EGD News #55 — Killing a Game
It’s Joakim here. Greetings from Helsinki!
I’ve finally settled a date on the angel investing online community launch: Gaming Angel Fellowship will launch on December 7th. Sign up starts next week. Here is what you get when you sign up for the annual membership.
- Discover the benefits of angel investing via few hours of lecture videos
- Learn the skills to pick the best startups to invest in
- Build an angel portfolio to improve your odds
- Collaborate and share with a community of likeminded people
Check back next week when we’ll open up the membership signup.
Here’s a few more quick updates:
- I’m doing an “Early-Stage Success in Mobile Gaming” webinar with James Cramer from Skunkworks Games on November 25th, where we talk about fundraising from angel investors and how James and his team found success in the Merge genre. You can register for the webinar by going here.
- Enrollment to my Fundraising Masterclass is open and you can find more details on the masterclass by going here.
Now, on to this week’s news.
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💔 Killing a game
On an emotional level, killing a game is the start of something new. The team has worked together on a game for months. Now they’ve together concluded that it’s time to move on.
But they shouldn’t move on to the new game too fast.
Gainings learnings from killing a game is an absolute imperative. It’s a requirement that must be obeyed in all circumstances. Otherwise, the game, all the time spent on it, becomes lost time.
I’ve talked about pre-mortems, but here’s a few words on the postmortem process: I believe the age-old game development postmortem is outdated for 2020, where self-publishing is the norm, and bigger studios are giving ownership to independent teams to build games in small groups. You are not only relying on your development processes to work, but you rely on data coming in from players interacting with the game.
A new postmortem process needs to be in place, combining the postmortem around the development process and incorporating market insights and game data from statistically significant cohorts of players.
In addition to these, the team needs to figure out what caused the game to fail. Why the game didn’t achieve the metrics that the team was looking for.
As an investor, when I hear that a team has decided to kill their game and move on to a new concept, I always want to hear about the things they learned.
- Why didn’t the game work?
- What was the market hypothesis around the idea that “Yeah, this game will definitely work because of X?” What was X?
- What is happening in the market that caused the game not to work?
- How is your process changing because of the findings?
Teams should use these questions and their answers to guide their work in the following projects. They should iterate why things are working in the market, why certain games can enter saturated markets, whereas other games have problems entering markets with dominant incumbents?
🎮 Ethan Levy on Mastering Retention
Tom Hammond interviewed Ethan Levy on the Mastering Retention podcast recently. I’ve been a fan of Ethan’s for a while now, ever since I discovered his Tower of Want concept.
The Tower of Want is a visualization of why the player progresses through the game. An example would go as follows:
- “I’m collecting coins, so that I can buy upgrades for my 1-star characters.”
- “I’m upgrading my characters, so that I can beat harder content.”
- “I’m beating harder content, so that I can unlock new maps.”
- “I’m unlocking new maps, so that I can collect 2-star characters.”
- “I’m collecting 2-star characters, so that I can beat even harder content.”
And so on. The point is to create a tower where the player wants to do something that pushes them forward.
In this interview with Ethan, he shares his knowledge of config-driven design. When we build live-operated games, designers and PMs want more control over the game as live data can reveal design flaws. With the config-driven design, the game can be designed on the fly when it’s already live.
Example from N3twork’s match-3 game Donuts:
“I had an engineer, Stefan, who I worked with on the tutorial. Tutorials can be very rigid, hard to program because you want players to do exact things in an exact sequence. Because of their rigidity, they’re difficult to iterate on. And it’s one of the most important things to iterate on. You need people to get past your tutorial, from day-0 to day-1.”
“I would send Stefan a Google Slide with the tutorial I’m trying to achieve. I was trying to highlight certain spots on the board and set up the game so that the player could only do one thing. Then they’d get texted, telling them what to do, and they would see exactly what they had to do. [In a way,] they would move through a very specific sequence.”
“Instead of telling Stefan what that sequence was, I said, build me this tool, which is the config controls for the tutorial sequence. Then I’ll build out my flow the way I’ve imagined it [with the tool].”
“Then we iterate on the tool. I notice that I need to be able to highlight specific cells. [Stefan] does the work, and I get a new build [of the game]. Then I find that on level 5 of the tutorial, I’m trying to teach you how to combine two rockets, but I don’t have the control over the text positioning, and the text is covering the thing you need to tap on.”
“Skipping the tools and just building out the sequence could have taken three times as long to go through all the iterations, it would have been more buggy and just been a bigger pain. And then, once that tutorial went live, I was able to look at the data and go like, Oh, I can eliminate this step, I can eliminate that one, and I need to get people through this quicker. So let’s take this and this out.”
“Just by planning for that flexibility ahead of time, helped me build it faster, iterated on it before players saw it, and then iterate on it once player saw it without doing any client updates. And that part is key.”
Listen to this fantastic interview by going here.
📄 Part 2: Stock Options For Gaming Startups
Last summer, I wrote about how gaming startups could allocate stock options for their employees. I’ve recently been helping out a few companies set up an employee stock option program, and there were so many new topics and concerns that I decided to write another article on the stock options for gaming startups, covering eight distinct issues that have come up.
“One key aspect of making stock options valued more is to educate employees on the benefits of owning stock options. To prepare, consult your local startup lawyer on all the country specifics around the following aspects.”
Read the full article here.
🎙 Sean Kauppinen, Hiber World
I recently recorded this podcast episode with Sean Kauppinen from HiberWorld. In this episode, we talk about Sean’s experience in gaming from three decades, how he’s seen startups grow and what mistakes have come along the way. We also talk about Hiber and what the company is doing in the gaming user generated content space.
“I used to run those lifeboat drills, like, Hey, if you’re running out of money, and you’ve got three months of runway, how can you stretch that to five or six? And who would be the people you put in the lifeboats first, that you save?”
Listen to the full episode here.
📃 Articles worth reading
+ How to Win Beyond Console: The 6 Paths to Mobile — “All gaming companies face their own unique circumstances, especially when it comes to finding scalable and repeatable mobile success. As much as we’d like to say “do what Activision Blizzard did” or “do what Tencent did,” it’s not that simple. However, there are patterns that can be identified and applied across the board.”
+ How Contrarians Think — “The team you build really is the company and with the right people you might have a phenomenal company, but a lot of people have an unmitigated disaster and most companies are somewhere in between.”
+ Personal values: how knowing yourself can guide your actions — “While people tend to appeal to logic to justify their stance, many of these positions are actually guided by their personal values. Our values are our preferences concerning what we consider appropriate courses of action. They strongly influence our decisions, and yet, very few take the time to wonder: what are my personal values?”
+ 5 reasons NOT to overfund your startup — “A key to why startups are able to better than industry incumbents to innovate is because of scarcity. Fewer resources at hand means you have to focus and do fewer things. It also fosters a critical creativity around problem solving. If you are constrained by the amount of money you have to spend you simply force yourself to do things differently. That’s where true magic is created.”
💬 Quote I’ve been thinking about
”Life isn’t an illness that you can die from.” — Carl Jung
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That’s all for this week. Take care and stay safe!