How's things?

It's been a while since I've talked much about what, exactly, we're up to these days. Most of our day is focused on two things: 1.) The game, 2.) The business.

We're still cranking away on the game. About two months ago, we decided that we needed to make some big changes to the core rules of the game, and we've been playtesting that with cards while getting the new rules into code. Since there's only one of us who's a competent programmer, these things take time. (hint: the programmer isn't me. If I had to code our prototype, I'd still be figuring out how to get "Hello, world!" displayed on-screen.)

So since I can't code for beans, I've spent a bunch of time both making new cards, since in our game cards = content, and prototyping the front end of the game. It's BEAUTIFUL, and looks like this:

Sweet, right? I KNOW! Now you know I'm as good at making art as I am at writing code. What the hell do I do around here, anyway?

But the neat thing is that we've been using a program called Prototype on Paper. You draw a bunch of stuff, take pictures of it, and POP gives you tools to stick it all together and make it work like an actual thing. It's one of the many, many tools that are available now that weren't back in 2009, the last time we started something from scratch, and having the ability to just doodle prototypes, actually try them, and iterate by just drawing more is really kinda magical.

...and oh, god. Here's the actual link to the actual prototype. Gasp. It's not much, because it's only front-end stuff, and it's a work-in-progress. But it's a work-in-progress in the right way, where even using this points out things that conceptually, I've gotten wrong or are sub-optimal. But still. In the vein of showing what we're up to, even when it's scary to do so, there ya go. (And no, there's no gameplay. That's not what this is for.)

One of the weird things is that in many ways, this is actually even better than mocking up things in Photoshop. If you take some time to make a prototype look good, you end up in this really weird situation - it's sort of the uncanny valley for prototypes - if it looks good enough, people will think it should do more than it can. If, on the other hand, things look like a napkin doodle, you really don't expect it to do much of anything, so it's surprising and delightful when something actually happens. But more importantly, you're not thinking about it like a finished product, so you're not concerned with the details. Why doesn't the box have a shine on it? Why aren't these two things lined up exactly? Well, because it's a hand drawing.

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On a totally different note, one thing that's funny to me is that over the last five years, we went from scrappy startup to really kind of mindbogglingly successful company, and how you make decisions about some things become totally different.

Employee wants a desk.

In a scrappy startup, you scour craigslist for hours, so you can drive an hour away so you can save $100 on a desk.

In a larger company, you spend $1,000 on a desk without thinking about it, because the time spent thinking about it & having meetings and getting approval, signing paperwork, running it through HR, whatever, ends up costing so much more in time that it's better to just spend the $ and get the desk, make sure they're optimally productive, and move on.

The difference is that in a startup, your time's value is effectively 0, but every dollar you have has extreme value. So you spend carefully. Not stupidly - sometimes that hour spent searching or the hour spent driving isn't worth it. But a lot of the time, putting in the effort to build stuff yourself, or find it cheap is worth it. In a larger company, your time is immensely valuable and in general, the amount of money that you're spending on something like a desk is trivial relative to having someone be productive faster.

Ultimately, it's just a question of "how do I optimally spend my resources?" but it's funny how different the two scenarios are. I really prefer the scrappy startup model. It forces you to solve a lot of problems in interesting ways, while the big company model solves virtually everything with money.

The funny thing, though, is that's not usually how big companies operate. Instead of trying to optimize for efficiency or speed, they optimize for uniformity and risk aversion. Why would I need to consult an ergonomicist to get a standing desk? Risk aversion. The *cost* of justifying a standing desk is almost certainly as much or more than the cost difference between a normal desk and a standing one. Having to get a signoff by a person of X-or-higher rank to get a software program that you've determined that you need is another stupid example. No, I don't care if there's a cheaper option out there. If I've hired someone whose judgment is good, and they're asking me for something specific, just get it, if you're a big company. Instead, the companies try to optimize for pennies so that some bean counters can justify their jobs, while blowing tens of thousands of dollars in time on meaningless nonsense. That's the worst of all possible worlds, and virtually every large company I've worked for operates this way.

It's nice to feel "close to the metal" - to know where every dollar is going, what it's being used for, and remember that we've got X resources to pull off something amazing. I love working under constraints. It provides focus, and meaning, and generates creativity. It can also be hard and stressful and sometimes miserable. But in the end, it's almost always better to work to (or against?) constraints. We'll see. In 18 months, when we're running out of $$, ask me this again and my answer might be different. :)