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EGD News #91 — 10 Favorite Books of 2021 so far

EGD News #91 — 10 Favorite Books of 2021 so far

Sent on July 16th 2021.

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It’s Joakim here. Greetings from Helsinki!

I recently recorded a podcast episode with Miska Katkoff and Sophie Vo to talk about a book that I really enjoyed called No Rules Rules, by Reed Hastings and Erin Meyer. It’s the definitive book on the unique company culture of Netflix.

Here are the top reasons for the success of Netflix that the book covers: high talent density, openly voicing feedback, unlimited vacation, “don’t seek to please the boss,” the “Keeper Test,” 360 feedback process, leading with context, and innovative-fast-flexible teams.

Here are my highlights from this discussion.

Miska on high talent density: “[In our startup,] we have some people who are just absolute monsters, if you will, just really good whether on the coding or art side. When we bundle them up with people who are above average or just good, what ends up happening is not like you would think in math. You add somebody whose output is 100 and then you add a person whose output is 50, that should be 150. But what ended up happening is the output went down to 95 because the person who was doing 100 had to help the person who was doing 50 so much, that the overall output decreased to lower than if you only had one person.”

Sophie on unlimited vacation: “We as a company decided to have an unlimited holiday policy. It really came as a surprise, something that was supposed to be nice and appreciated by teams became as a bit of an anxiety. It’s really important to explain the context, like why are we doing this?”

“Why we went for the holiday policy was [related to] one key value that Voodoo has: the culture of ownership. We want to remove the bureaucracy so that you don’t have to ask a manager to write an email, to put it in the system to book your holidays. You should be using that time to make games. When you take your holidays, you don’t have to go through all the bureaucracy.”

Listen to the full episode by going here.

📚 10 Favorite Books of 2021 so far

In the first half of 2021, I’ve managed to read 35 books. I and wanted to share some of the fantastic books I’ve come across.

1/ Becoming Steve Jobs by Brent Schlender

This book was so much better than Walter Isaacson’s book from 2011. Here, Brent Schlender, who knew Steve personally, writes a more personal story on Steve Jobs, and how he evolved as a person, a creative and a leader.

2/ A World Without Email by Cal Newport

As I read this book, I understood out how a lot of the communication tools that I use are hurting me and making it harder to live in a productive way. It’s not only email, which is mentioned in the title of the book that is hurting me. It’s also Slack, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, LinkedIn messages, etc. All of them are the source of poisonous ad-hoc back-and-forth messaging.

3/ Beyond Entrepreneurship 2.0 by Jim Collins

Reed Hastings, CEO of Netflix says that he only rereads one book every year, and it’s BE 1.0. In late 2021, Jim Collins, author of Built to Last and Good to Great, has updated his first book Beyond Entrepreneurship to the version 2.0. This is probably the best book I’ve ever read on company building and being a leader.

Read the full list of my 10 favorites so far of 2021 by going here.

🎙 Jon Hook, Boombit

In this week’s episode, I’m talking with Jon Hook, who is an angel investor and VP of Publishing at Boombit. With Jon, we talk about the current state of mobile gaming, what is happening to hyper-casual and how Jon looks at angel investing in gaming.

Here are my highlights from the discussion.

Is hyper-casual sustainable?

Every year, some people say that hyper-casual is going to die. It’s not going to. Every year it just matures. Hyper-casual is a $4 to $6 billion industry.

The reason it continues to grow is in the growth of the core demographic of hyper-casual. People who are brand new [to gaming] have a smartphone, and they want to start playing games. Where do you start? For mobile games, a significant entry point is hyper-casual.

Because of the maturity, you can now build games for specific audiences in hyper-casual. Earlier the CPI and the return just weren’t there. The top-end of hyper-casual and hybrid games with a hyper-casual core-loop, a bit more meta to them, a bit of IP, and maybe even some live events. You’re starting to attract players from outside of hyper-casual into these games.

