Eric Ries has a great post about the 4 myths of Lean Startup methodology. I’d like to add a fifth one
Myth 1: Lean means cheap. Lean startups try to spend as little money as possible.
Myth 2: The Lean Startup methodology is only for Web 2.0/internet/consumer software companies.
Myth 3: Lean Startups are small bootstrapped startups.
Myth 4: Lean Startups replace vision with data or customer feedback.
Definitely go read the post. As usual, Eric does a fantastic job of explaining the Lean movement. I’d like to elaborate on that fourth myth, though. As a games company, we often find ourselves at the intersection between art and technology. The problem with that (and with may hit driven industries), is that many decisions are based on subjective opinion. Unfortunately, subjective opinions are usually riddled with several biases:
1) Overconfidence: This is our mis-perception of our ability to make estimates. Many, many examples, but the classic is that 84% of college students consider themselves to be above average drivers. Obviously statistically impossible, but it doesn’t stop people from thinking it!
From the CFA program: This is tied to a Bias in Forecasting called “the illusion of knowledge”.
“The additional knowledge experts hold often leads to higher levels of overconfidence. This occurs because of the illusion of knowledge, the belief by a person that he or she knows more than others. The illusion of knowledge is more prevalent in fields where immediate feedback is not always available. In fact, those experts who are most confident in their conclusions are most likely to be dead wrong.”
2) Self-attribution: Basically, when things are good, you take credit for them. But when things go bad, it’s someone else’s fault. Tied to this, are ego defense mechanisms. These are basically excuses for incorrect forecasts, or ways to maintain confidence while defending an error in judgment.
- “if only” defense – the game performance would have been good “if only” their advice or strategy had been followed
- “Ceteris Paribus” defense – latin for “everything else being equal”. Basically blaming other factors (market shifts or changes, audience growing up, competition etc) for poor performance
- “I was almost right” defense – When a predicted outcome does not happen, the predictor avows that it almost did.
For me, the most important aspect of Lean Startup is empirically validating all those subjective assumptions, and providing as much immediate feedback as possible. This helps to reduce the illusion of knowledge and attribution biases, and makes us all better decision makers.
I just got asked to make a 2D platform game level. There are six different bad guys. There is a main character who can jump, run, slide, bounce on a bad guy’s head, climb stairs, and dodge bullets. The level is in a multi-screen world with the ultimate objective of trying to save a princess who is trapped in a castle.
They want clouds in the background and bushes on the ground. Sometimes the player can travel through pipes and sometimes the floor is replaced by lava. You’re only allowed to use 2 MB of texture memory for this whole level. There needs to be a GUI where the player will be able to see how many lives they have left, as well as a timer. We need this in a couple of weeks. Oh and it’s got to be beautiful.
Now when you see this list, there are two reactions from artists that I commonly see:
- No problem – They read the description and imagine a picture that they might draw and think, “Oh there is nothing to that.” They are forgetting that everything on the screen moves independently of each other and requires interaction with the environment.
- Holy Shit – They see all the requirements and immediately get overwhelmed by all the details and start to imagine a perfect world where everything fits just like in real life.
To me both these reactions are extreme and fail to consider “What is a video game”. For me as an artist, a video game is not the complete reconstruction of the real world. Nor is it completely abstract. Instead, it is a collection of symbols required to convey a message to the player that enhances his or her experience.
Remember, game-play is more important than art. If you understand this you will be free to breakdown the requirements into a practical solution.
The description I made at the beginning of the article is something that could have been used for Mario. Mario is a brilliant example of moving symbols that enhance game-play. He is made up of only three colors. Mario’s animation, while beautifully rendered, is very simple. The enemies are even simpler with often only their legs moving. Doors are pipes allow the artist to only use a squat animation instead of a fully framed opening a door sequence.
Now all of these art solutions were done based on the limitations of the system at the time. What is interesting is the iPhone and Flash platforms have similar limitations.
As an artist the question you need to ask is:
What is the easiest but most effective solution that will enhance the game-play for the player? You need to solve the game designer’s problem by being a visual designer.
Is it important for a game to look good? Absolutely! But you need to solve the visual game-play problem first. If the player is confused by what he or she sees then the game is failing.
