

By this point, my cynical reader is thinking, “Way to go, genius: We all know that if the culture doesn’t match the strategy, the strategy cannot work. That’s why large companies create culture-insulated silos when entering new markets. Why don’t you tell us something we don’t know, like where to find a good article to read?”

Excellent question, cynical me. Here is the counter-question: If culture is so effing paramount, dictating everything your company does and everything your company is capable of doing, why don’t you see “culture” in any of the new startup business plans that get passed around San Francisco like your girlfriend gets passed around to truckers? It’s because entrepreneurs, by and large, don’t have a strategy for forging corporate culture. And, if you don’t have a strategy, you can’t fail, because you weren’t trying to accomplish anything in the first place.

It’s true, I suppose, that all business plans are stained brown and smelly from the start: Nobody can see to the future, and anybody who tells you that he can should probably see you laughing at him incredulously soon after. Another old venture capital half-joke that I sometimes charge people for listening to is, “Investors skip straight to the team bios.”

What is of paramount importance to investors is that you have the ability to execute on that which you say you can. This is the fallacy of business plans: The investors know that your plans are pretzel inner tubes floating on streams of beer; you know that too; it’s just nice to know that you have been thinking about these things.

You put your spreadsheet in; you take your spreadsheet out; you put your spreadsheet in and you shake it all about.
Building a business plan and projection is a fundraising exercise which is both unavoidable and masturbatory. And, thanks to “build, measure, learn,” that unavoidable, masturbatory fundraising exercise just got a lot leaner.


Lean Canvas


















vi.

These days in Silicon Valley, you can’t shake a PowerPoint slide deck without hearing the rattle of a “Lean Canvas,” a one page diagram detail of your business operation, meant to be malleable over time, mutated by the outcomes of your “building, measuring, learning.” This Lean Canvas was never intended by its ultimate progenitor, one Alexander Osterwalder, to be all-inclusive; alas, never underestimate the basic laziness of people before handing them tools. (The causation behind having tools in the first place is that we are, ultimately, one lazy-brilliant species!)

Dwight D. Eisenhower once mused that, “Plans are nothing; planning is everything.” Plans are nothing because the human brain is tuned for optimism - and ignorance, as we don’t know what we don’t know. It’s this first point for which the Lean Canvas exists at all: Why waste time predicting a future that none can see? Why not, instead, “build, measure, learn?”

Planning is everything, because probability is dictated by intention: If you do not intend for a course of action, the probability that you will find yourself along that course is diminished. It’s this second point which leads me to the belief that, for all of its virtues (and there are many), the Lean Canvas is one of the most unintentionally cruel and pernicious jokes ever played on the money of Sand Hill Road.

After “build, measure, learn,” the fourth word that every businessperson needs to know is “culture.” No business strategy can be applied to an organization whose culture is not conducive. After starting up, your corporate culture becomes fairly inflexible, fairly fast. And, nowhere on the Lean Canvas will you find a cute little box labeled, “Culture.”



vii.

A tale of two hearts.

We have always known in the games industry that the heart of the customer is of white dwarf-like gravity. “Build, measure, learn,” has shown us an impactful and innovative approach to avoid more wasteful swings of the scalpel in pursuit of the customer’s heart. If “design is law” in the games industry, then we must now accept “customer insight” as the supreme court. The surest way for a game to become big business is for design-driven development to get in process behind insight-driven design.

The revolution facing our industry at the dawn of The Price-Elastic Age Of Gaming is that every product team must now have a grinning, MBA douchebag; the biggest danger facing our industry at the dawn of The Price-Elastic Age Of Gaming is that every product team must now have a grinning, MBA douchebag.

Do you think that Nokia employees didn’t know that having to take the N-Gage battery out to put a game in was a painful customer experience? Do you think that Nokia employees wanted to be seen side-talking in public? (No. We always wore our handsfree headsets.) Do you think that Nokia employees did not sing to each other, with operatic inflection, “What the fuck N-Gage?”

There is a second heart that must not go unrequited, and that is the heart inside of your organization; it is the heart of your employee. Listen to your heart. Think before you dismiss that heart as a five hundred thousand dollar poker chip to be pushed around. Just because the toto intellectual history of business is damn-near autistic doesn’t mean that you have to be.

