Co-development is, Uh, Key

This just in from GamesBeat. I hate when a write-up probably missed its own point. Quote:

[Kiloo chief creative officer Simon] Moller believes that this works because it pools knowledge and skills. Sybo worked as animators on a previous Kiloo project, so everyone knew they had development skills. Kiloo, on the other hand, understood the free-to-play model and how to implement it in the game.

Puh-lease. My guess is that co-development was key because the financial risk was spread out. That makes way more sense than pooling knowledge and skills — if it were just about the talent, one company would have probably contracted the other as WFH.

Trust in the Process?

Trust in the Process?

I’m disappointed by Marissa Mayer’s decision, as reported by AllThingsD’s Kara Swisher, to ban all remote work at Yahoo. While there could be real justification for this move, the way it broke — through a memo from Yahoo’s head of HR, Jackie Reses — is a smoking gun for a case of company process replacing trust. Form suggests function.

Presumption: Yahoo identified a problem with the productivity of remote workers. This may be a big presumption, since it’s possible that no problem was identified and the move was good old unwarranted assumption. This happens all the time and has as much to do with individual philosophy as it does legitimate qualitative experience. I don’t really have a hard time imagining that meeting:

CEO: “We have how many people working remotely, again?”
HR: “Hundreds or more.”
CEO: “Well that doesn’t make any sense, we have to all pull together to make Yahoo the best Yahoo ever! We can’t have a bunch of hoos off running around with all us yas back here at the office! We didn’t do that at Google!”
HR: “Then the question is, do we accept lower productivity by allowing remote work, or do we increase productivity by banning it?”

But let’s give Mayer credit where credit is due and presume there was legit data behind the decision. There would have been data presented to her by her lieutenants showing that remote workers in various departments were less productive than their in-house counterparts. The data would have been mapped to ROI in some form and backed up by the research camp that suggests that working from home is less productive (as opposed to the camp that touts remote work — there is plenty in both camps). The whole thing would have been properly spreadsheeted and powerpointed. 

At that point Mayer could have either asked HR to make the bill into law (presumably what she did) or ask her managers to target the specific employees whose productivity was down and bring them into the office to see if they improve. Making law was the easy way out — it was a common case of adding a process instead of identifying areas that needed trust. The other way — to fix specific problems with productivity and trust within the organization — would have involved more time, effort, follow-through and data mapping. 

And given the bridge over troubled interwebs on which Yahoo is teetering, it’s a not a stretch to see that going the quicker, easier corporate-initiative route might make some sense. There are too many Yafish to fry as it is and Yahoos need to buck up and they still have a hundred more Yagenda items to get through and all that. But I can’t quite go there — too often companies make broad, easy strokes when detailed sketches are needed to draw forth real change, make direct impact and build and maintain trust. Productivity has a hard time springing forth from large-scale process alone, and Yahoo’s decision in this case sure seems like a little red flag. They have enough of those already.

In a Hit-Driven Business, You’re Only as Good as Your Last Hit

I was in South Carolina recently with a client and we got into a discussion about our first jobs and what we learned. I grew up on a farm in Western Kentucky so I had plenty of jobs from an early age. But I consider my first real gig to be a small sign-painting business in high school. It started when I got a shot at designing and painting the facade for the first video arcade in town, “Time Out”. The project required me to work with highly-opinionated people, manage others and make a tight deadline no matter what.

Once I’d done the main design work (the logo in the photo) and was ready to begin the paint job itself, I discovered almost immediately that I was in over my head — I had less than a week to complete the work (you can’t see it in the picture but there was about a 40 ft. wide x 15 ft. tall wall that had to be hand-painted with over a dozen colors according to my meticulously drafted proposal) and be ready for the weekend grand opening. I quickly acquired a co-founder — my friend Rick who I’d known since first grade — who was happy to join up. Rick was trustworthy, artistic and smart. We finished the job ahead of schedule.

