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

For the love of god… PLEASE use your own product

There was a bit of scandal recently involving Elon Musk’s potential purchase of twitter, where it became apparent that a number of people on twitters board of directors, never used twitter, or did not even have an account. In people’s mad rush to find a way to criticize Elon musk for everything, this was defended as being perfectly ok.

Its not ok. In fact is absolutely stupendously fucking stupid.

Now obviously, with certain hipster silicon valley companies, fueled by an endless supply of dumb-money venture capital from coked -up idiots who got lucky once with uber, and think they rule the universe, the idea of making a profit, or even having a decent product is seen as passé, but back in the real world where people live and work, if you run a business, its in your interests to make a decent product. This is business 101. In fact this is kindergarten level business. And yet… this seems to be a radical idea to most people.

It is absolutely ESSENTIAL that everyone involved at any level of making a product, has used that product a LOT. You need to know how it feels when that product fails, or works poorly, or slowly, or gives unexpected results. If you make videogames, you need to play your game a LOT. You cannot simply rely on someone else to filter all the data. You cannot understand what makes your product suck, or seem uncompetitive, just by looking at a spreadsheet. You do not really know WHY people buy your product. Maybe there is some regulatory capture that gives you an unfair advantage. Maybe they just haven’t heard of the rival products yet. Maybe they got your product cheap, so are making-do with it until they can afford the better product. maybe it was a gift.

Anybody who just used twitter for 30 minutes a day can tell you its swamped with hatred, anger, arguments, abuse, impersonation, trolls, scams, spam, bots trying to manipulate the news and much more. Anybody who has ever set their timeline to ‘recent’ and seen twitter secretly swapping it back to their algorithm without you asking, KNOWS its horrendously awful UX. But of course if none of the people in charge ever use it…what do they care?

It seems on a day-to-day basis I am increasingly coming into contact with businesses that have no idea how frustrating their product is to use, how impossible to navigate their processes are, and how absolutely infuriating it is to contact anybody. Do we honestly think any call-waiting queueing system would exist for one second if the chief executive was forced to communicate with his own team through the external-facing phone-bank?

This sort of thing drives me absolutely insane, but its also why I have a successful business, and multiple million-dollar selling games, over a 25 year period. Its actually *really easy* to do well in any business. You just make a decent product, work hard, listen to customer feedback AND try your own product and keep refining until you and they are happy with it. It sounds too easy to be true, but the reality is 99% of people are not working this way at all.

An additional; problem, which confounds this lack of experience with their own product/service, is that people at the top in most businesses make it absolutely impossible to contact them. Look up any big company such as apple, google, facebook, reddit, twitter. Show me the way of guaranteed contacting a human being at one of those companies in the next 15 minutes. Impossible.

Every barrier between you and your customers is another step you are laying on the path to failure and bankruptcy. Companies who totally blank their customers and consider them to be peasants, not worth talking to, are companies who have absolutely no clue what their customers actually want.

Do customers really want an 8k TV? No, but people are making them. Does anybody really want the metaverse? No, but its getting invested in. Does anybody really want to sign up to 8 different streaming services? No, but here comes another few… Does anybody really want to remove the headphone socket on a phone? no, but there it goes… again and again and again.

Sometimes a companies management isolation is so laughably bad, it can go years, maybe even a decade without realizing it has no idea what its doing any more. Adobe probably think people REALLY like having to subscribe to a monthly service just to edit some graphics files. Whoever runs CBS probably thinks people are really excited to sign up for their streaming service. Microsoft seem to think we are excited to know exactly what random redesign the windows taskbar and explorer gets next year. These companies are all absolutely delusional.

So my top tip, if you run a company: make it REALLY easy for people to talk to the management, Even the CEO, even you. You will not get anywhere near as much email as you think you will, and the best thing is you hear about (and fix) problems immediately, not after sales drop for 3 consecutive quarters and none of the geeks in the accounting team understands why. Video game players are notoriously argumentative, aggressive, passionate and prone to outbursts, and yet my email address (cliff at positech dot co dot uk) is all over the web, all over the place, and it all goes to me, totally unfiltered.

I’ve sold 3 million games on steam alone. Today so far (midday) I got 2 emails. What are people so afraid of?


2 thoughts on For the love of god… PLEASE use your own product

  1. In theory I agree with your points, however, this is only your experience and a test with n=1. Have you heard of the story of American Apparel? The CEO wanted everybody in the entire company to be able to contact him at any time. Open door policy to the extreme. In the beginning this worked well but that does not scale. In the end he was installing showers at ware houses so he could work more and closer to the other employees. He got overwhelmed with employees from all time zones the business operated in emailing him. He got mentally insane, lost the company and owes money to investors.

    Using your own product, definitely! Being reachable for everybody at all times. I don’t think so.

    Keep up the good work Cliff, even if I don’t agree with all your rants, I love to read them.

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