Do you let the heart inside of your company beat? Or do you beat the heart inside of your company? What is your culture? Who is your customer? Do you insist upon a culture of inspiring the heart of your employee to beat as one with the heart of your customer? When those two hearts beat together, you get true love, and, something even better; you fall madly, deeply into profit.





I don’t allow comments on this blog: There’s just no way to control the quality. Besides, if you have something to say, you can easily obtain your own blog. In the absence of comments, I’ve gone out and solicited opinions from both the former head of N-Gage, and, you know, a giant robot dinosaur.




@FAKEGRIMLOCK
@FAKEGRIMLOCK is a giant robot dinosaur whose deeply insightful (and always amusing) thought-leadership on entrepreneurship puts wordier pundits - like me - to shame.

ME, GRIMLOCK, WRITE COMMENT!

THIS PAGE HAVE LOTS OF WORDS. WORDS ABOUT 2 THINGS.

THING ONE, BUSINESS BOOKS STUPID. BECAUSE WRITTEN BY BUSINESSPEOPLE. NO ONE KNOW LESS ABOUT BUSINESS THAN PEOPLE WORK THERE.

THING TWO HUMANS. EVERYONE FORGET BUSINESS MADE OF HUMANS. COMPANY? MADE OF HUMANS. TARGET DEMOGRAPHIC? HUMANS. SERVICE OR PRODUCT? STILL HUMANS.

HUMANS NOT FIT IN SPREADSHEET. HUMANS NOT PART OF DATABASE. ONLY WAY UNDERSTAND OTHER HUMAN IS BE ONE TOO.

EVERY BUSINESS FAIL WHEN FORGET IT HUMANS.


Gerard Wiener

Gerard Wiener is Managing Director of Cerca Trova Advisors, a boutique investment bank that specializes in interactive entertainment. Previously, Gerard was VP and GM of Nokia's games business unit, and was before that a VP at Sega. (If his background sounds suspiciously familiar to mine, it's because I follow the man around like goldfish poo.)

Sometimes it is difficult writing about the obvious. Heart? Yeah yeah - we know we know heart is important. Now cue the HR motivational video ...

However, if we all really do understand that heart is important, why do the majority of us spend our time doing things that our heart is not even remotely in sync with? Is it the 24/7 worship of the almighty god Mammon? Why are we so busy being little Mierenneukers (look it up) in our business lives in order to mitigate risk and please our superiors? A fascinating question, and the realm that Mr. Foe delves into. Not an easy task, but one done with passion and aplomb. A good article forces you to take its measure and your own, and this one does. Simply put, whether you call it passion, love, or heart, a measure of both your happiness and your success will be found in the tale of your two hearts that Mr. Foe lays out in the end of his piece. And might I say, in life as well as business.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Opinion: Failure For Fun And Profit



















i.

In the 1980s, it was feared that the world’s economy would be controlled straight out of Tokyo and that those fearsomely inventive karate choppers would own our houses and maybe even our pets, deigning to lease Fido back to us once Reagan ratified the switch to yen. We would all have to play pickup sticks with our MakuDonarudo french fries. And we would all have to be conversant in the Japanese language, especially the onomatopoeia - the Japanese have an onomatopoeia for every. damn. thing.

Don’t believe me about the onomatopoeia? Let me convince you. Exhibit A-through-Z: In Japanese, the sound of “groping somebody on the subway in Ginza” is “momimomi” (“もみもみ”).

Luckily for us Americans, then-Senator Al Gore had the very potent foresight to first found the small village of San Francisco, nestled away by ocean and bay in the rugged northern reaches of California, and to there devise a distributed computer network for crowd-sourcing the coining of onomatopoeia, “ARPANET.” The race with Japan was on like majong. After President Gore’s impassioned plea to the nation, declaring a grand priority to before-the-end-of-the-decade beat those industrious karaoke crushers to the onomatopoeia for “masturbation,” we, as a people, came together in triumph, “Fap! Fap! Fap!”

And the rising sun faded …


ii.

One quick look at gamedevmap shows that the San Francisco Bay Area has twice as many game developers as Tokyo - the whole tally not being told, as some of the backyard monsters of the Bay Area games industry aren’t even listed. If it weren’t for vending machines that sold bottles of Suntory Whiskey, I would feel that my time spent studying in Kyoto was completely wasted. 

