I was looking through some of my Disqus comments and was pleasantly surprised at some of my replies to various discussions. Like everyone else, blog commenting is a mostly in-the-moment affair for me, and while I guess that quoting myself is an arrogant sort of thing to do, I believe that these quotes will make you think a bit, especially if you’re in a startup and/or the video game industry. Some light editing for context.
Is Google evil? Hell yes – it’s corporately impossible for them not to be at their scale. Apple is also evil at scale. Spotlight as an app-mining mechanism ultimately results in plenty of ads from apps, in addition to 80+% chatter from zombie apps. If Apple does evolve Spotlight into a full-on Google competitor (oh the irony, considering Job’s quote), their ability to hold off on ad-spam results is only possible because their revenue model doesn’t need/want it – yet. Privilege remains committed to the fantasy that the natural result of scale is diversification into non-core competencies through market consolidation/acquisition and wildly expensive internal development. The root of the root problem is that no large tech companies – certainly not Google or Apple – believe that their Scrooge McDuck money bins can ever be big enough.
Having traveled to Silicon Valley several times per year for two decades, lived there for seven years (99-06), and seeing my son’s experiences for the last three years since he moved there fresh out of college, the fundamental SV milieu hasn’t changed much. I still grok it as a theme park. In fact using religion as a metaphor, SV as a religious theme park hits home. It’s presumptuous, exploitative, shiny, kitchy, dogmatic and arrogantly opportunistic. And if you grok the concept of creating truly meaningful software out of nothing but your own mind and mettle, SV is like one of those big crazy Texas churches, except you may be the god that changes the world. SV is where art fucks science, creates a singularity, then rebrands it as a virgin birth and the second coming for the next generation congregation. Or something like that.
In my industry (video games), from my perspective as a developer, things are a bit different from the bubblicious milieu. It’s more like a dunken orgy inside a rocketship to the bottom, where 0.01% landowner-publishers are in slave-heaven with developer-unfriendly disty deals and mini fickle-finger-of-fate awards in lieu of cash. Apple and Google changed distribution forever. Absolutely no one has any real ideas about how to deal with the scale of the market and the ever non-presence of discovery. Customers have been taught to expect crap for free. The industry used to be cutthroat and hit-driven — the good old days! Now it’s just a big lottery.
In the gaming segment, big companies (publishers) and small companies (developers) have undergone a big relationship shift. Prior to the rise of mobile and social games and the F2P model, developers were valued as reliable sources of content that would have a direct impact on publisher success. Today the developer has much less real value to the publisher – discovery is so difficult that most publishers can only afford a very wide net to catch distribution deals. Since production costs have only risen, developers produce less compelling content. The race to the bottom is getting so big that the starting line is elbows-to-elbows with out-of-shape runners. Hence developers only help publishers be successful to the extent that they incrementally increase the probability of a hit game in which profits are shared equally.
Large-scale organizations (of all kinds) appear more and more like big collections of entropic vagaries whose operational tools are over-confidence, short-term accounting, obfuscation, denial, deflection, disinformation and so on. These are old tools that cannot hope to be of any real use up against cyber-attacks. Limiting organizational growth would by definition limit the impact of a single cyber-attack. Of course this is blasphemy to all modern economic systems. Sigh.
Something I’ve learned and am still learning is that communication is almost always about feelings and the needs behind them. If I’m mindful of this and realize that I’m co-authoring the story of the conversation then I tend to listen much better and not lecture and analyze so much; if not I’m just data without a soul, steamrolling everyone’s needs including my own.
The collection and storage of data seems impossible to stop, given the ubiquitous commercial nature of the Internet. Rabbit’s been out of the hat since ’94 or so and it’s far easier to re-use that rabbit than to create another hat. The bigger issue may be Peak Abstraction. We’re all leaves in various trees with chains of nodes dumping us into super-groups, on up a given tree until we hit its root node. When nodes contain too many sub-nodes to evaluate logically/meaningfully and leaves are far removed from their nodes, yet power enforces any sort of algorithmically-motivated action toward the leaves, we hit some pretty scary peaks. If one of those trees is government, the air will be damned thin up there.
