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Seven Questions for Every Video Game Kickstarter

August 12, 2014

Recommend checking out this article:

Seven Questions for Every Video Game Kickstarter.

My own comments below:

These are all good questions. I would offer the following advice:

For point 1: “Who is the project manager for this development?”

To be fair, not everyone has a “General Manager” of a project. Indeed, that’s an oftentimes bad role in a creative enterprise; most subject matter specialists don’t like answering to a person who has authority just by virtue of handling the money. That said, if they use a better model, they should explain that model. So maybe what we should be asking is:

“Do you have an Organizational Chart for the team?” (Also, asking for workflows will sometimes yield some interesting information, but that’s a bit more advanced.)

The Org Chart should define the roles and responsibilities, and should also help in answering question 2 and to a lesser extent 3.

To further answer question 3, and to answer question 6 at the same time, the team should provide a preliminary Product Roadmap, featuring key milestones and staff ramp-up schedule at the same time.

Questions 4 and 5 can both be answered in the same budget breakdown document (even if the tools are free, they should still be listed and indicated as such).

Question 7 should be answerable both in the body of the pitch, but also in the aforementioned documents. Early Access and the like should be in the roadmap. Other sources of funding should be in the budget breakdown (as that shouldn’t just feature the Kickstarter money).

Two more things I would ask are:

* Where are you planning to get the additional staff from?

Quality staff are hard to come by. If you want the best of the best, you may have to use agents. Or at the very least direct approaches (which are time consuming), and then you have to expect to pay a lot more than you would for students out of Uni.

If they have a core team of relatively skilled and experienced people, sure, that can go a long way. But if they commit to a timeline for the additional hires, that puts them under time pressure. So I’d like to know if the future hires are scoped out already or if they will post a job listing or what.

* What happens if the project attracts unexpected investment?

People were none too happy with the whole Oculus/Facebook thing. Maybe explain the team’s philosophical stance on working with large companies, and what happens to the backers’ investment if and when EA steps in and buys the whole shebang.

From → Other

9 Comments
  1. tyelko permalink

    An organizational chart is a nice thing to have, but in the end, it’s a document that may or may not reflect reality. A project manager’s role would not the least be to ensure that such a chart is actually being followed and not just a piece of wall decoration (let alone of one hundreds of files on the computer which haven’t been accessed in a year).

    No, subject matter experts don’t like to answer to people who have authority just because they have their hands on the purse. But good subject matter experts realize that it’s good to have someone as a pacemaker. Because if they have to spend part of their attention away from their subject matter because they need to make sure that everyone else is working as planned, it’s only going to bog them down. And if they don’t do that, it’s going to bog them down even more when they realize that another team’s deliverable that they critically need isn’t done yet.

    The point is less authority and more having the official task of keeping an eye on project progress so that others don’t have to – and thus having the time and energy to do so. The key point is not thinking of the project manager as the guy with the hands on the purse but as a facilitator who helps others excel at their specific task by making sure they have what they need – be it part of the budget or the deliverables from other teams.

    • “An organizational chart is a nice thing to have, but in the end, it’s a document that may or may not reflect reality.”

      This is true for any document, though. Ultimately everything may end up being fake. There’s not a process in the world that works if people don’t commit to following it, and the same goes for people. Project managers don’t have any magical powers of authority, and the existence of such a role doesn’t really guarantee anything. It’s ultimately down to more than that.

      “But good subject matter experts realize that it’s good to have someone as a pacemaker.”

      Having amateurs in charge of subject matter specialists doesn’t make much peace. The best arbiter in these situations is, in my opinion, someone who is whole-heartedly in charge of the vision/creative direction of the project, and can make informed, hopefully inclusive decisions. Traditionally this person is someone called a Creative Director or similar. If they call that person a “Producer”, with no game design experience, you should generally just turn and run.

      If the Project Manger is truly a project manager in the correct sense, focusing on task planning and scheduling and administrative tasks and the like, then I agree that this is a useful role. But that person has no reason to have any executive authority whatsoever.

