by • September 30, 2011 • UncategorizedComments (0)28

The saddest thing I’ve read this year

A talented visionary closes a quarter million in funding, hires a team of five, and then spends 4½ years developing a product nobody cares about before acknowledging that he (and his family) can’t bear the risks of these pursuits.

“I believe the single biggest problem was how long it took to get the game into people’s hands.”

Yeah, you don’t say?

This sort of thing is tragic in the past, but preventable in the future.

I used to recommend startups to everyone I met: “You’ve gotta go for it! Great life!” Then I talked to lots of people who couldn’t/shouldn’t bear the risk they were subjecting themselves to and I stopped recommending it. I would help anyone I could help, certainly, but I wouldn’t suggest or endorse it to those who hadn’t already taken the leap.

Now I can recommend it again, but with caveats. We have the tools (e.g. lean startup) to look at the shape of an idea and estimate roughly how expensive it will be to put through the ringer[1]. We have the process to mitigate our risk and we have best practices which tell us when to cut loose and bear our losses. The developer in this tale didn’t have (or use) those tools, and I feel for him.

The publisher of the postmortem (in this case gamasutra, as opposed to its author) has drawn completely the wrong conclusion, saying it “reveals how working with the best of intentions and inspiration can have a bad commercial result when the cards fall in the wrong places creatively and business-wise.”

Again, this last quote isn’t from the founder in the story. But it does reveal the haplessness and fatalism which used to plague the startup world and which continues to run rampant within the indie game dev community. One of the unsung benefits of lean is that it provided a framework within which we can helpfully tell each other we’re being idiotic.

[1] One of the places I find lean tactics (as opposed to first principles) useful is in figuring out whether an idea will cost $1000, $10,000, or $100,000 to test. (You have bigger ideas than that, but intuition & common sense have always been good enough at identifying those).

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