Leaving the IGDA(2) – What Happened?

(if you’re not sure what the IGDA and TCE are, read the Background post first)

This post lays out the IGDA event where (IMHO!) the IGDA’s own Board undermined the IGDA’s most famous public initiative, and what the Board said about the matter when challenged over it.

2008 IGDA Leadership Forum

At a public IGDA event a few months ago, the “2008 IGDA Leadership Forum”, there was a session where two of the 12 IGDA board members (plus one about-to-be-board-member) spoke on the topic of working practices within the industry. The event was specifically about “Studio Heads” – i.e. people who run studios, and their particular insights into running the businesses (the board members in this case were also studio heads).

One of the speakers/board members, Mike Capps, the CEO of one of the most famous game developers (Epic), made some very clear comments about his own thoughts on QoL. You can see the video here (Mike’s comments are at about 21:00).

The video for this event went up a few weeks ago, and a TCE forum member posted a link for comment.

I suggest you watch the video, otherwise you’ll be in no position to make up your own mind and appreciate the issues at play here.

Grossly over-simplifying (read on, there’s a proper summary linked below), Mike’s comments sparked outrage and fury among the professional developers (remember: there are (practically) no fanbois on this forum; you have to be a professional game developer to get in; the vast majority of people there are extremely well informed about the issues within the industry, because they’re actually inside it)

Fixing the IGDA

Discussion on TCE raged on and on about this. The core issues at stake were not new – dismay at studios justifying treating their employees like crap, hope at various ways we can change this/it’s not so bad as it was, the role of the IGDA and other orgs in pushing for change, etc.

But this time was slightly different. Because:

  1. The comments were aired at an official IGDA event
  2. The IGDA event was the first conference that is wholly owned by IGDA (instead of being attached to a commercial partner’s larger conference, e.g. GDC)
  3. Half of the speakers on the panel were IGDA Board Members
  4. The IGDA made no attempt to refute/rebut/distance itself from the comments
  5. Simultaneously with this forum debate, the IGDA Board Elections were underway, and votes were being taken for the next 4 Board Members to take up 3 year terms starting this year

A lot of (fair, if sometimes extreme) condemnation was levelled at IGDA, both over this series of events, and it’s symptomatic relevance to the bigger, wider problems of the IGDA. These events did a pretty good job of exposing one of the biggest rifts within the IGDA:

What is the IGDA for, really? And does it succeed at that, or fail?

One of TCE’s members felt that there were a lot of good points, and a lot of great examples of just how offensive developers found the IGDA’s actions here. So, he went and asked for permission from each of the members to include their comments in a letter to the IGDA Board; you can see the results here:

http://www.igda.org/Forums/showthread.php?threadid=34741

IGDA Board response

“So long as Epic is honest with their employees about their expectations, I don’t think it’s the role of me, the IGDA, or any other organization to tell an individual what kind of workplace they should choose.” – Chair of the IGDA Board

One of the TCE members, who was not an IGDA member (allegedly because of his lack of faith in the organization), was moved to register on the IGDA site merely to respond, publically:

“IT IS NOT OK, EVER, TO EXPECT PEOPLE TO WORK MORE THAN 40 HOURS A WEEK.

If IGDA is so utterly incapable of seeing this while twittering on about its QoL efforts, it’s a totally lost cause and should disband, or own up to its utter impotence as a vehicle for real improvement of working conditions in an industry that needs that change desperately.” – Brian Beuken

(TCE members generally cheered Brian on, although maybe with slightly differences in the details)

What response did that (and other similar comments) get from the IGDA board?

“We support the initiative of the IGDA, which is to make the industry a better place for game developers, and we all do it in our own way.

Mike does it by compensating his employees richly. I do it by teaching and preaching a 40-hour work week. That said, I will defend Mike and the others on this board unfailingly because the bottom line is that they are good people who are trying to do good things for the industry.” – Another IGDA Board Member

…and there’s a bunch of other commentary from key people in the IGDA or in TCE. Go ahead, read the IGDA forums thread (http://www.igda.org/Forums/showthread.php?threadid=34741). Notable contributions include:

  1. The Chair of the IGDA Board
  2. Several other Board members
  3. The President of the IGDA
  4. The Chair of one of the IGDA SIG’s
  5. The Chapter Co-ordinator of one of the larger IGDA Chapters

My involvement

The IGDA has three branches: the general (15,000+) members, the Special Interest Groups (Online, Casual, Writers, Accessibility, etc), and the Chapters (city-specific social/meeting groups). Having run one of the SIGs since 2005, I’m now quitting the IGDA over this issue.

I stood for election to the Board this month, and those 15,000 members didn’t vote me in. This means two things.

Firstly, I don’t have the opportunity I’d hoped for to change things for the better as a Board member. I stood for election specifically to make the org more pro-active in not just talking about the things it stands for, but actually making them happen.

Secondly, the membership at large have proven – diplomatically – that they don’t agree. There’s no point fighting for an organization that’s made it so specifically clear that it doesn’t believe in the things that you believe in.

With this issue in particular, if it can’t deal with these issues even internally, it’s got a snowball’s chance in Hell of fixing them in the wider industry.

So … I quit. I’ve got some IGDA commitments at GDC next month, which I’ll obviously see through, but after that, I’m standing down as a SIG Chair, and having nothing futher to do with the organization.

Next…

…why this has wider significance than the internal politics of a single non-profit organization.

Leaving the IGDA(1) – Background

This is a series of posts about one of the big problems facing the games industry: honesty, exploitation, standing up for better quality of life, and actually “doing, not talking”.

IMHO it has added poignancy given the vast layoffs that have taken place across the board in the past 12 months. I’m splitting it into sub-posts so that the people who already know e.g. all the background to where we are now don’t need to trawl through it to get to the commentary.

I bear no personal ill-will to any of the people involved, and I don’t hold their opinions against them; in some cases I strongly object to the things they’ve said as spokepeople of their organizations, and I disagree strenuously with some of the opinions, but none of that makes them bad people. Although it might well make the organizations they represent into “bad organizations”…

IGDA: International Game Developers Association

(http://igda.org)

Formed some 8 (?) years ago, but in reality only really an independent organization for the past 4 (?) years, the IGDA’s vaguely-worded mission is to represent “game developers” in all forms, and make things better for them. It is non-specific whether it stands for “developers” as in “individuals who develop” or “developers” as in “development companies”, although there tends to be an implicit slant towards the former.

