Sometimes I forget how long I’ve been making games. This gameboard was from one of the first full on board games that I designed, circa 2000. “Mythrole: Merchants” was a pick-up and deliver game in a fantasy world. It had a few mechanics that I like: dynamic supply and demand, and also a general encouragement to make lots of free-form deals with your opponents. However, the game was a bit clunky overall in many ways, though I haven’t played it in over 10 years so it’s hard to remember how easy it might be to improve it.
During one of the Independent Games Summit talks at GDC last week, one speaker (can’t recall who) quipped the line “I’m sure nobody in this room comes to work each day thinking about maximizing shareholder value.”
I wasn’t in the room for that talk, but if I was, I certainly wouldn’t have agreed! I am “indie”, and I do, in fact, go to work every single day thinking about maximizing shareholder value. I’m a major shareholder in my independent game development efforts!
There is often a stigma against people who admit that they are interested in profiting (substantially) in their independent game development. This seems really odd to me, and also not accurate. I think most developers want to profit from their work. Some are more obsessed with it than others, but very few don’t genuinely want to be in a situation where their creative work has provided them not just security, but enjoyability in their financial situations.
Anyone who manages a for-profit company has a responsibility to maximize shareholder value. However, this often gets confused as “care only about money and making as much as possible regardless of how or lasting effects.” The truth is, maximizing shareholder value should be done:
- …within the mission and philosophy of your business
- …with an aim towards long term sustainability (assuming you want your business to last)
- …with consideration of what “Value” is.
#1 is critically important. If I found my business with an intent to make innovative games, then I should not maximize shareholder value by becoming a fast-follower or cloning shop, because that doesn’t align with my company’s mission.
#2 is important for considering company reputation, future strategic opportunities, and health of company assets (including the human resources—US!) I shouldn’t maximize value by taking a contract that won’t eventually help lead to better opportunities down the line. Sometimes, survivability is an important strategic consideration. Take the WFH gig, live to fight another day. Many of us have been in that situation.
#3 is the game theory concept of “Utility.” Value changes from person to person. I believe some amount of fiscal value should almost always be part of your overall business Value or utility. But other things enter in, too. For example, “working no more than X hours per week” can be part of your value equation, as can “never require employees to miss a family event”, or whatever.
For me, it is very important that my company mission involve making games I find interesting. Long term sustainability for myself is critically important, but I’m more open to individual companies coming and going based upon marketplace changes, opportunities, and life changes. The concept of Value for me DEFINITELY includes a substantial amount of fiscal value, but it does involve my holistic health, enjoyment of my day to day routine, and interaction with quality people.
Every day I work, I try to maximize this value.
The previous (2012) year was stressful for me - not devoid of good things, but certainly a year that I qualified as “below par.” So when 2013 started, I was hopeful of many good things finally bearing fruit. It’s safe to say the actual 2013 was a lot different than expected (or in some ways hoped), and ended up as a mix of really hard things and really good things. In retrospect, it was a HIGHLY eventful year. Certainly some of the things I wanted to didn’t bear fruit, but new opportunities were also opened and I’m ending the year working on a great project with good friends.
- I had my appendix taken out. (Bad/Good) Thank goodness for quality health care and modern medicine. I had stomach pains in the morning and then was in surgery at midnight. Recovery was fast, but it was the first time I’ve really been fully couch-bound and helpless, which was weird. I made the mistake of returning to work too early, traveling down to Seattle for a meeting because I was constantly worried about the fate of my team. In doing so, I learned a lesson about life balance and my own health. Pro tip: my pain was all over (not just on the right side), but if you press gently on your right side and release quickly, it should hurt more than on your other side.
- I finished my MBA. (Good) 5 years of night school part-time effort finally culminated in graduation. Colorado State University has a great distance education program and I’m happy to be a Ram! I would have rather done my MBA in person, but this program allowed me to keep working the whole time, which allowed me to exit the program with a minimum of debt, and my career advanced as well. It went according to plan, I guess.
- The odyssey of Big Sandwich—>Z2Live ended. (Bad/Good) I spent 5 years at Big Sandwich Games, helping build the business, make cool games (yes, like my beloved HOARD), working my butt off while going to grad school at the same time. Our hard work culminated in selling to a Seattle company, Z2, which was well positioned to take advantage of the explosion of mobile F2P. It looked liked it was going to be a good fit prior to the transaction, but it was anything but satisfying in execution. There are several key factors involved in why, but they aren’t for discussion on a public forum. And this isn’t the first acquisition in history where things don’t really work out, so it’s not really newsworthy for anyone but myself! In any case, the period from acquisition until I left (Feb 2012 to April 2013) was a tough time. I buried myself in building a good team and executing on our product as best as we could. Nitro shipped and got Editor’s Choice, but didn’t set any Top Grossing charts on fire for a variety of reasons. When I left, I was sad to part with the team I was involved in building, but it was clearly time to get into a situation where I felt there was a better cultural fit and I could get back to what I loved about product and game development.