Most engineers, artists, designers I know have always had side projects — it’s the special stuff they “want” to do away from the normal stuff they “need” to do. Sometimes the special is an off-shoot from the normal, often not. If the special becomes normal then maybe it becomes a “thing” whose fundamental bits are mostly immutable. Maybe it’s a needy thing. It needs to impress, it needs validation, it needs to generate value, it needs to function beyond the sparky neocortextual passion that first formed it. Once normalized, the full expression of the original vector is lost, or hard to compute. So on to the next project.
Productivity purely as a function of time makes some sense where it’s clear that time is inherent to product[ivity], e.g. manufacturing when quantity is the primary objective, or old-school QA. But it starts to break down past the short-term. In software I see it generally as a violent process standing in for trust, a red flag with a herring logo on it, beating in the breeze over management’s head. If the objective is to serve your time then time is who you serve. You are timetive, not productive.
Android developers, in particular, try to remember that Google is run by the best and led by super-geniuses, unlike those wannabes at Apple. They know this is true because, well, everybody knows it now. And they remember it when they have to use lousy development tools and do battle with the Eclipse IDE and slow, buggy emulators. They remember it when they’re struggling with an over-engineered, clunky, dubious API, debugging in a black box or on any of the dozens of test devices they had to buy, and they realize Goggle has much more important things to do than write documentation. And they know that Google could spend more time with device manufacturers to decrease platform fragmentation, but they trust that there’s a strategy in place that must be beyond their understanding. In all seriousness, I totally agree that Google has an enormous amount of talent and they are on a steady march to innovative user experiences in several areas. Neural network-based voice recognition is exciting. But they have a ton of housekeeping to do, too.
Except for retail, these models are a predictable response to market scale, and the gaming industry is more creative and sophisticated in their use of them due to its history as a hit-driven business. But the fundamental problem is ever-present: Quality doesn’t scale. The non-traditional market is massive and getting massive-er by the day. The game shelf is a mile long with a handful of endcaps. Funding a high-quality game is very risky since it cannot be done on the cheap. So quality is the first thing to go out the door – it’s intuitive (and may be a fallacy) to diversify instead. Rather than betting your budget on one high-fidelity game, the platforms ask that you create many low-fi games with minimally viable mechanics and art then invest in creative monetization and cross-promotion to keep re-leveraging your players across the catalogue. And it makes some sense until you realize it’s not quite sustainable because customer expectations scale, too – especially new users you’ve transformed into gamers.
I have mild OCD. I hate it when I’m meta-OCD and become OCD about my OCD as I seek to suppress rather than repress. Finding data specific to entrepreneurs as a class sounds tough. Looking at type a’s, highly creative types and super-driven product people and engineer types, maybe successful execs, makes some sense to me. Deconstruct the entrepreneur into component sub-classes, at least that’s a direction in which to head. Qualitatively, my own experiences with other entrepreneurs suggests that they — especially the product and engineer types — are prone to depression and OCD, manic behavior, excessive hubris and definitely divorce. They are also prone to remarkable displays of kindness, honesty, purpose, courage and genius, qualities I observe somewhat less frequently in others.
In my business (video games), looking for a segment where you can become the first mover is a little analogous to implementing a new or under-adopted game mechanic so well that you become the definition of the category. Others will follow your idea but wish they could follow your execution. Rovio, for example — they weren’t the first mobile 2D physics game, but their product execution was first-rate and their market execution was prescient (continual engagement with players through lots of content updates — few were doing this on mobile at the time — rather than feature updates and new skus). Now they’re scaling and evolving and so far doing a good-to-excellent job of that. IMO all software companies should study the video game industry in preparation for the massive markets that are coming our way over the next decade — at that scale practically everything will become hit-driven and a measurement window of six months may be generous.
Somehow people convince themselves that there is never enough time but it’s really not that hard to be responsive. The good will generated alone is worth the effort, and often there’s a business payoff — sometimes way down the line but it happens to me not infrequently (give people time and they will surprise and delight). In my industry (gaming) we often work with external teams. I only get to meet these guys in person once a year at best (usually at an industry conference), otherwise the communication is project-focused email/phone/Skype. When someone reaches out to me for other types of help or connectivity, it’s an opportunity to put something good out into the universe. The way I look at it, we’re all on the same team. Practicing trust and reliability is good work. It’s a chance to show quality. It’s a happiness-inducer and life-extender.