Alternate Reality Games (ARG) SIG: A “Special Interest Group” of the IGDA

(http://igda.org/arg)

Formed in 2005 by myself and 10 other people, our mission is even more vaguely worded :). But something along the lines: provide fora and support for ARG developers to meet each other, learn from each other, share ideas and advice, discuss developments in the industry, and generally just meet and talk to like-minded people.

IGDA Board Elections: 2nd Feb 2009 to 24th Feb 2009

(http://www.igda.org/board/elections.php)
The Board consists of 12 elected volunteers, who each serve 3 years, with 4 of them re-elected each year (so there are always 3 tranches of directors at any one time).

This year, I put myself up for election. I felt that despite all the good things IGDA was doing, it was failing in a couple of key areas to do with its role in the wider world of game development. It needed to get a lot more pro-active. It needed to stop just talking about what people should do, and do more to make them, and help them, to get there. Too many people have no idea what the IGDA is, even in a vague sense, and I wanted to fix that too.

TCE: The Chaos Engine

(http://www.thechaosengine.com/)

An internet forum that – unusually – is private, and enforces reasonably strict membership criteria. You must be:

  • A professional employed in the games industry
  • Not a manager
  • Work in the “making games / shipping games” part (i.e.: not PR, not HR, not Finance, etc)
  • Not a journalist

In essence: it’s a place for people who actually make games, with all the attendant joy and suffering, to talk freely with other knowledgeable people, without the presence of rabid fanbois who know nothing about what they’re talking about, and without the constant fear that an unscrupulous manager or HR drone is reading your every word and looking for excuses to fire you.

The stage has been set … read on to What Happened?

How can we make a Europe-wide MMO Publisher?

(4 posts in one day? Yeah! Too busy to be regular right now. GDC is on the way)

At the end of my commentary on the formation of NC West, I added almost as an afterthought a little comment about Europe and the MMO industry:

there’s a gaping hole in the MMO sphere. For someone bold enough to step into that hole, you could “own” Europe’s online gaming industry for the next decade.

Since I wrote that, surprisingly many people have commented on it both by email and in person, either along the lines of “look who else missed the opportunity” (Jagex, Ankama, Bigpoint, Gameforge), or along the lines of “yeah!” (count me in) … or both.

So, I wonder: what *would* it take, right now? If you have ideas, post them here. I’ll be at GDC in 3 weeks time, and I’d be more than happy to pitch this as a credible plan, if you come up with a comprhensive-enough plan. It’s a lot more expensive than any of my own humble plans, but in many ways I find it a lot easier to justify, financially. And I’m not even trying (it’s just a game for me right now, idly imagining what I’d do, if I were Jagex, or Ankama, or Gameforge, etc).

Wishlist time. Over to you, Dear Readers…

Pragmatist’s view of Corporate Culture?

The IGDA Leadership conference 2009 just launched their call for speakers.

The form is pretty brief, so I wrote some personal notes on what I’ve just submitted (so I don’t forget if/when they accept the talk!). It just occurred to me that a large percentage of my blog posts are, essentially, about Leadership in companies (anywhere) and the game industry (specifically). So, I’d be interested in any comments on this skeleton outline.

1. it changes your reputation
* your reputation is the biggest influence on your hiring-applicants
* your business is based mostly on people (games industry specific!)

2. it changes your collective happiness
* unhappy people do different things: cause problems, stop working, stop caring, suicide-by-cop
* happy people: … be the best tehy can be

3. culture is formed by perception
* it’s not what you say, it’s what you are NOTICED to be doing

4. internal and external culture
* they improve and sink independently
* …but one can pull the other up (or down)

5. changing culture
* very steep change-curve == very hard, but then … very sudden massive improvement
* starts with: who are you going to fire?
* c.f. “perception” of belief, not the statement of it

6. cultural “tells”
* what does your employent contract say?
* what is “a manager” in your org?
* how are projects structured in terms of people + human-roles?
* how much do you pay?
* what does the man-on-the-street think you are?
* what do you do when times are hard? (hard questions, hard problems, hard money problems, etc)

7. shining examples
* e.g. this

8. flaming failures

The Rules: Open Source Startup Funding

Mark Cuban’s blog is an odd one; I really can’t remember why I started reading it (presumably linked by a VC blogger would be my guess), and yet even though I read very few blogs I’ve stuck with his. It’s not like the standard SiValley other investor/commentator blogs. It’s a lot more based in the real world, and a lot closer to my experiences of running the business side of a business as opposed to the “building to flip” side of running a startup without ever being profitable just to sell it to someone else.

Anyway, advert over. He’s posted an interesting challenge: want money for a startup? Right. You have to publish the entire business plan, and let everyone else copy it. If – as many people are fond of saying – it’s implementation that matters, not the idea, then this shouldn’t be a problem for you. But it may bring wider-world benefits to everyone else, intangible virtuous-circle stuff.

I will invest money in businesses presented here on this blog. No minimum, no maximum, but a very specific set of rules. Here they are:

1. It can be an existing business or a start up.
2. It can not be a business that generates any revenue from advertising. Why ? Because I want this to be a business where you sell something and get paid for it. Thats the only way to get and stay profitable in such a short period of time.
3. It MUST BE CASH FLOW BREAK EVEN within 60 days
4. It must be profitable within 90 days.
5. Funding will be on a monthly basis. If you dont make your numbers, the funding stops
6. You must demonstrate as part of your plan that you sell your product or service for more than what it costs you to produce, fully encumbered
7. Everyone must work. The organization is completely flat. There are no employees reporting to managers. There is the founder/owners and everyone else
8. You must post your business plan here, or you can post it on slideshare.com , scribd.com or google docs, all completely public for anyone to see and/or download
9. I make no promises that if your business is profitable, that I will invest more money. Once you get the initial funding you are on your own
10. I will make no promises that I will be available to offer help. If I want to , I will. If not, I wont.
11. If you do get money, it goes into a bank that I specify, and I have the ability to watch the funds flow and the opportunity to require that I cosign any outflows.
12. In your business plan , make sure to specify how much equity I will receive or how I will get a return on my money.
13. No mult-level marketing programs (added 2/10/09 1pm)

PS: I love Mark’s attitude that comes across in his blog. E.g. in one of the first comments to this blog post:

Would you be open to reviewing pitches on your blog and then details privately?

From MC> No. This is an open source opportunity. Not a pitch Mark opportunity

NCWest: Stage 1 complete; Farewell, European MMO Industry!