      • tyelko permalink

        “This is true for any document, though. Ultimately everything may end up being fake. There’s not a process in the world that works if people don’t commit to following it, and the same goes for people. Project managers don’t have any magical powers of authority, and the existence of such a role doesn’t really guarantee anything. It’s ultimately down to more than that.”

        Not a guarantee, but reminding people of their commitment in time is certainly better than getting worked up over failed deadlines…

        “Having amateurs in charge of subject matter specialists doesn’t make much peace. ”

        It works like a charm in practically every industry, when done right. How many CEOs out there are subject matter specialists? Even if they once started out as one, they’ve been dealing with managerial tasks for so long, they rarely are at the cutting edge of the subject matter anymore. The key point is understanding who is who. The subject matter specialist is responsible for the know-how, the manager is responsible for the what and when, taking into account the know-how provided by the subject matter experts (ideally).

        Most companies run solely by subject matter experts run into trouble eventually, because they lack subject matter expertise on pulling the whole thing together and are rather blind to how their work is perceived from the outside – which is rather critical when, in the end, you want to sell a product. I’ve seen multiple companies fail because their founders were brilliant scientists but had little idea as to how communicate what benefit their products brought to people outside. They simply assumed it was as self-evident for others as it was for them.

        Believe me, I’ve been there. I was one of these people who thought that marketing interfering in product R&D was preposterous. I’ve gotten over that.

        “Traditionally this person is someone called a Creative Director or similar. If they call that person a “Producer”, with no game design experience, you should generally just turn and run”

        Hey, my GF is a producer, responsible for game adaptation on a specific mobile platform, but that’s of course quite a bit away from making games de novo. But still, guess what one of her primary problems is: Subject matter experts believing that they know better than everyone else what priority which task should have and as a consequence endangering the deadlines. Just because you consider a certain bug as far more important than the one declared a show stopper in tests with consumers doesn’t mean that it’s really a good idea to put aside work on what gamers consider a show stopper to work on what has spurred your intellectual curiosity. Even if it might turn out a bigger problem later on, it might still be taken care of with an update later on, whereas the show stopper needs to be deal with NOW so the company can get the game out and make money. Even worse when they do so without anyone actually telling they aren’t working on the bug everyone assumes they are working on but actually something totally different.

        I’ve seen a movie tie-in game delayed for months by a lack of communication and willingness to listen. Which is an absolute disaster, since the attractiveness of such games evidently dwindles massively once the movie is out of theatres.

        (And yes, it would have been my GF’s job to prevent that from happening, but since it was her first project in the company she still had to build rapport with the team – and deal with the fact that apparently, one or the other subject matter expert believed they should have been producer instead of someone from the outside)

      • “Not a guarantee, but reminding people of their commitment in time is certainly better than getting worked up over failed deadlines…”

        Anyone who needs somebody else to do that for them is probably not senior enough to justify any investment in the project. I really wouldn’t trust in any development team that falls to pieces without a human calendar reminder.

        “It works like a charm in practically every industry, when done right.”

        It doesn’t work in the games industry; I’ve never heard of it working at least. And when it does, it’s to the degree that they stay _out_ of what the team is doing.

        “How many CEOs out there are subject matter specialists?”

        What do CEOs have to do with team leadership, in any but the smallest companies? And the best CEOs are the ones who know not to micro-manage. The closer these career-managers get to the project, the more likely they are to screw things up.

        If they handle the strategic stuff, like general direction of the company, who to put in what situation, and also enabling people to do their best work – then that’s fine. And that’s already a full-time job. They really don’t need to be inside the dev teams and telling them where to put which button, and what that button should do.

        “…because they lack subject matter expertise on pulling the whole thing together”

        You’re right, creating a consistent, cohesive whole is a skill in its own right. There should be roles for that. That does not justify having a project autocrat.

        “Believe me, I’ve been there. I was one of these people who thought that marketing interfering in product R&D was preposterous. I’ve gotten over that.”