The experience was a perfect fit with my growing passion for video games. I ended up spending a good portion of the paycheck in the arcade itself, one quarter at a time — and I’ve always wondered if the owner knew he’d get most of his money back. But it wasn’t long before people in town noticed the fancy logo at the new “hi-tech” arcade. I was thoughtful enough to make sure the owner had some makeshift business cards I’d put together in case anyone asked, and over the next couple of years I managed to snag several other local design/painting jobs. It was all part-time, hit-and-miss kind of stuff, but I kept it going and was able to save some of the money for college, learn how to manage my time, keep customers happy and balance Maker with Manager.

But most important, I learned I had to hustle. Since my work was always on display, I knew I couldn’t slack off on a job or it was over. I got my first tiny taste of running a hit-driven business — where I was only ever as good as my last product — in a small rural town in Kentucky, drawing logos and painting signs.

Gamadatafication

In this small but interesting (puffy, but interesting) article in December, Flurry summarizes at the end:

In an industry that has historically been considered more artistic and subjective, connected devices and the ability to rapidly iterate on already shipped titles has ushered in an age of science and measurement. In short, data has enabled the “gamification” of the mobile industry.

Are we in fact becoming an industry of measurement scientists? Have we evolved (or devolved?) from the lesser demons of art? Are we now Big Data Gamificating Analysts? Is that which is a game now that which is gamified?

Probably. But it’s temporary. We won’t annihilate a medium that has relied on tenets like story, delight, mastery, learning and fun.

Right now, Big Data is the story we’re creating as we grapple with Big Scale. We need it, it needs us, and while the industry caters to a massively social mobile gamified bulletin board, a sophisticated marketing machine and a pseudo-altruistic tech behemoth,  we can catch our breath and devise new, sticky ways of interactive Show and Tell.

It’s important to see this period as a transition and not real change. There are many artists, programmers, designers and producers in the business who are struggling to find their place, do their work and create delightful experiences for massive numbers of on-boarding gamers in the noosphere. The numbers truly are staggering. And we saw it coming. But the scale at which we’re operating is more difficult and complex than we could have possibly imagined.

How do I know we’re transitioning rather than changing? I don’t. But I feel it — not an easy thing for my data-loving mind to express. More important I know that many in our industry feel it, too, even those who are at the crest of the Big Data Wave, even as they hone novel ways of gathering and scrutinizing every little noo in the noostream.

Ah, Scale

Splitting up big banks seems like a really good idea, although I don’t think we can give it good odds, since it involves massively rich companies and execs slicing up massively rich pies.

As I’ve leveled up on this early beta server code-named Terra, it hits me time and time again how scale is at the heart of so many things that go from good to bad and especially from bad to worse.  We mere mortals are simply not wired to handle complexity beyond a certain scale, and while machines that can will one day take over (in a good way, we hope), it’s just us biologics for the foreseeable future.

And boy do we suck at scale. A business that has a clear purpose with a dozen happy employees becomes a monster with 100 employees, unstable at 10,000 and an economic juggernaut at 100,000. A project with a handful of grokable deadlines becomes unmanageable at several dozen tasks and is abandoned or utterly foobar’d at a few hundred. A country with a few million citizens makes a radical system like democracy look easy compared to hundreds of millions. 

Without trying to sound too arrogant (now please don’t take it that way), I, like many of my peers in tech and gaming have the requisite high cognition profile — a higher degree of cognitive processing power, speed and memory — higher than the average bag of water and guts. But I can’t keep more than a handful of important things in my head at once, and the smartest people I’ve worked with — really, really smart people that make me feel very, very stupid — can’t either. If I’m supposed to be the guy with a better bio-rig, and the majority of h. sapiens have the “average” rig (presumably less), then how in the hell is it that we expect people on every moving sidewalk of life (from art to science to business to government and everything else) to be so incredibly responsible and accountable for levels of detail and complexity which they could not possibly grasp on a regular basis? If I can’t do it (wow that’s arrogant, sorry), why is it so common to expect just about anyone to do it?

It seems all to human to me that we repress our innate challenges with Big Scale. It’s not uncommon for many people, often the most popular, wealthy and/or responsible members of society, to claim mastery over dozens to hundreds of topics and policies. Political promises are a good example, as are the size of most unreadably dense bills, propositions and contracts. Business meetings are another — CEO’s present as if they have a tight grasp on a dozen or more complicated pieces of the company when all know deep down there is no way in or out of hell that they have more than the top line gist of it.

