Archive for the ‘ Personal ’ Category

It’s been emotional

Doing a start up is hard.  Let’s get that out of the way.  I think it’s well known that it’s hard as well.  There’s just so much to do and so little time to do it.  I find myself having to split my time between coding the game, preventing the server from exploding, responding to community feedback, technical support, managing business queries, following up on all the administrative stuff, and sometimes trying to live my life.  I was fully expecting that part of the difficulty, though, and in the end, I do less coding than I’d like, but it all gets done.

The part of doing a start up that I wasn’t expecting is how emotional it can be.  I might just be a baby when it comes to this stuff, but in general, I’m not a remarkably emotional guy.  It’s funny because one of the biggest reasons that people do start ups is that they want to be in control of their own destiny.  They don’t want layers and layers of people above them to override their decisions or to make decisions that they’re ultimately going to have to do the work for.  The other side of the coin, though, is that when the power is in your hands, you feel the responsibility for each and every decision that’s made.

Launching MonstrosCity made it all real.  I hated the period before launch when I would have to talk to people about what might happen or what we expected or what we hoped for.  There’s simply no emotion tied to the nebulous pondering of what could be.  Now that we’ve launched the game and we can see how it’s going, it’s great.  Once you have something concrete, you can start thinking about how to improve it, no matter how good or bad it is.  From an emotional perspective, though, having something concrete amplifies everything by an unbelievable amount.

I’ve often said that the biggest mistake a person can ever make in life is to assume that human beings are rational machines.  People often take that as a statement about other people.  They believe that I’m saying that I’m rational and everyone else is irrational.  I could talk about this forever, but fundamentally, I think logical thoughts and data are things that pull us in directions, but the way that the human mind overshoots, undershoots, misinterprets, oscillates, and gets stuck in local extrema is astounding.

The other day, I was working on a new feature for MonstrosCity with YouTube in the background on a video of the gymnasts that just tried out for Britain’s Got Talent and suddenly I just found tears streaming down my face.  I couldn’t really put a finger on what was going on.  If I had to put my emotions into words, it would have been something like “Look at the beauty of truly accomplishing something great.  This start up is your performance.  Do you have what it takes to be great?”  It’s funny because all at once, I felt completely inspired to do something great, but in the instant so small and powerless to know if I ever would.

When I look back on it, it seems so absurd.  Did I just cry from watching some gymnasts?  But it wasn’t about gymnasts.  It was about everything that was in my head.  It was about whether or not we’d recover from the small hit in daily active users we took from our server host going down while we slept.  It was about a brand new feature that I had just started on not being amazing after an hour of work.  It was about if the vision of one day creating games that appealed to a universal audience is an impossible pipe dream.  It was about it being Monday and our game mysteriously monetizing poorly on Mondays.

On the other side of things, there are so many experiences that I’ve been absolutely elated by.  The first time other than our friends bought something, I exploded into the other room to hurry up and tell my girlfriend about the $.40 we just made (even though Facebook takes 30% of it).  I got ridiculously excited I got when a friend linked me to a review on Inside Social Games and it was our game.  One of my happiest moments during this start up was when I won a free copy of Flash from a poker tournament to save our company £600.

If I counted the number of times I’ve been absolutely devastated and the number of times I’ve been ecstatic in the last month and compared it to the rest of my life, they’d probably be relatively close numbers.  If there was any one thing that reading the blogs about doing start up didn’t sufficiently warn me about, it’s how emotional it is.  Sometimes when I’m working on my own, I put Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels on in the background.  At the end, Big Chris (Vinnie Jones) comes in and says, “And there’s one more thing.  It’s been emotional.”  I think that line punctuates my start up experience thus far.

Media Molecule Pay Stubs

When I was working at Media Molecule, Mags (accountant) and I had an understanding that if she couldn’t think of anything clever to write on the envelope of my pay stub, I’d have to be fired.

I was shredding some old documents today and came across all my old pay stubs and thought I’d share them.