San Francisco. The City That Bears My Initials. The Big Controller. Gameywood, California. A serendipitous alchemy of bridge, bus, BART, beamer, ferry, cable car, and Caltrain makes South of Market Area in San Francisco the nonpareil-universal capital for technology and gaming innovation, a place where two guys, a PowerPoint slide, and a six-hundred dollar desk-rental can conquer the future.

On the north-side of the city, I live across the street from a high school. Outside of my loft, students congregate, and, as I exit and enter, I am bombarded by loitering minors who beg me to buy them Swisher Sweets mini-cigars. I have often fantasized about mugging those students, as I am willing to bet that half of those kids’ parents packed USD 200K convertible notes in the kids’ lunches, just in case a good angel investment opportunity popped up on the way to class. Most days it seems that the streets of San Francisco are paved with cash and code and kids begging for cigarillos.

It needs saying that I ain’t scared of no yuan.

iii.

Have you ever failed so badly in your endeavors that you cascaded into a debilitating and existential crises of confidence? The kind of personal-bottom where empathy is amplified beyond the skulls of others and into the skulls of their friends and family? The kind of rot in your belly where you will not only tell a stranger the time-of-day, but also buy him a beer and listen to what he has to say, with no hope of reciprocity? Well, feel better: You still suck at failing.

There’s a saying here in venture capital, “You aren’t anybody until you have failed three times.” Which works out for me, because I am the most-spectacular failure in games industry history: The commercially flaccid Sega Dreamcast, the awesomely horrible Nokia N-Gage, the unfortunately overlooked second Nokia N-Gage, the always forgotten Pocket Kingdom (the first global, massively multiplayer mobile game), and, for extra measure, Reset Generation (especially frustrating, because, when you lose the Interactive Achievement Award, they send you a picture of the award that you could have won, encased in glass).

For years, the press had been applauding me as a rising star: Escapist Magazine named me as “one of the top-three game developers under thirty” - which inspired a deeply rational panic as my thirtieth birthday approached, until EDGE magazine saved me with “one of the eight talents that will change the future of gaming,” and then, a six-page feature-article (with my face on every page), entitled “Great Scott.” And still, consumers would be pressed harder-than-diamond to name even one game that I have designed or produced.

The next time you find yourself ravaged and remiss about dice not rolling the way that your bets were placed, look up “Games Industry Failure” in the dictionary and find a grin. You’re probably going to see a picture of me - and I’ll probably be featured wearing a tracksuit.


iv.

They say you can never go home from here, but, if I could go home from here, I would marry the year 2009 and have make-a-baby-sex all night long.

It was a time of violent market disruption: The minimum barrier to entry for the games industry had become barely minimum. Publishers were replaced by investors. Products were replaced by platforms and services. Price elastic and freemium muscled in on paid and subscription-based. Lean murdered agile. Data Science took its seat on Organizational Olympus beside Design, Programming, and Visuals. It could no longer be questioned that operational efficiencies rival intellectual property in value.

The once evergreen Game Boy didn’t really count anymore and San Francisco defiantly punked the now obviously naked emperor cities of Los Angeles, Seattle, and Montreal by saying, “You fools couldn’t hold my bridge.”

I am too entrepreneurial-minded a manager to be working for Fortune 100 companies, both in the Drukerian sense of shifting resources from low-yield activities to high-yield activities, but, also, I just love tracksuits - they’re like pajamas that you can wear outside. (Once you go track, you’ll never go back.) Leaving N-Gage in 2009, I launched my home office with the help of a few close friends to whom I gave very simple request, “Get me consulting gigs: Any consulting gigs.”

In any industry, it’s not who you know, but who knows you. From speaking with people who knew me, quite quickly it became apparent that failures are securities: Much like debt, failures can be packaged and sold, and, unlike other much-maligned securities of recent years, failure is an investment that pays buckets.

If it can go wrong in games, I have seen it go wrong: My Geiger counter for failure is so sensitive that I can tell you from what horse came the hair on which the Sword of Damocles hangs. I’m a god damned Foestradamus, the walking and talking and smoking tail of the experience curve. And, when it comes to starting up, what are first-in investors buying if not the value byproduct of failure?  



v.