Yesterday’s announcements of layoffs at NCsoft (both in USA and Europe) caught many people by surprise, judging from the number of emails and conversations I’ve had where people have brought it up. I think it’s interesting to try to understand why this is happening, and given Scott’s point that this is really not the right way to do layoffs (bits and pieces at different times), then to look at how it could in this situation be done better (if it could; that may not be possible).

But in terms of the surpise? No. I find there is no surprise here. There’s IMHO two major things going on.

1. Clean up the mess created last summer in Europe

From yesterday’s announcement:

“The European office is transitioning to have a stronger focus in marketing and sales”

Last Summer, they made redundant the entire Development division of NCsoft Europe. Traditionally, in games, you have Development and Publishing. In online games you have a third major wing: Operations/Support.

Publishing and Ops have to be / should be local to the country(ies) where they are being sold – it makes things much cheaper, and it makes things more successful, as the staff are actually immersed in the culture and timezone of the people they’re selling to or serving.

I was a little surprised when the Dev division was cut that it wasn’t done cleanly. As Scott points out “Hey, management? You’re doing it wrong”. If you get rid of Dev, then certain other things HAVE to happen:

  1. Get rid of all Dev-sub-depts in their entirety – including things like QA, that “can” have a foothold on the side of both Ops and to a lesser extent Publishing. If you’re actively *cutting* dev, then that QA dept (as an example) is an abandoned outpost that will get left to rot, politically speaking, and you can guarantee it will be starved and eventually killed (or die of hunger)
  2. Get rid of a large chunk of Publishing and Ops that are *not* part of Dev, but are co-supporting of them. If you had a Dev division, you would have built up extra resource in those areas; that resource is now under-utilized. If you’ve had to do something as brutal as destroying your Dev division, you clearly are desperate enough that you need to be making those cuts as well

NCsoft Europe did *some* of the above – but clearly not all. I’m not expecting you to tell from the headcounts (that would take some effort with LinkedIn, or buying beers for a few people after work) – there’s an easier way: look at what “departments” still had staff. Once the redundancies had completed, there should have been *no-one left* in a bunch of departments that – in fact – were left with a handful of lost, abandoned, individuals.

Going back to that press release, what it really meant was:

“The European office has finally implemented the strategic plan from last Summer, so is transitioning toeffecting immediately have a strongerpure focus in marketing and sales”

Cutting Development in 2008 meant one thing: NCsoft Europe was now purely an off-shore Publishing division (coincidentally, back to its historic roots). In the games industry that means you are (in decreasing order of importance): Sales, Marketing, Localization. You’ll be lucky to keep anything in teams like QA because there’s no need for QA to work hand in hand with sales teams – they could be located anywhere (unlike QA + dev, which really need to be colocated). In some companies, with the number of people remaining relatively small, the CEO’s would have left the abandoned people to sit in their jobs not being very useful, while the management got on with bigger issues of trying to do whatever the strategic plan was that they were doing. But that couldn’t happen for NCsoft, for reason 2 (see below).

PS: I like to believe that the reason it took so long for this week’s cuts (in Europe) to happen is largely that the exec team in Brighton were trying hard to keep as many good people within the company as possible. I don’t know Geoff Heath (the CEO) well, but he’s always come across as genuine and proactive in his concern for his staff. The rest of the exec team also – whatever their faults and failings – have tended to put a lot of effort into “looking after” their people, whether or not it’s worked.

2. Convert the overall company to “how it should have been run back in 2001”

Last summer’s re-organization in NCsoft America was all about giving total control of the non-Asian subsidiaries to ArenaNet. Reading news articles etc, I do occasionally wonder how many people grokked what had happened. A quick summary…

All this waffle about becoming “a unified organization under NC West”, and the reporting by bloggers and journalists that this was “consolidating” the subsidiaries and offices (they were already consolidated, you know) … what a load of crap. Follow the money, guys: who has the power now, and what unites those people? And if the answer is “nothing”, then ask yourself: who stands to benefit from an exec team comprised of individuals that are likely to be in conflict?

Look at the Directors of NC West:

  1. Jeff Strain – Co-founder of Arena.Net, Director of Arena.net
  2. Chris Chung – Director of Arena.Net
  3. Pat Wyatt – Co-founder of Arena.Net, Director of Arena.net
  4. David Reid – only started working at NCsoft 2 months ago

Notice a pattern?

So NCWest was simply a handing over of the reins of power from the OSI Mafia (ex-Origin people such as: Robert Garriott, Richard Garriott, Peter Jarvis, Starr Long, etc) to the Arena.Net Directors (the only one who stayed behind was Mike O’Brien, who now runs Arena.Net).

Remember that Korea acquired not one but two studios early on in North America: the first was Destination Games, which developed the tragically failed Tabula Rasa, and the second was Arena.Net, which quickly (note) developed Guild Wars, then a bunch of expansions, and is now well on the way to shipping Guild Wars 2.

This is “acquire experienced and skilled American game-developer Directors, and get them to run our non-Asia subsidiaries … attempt 2”.

Which should also point out something pretty obvious (to me at least): Chris Chung has a heck of a lot riding on the success of the revamped NCWest. ArenaNet’s top team has to show that it can do what the Origin team failed to do. They’ve been waiting in the wings all this time, implicitly saying “we could do better than that”, and now they have to prove it.

He’s / they’re re-arranging the entire company to fit with “how we would have done it in the first place if we’d been given the chance” (or something like that).

Doing it Better

I have two criticisms of what’s going on, and neither seems to be shared by the general press. Which either suggests I’m very wrong, or I’m very right. Your choice. Guess which one I’m going for :).

1. Too slow

If you’re reforming a company, do it lightning fast. If you’ve been at that company, playing the politics, for 5 years, you ought to have a battle plan in mind well in advance of being “officially” given the reins. There are always reasons that you “cannot”, from the operational to the legal.

But I’m sure that’s what they said to Lou Gerstner at IBM, and he proved wrong, when he fired the entire middle management, worldwide. I bring up this piece of history regularly, because it’s an excellent reference point: if one of the biggest, most bureaucratic companies in the world can do “the unthinkable” then what excuse does everyone else have left for not going far enough themselves? The redundancy pay-outs cost IBM so much money they booked a sudden loss that year greater than the GDP of entire nations. But they did it.

