Failure is bad. When teams fail, the failures are not isolated events; they send ripples that end up impacting us all in ways that are not always obvious – from the evolution of more onerous contract language to the need for companies to put themselves at risk to salvage a bad position created by someone else.
Some of the mistakes I focus on here should seem glaringly obvious and avoidable to experienced developers and business development professionals. But no-one has immunity, so let’s examine some of these wounds together in the hopes that more of us will avoid them.
1: THE THIEF
When is the last time you audited your machines for unlicensed software? The question presumes the innocence, or at least ignorance, of management when raids occur – but most of the time everyone in the company is complicit in the use of the unlicensed software. I have heard every excuse in the book, from “XYZ should charge us less based on where we are located” to “We wouldn’t be in business if we didn’t do this.”
But we work in an intellectual property industry; certain things are required as part of the price of admission. And those who don’t follow these ethical and business imperatives are not only unfairly competing with those who do, they are also placing their companies and all of their customers at risk. Handle it just like the issue of having proper insurance certifications was handled; make it contractual and enforce it.
2: THE DOUBLE AGENT
Fear is a great motivator, but usually not with positive results. Whether you are a publisher dealing with a developer or a developer dealing with an outsourcer, if you try to get what you need through fear and intimidation, the chances are very high that you are creating Double Agents amongst your studio.
They will tell you what you want to hear, even when it isn’t true. These rogue operatives stop trusting you long before you learn to stop trusting them, and very often the damage they do before they are unmasked hurts your other relationships.
Don’t punish people for identifying problems and don’t be afraid to do so yourself. Praise that behaviour.
3: THE KNOW-IT-ALL
All too often people take on too many roles, including ones that clearly don’t fit them. The most common justification given for doing so is that no one else is available or can do it. But there are other reasons as well: the need to control everything, failing to invest the time to train the folks around you who could do it if you let them, or being unwilling to invest in professional outside help.
I have seen too many game developers get tripped up by HR, legal, accounting, or other business issues because they had simply spread themselves so thin that they couldn’t manage it all, no matter how hard they tried. Don’t let frugality get in the way of efficiency. Take advantage of skilled contractors who can do certain tasks more efficiently than you can.
4: THE MAD SCIENTIST
Mad Scientists come from all walks of life in this industry, but game designers are the most notorious. A Mad Scientist is any individual who is so passionately, slavishly devoted to achieving their personal mission irrespective of the potential consequences.
Learn the lesson that babies are always most beautiful in the eyes of their creators, and don’t be afraid to invoke child intervention services when necessary to regain control of a project – or kill ones that clearly should have never been born in the first place.
5: THE GLUTTON
The Glutton just doesn’t know how to say no. When the famine is over, they try and store up as much as they can for the next famine. And so they over-commit their resources to too many projects and kill their quality and reputations in the process.
One kind of glutton can’t say ‘no’ because they so desperately want to please the customer that they agree to almost any request, however impossible it may be. And there are cultural twists on this one as well. In some cultures, it is considered rude to say no and, in others, the correct way of saying it is never going to happen is to say, “It’s possible.” I call these the unwitting gluttons because, even though they don’t mean to be gluttonous, the end result is the same: no one’s expectations are met and, again, some innocent bystander is usually called in to clean up the mess.
6: CHATTY CATHY
One of the most common mistakes people make in a relationship-driven business like games development is not knowing how to manage them properly. Developers and publishers alike spend tons of their time on conversations that are not going to bear fruit. Networking with well thought out objectives and an agenda is good. Networking for networking’s sake is just bar-hopping. It’s a lot of meaningless conversation that is forgettable to both sides.
Don’t be Chatty Cathy and waste time; be a straight shooter and ask for the same in return. Focus your biz dev efforts on conversations with real momentum and, if you don’t have enough of those, either you need to reassess what you are offering or find different folks who want what you have. Going back to the same dry holes gets you nowhere.
7: THE MISER
You’ve all heard that it takes money to make money. No developers have unlimited resources, so you have got to learn how to manage those resources wisely. Misers threaten their long-term survival by being penny-wise and pound-foolish.
If you want longevity and success, you have to bid your projects accordingly, plan for the future, and invest in it. Invest in the right people, then invest in them further by giving them vested interests in the outcome of their efforts. Invest time in your training and developing your staff, too. Invest at least 10 per cent of your gross revenue – not your profit margin – back into research and development of your proprietary tools, technologies, and processes.
And if you say you haven’t got a 10 per cent margin for this purpose, then your first investment should be in better business management and development services. You have to be in a constant state of re-engineering with the pace at which technology moves.
Misers skimp on these things in favor of short-term, lower-impact items. In doing so, they undermine their company’s long-term potential.