Turn around a social game production that has come way off the rails. Design a location-based alternate reality game; design a location-based augmented reality game. Design a dating game. What are best-practices for Facebook games production? What should our Minimum Viable Product be? Do our monetization design. Can you help us staff up engineering? Staff up design? Can you fix our design? Design our metrics and analytics. Adobe Flash developer audits; mobile developer audits. Can you polish our pitch deck? Help us set up our studio. Design our operations and production systems. Plan our P&L. Be our game director. Be our executive producer. Sit on our Board of Advisors. Sit on our Board of Directors.  

Trust me when I say that you can trust me. We’re going to have to recapitalize. Sorry, we just can’t make cash flow this month. We’re pivoting out of gaming. Can you get the team to crunch even harder? The investors are pulling out. A new investor came in and he wants to wipe the board clean. When we said we had seven hundred thousand dollars, we were really counting on more investment coming in. The CEO and the COO have decided to part ways; when can you talk to the lawyers? We can no longer afford catered lunches!


Sega and Nokia were both amazing experiences in their own rights, however, both were insulated experiences. Over these wooliest years, I have worked with thirty-plus mobile or social gaming startups, some backed by Americana entertainment mega brands, and others backed by nothing but a pitch and a prayer. If you had told me three years ago that today I would be an advisor to an investment bank, I would have flicked you in the shaft - unless, of course, you were, at that time, a girl.

While the failures have not been so spectacular as in my past-life of big companies behaving badly, the failures have been much, much faster - also unlike my past life, I have many offices peppering the peninsula, some of which sell coffee, some of which have free Wi-Fi, some of which are like the opposite of a nudist colony - tracksuits only.


vi.

The human brain is intrinsically tuned for optimism. No child grows aspiring to become an addict, a prostitute, or a games middleware sales rep. Even my mother, who is the most pessimistic person on the planet Earth, could not bring herself to name me after a Bobby Goldsboro song called “Watching Scotty Fail.” But, had dear mom been so uncannily prescient, she would have sent me to Mega Startup Weekend long before I was recently invited there to judge a pitch competition.


MEGA STARTUP WEEKEND

Mega Startup Weekend is an event for get-it-done-type people, expertly assembled and run like a multi-core processor by the cleverly named Startup Weekend company. In the conference organizers’ own words, Mega Startup Weekend isan intense 54 hour event which focuses on building a web or mobile application which could form the basis of a credible business over the course of a weekend. The weekend brings together people with different skillsets - primarily software developers, graphics designers and business people - to build applications and develop a commercial case around them.”

In my own words, Mega Startup Weekend is, “Tits. It’s the startup experience compressed into three days, and it has the word ‘mega’ in the title. One of the very best games events that I have ever attended.”

(There were actually three conference tracks, “Health,” “Education,” and the exact-opposite of “Health” and “Education,” which is “Gaming.” The big winner for the weekend would be awarded a spot on stage at DEMO.)

Day 1: Attendees get right to business, pitching game ideas to each other, in pecha kucha-style short-form presentations. Attendees select the best ideas and form teams around them: A designer here, a couple of engineers from over here. (Pro tip: You don’t need five biz dev guys on your team.) Once the teams are formed, they get to work on building a pitch deck for their new business and a prototype of their new product or service.

Day 2: The teams work together, building prototypes, surveying potential customers, compiling market forecasts, and becoming more than strangers.

Mentors (one of whom was me) help the teams refine and strengthen (or even abandon) their strategies and tactics, their products, their services, their pitches. This was like a year of my career in one day: I visited with all of the teams and offered the boons of failure. (I also gave one of the teams from the Health Vertical a little nudge with my own brand of amateur dentistry.)

Day 2 Party: It is important to note that Microsoft hosted the weekend, and, just to give the newly zygotic startup teams something to aspire to, Steve Ballmer dropped more coin than some companies get in Series A funding on a boozey bash that featured a defiantly entertaining 90’s cover band that covered Save Ferris covering Dexys Midnight Runners - don’t think too intensely on that point as I don’t have liability insurance for this web log.

Day 3: The teams have five minutes to pitch and demonstrate their new product or service, and two minutes to answer questions from the judges (one of whom was me). The judges deliberate and a winner is chosen.

The Gaming Vertical Winner: "Frennzy," the truly-social winning team from the gaming vertical, was offered a spot in a Silicon Valley-local gaming startup accelerator program, should they choose to stick together as a corporate entity following the event.


vii.