The “what would we do if could break the rules…?” game was one I played at NCsoft quite a bit; I needed to second-guess what would happen, given the long lead times of any development, organizational, and tech issues, if/when failing teams, projects, and managers got cancelled (as they did). Lots of other people were playing it too. It’s much scarier to actually have to put your thoughts into practice and risk being wrong, so some “more serious” prep may be needed when push comes to shove, and some paralysis is understandable (but still not acceptable). But with all the time we had, the extra due diligence shouldn’t have been necessary. Courage of convictions and all that. I’ve become a fan of moving as fast as possible (although even at NCsoft I still had crises of confidence and over-analysed some of the risky situations, and was fortunate to work with better people who simply said “stop worrying, run with what you’ve got, it’s planned more than well enough already”).

2. NC Europe is screwed

NCsoft had the opportunity to create a giant of the MMO publishing world in Europe; Europe is screaming out for it and just needs a banner to rally behind – and a visionary exec team to say “we’re going to turn Europe into an online gaming powerhouse”.

Europe is a bigger market than the USA (by some 30% or more).

Europe has no multi-title successful MMO developer or publisher.

The UK alone has a lesser but comparable level of mainstream game developers and output of titles to the US (UK currently 4th in the world behind Canada).

So … the development industry is here, less so the publishing industry (although there’s a lot of mid-sized publishers spread through Europe), but there’s a gaping hole in the MMO sphere. For someone bold enough to step into that hole, you could “own” Europe’s online gaming industry for the next decade.

Missed opportunity? Hell yeah.

At the end of the day, I eventually realised that NCsoft won’t do it for one simple reason: Korea still probably doesn’t quite understand how they managed to go so badly wrong with the Garriott brothers as the founders and owners of NCsoft North America, and wouldn’t dare risk another, independent, self-managing, ambitious subsidiary *anywhere* in the world. The Asian subsidiaries are all kept on a very short leash and get practically no independence from the Mothership (in Seoul) at all – the whole western conceptualization of subsidiaries is already anathema to the Koreans.

If anyone out there is interested in taking over Europe like this, drop me a line. I’d love to join in.

A game dev studio made of Graduates

Someone emailed me recently to say he’s setting up a new game development studio, and that (for various reasons specific to his situation) the company will consist of around 90% recent university graduates. Without asking for details, I can make a pretty good guess that there’s government funding involved – I’ve previously seen grants aimed at game studios with similar constraints everywhere from the UK to Singapore. Probably this one is tied to a local University (that’s another classic government thing, especially in the EU: grants that have to go to “industry/academia equal partnerships”).

As he says, it’s an “interesting” challenge. Oh, yes. He invited me to blog about it (yes, I know – it’s a way of avoiding paying consultancy fees, but what the heck), so here’s some thoughts. At least this way I can record/archive some of what its like to be a recent Graduate before I get so old that I completely forget where they’re coming from.

(I’m not a recent grad, but I’m not yet old enough to have forgotten being one)

Where do you start?

In the past, I’ve seen people start with the management team. Then move on to the senior staff (hey, he’s got 10% of the company to play with), decide who’s needed, fit them to potential projects, etc. And finally – working with all of those people in place – finding and hiring all the Grads.

But … my first inclination would be to play to the strengths and weaknesses of the majority of your staff. In a brand-new startup with a team that don’t know each other the influence of each individual on the overall success/failure is disproportionately strong. Over time, as things become more settled, influence starts to becom proportional to seniority, experience, and knowledge. But not initially.

i.e. in this case the graduates.

Graduates

In my experience, graduates everywhere (including at least some parts of Asia, although I’ve mostly experienced Koreans not Chinese) are young, naive, eager, foolish, and fearless.

Specific universities mould their grads into having a very different set of characteristics, but assuming you’re picking bright, interested people, then those 5 are always present no matter where they schooled.

Personal Projects

They thrive on being given their own little projects that are their total responsibility. I think this is driven by two things, certainly in tech. Firstly, a fear of becoming the invisible cog in a giant machine that all adults have appeared to be to them, at a time when they’ve only recently found themselves and found their own uniqueness.

Secondly, I think most grads find University is the first time they start to experience personal responsbility, a move away from the family, no longer entirely dependent upon (and sheltered by) their parents. Some people become very independent during uni, others only just dip their toes in the water while there. In most countries, uni straddles the age of majority, and grads find themselves starting to be treated as adults by their society – one of the biggest parts of which is the expectation that they will take personal responsibility.

Clone Wars

I think a lot of people in this situation feel tempted to embark on a clone of a known game. The idea is that this will make up for the lack of experience by obviating the need for decisions on key game design and implementation issues: you don’t have to think, you just just play game X an extra time and “do whatever they did”.

That can work. As a recent example: so far as I can tell, it’s what a lot of the early F2P Chinese developers did – cloned Korean F2P games and just tweaked the “shallow” content (story, plot, theme, geographical location, etc – all the non-programmatic stuff). They’ve all done very well out of this.

However … as soon as market expectations ramp up, cloning becomes extremely difficult. You cannot afford to get “stuck” because you can’t figure out “how” the original game achieved something. With a team of veterans, you have an encyclopaedia of knowledge of techniques in their heads, and usually for each trick the original developer used at least one person on your time already knows that one. Where that doesn’t work, all your veterans each have a bag of tricks and hacks and band-aids that they can use to fudge it; nothing will slow them down for long.

(incidentally, China is probably well into the secand wave of MMO development by now, meaning that new studios there have no chance of doing the “clone + make lots of money” route; the developers that did that are now worth billions of dollars, and they’re already pushing the minimum quality bar up very, very high)

In the end, I think cloning is a bad fit for a bunch of grauates. If you get the timing just right, they’re a very cheap workforce to do it with, and they have too little self-esteem to object (see below). But at any other time, it plays on their weaknesses, and invalidates a lot of their strengths.

What graduates are good at

Grads are great for churning out large amounts of repetitive content. To them, everything still has a newness and freshness that makes even boring tasks interesting (up to a limit). This is partly why they get so “abused” by companies “eating them, chewing them up, and spitting them out”: they’re a cheap but skilled labour force. The mistake a lot of companies make is that grads are also smart enough that they see what’s happening. They’ll eat dirt for a while, having decided that it’s a fair exchange for the work experience and the knowledge they’ll gain both immediately and later.