The lines are starting to get blurred. So it’s back to the same place: Who are we building this for? Who is this audience? What do they want? I’m bullish on whatever this genre continues to evolve into. And the piece that fascinates me in free-to-play gaming is, at times, I can’t see the line between high-end hyper-casual to these merge games, idle games, or hyper idle games.

But even when I look at some of these casual games, the ads have been heavily influenced by hyper-casual. So that’s what I love that I see so much opportunity in this free-to-play space now to take the best elements of the process, art, and creativity.

What is hard about transitioning into self-publishing in mobile?

Distribution is far more sophisticated than simply having someone who knows how to set up Facebook campaigns. You need to understand the video SDK networks. You need to understand TikTok and Snap. You need creative technology and a creative team because it’s critical to find that great creative that can help scale your game. Not even to mention BI.

People need to think long and hard about what the priority should be.

If you do want to self-publish, focus on the development side work first. Work with a publisher that will teach you about not just game development but one that’s going to be pretty open about what’s happening behind the scenes on the creative UA monetization side. Start learning about that.

An entry point would be to start playing around with one of your games. Start integrating mediation, running some campaigns. That’s the best way to learn. The next step is to have published one, two, or three games that validate your team and your process.

Then you have options:

A) You can go out and raise some funds and then actually help you go and hire people, a creative team.

B) There are publishers out there that allow you to self-publish, and they provide the UA loan and the tools to get you started.

This rising trend of UA funding and credit lines means that you can raise money and not have to give away additional equity for marketing dollars.

The studios that are now moving into self publishing and becoming publishers, they may have an edge on the publishers is that they’ve got a grounding in development. People like MagicLab, or Lucky Kat, they make their own content, but they’ve now successfully published a game by by a 3rd party. It’s an interesting space to watch.

What are some similarities with the mobile teams that become successful?

Here are some common things:

Founder hunger. That hunger to learn. If they don’t know something, they’ll admit it. And they’ll go and read up and watch every video on it and network and learn about that, right? They have this insatiable appetite for learning in a very open mind that starts with what I know. This is what I don’t know. I’m going to try and learn everything about it or hire the best people in areas that I’m not good at.

Having a clear roadmap for your game. Having a roadmap with milestones that you are more than prepared to hold yourself and your team accountable for.

Usually, the first game is not the right game. But what they’ve done early is recognize to kill it quickly, and they learn from it, and on to the next title. The ability to follow data, kill poor content early on and move on to the next one.

From an investment perspective, they’ve thought long and hard about who they want involved with their business. [They reject investors] and say that they’ve already got an investor with a very similar profile and they’re looking for someone with expertise in legal. I admire that.

They are bouncing back. Just because you fell once doesn’t mean you’re going to fail again, and understanding why you failed. They have the humility to know where they were, what went wrong, and learn from it.

Listen to the full episode by going here.

📃 Articles worth reading

How To Deconstruct Games Better — “As such, understanding the process of ‘deconstruction’ could be considered a key skill within game design, yet it is so often misunderstood or given passing attention. Viewing a game through a deconstructive lens lets you build a mental model of the title being considered, including its function, successes, failures, and the behaviours it inspires in players.”

Hacking your first round of funding — “Fundraising, especially for the first time, can feel daunting. Let alone finding and getting in touch with the relevant investors, but even once you manage, what are the right questions you should be asking yourself as a founder building a round?: what should I optimise for as I build the round? what investors should I go for? why this one over the other? both? what about angels? what KPIs should I be looking into to decide? and where do I find that information? what round size? and structure? and valuation?”

The Summer Book — “Tove Jansson, the writer and artist best known for creating the Moomins, spent her summers on an island in the gulf of Finland with her lifelong partner, Tuulikki Pietila. She wrote most of her books there, and she wrote The Summer Book, about a girl and her grandmother living on an island, at the age of sixty, after losing her mother. I love this book because it’s what I wish all my summers would feel like, deep and just a little dark and surrounded by the sea.”

💬 Quote that I’ve been thinking about

“The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off” — Gloria Steinem

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I hope you have a great weekend!