Delayed Communication

Mark Suster has a great series on negotiations going. His post yesterday, A Quick Hack for Speeding up Term Sheet and other Negotiations, makes the (fairly obvious) point that getting everyone into a room together to negotiate, while not easy to do, is the best hack for avoiding delays. Mark illustrates this while discussing his very first term sheet negotiation.

Delays during contract negotiations can be crushingly frustrating: If the contract involves money (most do), the longer it takes, the bigger the delay before capital can be deployed and transformed into ROI. Why does a “signing party”, as Mark puts it, work so well? Again, it’s obvious — get us all together in one room with one goal and one deadline and we’re going to get something done. A face-to-face meeting is an instinctive, faster form of communication that trumps more sophisticated forms like phones calls and email. This is a great example of how form drives function.

Almost by definition, the more sophisticated the technology, the more complex its form. Tons of email wanting immediate attention, ten versions of the same document in redlines, a dozen voice mails we still haven’t had time to check — the function is communication but quickly reveals itself to be delayed communication. And in the case of a contract negotiation, delays are often regarded, by at least one party and ideally by both, as detrimental to ROI.

Delayed communication can also be very positive. A great example of that is the recent hit game Draw Something. It launched in February and is already at the top of the App Store charts. According to Carter Thomas (he has a great writeup on the game here), Draw Something has already exceeded 20 million downloads and is earning its developer, OMGPOP, $100k+ per day.

OMGPOP did something great with the core design by using delayed communication as an integral part of the experience. Unlike a game of Pictionary in the living room, on our mobile devices we need a passive delay — time — to draw pictures and guess drawings. Matching up players in real-time is too hard to do because there are too many distractions — phone calls, IM, push notifications, etc. would turn play into work since users are generating content.  For more traditional, non-user generated content games, a real-time mulitplayer structure can work, for example Eliminate from ngmoco, but even then it’s not easy.

Draw Something is not a fantastic new game mechanic. It’s not quite a new twist on an old theme and certainly not traditional gaming or storytelling in any real sense. But as more professional game designers and developers migrate over from traditional to non-traditional games, let’s hope they pay some attention to it.