I think a lot of companies are surprised that despite being more willing to eat dirt than other workers, grads also tend to rebel much sooner. In their minds, it’s a contract, and if the company doesn’t hold up its side of the bargain, they can easily go elsewhere and try again. Older workers have ties (families, fear of finding an equal new job, etc), but grads are both too young and too inexperienced to have picked those up; they can leave easily (or believe they can).

(IIRC South Korea has an interesting take on this: the grads can’t leave, by law, at least in the game development companies. Many of them are avoiding doing their National Service by working at a “critical industry” company instead – if they quit, they’d have to take up their NS place and run around in the freezing cold shooting at each other. Although it only buys the companies 2 years of immunity per grad, I’m sure that has been a huge boon to the SK tech industry)

Grads are also great at innovating, especially in stupid ways. They don’t have wisdom, so they don’t know that stuff won’t work, and will happily do it. Older/maturer grads start to develop suspicions that things might not work, and still charge ahead, but with some doubt; younger ones don’t even realise there’s a possibility of failure.

It’s a bit like an early hand-made gunpowder cannon. It can be a total disaster. And it can rarely be channelled, certainly it can’t be aimed with precision (by definition, the grads ignore the channelling efforts of their managers). But it can be pointed in vaguely the right direction…

Grads also don’t mind having their feel pulled out from under them so much. Upheaval and U-turns by management can give more senior staff cause for fear, especially those that have experienced incompetent management in the past. Where your management is strong, and gifted, and making a difficult decision to U-turn early in response to new realisations / better understanding of the situation, you can end up having to put a lot of work into allaying the fears of panicked workers. (of course, many good management teams underestimate the need for this, blindly expect their staff to trust them implicitly (ha!), and cause an even greater panic, and/or catalyse individuals into becoming the worst of themselves. Then they fire some of their best people, naively thinking they’re getting rid of the worst).

I’m not saying Grads enjoy this, just that they handle it much more easily (although some love it – it’s giving them *even more* of that all-important “real-life work experience” and the coveted “industry knowledge”).

Middle Management

A little story: when I was the CTO at one startup, the majority of our first fifteen or so employees were doing their first or second ever full time job. If I’d had the choice, I wouldn’t have done it that way. Not because of complaints about the people (people are great or terrible largely independent of their level of experience), but because the *collective* lack of experience made the overall team a lot less effective and a lot more fragile than it should have been.

(by the way, this story doesn’t reflect well on me :). I’m sharing it in the spirit of “let’s all try to avoid making mistakes like this in future, shall we?”)

One recurring issue was that the CEO would complain at length of the pointless waste-of-time crap his staff were getting upset about. He’d bemoan that these were tiny issues, that happened all the time, in all companies, and why were we obsessing over them so much? I objected greatly to this attitude w.r.t to our staff, that it was their fault and that they were weak and stupid to get upset – and that their distress was an irrelevance, and to be publically belittled and privately ignored. With hindsight I think that incited me to overreact on plenty of occasions, but … leaving aside the sentimental aspects, he had a good point.

This went on for many months, and at the time I could think of lots of things that could explain why these issues came up – and pointed to ways of solving or avoiding them – but the recurring thought was always: we wouldn’t even see these issues if more of our team had had more real-life working experience. I think we both agreed on that, too. In the darkest hours, he even muttered about considering firing the entire company and hiring an entirely new staff, of similar size, but of “better, more mature” people. If I remember correctly, we’d fallen way short of targets so he was under a lot of stress and just wanted all these organizational problems to “go away” so he could focus on the stuff he loved, the product design and the marketing.

I don’t think that company ever really managed to sort it out, at least not for several more years, just going by the quantity and quality of people that resigned or were “let go” (whether that means redundancies, firings, or whatever) over the years.

I had some vague ideas for solutions at the time – I could see that the problems were catalysed by the attitudes of the most senior people in the company, starting with the CEO, flowing through (and added to by) myself and the rest of the management team, and then down through everyone’s social and professional relationships to encompass the whole company. It was clear that even the best of people couldn’t always refrain from “putting the boot in” when crap flowed to them, making a bigger ball of crap for the next person along. It was subtle and pervasive – no one individual felt that he or she was responsible for what was happening, because their contribution was so small. But that’s the beauty of a team, isn’t it? The whole is more than the sum of the parts… In the end, I decided (amongst other things) that if we couldn’t reform from the very top down, we’d never be able to break out of the vicious cycle. I tried different ways to get the CEO to change, and tried to change myself, and worked hand in hand with some of the other C-level staff that felt similarly about the need for a top-down change, but I just wasn’t good enough to make it all stick. So in the end, I quit, just before the next funding round closed. Wherever the company was going to go with this new money, I no longer felt I could be part of it.

Over the years since, having seen other situations both earlier and later in companies’ and teams’ lifecycles, I’ve come to suspect that the solution might have been less diffcult than I’d thought. That all it needed was one simple thing: Respect. Easy to say, not so easy to visualize and enact, of course. In a company – a startup especially – that means: Complete transparency, Trust, Faith, and (this one was a killer at that particular startup) self-doubt whenever you find yourself disagreeing with your peers.

At that startup, I saw over and over again people with huge amounts of experience – in some cases decades’ worth – being laughed at and ignored by people with none. In the other direction, and no less forgivably, I saw people assume up front that their colleagues were “too stupid” to understand the task at hand and so go out of their way to hide the very existence of it from them. Plus plenty of other activities that ranged between those extremes. At the time, I objected to these things on a general professional level (and sometimes on a personal one); I even managed to fire someone who was a particularly strong offender – but I did it too late, and too slowly. What I didn’t fully appreciate, I think, is quite how *directly* critical it was to the overall wellbeing of the studio itself; I thought it was just one (particularly emotive) aspect amongst many.

And it was lead by the CEO. It got so bad that the management team ended up having two weekly meetings: one official one with all the C-level staff, and another, secret one preceding that one, with the same people – but without the CEO. It was an open secret. All the staff knew about it, except for the CEO, of course. It was a combination of damage limitation on our part, and playing him at his own game (he liked to play us all off against each other, whether deliberately or accidentally, drawing attention away from himself). So, we’d share critical info that we needed but he was refusing to disseminate. We’d prep each other so we could provide a united front on difficult company issues that we knew he’d try and twist into an emotional issue and wriggle out of, or belittle. We’d even occasionally select a fall-guy from among ourselves, someone to put up a strawman argument on new issues, because we’d found it was one of the most effective ways for him to accept suggestions and solutions that weren’t his idea: if he had the opportunity to first demonstrate his own authority by putting someone else down. I still don’t know if anyone ever told him about those meetings, although I’m sure someone must have sooner or later.