And we’re just as bad or worse, because we love to hold people accountable for anything and everything in their domain, as if we really expect them to have a handle on tons of daily shit than no human being could possibly have that handle on. Yet we, with the help of a profit-hungry press and plenty of our own non-checked facts and pseudo-humble, rhetorical opine, spam them with blame for the slightest slip up.

You Decide Your Life and That’s Lucky?

I’m in a stickler kind of mood. So flame-on and that’s where this post is coming from. I feel like deconstructing minor points, being over-analytical, so, grain of salt. Please, roll your eyes and I’ll roll mine back at you.

Henceforth and forthwith and so on, I recently caught this video. On one hand I really like it. It’s got a great theme, it’s funny, fun to watch and is a fundraiser for Hurricane Sandy — totally awesome and I’m glad they did it.

On the other hand, it doesn’t resonate. I just don’t think most people — entrepreneurs or not — are going to connect with wealthy, successful people rapping about how lucky they are. I think viewers would have a far better chance of connecting emotionally if those in the video gave interviews and talked about the impact of helping Sandy victims, but they chose to go the more creative route (from the website):

This song is dedicated to the people who fight every day in the trenches of entrepreneurship. We brought together 25 of some of the world’s top entrepreneurs & investors to participate in this video. We feel super lucky to be building products that make people’s lives better, easier and happier (thus “Lucky Ones”). We’re setting out to raise funds for a few small businesses that were devastated by Hurricane Sandy.

The verses don’t quite jibe with the chorus for me. The chorus is:

We are the lucky ones,
We are the dream,
And we’ll see it all come true, yah,
Cuz we work all day, and we play at night,
Nothing can stop, nothing can stop,
The dream of the lucky one

The verses are all about persistence and staying hungry, doing something you love, staying the distance, working hard and so on — all great things, surely. The last line of the last verse is:

You decide your life and that’s lucky

Just. No. Really? The platitudinal thrust of it irks me. How are [the singers of the song] lucky? And while we’re at it, what is luck anyway?

So let me sing along. I’m lucky because I get to “work all day” and “play at night”. I’m “the dream” and “nothing can stop” me. So, on the surface, the hook fits the verse: it’s more or less a nice bit of colloquial fluff about how I’m lucky because I get to pursue my dream. I get to work on something exciting. Ground-breaking. World-changing. Do what I love. Follow the vision. I’m a ninja, a rock star (first verse), a “lucky one”.

Okies, so how did I get so lucky that I can be so lucky? What happened there? Let’s try to find cause without over-correlating. Presumably at some point I was at the right place at the right time. I think that’s a reasonable presumption. Circumstances were such, or some event happened, that I got my shot at ninja-rockstar-dream-lover-entrepreneur. And I was ready for it. My preparation met opportunity, right? Or maybe as Napoleon Hill suggested many years ago (by way of Wikipedia), I had the desire, faith and persistence to “reach great heights by eliminating negative energy and thoughts and focusing on the greater goals in hand”. Damn I’m awesome. 

And I’m kinda full of crap. Alrighty, now here’s a snippet of lyrics from another song (there’s a point, I promise!):

Triangle man, triangle man
Triangle man hates person man
They have a fight, triangle wins

Let me reskin this, first attempt:

Opportunity, Opportunity
Opportunity trumps preparation
They have a fight, opportunity wins

Or how about this:

Luck, Luck
Luck beats Work
They have a fight, luck wins

Is it possible that luck and work are not two sides of the same coin? That one is more crucial than the other? Think about it. It’s easy to want to group something that’s not arbitrary (work) with something that is (luck). But how many successful people attribute their success to their hard work? Remember Edison’s famous quote? It’s often misquoted but here’s the original:

None of my inventions came by accident. I see a worthwhile need to be met and I make trial after trial until it comes. What it boils down to is one per cent inspiration and ninety-nine per cent perspiration.

