Saturday, 29 March 2014

How to make sure your project is a success especially with financial backing.

I have never asked for financial backing for my company Mammoth Interactive. There have been several times where I could have asked for funding and probably received some financing. Especially because in 2008- ~2013 there has been a startup bubble and arguably a kickstarter bubble. This bubble of course is startups and projects getting too much funding for what they are worth. Personally I think this bubble has deflated a bit and that is really good which is a topic for another article on how startups spend their money.

Today we are going to look at a kickstart project that has been put on hold and we will talk about some of my failures and why I made the decisions I did. This is going to be an educational experience for all.

The project that we are going to look at is Exploding Rabbit's Super Action Squad. Now, let me be very clear that I am in no way trying to laugh, make fun of or ridicule the creators. They have actually made some very good points which I want to highlight. In fact I made the same mistakes. The only difference is that I didn't take people's money and make mistakes with somebody else's money.

You can read the article on how their project is being put on hold here. I would go read it because it really highlights what can go wrong in a project and so many of my projects went south because of the same reasons.

I would suggest reading every word it has very good advice let me put in the bullet points here. I will talk about my perspective on these topics and my failures.

Lack of understanding of scope
Unrealistic estimate of cost
Being apart of an in effective team
Software tools
No pre-production
This has got to be the number one reason why any project fails. Remember that failures are GOOD if you learn from them. I certainly have. This is why I plug making a small project and releasing it so much at Mammoth If you have taken any of my courses, you will know that I plug this constantly.

How do you get experience? Simple just do it! Releasing a small project is the best way get experience. Plus what you do is put yourself ahead of all of the overeducated people who hang out at the coffee shop all day.

As silly as it sounds you want to release as many projects as you can and learn from each project. The more you release the better you get. What you do have to put in is time. The more time you put in the better you get. If you have a job try and work part time and work the remaining hours on you project, you will learn so much by doing this.

For me, I needed to learn to code in new programming languages so I bought some DVDs and I put in the time and out came an XBOX 360 game. I made tons of prototypes before that came out but in the end I do have an XBOX 360 game in my portfolio.

You are never too old to learn something and you don't have to go to a class to learn it. You can do it on your own. Now more than ever you can learn faster with online learning.

Lack of understanding of scope. 
This is a big one. The Exploding Rabbit article details this very well. For me this happened a lot and I will tell you about some of the times I had completely misread the scope of a project.

The best part of a project is the part where you discuss features at a coffee shop or a restaurant with some friends / business partners. This part is amazing because coming up with ideas takes about 1 millionth the effort it does to implement these ideas. Most of the time ideas are worthless without execution. Really what you should be looking for is execution of ideas and not simply ideas.

When I was 12 I took a programming course in visual basic at my local university. I thought visual basic mean "Let's make a 3D game". Sadly it was not and I legitimately thought that I could make something similar to Neverwinter nights in my room on my 486 computer. This didn't happen and the game never came to be released. Instead I made a small text based adventure game.

On a side note, I always say that if you have an idea of what you want to do, scale it back 95-99% and that's what will be released.

Flash forward to 2010 after I released my XBOX 360 game Circa, as soon as I uploaded it and as soon as it came online for people to play I started a new project. This project was going to be an overhead shooter that took place on a space station around Saturn's moon titan. It had an awesome plot and I knew that for sure this would make it big. After all Circa was a mild success and if I made a bigger game with a bigger scope then my career would skyrocket.

I programmed the mechanics, made the levels and started making the art. Along the way I constantly kept adding more and more features. I said "Let's add more because more features equals more sales". I couldn't be more wrong. This is why I practice subtractive production techniques. You can learn more about them at Mammoth Interactive. com if you don't know what subtractive production techniques are.

Always always always set the scope at the beginning of the project. Otherwise you are going to get out scoped. Which is what happened to this project. As I added more features the game became harder and harder to handle. Eventually, I woke up one morning and I looked at the work that needed to be done in order to get this game to about 80%. It was too much and I abandoned the project. At least I didn't waste other people's money. If I was in school, I would be punished for "failing" but going through the process I ironically would learn more than what I would learn in school. I learned the hard way that you should always set parameters at the beginning of the project.

I then worked on my next project which was a 2D platformer set in the 1920s. It also had a great plot. I wrote the script, programmed the mechanics and hired an artist to do the animation. Everything was going well. I thought that after my failure last time I would surely release this game. I was ready to put in the last 10% of the project. I was so excited. Then, Microsoft upgraded the XBOX 360 framework to a new version. It broke my game. In order to make the 2D platformer I had to use an engine and a lot of the back end libraries were not compatible. As a result I had a broken game. I was defeated and frustrated again. This time for a completely different reason my game was not to be released. It took 6 months for other people in the community to fix the problem. I had then moved on to another project. At this time, it wasn't as worth it to release a game for XBOX and I was working on iOS projects at the time.

This is 2 major games that were canned because of two different reasons. At least I learned this on my own instead of taking investor money or crowd funded money.

For the next few weeks I worked on a sequel to Circa called Circa reloaded. I was frustrated with the environment so I turned to iOS instead.

Unrealistic estimate of cost
This is another big one. Games cost at least 5 figures to make. It has to do with the interaction of art, software and user experience. I would say most of the time games cost 6 figures to make. Of course big companies that have the infrastructure can lower this but for the most part when you are making game budget 6 figures to do it properly.

The Exploding rabbit game should have cost around 300-400k not 53k. People think that they can spend about 2k on a game and become a millionaire. This is false. Occasionally you can get a simple game like flappy birds and make it big. Those are usually anomalies.

Being apart of an ineffective team
If there is any source of frustration that I had with development of any kind whether it was a game, app, video or music it was working with people who are ineffective. Most of the time when you work with creative people you will quickly realize that most people are useless. Often times these people don't even show up on time and when they do their performance is spotty and they don't have a work ethic.

Being super eager when I was 22 and fresh out of university, I quickly came to realize that most people under 30 have other priorities even if they say they want to be a _____. Their priorities are elsewhere. This is mainly why I worked alone. I couldn't deal with the malaise of the typical millennial attitude. I really wanted a job but this was 2008 and of course I was caught in that no experience no job conundrum plus a giant recession.

The flip side is that working with people who are 35 and older can actually get something finished. The flip side is they usually have a family and their priorities usually are conflicted between family and career.

I would say that if you can find somebody with ambition willing to go with you on the same journey as you, take it. Working with people is a lot better than working alone. If you can't find anybody, then work alone, it will be much better in the long run.

Software tools.
Before you even start a project look at the tools needed to complete the project. Choosing the right software is so important. In your project scope you need to
1. Find the platforms you are deploying to
2. Find the software tools that can do it
3. Find the tool that is easiest to use. Drop features if you have to.

If you are developing as an independent always go for the easiest solution. Software development is hard.

No pre-production
Pre production is important because it will plan out the scope of the project. Great game companies will do a ton of pre production. The best analogy I can think of for this is the way construction is done. When I was in University, I took a job landscaping. I put up an entire suburban park in one summer. It was a great learning experience. Most of the work was done before we put in the trees and the grass etc. In fact, the visual components were completed in a very short amount of time. You have to think of your software production the same way.

Where am I today. Well about a year after I released Circa for the XBOX 360 I started to release iOS games and several of them went to #1 on the app store. How did I do this? Experience, failure and a lot of perseverance.

Mammoth Interactive is a profitable company today with no investor funding. My reputation is not tarnished with failed projects, wasted crowd funded or investor money. Learn from your mistakes and drive the next project. If you believe in yourself you can do it!