Obviously, there’s more, but that’s where this story ends. Any new company of Graduates is (I sincerely hope!) going to have a much more clued-up CEO. But, tempting as it may be to read the story and think it was all the CEO’s fault, it’s dumb to think that one man could control a whole company so completely: there was a collective problem as well. And IMHO it mostly came from the inexperience and insecurities and uncertainties of many of the staff. If so, then the tendency will be there for similar problems to develop, and fester, with any large body of inexperienced staff. The middle management for the new company need to read this story as a parable of an extreme situation they must never get anywhere close to (just to be clear: I’m not singling out non-managers as the problematic ones here – the senior management at that startup included people who were doing their first job too).

They need to not only rise above it (that’s enough to be effective as a company, but not enough to stop the rot setting in, as I think we found out) but also have to step in early and often to prevent bad habits and bad cycles forming. I think we were all too hopeful and happy in our jobs early on to feel enough fear and forsee how much “the little things” were in danger of snowballing; sure, we might have got lucky, it might not have happened – but the risk was big enough, and the outcome severe enough – that we should have snuffed it out right at the start.

That’s going to be a tough job. You have to act a lot more like parents and a lot less like colleagues some of the time. Again, with hindsight, I guess this makes a lot of sense – didn’t I just say at the start that recent Grads are still only half stepped away from their parents, or perhaps even less? Why should it be a surprise that they’re going to need more parent-like support than people in their thirties, forties, and fifties?

And, in contrast to the startup I described, I would hazard that I’ve seen at least one company where the most senior management were more than capable of it, but their middle management were not. It took longer for things to go wrong, it was a gentler slide, but a similar set of problems eventually engulfed them. So it’s going to be doubly hard for the guys running the show: it’s not just “can you do it?” but “can you be sure that the people who are reporting to you are themselves doing it, every day?”.

Projects

Go for the stuff that allows open-ended innovation, and large amounts of creative content. That’s what Grads are great for, in the abscence of anything else.

Make sure – above all – that you have a thriving “internal incubation” system, where everyone – and I mean “everyone” – gets to work on purely explorative internal game designs at least one month per quarter. Perhaps have 50% of your staff at any one time working on non-milestone-driven pre-production experimentation. Kidnap a Google software engineer and bribe them into telling you in detail exactly how the infamous 20% time works (and doesn’t) – don’t rely on the rumours – and work out how you too can afford to sacrifice so much of your time to apparently “pointless” work.

Because until you’ve got your company established, and some of your grads have found their natural places both professionally and within your specific company, you need to do everything you can to keep from killing their spirit and optimism. If you lose that, especially for a new company, you’re screwed. With such inexperienced staff you have very little else to stack the odds of success in your favour. You’ll produce unimaginative, weak games, and the way this industry works, everywhere, your first game is more important to your future than any other single game you do.

Wrap up

That’s enough free consultancy for now. I haven’t said anything about team leaders (lead coder, lead artist, art director, etc), nor about the mix of skills to look for in hiring the Grads themselves. But I think there’s more than enough meat in what I have said to keep you all going, and to give me new things to think about for the next few years.

The Secret of Viral Marketing

The secret of Viral Marketing (VM) is that it’s all about popularity. Which is to say … sooner or later, it’s all about sex.

When we made Perplex City, the Alternate Reality Game, I learnt a lot of basics about VM just from going out there and trying so much new stuff on a week-to-week basis. It was a small startup, so (at least at first) everyone got involved in everything, and you got to see the things that crashed and burned in as much detail as the ones that shone like gold (this was before the company grew enough that people started covering-up the failures).
Continue reading “The Secret of Viral Marketing”

Ptiching to Game Publishers – some thoughts

Thomas and Diane have posted a short guide to Pitching to Game Publishers over at the blog for their game consultancy. Apart from giving them some link love (they’re not even on Technorati yet), it’s an excuse for me to tack-on some quick thoughts of my own.

(NB: my experience on the publisher side is pretty short, just a year spent working with Thomas and Diane as one of the people doing due-diligence for them on the incoming pitches, and doing milestone-reviews on the signed projects that were in-development.)
Continue reading “Ptiching to Game Publishers – some thoughts”

More than 1 billion people play online games in 2008

Someone asked me:

How many people play online games globally in 2008?

A simple answer

…and with a quick mental calculation I estimated 1 billion *unique registered accounts*. (I’ve been tracking and calculating this stuff a lot recently). That wasn’t good enough – they wanted something to put in a press release, so they wanted a methodology and verifiable data.

So, I went and did the calculations properly, and found:

There are approximately 1.5 billion unique registered accounts (virtual players) of online games around the world in 2008.

They still needed to see the methodology and the figures, of course … here goes!

Some … wrong … answers

Someone at Techcrunch claimed last year that “217 Million People Play Online Games”, by misusing the research that they were referring to. You only have to follow the link to the *press release* of the actual research to see how wrong that is.

The research merely claimed that 217 million people visit a selection of American and European websites that have content that talks about online games, and which *in some cases* actually have some web-games on their site.

The majority of online games were not included in the research. The figure isn’t particularly useful on its own.

A simple question?

The first thing to realise is that there’s no sensible way of answering the question literally. A couple of years ago, Raph Koster did an updated version of the explanation for this problem (it needs updating again by now to take account of how the industry has continued to evolve since he wrote that last version). If you haven’t read it, and want to understand the details of why people argue this stuff endlessly, go have a quick look at his post.

But there is a sensible way we can re-phrase the question to become one that we CAN answer:

How many unique virtual identities are there that are playing online games this month?

Virtual Identity … what? No, that’s not what I wanted to know about

Actually, maybe it *is* what you wanted to know about.

In the real world, we never actually count people for anything (except if we’re physically smuggling them past Border Control, I guess); instead, we count Identities: verifiably unique records that each correspond to no more than one person.

In the real world, one ID does not equal one physical person, even though it is “approximately” that way (bear in mind that even governments have so far proved incapable of legislating + enforcing that concept, despite having tried for the last few thousand years).

In the online world, the concept of Identity is abstracted. This is all the fault of “computers” and especially “programmers” and “database vendors”, who couldn’t cope with the amount of info required to fully represent a single Identity (and as time went on many realised that they did not want to). They cheated. And so, from the earliest days of the internet (and before – back in the days of BBS’s), everyone has had multiple ID’s.