This is commonly viewed as Edison saying it’s all about hard work. But I don’t read it that way. “Trial after trail until it comes” — that sounds more like luck than the scientific method.  And here’s an experiment: Pick some famous successful people and google them with the following pattern, [name] “I was lucky”. For example, Steve Jobs “I was lucky” or Bill Gates “I was lucky” or Andy Grove “I was lucky”. Yeah yeah this is just anecdotal qualitativity masquerading as me-blogger-authority-big-data-backmeup, but you get the gist. The point is, there’s much more to this than “you decide your life and that’s lucky”. The “you decide” part hooking up with the “lucky” part is so third grade, like, you know, “Do you like me? [ ] YES [ ] NO”.

Moreover, all this implies having a goal — keep the faith, dude. Have a vision. Follow your bliss (Joseph Campbell: “Remember the last line? [of Sinclair Lewis‘ Babbitt?”], ‘I have never done a thing that I wanted to do in all my life.’ That is a man who never followed his bliss”). And I think this has potential for being the real fallacy, that objectifying the “thing” or “things” is a primary key in the database of luck. Isn’t the process far more interesting, sustainable, rewarding — without any goal whatsoever? Who on their deathbed laments that which they were unable to accomplish in a material sense? Will I regret not having a bigger house or “owning” more property when I’m dying? Will I bitch and moan about not flying first class more often, not upgrading to the latest iPad, not splurging more often on holiday? Will I cry over all the stock buys I didn’t make? Nah. We all know that we won’t (at least most of us won’t — some of us might).

Maybe what bothers me most about the video, considering its participants, is the third-to-last line in the song:

You’ll never keep playing this game for the money

Hmm, on the surface I just wanna say, right on! But on behalf of those who are actually in business trying to make that business successful (by definition), I calleth the bullshit. Tell your employees that you’re paying with vision and spirit. Make your plans now to give all your money away — or better yet, just give it away as you go because you don’t need it, it’s not about the money. Oh, make your investors keenly aware of your new-found, non-profit altruism, too, and they will be sure to invest more– hold on, wait a tick, you don’t need investors, it’s not about the money!

Yes, yes of course I get the sentiment here: “I love it so much I don’t do it for the money”. Platitudes. Mostly people with enough existing fuckyoo capital say this shit (and yeah, I say it sometimes too). Sometimes certain artists or people with varying degrees of mental illness. But even if you truly, truly, truly aren’t in it for at least a little ROI, try measuring your business by bliss alone and see how long you keep living the dream. 

I’m sure the folks who contributed to the video had nothing but the best intentions — I’m a big fan of several of them! I’m sure that Undrip has the best foot forward on it. And at the end of the day, it’s groovy. But it’s also utterly simplistic and emotionally not-so-present. Did you, O Lucky One, decide your life and that’s lucky? Or — reversalism, please — did you luck into your life and that’s decided? As Forrest said to Jenny, “Maybe it’s both”. Either way, in a complex, multi-dimensional [entrepreneurial] world full of ever-changing perspectives and experiences involving luck, life and work, you’re displaying all the depth of a 2D orthogonal projection, which, I guess, since this is just a video we’re talking about here, is appropriate.

The Bell Curve is Alive and Well

Nice little article/interview over at the NY Times from earlier this month. What an optimistic bit from Stephen Totilo, editor in chief at Kotaku.com:

Big companies no longer dominate the creation of video games. Freethinking, independent creators are on the rise, and they’re making some fascinating games.

Yes, it’s true: Indie game developers are making great games, as they’ve almost always done. But the Bell Curve is alive and well  — only a few at the top are producing creative, interesting stuff. The rest are struggling with either 1) interruptions to implementation due to lack of funding, or 2) the need to put the dish on the table before it’s done — to “test” the waters before committing the time and money to complete the game, or 3) the low barrier to entry that tricks them into thinking they can somehow skip to the head of the curve without doing the work.

In fact there are plenty of big companies, old and new, and they all want to dominate (and most of them claim to be the “leader” in their markets — we sure have a lot of leaders these days!). It’s a roller coaster for developers, however — nobody wants to put their money in the pot until the meal’s already cooked, been reviewed and filled the restaurant with patrons.