        This all comes down to specifics. Marketing interfering is not in principle without merit. But they don’t get to decide what constitutes a good or bad outcome in fields they don’t understand. They are welcome to formulate problem statements, sure. They can comment on the roadmap and the applications, by all means. They don’t get to tell designers where buttons should go, and what they should do.

        And you’ve still not even begun to justify project autocrats.

        “But still, guess what one of her primary problems is: Subject matter experts believing that they know better than everyone else what priority which task should have and as a consequence endangering the deadlines.”

        I can accept that budget and time should be, to a large extent, in the hands of a project manager. Also, it sounds like she is working with a-holes in a company that doesn’t have a culture of accountability (and I’m being nice in assuming that she isn’t just _wrong_). If that weren’t the case, it’d all be fine. You still haven’t provided any reason why she should have creative or even executive authority.

        “Just because you consider a certain bug as far more important than the one declared a show stopper in tests with consumers doesn’t mean that it’s really a good idea to put aside work on what gamers consider a show stopper to work on what has spurred your intellectual curiosity.”

        Where’d I say that?

        “Even if it might turn out a bigger problem later on, it might still be taken care of with an update later on, whereas the show stopper needs to be deal with NOW so the company can get the game out and make money. Even worse when they do so without anyone actually telling they aren’t working on the bug everyone assumes they are working on but actually something totally different.”

        Where’d I say anything else? Do you plan to do anything other than projecting?

        This is all indicative of irresponsible douchy pieces of shit. That just means they shouldn’t have any authority (or maybe jobs). You’re welcome to prove that their being subject matter experts results in this kind of behaviour. Because that’s what you have to prove in order to justify that power of arbitration lie in the hands of an amateur.

        I’m still completely unconvinced that a structure with a Producer accomplishes anything, if by Producer we mean project “boss”. It’s simply not required.

      • tyelko permalink

        “It doesn’t work in the games industry; I’ve never heard of it working at least. And when it does, it’s to the degree that they stay _out_ of what the team is doing.”

        And how long to game studios usually survive? We’ve seen plenty of legendary studios going down. Couldn’t possibly be because they are full of very creative people, but lack significant management skills?

        “What do CEOs have to do with team leadership, in any but the smallest companies? And the best CEOs are the ones who know not to micro-manage. The closer these career-managers get to the project, the more likely they are to screw things up.”

        But we’re not talking micromanaging here, but project managing.

        “This all comes down to specifics. Marketing interfering is not in principle without merit. But they don’t get to decide what constitutes a good or bad outcome in fields they don’t understand. They are welcome to formulate problem statements, sure. They can comment on the roadmap and the applications, by all means. They don’t get to tell designers where buttons should go, and what they should do.”

        And if they have input from gamers that having the button there really sucks? You miss a critical point. They understand what constitutes a good or bad outcome in the only field that matters in the end: the product being attractive to customers. It helps a company precisely ZERO is a subject matter expert believes that he’s outdone the reinvention of the wheel. If the customers believe he’s developed a dud, then the SME will be shopping for a new job in no time.

        As such, while they don’t get to plan every little detail, they certainly have feedback from “out there” that deserves to be listend to. Because identifying what customers actually want and need is the subject matter THEY are experts in – if they are good. Unfortunately, most of the gaming industry sucks at marketing.

        There’s a nice saying in German that the bait has to appeal to the fish, not the fisherman. And that’s the key point SMEs often forget: That the people supposed to buy the product come from totally different environments.

        “Where’d I say that?”

        I didn’t mean to imply you did. I was referring to a real situation that actually happened.

        “Where’d I say anything else? Do you plan to do anything other than projecting?”

        I’m not projecting, I am reporting actual events. And I’m not just talking about a small fry garage shop but about a studio of an international company.

        “You’re welcome to prove that their being subject matter experts results in this kind of behaviour. Because that’s what you have to prove in order to justify that power of arbitration lie in the hands of an amateur.”

        You demonstrated why it leads to that kind of behaviour yourself: Subject matter experts all too often exist in their own little world where their, and only their assessment is all that counts, forgetting that the customers their product is to be sold to might have an entirely different perspective on things.