On average, each of you reading this probably has something like 200-300 separate online identities. On average, each of you reading this probably BELIEVES you have something like 2-3 separate online identities. Factor of 100 difference (have fun counting them…).

Those virtual identities are the lifeblood of online services. They are countable, they are serviceable – and they are uniquely and individually chargeable (even when several of these identities may represent just one real-world human: if the identities are separate, then you can charge multiple times, and many people really do willingly pay several times over!)

Many of those identities are “inactive”, and unlike people, the corpses of Virtual Identities do not naturally rot and disappear, they live forever – and can be brought back to life at any moment by the owners. They’re all real – they are still verifiably there – so for now we’re going to count all of them.

(personally I prefer counting “active identities within the past month”, but more on that in a later post. Counting in billions is fun for now…)

How many virtual identities play online games?

Start with the big guns, going from their own official announcements.

Individual games: 400m

Kart Rider = 160 million
Habbo Hotel = 100 million
Neopets = 65 million
Maple Story = 57 million
Club Penguin = 20 million
Runescape = 10 million

+ others I didn’t bother looking up

Subtotal: 412m

Publishers who declare registered directly: 1200m (or 800m)

Then add in the big publishers, going from their official announcements

9You = 120m
Acclaim = 3m
Bigpoint = 30m
CDC Games = 140m
CJ Internet = 23m
Disney = 12m
Gameforge = 60m
Gamania = 10m
GigaMedia = 9m
Gpotato = 2m
HanbitSoft = 8m
K2 Network = 16m
Mattel = 11m
Moliyo = 7m
NCsoft = 2m
NeoWiz = 7.5m
Shanda = 700m (*)

(*) (note: using the active and paying ratios below, this would be approx 150m or 300m, which is such a huge difference (and stands out as massively anomalous compared to industry standard – even for other Chinese operators) that I’m going to treat it with extreme suspicion and go with 300m instead)

Subtotal: 1158m (or approx 800m if we downgrade Shanda by 400m)

Publishers who declare active or paying: 100m

Then add in the big publishers who declare “active” or “paying” accounts instead of “registered”:

As well as just general industry knowledge on this stuff, I have official figures from half a dozen publishers that let me calculate Registered:active or Registered:Paying ratios, so from averaging those I get conservative multipliers of approx:

Registered / Active = 4
Registered / Paying = 40

Gaia = 24m (6m active)
Giant Interactive = 68m (1.7m paying)
NetDragon = 14m (3.5m active)

Subtotal: 106m

Facebook + Web gaming = 200m

Then look at the big Facebook games-publishers, and the online gaming sites from the comScore study:

Yahoo Games = 53m
MSN Games = 40m
Miniclip = 30m
EA Online (inc. POGO ?) = 21m
SGN = 40m
Zynga = 55m

Others (from comScore report) = 78m

Subtotal: 173m

Final tally

There are approximately 1.5 billion registered identities in online games in 2008

How many “real people” is that? Well, as noted above, the percent of registered accounts that are active is around 25%, so I would guesstimate (really really rough figures now!):

There are approximately 375 million people in the world who play online games.

The theoretical current maximum playerbase for a subscription MMO would be somewhere in between those two figures (plenty of people pay for 2, 3 – or as many as 10 – accounts, as Raph noted).

The theoretical current maximum playerbase for an F2P game would be the bigger of the two figures, obviously.

WoW (World of Warcraft) still has a long way to go, people…

Exclusions – what did I miss?

There are plenty of operators that are not counted in the above which run games in countries not often associated with online gaming (e.g. Vietnam, Russia, etc) – and yet their figures are significant (I’ve been tracking them for a while and they’re growing very fast).

I didn’t bother including them because even in aggregate right now they probably wouldn’t be able to shift that 1.5b figure any higher.

There are also some who are using a combined service only part of which is games, e.g.

Tencent = 350m users of the IM client which integrates many online games

…which I haven’t included at all. Feel free to take my headline figure and add that on! (and add back in the 400m accounts from Shanda that I discounted / didn’t believe)

$1.7 billion invested into Online Games and Related Entertainment in years 2007-2008

NB: Jussi and I have pooled our data, but will be looking at different aspects of it going forwards. Should be interesting…

Background

Roughly a month ago Jussi Laakkonen published a list of $350 million invested in year 2008 into virtual worlds, casual MMOs, and casual & social games. Based on US-centric sites, it missed out the majority of European deals. So, inspired by Jussi’s excellent idea, I then posted my own list of European deals I’d been tracking (which also included some extra things on the fringes of Jussi’s initial set). We decided that the right thing to do would be to put those lists together.

The extra things I’d been tracking were mainly in MMO investments, technology vendors, and support services (e.g. payment providers). I also wanted to add in mobile gaming (especially in light of what’s happening with the iPhone, the iPhone investment fund, and the Blackberry investment fund). These are the areas I’ll be looking into more in the future.

Analysis on T=Machine

I’ll be doing some followup posts over the next couple of days, Jussi’s zooming ahead with his – check out his blog to keep up with his comments too.

Followup posts will all be tagged under “jussi vc deals europe”

Jussi’s Analysis

Jussi’s posted a great summary of the core data.

The data

The data on VC investments has been collected from publicly available sources including but not limited to

* VentureBeat
* PaidContent
* Virtual World’s Management
* Avista Partners’ video game briefing
* TechCrunch
* CrunchBase

The data was gathered by Jussi Laakkonen and Adam Martin. The data is most accurate for year 2008. Year 2006 and earlier years have been only covered sporadically and typically only for companies that have received follow-up funding in years 2007-2008 (IIRC the European data is complete from the end of 2005 onwards, as it started from around the time of Mind Candy’s first announced funding). The data is provided AS IS and the authors make no warranties or guarantees about its accuracy.

Download the spreadsheet:

* Excel format
* CSV format
* HTML format

Reality Distortion and Entrepreneurship

I was looking through presentation slides the other day, and saw this:

“As children develop, they make greater and greater efforts to adapt to reality, rather than distorting reality, as in make-believe play.”

The implication, contextually, was that ultimately as a child becomes an adult, their reality becomes fully adapted, and no longer distorted. That might not be the intended implication, but it’s interesting: I’ve been fighting against this since, well, since forever, really. And spending your life constantly distorting reality it seems to me is neither a bad thing nor a limiting thing.

Because it trains you to be good at two things: seeing how you might change reality, and believing that you CAN change it.