For developers, there’s a promise of deep pockets to extend and maintain — perhaps even increase — revenues, but it’s next to impossible to figure out how that actually happens in the current crazy world of online (and especially mobile) discovery and distribution.

10 Reasons Why Android Won’t Win

Android isn’t going away anytime soon, and should continue to bring in significant revenue for Google for many years to come. But without radical changes, it will never be the top winner on mobile. From a development perspective, here are ten reasons why:

1. Lack of a world-class IDE. Both Microsoft (Visual Studio) and Apple (Xcode) have invested enormous sums into creating stellar development tools, while Google chose a 3rd-Party IDE — Eclipse — that, while championed by some, is despised by many developers. Google’s decision here almost brings into question their fundamental understanding of client software development — ironic, considering Google’s reputation as an engineering-focused company.

2. Emulation instead of simulation. Google chose to emulate real devices in software instead of simulating, or approximating them, on development hardware. Not surprisingly, this approach is slow, buggy and frustratingly difficult to manage for all but the simplest apps. The icing on the cake is that their emulators emulate no better — and perhaps worse — than simulation.

3. API. The Android API itself is an over-engineered clunker  in some areas (XML configuration files, UI scope, resolution scaling) and quite half-assed in others (native development, gimped high-level controls, view hierarchy). Versions change a bit too radically and methods tend to deprecate a bit too quickly. While the amount of work that appears to have gone into the API is impressive, it seems to ignore the hard-won lessons of its ancestors, notably J2ME and BREW. Part of this is due to the nature of Java itself; once an ensign of OOP, it has steadily devolved into OOPS on practically anything but a server.

4. Buggy debugging. Debugging on Android is at best incomplete, at worst unreliable. The threading approach feels oddly out of sync with the app, Java by nature doesn’t do an adequate job of pinpointing line numbers, and breakpoints don’t work on every development system. Roll this into the quirkiness of Eclipse and debugging an Android app is, more often than not, a black box.

5. Documentation. Unlike Apple (and if history is any guide, Microsoft in the near future), Google decided not to invest in detailed docs, real-world examples and a ton of sample apps. This might be okay if the Android development community at large wasn’t so fragmented and, in general, un-helpful. For docs and support, it’s the worst of both worlds.

6. Expense. Testing, in terms of both hardware costs and man hours, is far more expensive on Android. There are hundreds of notably different devices and Google (unlike Microsoft with Windows, for example) has done a poor job of enforcing standards. Admittedly this is herculean task, but the result significantly raises the barrier-to-serious-development-entry.

7. Loosy-Goosy marketplace. Developers can’t stop users from installing their apps on unsupported devices or older Android OS versions. Users can’t stop themselves from leaving inappropriate and irrelevant bad reviews. Piracy is easy.

8. Too much crapp. This is a problem that Apple shares and Microsoft is acquiring, but the barrier-to-entry for putting anything on Google Play is ridiculously low. With Apple, it’s an unlocked door; with Android, it’s an open door, resulting in even more low-quality crapps that muddy up the virtual aisles and make finding legitimately useful or fun apps even more difficult.

9. Platform fragmentation. The same Android version on different devices doesn’t deliver the same experience to users. Different devices pre-load dozens of bewildering garbage apps and services. While this is to expected to some extent (much like buying different PC brands), it’s an order of magnitude or two worse than what most users would reasonably expect.

10. Hard to make money. Alas, Google Play has become a bigger race to the bottom than Apple’s App Store. With the exception of the occasional developer-lottery-winner, it’s takes a ton of stamina and funding to make Android your business model.

Made, not Born

Great post by Ben Horowitz today, called Making Yourself a CEO (makes it even harder to believe he also wrote this). I agree that it’s pretty common to subscribe to a more Hollywood kind of notion that CEO’s are born, not made. But that’s also true with most jobs, IMO. While individuals may have certain gene combos & talents that predispose them toward one thing more than another, it’s all about the effort and the practice — and Ben’s got some great comments on both those in the post. Good stuff.

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