Is there life after gamedev? While numerous people ask about how to get into the games business, some use it as a kickstart for their careers, eventually ending up in other industries. Like, for instance, Robin Kiera, formerly an in-house consultant for Goodgame studios, Casual Connect speaker, and then project lead at an insurance company.
Robin is now experiencing and documenting how gaming industry experts can help traditional industries to introduce fast, sophisticated, customer-centric products, services, and business models. “Or they can join startups and challenge traditional players”, he says.
I’m a busy guy. I run a game studio that has made over 45 premium casual games in the last decade. I podcast and livestream. In the last year, I’ve traveled to about 20 different cities, spoke at a major game conference about every other month, and found time to climb Mt. Fuji, go trekking in Nepal for 2 weeks, and a bunch of other cool stuff. All of that while being a father, a husband, and having a quality sit-down dinner with my family almost every night. People ask how I find the time. It’s actually pretty simple. I’ll share.
I work from home. This alone saves me 10-20 hours a week. I am not wasting time commuting and all of my breaks are shorter and more meaningful. Lunch? The kitchen is just 20 feet away. I’m done eating in half an hour and most days I get to share lunch with my wife. Want to take a break and read? The couch is right there. And all of the little stuff that needs to be dealt with every week: dentist’s appointments, paying bills, PTA meetings, etc., I fit that in between work tasks and can build the most efficient schedule for it because I never run into the “but I have to go home to do this” problem – I am already there.
I have a really nice workspace. I spend most of my waking life sitting at a desk working so I made sure that the chair I sit in is a good one. My desk is large enough to let me spread out papers, have room to swing a mouse around, and have a couple of monitors to spread out the digital content I need to be putting together. My space has a door. When the world outside intrudes, the door closes, the headphones go on, and I get stuff done. This, of course, is based on your tolerance for distraction. Some people in our company can tolerate a lot more distraction, and smaller working spaces. Some even prefer to work in cafes. This is something you have to test and see. That being said, most people generally benefit from reducing distractions, ensuring they are comfortable, and minimizing the number of outside influences while they work. Incredibly, working at home, even in a very busy home with children, parents, etc. can’t touch an open-office floor plan for creating distractions and annoyances. When I consider how much of the world is forced to work in brutally open floor plans, surrounded by aggressively distracting coworkers breaking their chain of thought… the mind shudders.
Similarly, I minimize digital distractions. Nothing on my computer makes noise. No application has popup notifications turned on. I take regular short breaks between tasks to check internal company chat groups, Facebook, Reddit, etc., but I never let these programs notify me or pull me away from my current task unless someone specifically summons me by name. Any decent internal chat program will let you set up notifications this way, and it’s critical. Even my phone has the ringer turned off, and it’s in another room. When I am working, that time is mine, and short of some major emergency, I don’t allow interruptions.
I schedule ruthlessly. If you want a meeting with me, it gets scheduled. Want to exercise regularly? Schedule. Time with the family? Schedule. I do “date night” once a week with my wife. That’s on the schedule. I go to guitar lessons with my daughter. That’s on the schedule. Think of your schedule like armor protecting you from the people who want to take time from you. You want to talk to me for 2 hours? Sorry, I only have 30 minutes for you in my schedule. Talk faster. You’d be amazed at how much someone can cram into 10 minutes when you only give them 10 minutes.
I avoid “regular meetings” like the plague. If you schedule a regular meeting, you will likely have to make up things to fill it with. Screw that. Treat meetings as evil necromantic spells: every minute you give to them is sucked from your soul. When they are absolutely necessary, I bring a list of what I want to achieve and I only bring the people who need to be there. It’s rare you really need more than 3 people in a meeting – better to have smaller meetings, write notes, and disperse them to the people who just need the info and aren’t actively contributing to the content. Forget big collaboration meetings. The science is clear: collaboration breeds mediocrity. Divy up the work, let people go do, and save the meetings for figuring out how it all works together and what to do next. This is how creative people thrive.
Treat meetings as evil necromantic spells: every minute you give to them is sucked from your soul.
I hire competent people and let them do their jobs. Nothing is a bigger waste of time than hiring someone to do a thing, and then doing it for them. This is a critical management skill, and it takes an adjustment of the mind to do well. Specifically, you have to change your thinking from “Is this what I wanted?” to “Is this good?” The reason you hire experts is because they are better at things than you are. So assume that they will give you something different, and probably better, than your expectation. Back off, look at it objectively, and if it does the job, pull your ego out of the equation and let it be. If you find that you can’t do that because you don’t trust or believe in the work someone is doing, replace them.
