Remembering What You're Doing

Part of the intention of this blog was to write about game development, and part of it was to write about the process of creating another startup. Even though this is my "second" startup, it's also in many ways my first. Self Aware Games almost immediately had a parent company, and as a result, I'd never gone out and raised funds, or even pitched a studio before. As a result, we've spent a lot of time reading about the process for new entrepreneurs - how to create a good pitch deck, how to think about getting investment, etc. etc. etc. It's been hugely educational, and a really fun process. Some recommended resources:

  • http://theleanstartup.com/ - oddly, a philosophy we'd already embraced, having heard Eric Ries talk at GDC years ago. We'd taken what we learned from that and went off & running for the next 3 years, not realizing it had become a movement. If you're in games and you haven't read this book, it's required. AAA-style development doesn't work on mobile. This approach does.
  • http://startupclass.samaltman.com/ - this has been a series of jaw-droppingly good lectures on how to start a startup, from people who have a shocking amount of success & experience. If you're interested in starting a startup, this is where you should... uh... start.
  • http://www.twitter.com/pmarca - Marc Andreesen's very active Twitter account. There are lots of folks worth listening to, but might as well start with one of the big guns.

One thing that's been really satisfying is hearing a lot of validation about our approach. We're trying to get as much validation of our concept as we can prior to sinking a bunch of money into development, we've spent a lot of time clarifying our message (something I've got a particular focus on after we failed to do what with Fleck). We've found a solid market that needs addressing, and a way to address it that we don't believe anyone is doing.

So it's almost intoxicating. You watch a bunch of lecture videos of people who've achieved amazing things, and they tell you stuff that makes you feel great, or makes you excited about doing more. Then you can go out and put those lessons into action immediately, because hey, you're only beholden to yourselves.

But I think it's also important to sometimes take a step back and say, "But we're not building a startup." Our goal isn't to create a startup, it's to create a game. To build a team. To bring people fun. To address a need that customers have.

That last point is maybe a bit weird, but it's also super important, because games in particular are such a glutted market that standing out is next to impossible. How many puzzle games are created each week & end up on the App Store? How many of them actually succeed? How many even make back their development budgets? A lot of people decide to make a puzzle game because puzzle games are (relatively speaking) easy to make. And that's great! Making something that's easy to make is fine, because making things is difficult enough already. But if you're making something that's easy to make for that reason, the problem is that you're not making a game because you're filling a customer's need.

So a customer, or a player, however you want to refer to them, has no burning desire for your game. You're just another puzzle game, take it or leave it.

The important bits of the startup classes are things that remind us that we have to have a clear understanding not only of what we're doing, but of why we're doing it, and how to keep that front and center. So the educational things have been super valuable in that regard. But it's also important to remember that even though it doesn't give you beautifully reinforcing or encouraging messages, even though it's not an awesome thing we can play right this second, even though the way forward is filled with obstacles and frustration, we can't do what feels good, we have to do what is right for our progress. And that's finding the right balance between learning how to start a startup, and building something the world has never seen before.

So far, it's been an incredibly exciting, satisfying, and awesome experience. We have a very long way yet to go.