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On balance, what games creators and startups know that big teams often miss.

I was talking to some game developers the other day about what it takes to build a good game we talked design, platforms, social, technology approaches, monetization and the hot buzzword heavy world of game mechanics… they gave me thoughts on how long a game takes and what it costs to build but then, surprisingly to me, we got to the meat of the matter…

Thinking we had just covered all the big rocks in making a game I said “Where do you spend most of that time?” and the three of them said without hesitation and in sync… balance.

Balance

In making a game the developers understand the interplay of these important forces is the game. Nothing stands on its own, it’s not the achievements, the graphic quality, the platform, whether it’s social or not… it’s really how all of that works together.

Too often we lose this working in or with big companies on big products and big ideas.

It’s easy to see it as a plus that you have enough people and money to put a person in command of each of these precious verticals knowing they are going to constantly push for the height of thinking, quite possibly they are industry experts in that vertical… the best of the best. The development teams pushing for the most advanced programming languages, the data guys pushing for bleeding edge approaches and tools, the social guys pushing to go “viral” (yuck) and the most connected maxed out sharing models and of course the security and standards guys telling you why all of that is a bad idea… it is needlessly complex and everyone ends up compromising their “vision” and not feeling good about it.

None of this is in service of the user or “the game” you are trying to play, the balance is hopelessly off.

In pretty much any run of the mill startup a balance, maybe not the right balance, is forced by scarce resources. In good startups product managers, customer development and a drive to minimize premature optimization keeps the balance in check but as you get bigger and more specialized we need to find a way architect for balance both in the vertical teams and with a product leader.

So my question for you in your vertical of specialty no matter what it is, do you find yourself in the ivory tower talking about the leading edge, best possible approach bar none and fight for it to the end… or do you spend a majority of your time on balance like my friends the game devs do?

I bet we can tell when we look at the final product.

-Ben

What ways do you build balance into large products? I’d love to hear what works and doesn’t work.

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