Good enough is good enough. I’ve been called “relentlessly Pareto”. I take that as a compliment. I only polish when it matters. The rest I let be. If you see me chatting with the team, my text is full of typos. They know what I mean. This isn’t getting published. I let it be. Our design documents are loose, rough, and produced fast. Our prototypes are ugly. When I give feedback, I take screenshots and scribble on them with the pen in the Windows Snipping Tool. It’s ugly, but the team gets it. Better they get the info ugly now than pretty tomorrow. If it’s not going in front of a customer, it’s only as pretty as it needs to be to be understood.
I don’t do email. Email is where information goes to die. If you are writing emails that require more than a few sentences to notify someone of something, you’re doing it wrong. That information needs to be put in a living document somewhere and shared. If I need to talk, I set up a quick call, we talk, I make notes, post them where they can be easily referenced later (we use Basecamp) and that’s referenced on our chat system (we use HipChat). If you need to say something more than a few sentences, document it, text, or call.
I do one thing completely before I do the next. Half of any serious creative task is just figuring out what you need to do, unpacking the details, and then banging them all together into something. If you are constantly shifting from task to task, you’re constantly redoing all of that preparation work, over and over. Stop that. Pick a thing. Do it. Bang on it till it’s done. Then put it out of your mind and move on. Half-done tasks pull at your attention and energy and make everything else you do more irritating and stressful. Clear your mind of these distractions by doing, completing, and moving on.
Pick a thing. Do it. Bang on it till it’s done. Then put it out of your mind and move on.
Sometimes, all of this breaks down, and I am seriously unproductive. It happens. When it does, I get up and walk away. Take a walk. Go to the gym and swim. Take a bike ride. Read a book. There are no bonus points for the number of hours you spend at a desk. If you find that you’ve been at a desk for 30 minutes or more, and have achieved nothing, step away. Recombobulate. Come back fresh. If you don’t, you’re going to just screw around looking at Facebook or YouTube or doing easy busywork anyway. Once you start down that road, you’re gone for an hour or more. Own that time. Make it yours. Shove something else you want or need to do into it.
I have one last, super specific tip: Every night, my last task is to write down the three things I will do tomorrow. I do this on a piece of scrap paper, and lay it on my keyboard. When I wake up and start in the morning, it’s there. Waiting for me. I don’t check email. I don’t do Facebook. I start with item one on the list and start my day. Until that list is done, my day is not over. When it’s done and my scheduled meetings are complete, I can call the day a success, and move on to stuff that I want to do – be that work related or not. This creates a sense of purpose that starts me every day, completion that helps me feel good at the end of the day, and excitement for what I am going to do tomorrow.
That’s largely it. Of course, I don’t keep to these rules 100%. Some days I keep closer to my regimen than others. But I have found that the closer that I keep to this life plan, the happier I am, the more I get done, and the better I feel about myself. Hope it helps.
Vlad Ceraldi, Co-founder of Hothead Games, came to the game industry with a military background that instilled valuable skills for a game developer. At the Royal Military College of Canada and while serving in the military, Vlad learned discipline, goal setting and how to function and survive without sleep—all skills essential in the game industry. But of course the assault rifle in Vlad’s sleeping quarters was traded for making first person shooter games.
Vicens Martí is the President of Tangelo Games. Tangelo Games was formed through the acquisition of Diwip and Akamon Entertainment and was formerly Imperus Technologies Corporation. While their time in the gaming industry includes being the Managing Director at Cirsa Gaming Corporation, Vicens has also been CMO at Vueling (a Spanish low-cost airline) and CEO of Custo Barcelona (a fashion label).
Cirsa is a notable casino company in Spain, Italy, and Latin America, helping to operate table games and casino slot machines. Vicens says that the experience in real money gambling was beneficial. “I did so much at Cirsa… You learn by doing,” they said.
While Vicens says they had the childhood dream of being an astronaut, they have no difficultly imagining what they’d be doing if they weren’t at their current position. “Oh, that’s easy. I am a simultaneous entrepreneur,” they described. “I have invested in a company called Appeth. I have interest in electronic music. Fintech is another company that I have going too. I have many projects going at once so if I wasn’t in the industry, I have plenty else I could be doing.”