      • “And how long to game studios usually survive? We’ve seen plenty of legendary studios going down. Couldn’t possibly be because they are full of very creative people, but lack significant management skills?”

        Hah. I think this is the first time I’ve heard anyone even suggest that what the games industry needs is more managers.

        “But we’re not talking micromanaging here, but project managing.”

        And project management is an ambiguous word. I think that we may misunderstand each other just by virtue of defining it differently. If by “project management” you mean doing exclusively project-related tasks, then you’ll really get no pushback from me. The more _product_ management they do, however, the less on-board I am.

        “And if they have input from gamers that having the button there really sucks?”

        Then they should prove that point and that’ll be the end of it. Any SME that isn’t open to that kind of feedback is doing his own job wrong; if we have quantifiable metrics, then there should be no discussion. That’s why we have UX and play test departments and so on – we have a long assembly line of quality control in the industry. Why in the world there’d be marketing people in there is beyond me. You’ve not made games before, have you?

        Also, it’s a bit of an underhanded argument. You could always say what you just did, and just substitute a different kind of job: “And if [the cleaning staff] have input from gamers that having the button there really sucks?”

        I mean, anyone could make that point… it doesn’t justify them having executive authority.

        “That the people supposed to buy the product come from totally different environments.”

        Indeed, none of whom a “general manager” is representative of. We need real, quantifiable data that anyone can parse to make these kinds of assertions. You don’t design by anecdote.

        “There’s a nice saying in German that the bait has to appeal to the fish, not the fisherman. And that’s the key point SMEs often forget: That the people supposed to buy the product come from totally different environments.”

        Heh, I gathered from both the @gmx mailing address and the general love for “managers” that you’d be German.

        I’ve still to hear any argument or evidence for the correlation between being good at something, and having your head up your own ass. And even if you managed to prove some sort of correlation like that you still have the rest of the work left ahead of you – to show that having amateurs deciding on the output of SMEs somehow improves that output.

        It doesn’t. It acts as a bottleneck. Nothing can ever improve past the point that the amateur-in-chief is capable of assessing.

        “I’m not projecting, I am reporting actual events.”

        I will always have an equivalent number of anecdotes, if not more, in the opposite direction. That’s why anecdotal evidence is inadmissible in court, for instance.

        “You demonstrated why it leads to that kind of behaviour yourself: Subject matter experts all too often exist in their own little world where their, and only their assessment is all that counts, forgetting that the customers their product is to be sold to might have an entirely different perspective on things.”

        Well, that’s your assessment, and it doesn’t bother me at all. If you seriously think that, though, you haven’t really been paying attention to this blog.

  2. tyelko permalink

    “Hah. I think this is the first time I’ve heard anyone even suggest that what the games industry needs is more managers.”

    Except I didn’t say anything about “more”

    “Then they should prove that point and that’ll be the end of it. Any SME that isn’t open to that kind of feedback is doing his own job wrong; if we have quantifiable metrics, then there should be no discussion. That’s why we have UX and play test departments and so on – we have a long assembly line of quality control in the industry. Why in the world there’d be marketing people in there is beyond me. You’ve not made games before, have you?”

    As I said, I have insight into the industry through my GF – and I’m a gamer since the advent of computer gaming. And I’ve marketed quite a number of other products – including in industries for which what you call test departments would be worth a laugh because their test groups are as large as the total sales of some games. You say you have a long assembly line of quality control in the industry, yet we routinely get games going gold which are practically unplayable – whatever testing happened evidently was not enough. As for your question why there’d be marketing people in there, it is quite easy to answer: Because UX is the basic domain of marketing. And herein lies the chief problem: The gaming industry to no small degree still follows the tired old model of marketing which reduces it to sales promotion: Throw out trailers, make great shows at E3, Gamescom etc.and nowadays, invite some bloggers and Vloggers to a nice tour of the premises or send them nice gifts so that they produce nice videos. Marketing is much, MUCH more than that. That’s why I say that UX is the basic domain of marketing. Management Guru Peter Drucker once said: “The aim of marketing is to know and understand the customer so well the product or service fits him and sells itself.” If I understand what the customer needs and wants, I don’t need (much) sales promotion. And it’s the job of good marketeers to find out what that is. If you provide the right product, with the right UX, at the right price, through the right channels, people will be all over it without any booth babes, plastic standups and self-glorification shows.