At one end of the spectrum, distorted realities make it much easier for you to visualize what is “possible” instead of what is merely “probable”, and that’s the essence of spotting opportunities.

Entrepreneurship and Seeing Change

(good) Entrepreneurs are constantly seeing new ways to “change the world” in ways both small and large. Often the change is small, but the effects are large, or vice versa. It’s often said that “you cannot teach Entrepreneurship”, and while I beg to differ, I have experience of actually trying it, and huge experience of arguing the concept with people. Mostly, the argument against the teachability of entrepreneurship is rooted in the inability to “make” people “become able to” see Opportunities.

I think one of the primary differentiators for having/not having that ability (irrespective of whether it can be taught) is the extent to which you see:

The world as it is

as opposed to

The world as it could be

and even

The world as I would like it

Looking at the Entrepreneurs themselves:

  • Good entrepreneurs, in my personal experience, see the world always as It Could Be.
  • Bad ones usually see it as They Would Like It To Be.
  • Great ones ALSO see it as They Would Like It To Be
  • Non-entrepreneurs see it As It Is

…with the difference between Great Entrepeneurs and Bad Entrepreneurs being mainly that the former *also* see the world As It Is, and hold the two visions in their head at all times, simultaneously.

Because the Great Entrepeneurs, while constantly (many times a week) spotting things that They Would Like It To Be, also – constantly – imagine how they might transform the world As It Is, usually by a series of steps, into that target. The Bad ones simply employ the tried-and-tested Hope plan:

  1. Have Idea
  2. ?
  3. Profit

…which – let’s be honest here – occasionally works (usually if you simply get massively lucky with timing / outside events).

Entrepreneurship and Effecting Change

Why are some people better able to see how to make their desired changes come true?

I believe it’s largely driven by two skills. Firstly, the obvious one highlighted above – that the more practice you have of thinking about how you might change reality to fit what you want it to be, the better you will be at that process.

“Better” here means that you will

  • have more ideas for each transform in the chain
  • be better at recognising “good” and “bad” transforms
  • process suggested transforms – and transform-chains – more rapidly (quick accept/reject)

The second skill is believing in yourself and your ability to change the world. Often, the successful changes that Entrepeneurs effect are surprising to most people – they question how that could even be possible – while *in practice* not being so difficult to achieve. Usually, this is because normal people see only the beginning and end of a sequence of changes.

To take a simple example that illustrates the kind of “impossible” being “possible” given some clever changes that I’m talking about, look at Freeserve. (NB: this is based on my memory of events more than 10 years ago, much of which I found out 2nd or 3rd hand, when trying to understand how Freeserve had achieved something that had eluded all the other ISPs – so take this as an example in theory, it may not be accurate in practice! Incidentally, there seems to be VERY little public history on Freeserve, how it started, and how massively it changed ISP / internet access in the UK – I’d be interested if any readers have seen any articles / interviews about the details of its inception?)

Freeserve … the first “free” ISP in the UK

When Freeserve was created in the UK providing “free internet access” in the 1990’s, it seemed impossible. They even provided a cheap local phone number that could be used anywhere in the country – so it was cheaper on your phone bills than calls to your subscription ISP!

Ahem. Except, it wasn’t the cheapEST kind of local phone call, it was partway between an “ultra-local” call (very cheap) and a “national” call (expensive).

And, in an unprecedented move, Freeserve had managed to get the telephone company to give them a share of the revenue from that particular phone number. For reference, at the time, if you wanted to get revenue from the telco for running a phone number, you had to get a number on the “very expensive” plan, where the telco would charge the consumer as much as 10 times the cost of an already expensive national-call.

Of course, given the huge volume of calls that then went through to that number, the telco made a huge profit out of the scheme – so it worked out in their best interests, and everyone profited. (although I have no idea how this was negotiated, or whose idea it was – and “persuading a telco to change their revenue model” is itself a problem I’d usually classify as “impossible”, so I’m guessing there was another, similar, chain of small changes that lead to this being acheived).

About two years before this all happened, I was working on a project to create a new ISP, and I’d got as far in breaking down the steps as to see that you HAD, somehow, to find a way to remove the “dual-billing” model from consumers (pay once for internet access, pay twice for the per-minute, uncapped (!) phone call too). I didn’t have the confidence to believe it was possible, and after running through some fairly crazy ideas (including looking into internet access via broadcast radio for downstream, and home modem for upstream), I gave up and moved on. With hindsight, at the time, I realised that I’d have hit upon the change-the-telco idea within another couple of months, and that I’d have had a clear year to find a way to ACTUALLY get a telco to change, and still be able to launch before Freeserve.

(for the record, that event finally kicked me into realising that the world-changing ideas I had all the time, and thought through as often as multiple times a day, were actually all realisable (potentially). Many people I know, potentially good entrepreneurs both older and younger than me, still don’t believe the world can be changed to their tune, they can only see the world As It Is)

How to … Influence People

This is a big topic; whole books have been written on it! (OMG!!1!!!!0).

But just to select ONE of the most powerful weapons: imposing a personal view of reality onto the reality you find, and living and acting as though your view of reality is the real one, and keeping at it until everyone else gives in. The real beauty of this being that if the only differences between your reality and the real reality are the beliefs of people, then it becomes a self-fulfilling dream.

This is basic sales-technique: it’s usually more effective to sell people on a shared belief than it is to sell them merely on a bunch of facts and leave them to guess for themselves whether those facts are real or not. But it takes a particular kind of personality to be good at imposing their desired reality (if that’s all you do, it tends to come across as mere bullying), and also at making it stick.

IMHO, people who spend more of their time adapting reality are much better at the “making it stick” part.

Conclusion

So, ultimately, one of the things that makes a great Entrepreneur is huge practice with very much NOT adapting to reality, but instead adapting reality to their own ends. And it helps in ways beyond the obvious (spotting new opportunities).

If you want to be a great entrepreneur, I’d recommend you start dreaming more, and make your dreams more vivid and concrete, and try to change the world to fit them, rather than the other way around.

PS: from reading this post, all of which has been written between going from that slide of the presentation to the next, you may come to think that it can take me a long time to read a presentation. You’d be right. This is partly why I’ve taken to transcripting in real time every conference talk I attend (and usually publishing them on this blog) – the smallest comment can spark off so many thoughts that I miss the rest of the talk, and it’s a way of giving me a chance to hear the whole talk.