- I got engaged! (Good) I planted a ring firmly on Ruby’s finger, which pleased her to no end, ha ha. But I am the lucky one in the equation. She is a very interesting woman - full of drive, surprises, fun, and a million other things. This suits me perfectly. We laugh a lot together and share so many interests. I could write a ton more.
- I lost my dog of 16.5 years (Bad) I got Ceilidh, the enigmatic border collie, in 1997, and she had been a huge part of my life in so many ways, a partner in all the experiences I’ve had since graduating college. She was also the last of 4 pets that I got more or less at the same time. She died the day I was walking graduation in Colorado, so it was truly a bittersweet day. By all accounts, she had an amazing run, so her passing was one of sadness, but not tragedy, and I am grateful.
- I walked across England. (Good) Much in need of a break after the pace of work + school, I set out and walked the 192-mile Coast to Coast footpath, which takes you across the Lake District, Yorkshire Dales, and North York Moors. I walked it west to east with my good friend Kevin. I had previously done a couple other long distance footpaths (my favorite was the amazing Offa’s Dyke path which takes you across Wales), and I knew that a footpath trip was just what I mentally needed to recharge and reset. It was a hard walk, not really relaxing, but I enjoyed the trip a lot and the physical challenges were rewarding.
- I returned to Europe with Ruby. (Good) When I told Ruby I was leaving for a month to walk across England, part of the deal was that we needed to take a vacation there, too. She had suffered through a lot of stress while I was managing the studio and doing night school, so we needed some down time together. We splurged and went on a holiday to Austria, Switzerland, and England/Wales. It was a great time, and we were able to see some good friends while we were there. If you’ve read this far, let me just say that going to Europe twice in a year is not normal! But we splurged and celebrated, so there you go.
- Family health problems. (Bad) My father has been battling some serious health issues, and it’s been a hard adjustment for all involved. I made an emergency trip to California to help out with the family, and we all banded together and for now, things are improving. I love my family, and times like this make it very hard to live so far away.
- Continued to Face the Ridiculous Cost of Living in Desirable Places. (Bad) Nuff said.
- Project: Longship Viking Raiders (boardgame). (*) I started ramping up for Kickstarting my boardgame, “Longship.” I lined up a sculptor, wrangled some new art, and began sourcing the manufacturing. But then I had a hard choice to make. It looked like Darkest Dungeon (see below) was going to go, and there was no way I could do both . As much as I wanted to bring Longship to fruition (I really like the game), I shelved it again and hope to pick it back up later. I’ve learned over the years that finishing things requires focus and commitment, and I don’t like spreading it over too many things.
- Darkest Dungeon and Red Hook Studios (Good). The stars aligned, and my friend Chris Bourassa and I were finally able to coordinate our timing and start a project together. We had been brainstorming a game, Darkest Dungeon, for a couple of years, and formally kicked off development in May of this year. We incorporated Red Hook Studios, and my hope is that we will create many great games together. We wrangled a programming partner, Kelvin McDowell, and added another teammate, Keir Miron, in December. We announced Darkest Dungeon in October with the "Terror and Madness" trailer, and the response has been great. As the year ends, we’re gearing up for a Kickstarter campaign in February—with any luck it will help fund the game and maybe even allow us to pay ourselves. But bottom line — it’s great to get back to agile game development, working on a strategy RPG!
All the great things that happened this year are not lost on me. I’m incredibly grateful for the positive things in my life. It may sound weird, given all the good things that happened this year, but I consider 2013 as pretty stressful overall and I am glad that some of the events are over.
2014 has a ton of potential. Here’s hoping for positive news to report in another 12 months!
P.S. I nearly forgot about Karl Stormcrow! He’s been part of our life since the spring, but it already feels like it’s been longer than that. He’s willful, playful, and cute. In other words—a perfect kitten, err cat.
Ever wondered how to error check and understand worksheet formulas better? Use MS Excel’s built in Formula Auditing tools. In this video I cover the basics, using some strategy game worksheet examples.
And another one—this time about how to use $ signs to control your cell references in formulas in MS Excel. Riveting, I know.
Trying something new - a series of video tutorials on game design and related tips. This one is about how to use VLOOKUPs in MS Excel. Not incredibly exciting for a video, but maybe it will be useful to some people!
Earlier this week, I posted an article on my Gamasutra expert blog about the use of Expected Value in game design. Here’s the link!