    If, on the other hand, you’re going to pour a ton of defunct code over the consumer’s computer, you evidently need plenty of hype for the customer to tolerate that he just gave you quite a bit of money for some stuff that doesn’t work.

    “I’ve still to hear any argument or evidence for the correlation between being good at something, and having your head up your own ass. And even if you managed to prove some sort of correlation like that you still have the rest of the work left ahead of you – to show that having amateurs deciding on the output of SMEs somehow improves that output.”

    Being amateurs at coding doesn’t make these people amateurs at knowing what the people out there want. And being an expert at coding – or design – doesn’t make you an expert on what people want.

    This is the crux with many creatives – they want to produce art for art’s sake, but then wonder why there’s no paycheck coming at the end of the month. You want someone to buy what you do, you have to deliver what they want – not what you think they should want.

    “It doesn’t. It acts as a bottleneck. Nothing can ever improve past the point that the amateur-in-chief is capable of assessing.”

    Your calling people amateurs just because they aren’t specialized in YOUR specialty is nothing short of declaring yourself omniscient of everything relevant. This arrogance is precisely why companies fail.

    “I will always have an equivalent number of anecdotes, if not more, in the opposite direction. That’s why anecdotal evidence is inadmissible in court, for instance.”

    Which is irrelevant, since an anecdote is sufficient to show that such things happen. It’s just not sufficient to show they are the rule. But to illustrate potential problems, they suffice fully.

    • “Except I didn’t say anything about “more””

      Fair enough. But more management by managerial types. Now you’re being argumentatively obstinate and annoying.

      “As I said, I have insight into the industry through my GF – and I’m a gamer since the advent of computer gaming.”

      Argument from authority. I have more insight than either of you. That proves nothing.

      The rest of that whole paragraph does nothing but prove that you don’t know anything about the industry or about the production methodologies that we use. Most importantly, though, you’re still not proving the _positive_ point; that anything you’ve asserted so far would fix the (inaccurate) problem statements. For instance: “games products not good enough – therefore, more management is needed”. Yeah. No.

      Also, the games industry is already awash in managerial types AND marketing types. If anything, I think the point that _has_ been proven, is that those people’s input hasn’t exactly saved the industry.

      “Being amateurs at coding doesn’t make these people amateurs at knowing what the people out there want.”

      Heh. This is a very unscientific way of looking at things. You’re strictly speaking right, but the opposite isn’t true either. Being an amateur at subject matter areas doesn’t magically give you insight into what people want. If you’re an expert at knowing what people want, then that’s to my point – let experts do what they do. Project managers are _not_ automatically these people, neither are marketers – depending on which level of abstraction we’re talking about. Yes, both job roles have their uses, but neither is automatically entitled to tell experts how to do their jobs.

      “Your calling people amateurs just because they aren’t specialized in YOUR specialty is nothing short of declaring yourself omniscient of everything relevant. This arrogance is precisely why companies fail.”

      Still more assertions. You’ve not proven anything yet.

      How arrogant is it to think that you understand art, audio, design and technical disciplines enough to tell those people what to do and how to do it, just because you have an MBA? That apples-to-oranges thinking is precisely why companies fail.

      See how easy that is to do?

      “Which is irrelevant, since an anecdote is sufficient to show that such things happen. It’s just not sufficient to show they are the rule. But to illustrate potential problems, they suffice fully.”

      Yes. Some things happen some of the time. -_-

      Seriously. Stop typing.

  3. Some interesting extra points there.

    Ultimately I think that if studios want to bask in the loving glow of crowdfunding, they have to be a lot more transparent. (Or perhaps they should be a lot more transparent, but that’s not something backers are asking of them right now.) So hopefully all these points will encourage people to start asking more questions before putting their money in.

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