Lessons Learned from Goodgame Studios’ Major Reorganization: Increasing Production by Organizational Change
The following is a field report written by Robin Kiera, Inhouse Consultant at Goodgame Studios, sharing his experiences from change projects in traditional and tech companies.
Sometimes it’s the Structure:
After the reorganization of Goodgame Studios, the number of releases and game development projects has increased.
At the beginning of 2015, Goodgame Studios, the leading German games developer and producer of Goodgame Empire, Empire: Four Kingdoms, and Big Farm, reorganized its game development departments from an integrated matrix structure into an autonomous studio structure. At first glance, there seemed to be no reason for this, considering that 2014 was a record-breaking year with tremendous growth in revenue and a doubling of the company’s size to 1,200 employees. Nevertheless, only one new game was released during that year. After an in-depth analysis, management decided to improve the company’s game production structure to ensure future success.
Today, one and a half years later, the company has already seen significant benefits: their live games continue to generate very healthy revenue, and the number of new releases and games in development has increased. There are currently several games in the soft launch phase, and the company has a full product pipeline. Clearly, the reorganization unleashed the potential of a company that had been limited by a structure it had outgrown. And it was thanks to their passion for the company and the selfless behavior of so many people that the incredibly fast process was successful and even possible.
'Staying in this career is a choice I’d gladly make over and over.' - Luna CruzClick To Tweet
At Altitude Games, they use rapid prototyping to find the fun in our games. The question is: does it really work? Listen to Luna Cruz, creative director and co-founder explain how they prototype across different projects (from UI wireframes to giant cube combat) – where it worked, and where it failed. During their talk at Casual Connect Asia, Luna described real examples on how to make prototyping work for you across all stages of development. Luna explained,”For us, prototyping is any sharable output that you can use to make decisions.” Also, Altitude Games prototypes “as a process through all different phases of development.”
'Without equivalent invention, VR will easily slip off from our current expectation.' - Atsuo NakayamaClick To Tweet
What is the next opportunity to target on the mobile platform? Atsuo Nakayama, General Manager for Namco Studios, Singapore, estimates that it will be mobile game ads and VR. Looking back at the broad history of tech hype, Atsuo gave exciting insights into the future. Atsuo explained, “Developers want to make something exciting. However, because of the implementation of the in-app purchase sometimes it deteriorates the gaming experience itself. One of the options is the video ad.” In-app advertising needs to be used carefully. To learn more of Atsuo’s insights, tune in below.
'If you have no one to share your achievements with, then what’s the point?' - Kim Sloth BengtsenClick To Tweet
Do subscription-based business and casual gaming go together? Discover the what, when, where and how to monetize one of the more alternative ways of working with casual gaming in this lecture from Casual Connect Europe by Kim Sloth Bengsten. As the CEO of Lotto24, Kim revealed that they try to be both in the emerging market and the established market. To do this, Kim advises, “try to outmaneuver your competitors by price and quality but also being innovative and thinking about new products that you can add to your portfolio.” To hear more insights, tune in below.
'The beauty of creativity is in limits.' - Nicolae BerbeceClick To Tweet
From annoying pop-ups and walls of text to images of controllers with tons of little lines coming out of them leading to actions that the player is supposed to magically remember before even playing the game, tutorials can be the death of a game. In the recent talk about tutorials at Casual Connect Europe, Nicolae Berbece taught how to make a successful tutorial, one that will hook the player from the beginning to the very end. Do you want to know how to make a good tutorial without the player even realizing they’re going through one? First of all, you do need to know that “tutorials are essential”, but also keep in mind that “a good tutorial is invisible, no one remembers a good tutorial”. Nicolae further advised, “teach through experience, no popups, no wall of text.” For these things and more, lend an ear to one of Those Awesome Guys, Nicolae Berbece.
Goodgame Studios’ Head of Studio, Daniel Persson, is, after fourteen years in the game industry, an expert in game design and development. In this role, Daniel is responsible for GoodGame’s puzzle genre and brings to this work a background in leading positions in companies that include Funcom, Starbreeze, IO Interactive, and, most recently, King, building the Malmö studio and successfully developing and launching the game Pet Rescue Saga.
At Casual Connect Europe, Daniel described how to build a casual game development team from scratch and gave examples of how to lead and structure the team to succeed in creating outstanding games. Daniel emphasized, “You are not doing the work; people are. You need to make them independent. I need to break through the façade of a person in an interview. Push people outside their comfort zone.”
To learn more about building a great team, watch the full lecture below.