They should call “Mega Startup Weekend,” “Mega Failure Weekend,” but they wouldn’t sell as many tickets: I have never seen so much failure in one room and it was uncompromisingly glorious! Take it from somebody who lives in this world: As much of the terrific and as much of the tears of the San Francisco startup experience as can be, they are all there, they are all in three days. (The only thing that could make the proceedings more authentic would be if teams were forced to hire the founders’ completely inexperienced relatives at $200K-a-year salaries and 20% equity stakes.)

Even if you are allergic to lightning-fast execution … even if you cannot consider using the bathroom without sign-off by your business unit vice president … even if you could not go a day off of your massive corporate intranet without being weaned by methadone, go ahead and use that expense tool from the accounting department to buy a ticket to Mega Startup Weekend.

Mega Startup Weekend should be near the top of every game developer’s bucket list. Oh yeah, while you’re expensing stuff, go ahead and grab a tracksuit; the three days just wouldn’t be the same without outdoor sleepwear. And, if you are so lucky as to fall flat on your kisser, do keep in mind that the onomatopoeia for failure is, “Whaaaa Whaaaaa!”




I don’t allow comments on this blog: There’s just no way to control the quality. Besides, if you have something to say, you can easily obtain your own blog. In the absence of comments, I’ve gone out and solicited the opinions of my three fellow Mega Startup Weekend judges - also, as a bonus, I grabbed an opinion from the winners of the Gaming Vertical at Mega Startup Weekend.

Joseph Gilby
Joseph is a former games publishing exec who turned angel investor; currently, he serves as director of the Silicon Valley chapter of the International Game Developer Association and as a member of Keiretsu Forum's Software Committee.

It is said that a key advantage to the Silicon Valley startup scene is the ability to fail and be forgiven, as long as you've learned from the experience. Failure in Silicon Valley has been refined to an art form, as adopted by Lean Methodology. (Study It!)


Break your fallible endeavors into bite sized chunks. Fail early and often. Measure and understand each failure, learn to fail better each time. One success can balance a multitude of failures.

A bountiful supply of failure is always near at hand,  closer than you may realize.
One of the best ways to learn from failure, is to study the failures of others. This removes the personal sting from the lesson, but lessens the imprinting of it. 


Learning from the failure of others is complicated in that they are seldom advertised by the original practitioner.


There are one hundred and one varieties of failure, try not to learn 
them all first hand.


One certain way to fail is to become arrogant in success.

Never forget that failure is not an end in itself, unless you leave it that way.



Aaron Cammarata
Aaron was the designer/leader of the team that brought us the Mega Startup Weekend-winning game "Frennzy" - a hot-potato mobile title that can give you and your friends something to do in bars (besides black-out drinking). Before spinning up his own company, AJC Games, Aaron was a sixteen-year veteran of the games industry, most recently serving as Executive Producer at Total Immersion.

As the biggest failure at failing in the Failure-at-Educating-or-Healing-Anyone category, hear me say - failing rocks! Hell, on Mega Startup Weekend Friday night (heretofore known as Day 1), we found almost no interest in the idea, looked one another in the eye and said "Screw it, let's ditch the competition and just hack. I don't even want to compete. You cool? Cool." Yay! Our first team fail!

That freed us to do whatever felt cool, and let us focus on the product rather than the competition. The company we failed to dissolve at Mega Startup Weekend is continuing to fail to dissolve, and we are excited at the chance to spread the fail at YetiZen next year! Since we failed to achieve failure during the weekend, we are pivoting to build mass, aiming to make a spectacular lightshow on re-entry; a meteor so bright WaWa is going to hand out branded pinhole-in-cardboard things like they gave you in elementary school to watch the solar eclipse, but you couldn't help it and looked directly at the sun anyway, and those teachers lied and it didn't make you go blind.

If we fail to burn up on impact with the atmosphere, we are aiming for a crater of fail at least 8 digits across. (Cue Slim Pickins.)

To anyone on the sidelines, get off your ass and do it. You either a) own the shit out of a completely new industry, b) get acquired, or c) throw off the yoke of oppression, meet kick-ass people, and have fun. Win win win. Now get out there and whoop up some epic fail!