So when asked to make a complicated game screen the first question I ask myself is “What is the symbolism of this game?”. Board games are great example of the successful use of symbols.
I’m going to assume most people are familiar with Monopoly. Green Houses and Red Hotels. They instantly tell all the players who land on that space what they can expect to pay the land owner. It’s an elegant solution.
As the graphics requirements continue to grow in games and the art gets more complicated, try to remember that your job is to create a visually stunning symbolic system of references. The question of how real it looks is secondary to how well it communicates.
Mike Grills, Director of Operations
Calgary, Alberta Canada. Estimated population: 1,230,248.
Number of game development companies: 2-3 (depending upon how you define “game”).
With a world renowned computer science department at the UofC as well as the Alberta College of Art and Design, how is this possible? It’s a question I struggle with every single day of my life. With a myriad of companies in Vancouver and Montreal, Bioware up in Edmonton and a spattering of devs across Ontario and even a few notable companies in the Maritimes, how is it possible that one of Canada’s larges cities is almost completely void of game developers?
There have been a few over the years that I’m aware of. I was even an employee at one of them. The problem is they always bite off more than they can chew, and when the going gets tough, good people move on. Some of us however don’t want to move on. Some of us have decided to root ourselves and our families here in Calgary and we’re not going anywhere.
After a couple years at Orbital Media followed by close to five years at GamesCafe, I now find myself at BigStack Studios. We’re making iPhone / iPod Touch games. The internal development side of BigStack is currently very, very small and is made up completely of people who are rooted in Calgary.
I feel an incredible amount of pressure to make BigStack a place that is associated with Calgary. I also feel like it’s certainly in part up to me to make BigStack a fantastic place at which talented people want to work at.
Are there any other people out there living and working in Little Big Cities? I’d love to hear from you.
Are there any other rooted Calgarians out there that want to or are struggling to make games? I’d love to hear from you as well.
Daniel Kratt, Senior Designer
Furries and Geezers and Fatties! Oh, my! Defend hotties from a motley crew of nerds while making love connections. Hottie Hookups is a whole new kind of time management game for the iPhone&iPod touch created by the designer and programmer behind the #1 iPhone game Sally’s Spa. Download Hottie Hookups from the App Store today:
Developed by Blue Unit Studios and published by BigStack Studios, Hottie Hookups is the best way to tap hotties on the iPhone & iPod Touch. Draw lines to connect hotties dancing on a variety of trendy dance floors. Once you’ve hooked up the hotties, defend them from a variety of nerds by flicking, tilting, or shaking them off. After the hotties have had enough time to groove together, send them away in a taxi to continue the party!
Building on our time management experience by incorporating elements into Hottie Hookups from other genres such as line drawing and castle defense was not only challenging, it was a lot of fun as well!”
- Craig Rushforth, lead programmer for Blue Unit Studios
Hottie Hookups is our take on dating, and combines multiple gameplay elements together with a funny, non-politically correct theme”
- Dan Kratt, lead designer for Blue Unit Studios
Hottie Hookups represents a milestone for us as we continue experimenting with unique styles of gameplay and creative concepts. We’re confident that iPhone and iPod touch users will enjoy Hottie Hookups for its original humor and engaging gameplay.”
- Jon Lam, founder & CEO BigStack Studios
To learn more about BigStack Studios, Blue Unit Studios and Hottie Hookups, visit: www.bigstackstudios.com.
About BigStack Studios
Based in Alberta, Canada, BigStack Studios is the iPhone publishing arm of the iPhoenix Fund. In 2009, Ph03nix New Media launched the iPhoenix Fund, an investment fund focused on development for the iPhone platform.
Ph03nix New Media is a game development company focused on creating inspiring and entertainment multi-platform games. Founded in 2003 by entrepreneur, Jon Lam, Ph03nix New Media specializes in designing casual games, and has received widespread recognition for the Curse of the Pharaoh series, which topped the charts on leading casual game portals.
Ph03nix New Media is backed by AVAC Ltd. and received $1.1 million in investment funding. Additionally, the company acquired Blue Unit Studios, a Calgary-based iPhone game development studio, and formedTriple Hippo Studios, the casual games divisions of Ph03nix New Media. For more information, please visit: www.ph03nixnewmedia.com.