Game Design, Programming and running a one-man games business…

Everything about business is messy

I’ve always known this, but it hit home recently, for various boring reasons. I’m a bit of a maths and stats and numbers geek. I’m actually not that good at pure maths, but I do love spreadsheets and statistics and so on. Can you tell from my games? I thought so. Anyway, because of that, I do a lot of planning, and strategizing, and thinking and extrapolating about business. The holy grail of course, is to think you have found a ‘formula’ that means you can make something for $X and sell it for $X+1, and thus earn billions and be a success. yay!

The trouble is, although it never seems it when you look at spreadsheets, nothing is reproducible in a linear fashion in the world of business. Say my ad campaign costs $0.40 a click and I estimate (through complex formula) that I get $0.44 value for that. That doesn’t mean I should double or quadruple my ad spend. Not vaguely. It just means that I am making money in these exact circumstances right now today. Doubling the ad spend widens the market and dilutes the targeting. it could then *lose* money.

In the rare circumstances where there is a huge market for generic product X, and the market is unfulfilled by others, and nobody else is looking to enter the market, and you can double your output of X with the same cost per unit, and currently X earns you money, then that is a done deal, but this NEVER happens.

Gratuitous Space Battles was a huge hit, back in 2009 or whatever, so a sequel is a no brainer in 2015. Although it isn’t because the market is totally different, the game has to (by definition) vary from the original, so the product is different. The economy is different, and so on…

This is why Positech is basically just me, in terms of full time game production people. Expanding sounds easy. I would like to expand. I have the capability to expand and make more games, definitely not short of ideas. But that would ideally mean cloning me, and sadly thats not possible yet. I have to find someone who likes the same kind of games as me, is VERY good at C++, speaks English, is looking for a job, is willing to work for someone else, who is affordable, who I get along with,  who is trustworthy, who works hard, who is reliable and will do what they are employed to do.

Future positech employees
Future positech employees

If you think there are lots of those people, you have never tried to hire one.

Business is messy, messy,messy. People are unreliable, or they decide to quit and work elsewhere, or they get ill, or divorced messily and lose focus, or they win the lottery, or their partner gets a promotion and they have to relocate, or they are argumentative, or they are less experienced than they claim or…one of a billion things.

If when running your games studio you think ‘omg this is a nightmare, why am I dealing with all these crappy problems that you never see Elon Musk or Steve Jobs moaning about’, don’t panic. Business is always really messy, and fiddly and frustrating. Thats why most people take jobs with someone else.

7 thoughts on Everything about business is messy

  1. I think you will never find anyone with this criteria , and you actually don’t want that person anyway – they wouldn’t have the same background and would try to change things and probably annoy you.

    What you really want is someone with passion, but just a little bit of experience. Someone who fits into the culture of your one man company, who you know you can trust and mentor to grow in 1-2 years into a great resource. And lets be honest, there are lots of parts of games that don’t need someone who is REALLY good at C++.

    It’s not easy, but about 2 years ago, after hiring some people who could do the job, but didn’t fit into the company culture, we changed the way we hire. We now only hire passionate people with an interest in programming. If they have experience, it’s a bonus, but it’s not a requirement. Our last guy had only HTML/JavaScript experience at all, but was so passionate, he learned enough to be a productive programmer in 2 months. Plus, as a bonus we teach them the techniques and skills that make sense for us and they are as productive as one of our developers with 2 years experience.

    1. You are right of course. The problem is I cant mentally get past that first hump of ‘it would be quicker to do that thing myself’. Its quite irrational, but also I think quite common.

      1. It’s not irrational at all. But delegation is an important skill to learn. I really would be surprised if more than 10-20% of your job is exciting. I’m sure the rest of the programming is just execution and lots of other people could do it. Same deal as your accountant. Totally want to reinforce that this is not easy!

  2. What tool support are you using for the code?

    As a C++ developer with a massive amount of code to deal with (literally what twelve people were handling a few years ago) I’d be stuck without my automatic spelling checker, cppcheck, PC-Lint, automatic #define typo spotter, overnight build, multi-platform compilation checker and high-speed unit tester. All definitely force-multipliers.

      1. Ah, well recommended!
        I used to use Visual Assist, but then worked at a SlickEdit studio for a while. Now I’m back on Visual Studio I should get VA back again. It’d give me back an actually useful autocomplete, unlike ‘Intelli’sense, which seems to offer symbols from the entire Windows SDK in preference to the one you defined on the line above…

  3. What is your reasoning behind the statement that you looking for a person that is “VERY good at C++” ? I mean, you can always hire talented student who’s willing to develop his skills. Don’t you find it quiet encouraging, taking some guys under your wings and see them growing while developing your game?

    Congratulations on your blog by the way, it is very enjoyable to read!

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