Vision & Iteration

The_Long_Road_Ahead  

One of the interesting things about following folks on Twitter is getting a bunch of input from experienced folks whose experience is quite different from your own. One thing that's shown up on Marc Andreessen, Peter Thiel, and a couple other prominent VCs is the idea that one doesn't iterate to success, that it takes a strong founder's vision to drive toward success. I agree, and I don't.

Over the last six years, one of the most important things that we learned was how to iterate quickly and learn from actual users. This is still surprisingly rare in game development, even though it's been a critical part of many other software development fields for ages. The "Lean Startup" toolbox lets you move really fast, try a lot of bold experiments without fear of taking your whole project, and it was absolutely critical to how we demolished the competition with a much, much smaller team at our previous company.

But at the same time, there was a vision behind the iterative process. The vision was to build genuinely social games that you loved to play with your friends. I've found it's invaluable to have a clear mission statement - but it's often not enough to simply reduce your statement into a single sentence and be done. The best mission statements - visions - are ones that let you cut away irrelevant things.

For us, the key words were "genuinely social" and "loved to play with your friends." This meant a few things - would we spend a significant amount of time on single player games? No. Even a great concept, unless it had elements of social interaction, were not things we were going to pursue.

Did we need cutting-edge 3D graphics? No. What we needed were graphics that people could really sink their teeth into. 3D vs. 2D was an irrelevant question, but given the constraints of our budget at the time, 2D worked out significantly better - it was cheaper to implement, and performed significantly better on the small, underpowered devices of the time.

Many questions came back to that original statement - and that statement helped us answer questions quickly during iterations. It this something a player is going to *love* or is it we're doing something to rake in a quick buck at the expense of the player? Is this something that will hinder social interaction or enhance it?

I agree that you can't iterate your way to success in the absence of any kind of vision. I think it's important for a team, and for a founder to be passionately engaged, and believe in a specific future for their team & company. But at the same time, there's absolutely no question that developing in a highly iterative environment with rich user feedback is what let us execute on that vision the best.

With Wonderspark, we're taking all that we've learned and cranking it up a notch. We believe we can be more transparent, more engaged, iterate with even better information, and that we can push gaming on iOS forward into a better future.

One of the strongest needs we've found is that there's a whole generation of people who loved playing games as they grew up, but now, as parents, or as people who are deep into their careers, we don't have the time we used to have to play games. Yet we yearn for rich, immersive, and challenging experiences - not just another time killer match 3 that will exploit us for a quick buck.

We want to make genuinely social games for people who loved to play games. Things that are designed from the ground up for mobile - both the unique elements of the hardware and how people use their mobile devices - that will become a meaningful and awesome part of your life.

Getting to that point is gonna take a lot of iteration.