MM Pay Stubs

Super Metroid Lessons: Focus on Abilities Instead of Obstacles

My favorite game of all time is Super Metroid.  It wasn’t always that way, though.  When I was young, I had a pirated copy of Super Metroid.  Yes, you could pirate SNES games.  No, I don’t pirate things anymore.  One quirk of my bootlegged copy was that it would launch straight into the intro of typing out text and run at 10% framerate, completely unskippable every time.  For this reason, the first year I “owned” Super Metroid, I just thought of it as the stupid game that typed text slowly and made my angry.  One fateful day, though, I was patient enough to leave the intro on while making and eating a meal of macaroni and cheese.  About fifteen hours later, I had completed a gaming experience that has remained unrivaled to this day in my life.

The reason Super Metroid is my favorite game is the fact that it is the first game I played where you could focus on the your abilities and look for the obstacles.  Most games are comprised of abilities and obstacles.  The obstacles are the challenges presented to you and the abilities are what you use to get past the obstacles.  In every game that I had played before Super Metroid, I felt like I was presented with a singular obstacle and spent my entire gameplay experience looking for the ability that would let me get past that obstacle, whether the ability was in myself as a player or in the character.  As was the case in early game design, when you did finally overcome an obstacle, the prize was generally a disappointment (ie. your princess is in another castle) and you’d be forced to focus on the next obstacle at hand.  In other words, you focused on the obstacles and were constantly searching for abilities to overcome them with and by the time you overcame the obstacle, the prize was already gone.

Super Metroid was different.  It would give you an incredible ability and present you with a multitude of obstacles.  Overcoming some obstacles would lead to nothing.  Overcoming some obstacles would lead to something small.  Overcoming some obstacles would actually give you the ability to overcome even more obstacles.  Because of this simple structure, the experience of the game isn’t that of hitting an obstacle and getting frustrated when you fail or being disappointed when the prize wasn’t worth the effort.  The primary thought process of a Super Metroid player was not “What abilities can I use to overcome this obstacle?”  It was “Which obstacle is the best obstacle to tackle right now given my abilities”.  I think the difference between these two mentalities is subtle, but I believe that difference is also fundamental to the core of my being.  By seeing how much I enjoyed Super Metroid compared to other games, it really told me something about myself and what algorithm I used to live my life, even at a young age.

In my life, I’ve met so many people that primarily focus on the obstacles.  They think they’re not happy because they have a crappy job or they think they’re not happy because they’re single.  I also see this mentality applied to start-ups.  They think success will come once they hit critical mass or they think they’ll find success once they catch their big break or they’ll find success once a VC invests in them.  I’m not saying this perspective never works out because sometimes it obviously does.  I think it simply takes a lot more determination, discipline, and luck than what I will call a means-driven perspective.

There are three reasons why I prefer a means-driven perspective over a ends-driven perspective, even in the results-focused world of business.  The first is experience.  When you make an attempt at a goal, the results are either success or failure.  As much as success is nice, failure is not, and it only takes a string of these failures to really damage the confidence and morale of a team.  When you focus on the means everything is just something you do because you can.  If it leads to something good, that’s great.  If it leads to nothing, then you’ve learned that this particular ability wasn’t useful for this particular application.

The second reason is momentum.  When you’ve succeeded in accomplishing a goal, it’s great.  Nobody can take that way from you.  Doing something successful does have long term value in itself in building credibility onto your team.  However, unless you’ve accomplished that goal in a sustainable way, that credibility will waste away very quickly if you can’t repeat the success.  If instead, you are focused on what you can do and you progressively build up knowledge about how to combine your abilities, you become stronger as a team with every new ability you acquire as well as every new way to apply an ability or a set of abilities you already possess.

The last and probably most important reason that I prefer to focus on means rather than ends is that nobody can predict the future.  You may look at the current market and make a guess at where you need to be, but if you ever set that in stone, the next time that the world takes an unexpected turn, you’re fighting your way into a castle with no princess.  If you focus on what you can do now and what next steps those abilities can afford you, you can pilot simply by speed and direction rather than committing to turn by turn directions for the foreseeable future and beyond.  There are so many great success stories of individuals and companies who hit it big with something that wasn’t what they set out to do.  It’s important to focus on your abilities and always be looking for opportunities to apply them rather than to focus on a single goal and let some of your greatest strengths go to waste.

I’ll leave you with a quote from one of my favorite movies, Zero Effect:

Now, a few words on looking for things. When you go looking for something specific, your chances of finding it are very bad. Because of all the things in the world, you’re only looking for one of them. When you go looking for anything at all, your chances of finding it are very good. Because of all the things in the world, you’re sure to find some of them.