entrepreneurship games industry marketing and PR programming project management recruiting startup advice

LFG: I’m looking for CTO/TechDirector/Head of Mobile/Consulting roles in CA, TX, London, and Asia

TL;DR: experienced CEO/CTO/TechDirector with long background in programming, sales, and business management (Corporate, iPhone/Android, Games, Education) looking for strategic roles in USA, UK, and Asia.

After a year-out to do a post-graduate degree in Education, I’m looking for something new and exciting to do next. My primary goal is to boost a company or team rapidly and show significant outcomes – increased revenue or other KPI’s – either through Consulting or full/part-time senior leadership.

games publishing programming recruiting

Should freelancers in gamedev industry sign NDA’s?

I’m sure I’ve written about this before, but it’s come up again on Reddit, so here’s my thoughts…

IANAL, but … I have been offered more than 100 NDA’s, both as an individual and working in large companies (including a games publisher, and including a funding team).

I have signed fewer than 30 – and most of those were before I realised how “wrong” it is to sign an NDA.

These days, I only sign 1 in every 10 NDA’s sent my way – and yet I still end up working for, or doing business with, at least 50% of the people who initially “required” an NDA.

Often, people send me a bad, broken, poorly worded, typo-riddled NDA and I say “I’m not signing that. Fix it, get it down to 1.5 pages max, and I’ll reconsider” — and they usually don’t bother, they just tell me their “secrets” anyway. They didn’t really need or want the NDA!

Also: In most jurisdictions, an NDA can’t realistically be more than 2 pages, maybe 3 if it’s badly worded … if it’s more than 2 pages, you’re either in a niche industry (not games), or … it’s not an NDA, it’s a contract that’s pretending to be an NDA, perhaps for evil reasons. When someone sends me a 5-10 page NDA I say “send me a 1-2 page NDA. Don’t send me a secret employment contract”. AGain, they often simply carry on talking to me without NDA.

One large games company (100 staff) sent me (IIRC) a TWENTY TWO page NDA. Buried on page 17 was something like: “we own all converations with you, and at YOUR cost we can confiscate all hard-disks and storage belonging to you or your company if we have any suspicion you might be developing ideas similar to our own”.

(It specifically took ownership of any ideas similar – even if we’d never discussed them. It was disgusting.)

There are some exceptions to be aware of – but the company can easily explain + justify this to you. For instance, if the company is based on a patent, then in Europe they may be required to prove everyone is under NDA or risk invalidating the patent (not the same as USA, where you can talk about patents publically, IIRC).

TL;DR – many “NDA’s” are a scam. Refuse them without hesitation. Or question them, and discover the company didn’t really need it anyway. Most “decent” companies won’t care that you’re not under NDA; the obsession with NDA’s usually comes from the kind of dumb-ass employer that is a PITA to work for.

(to reiterate: IANAL. I’m happy giving advice, but legally you shouldn’t trust random strangers on the internet, and I take no responsibility for your actions ! :))


URGENT iOS Developer needed in London Monday start!!!

Much time has passed, and the guilty are probably not reading this blog any more, so I figured I’d go ahead and post this one without fear of upsetting them…

Adam’s Hints to Recruitment Agents #72:

“if you need an expert, urgently (e.g. within 1 week) … there are some questions you should be answering up front, such as “what’s the budget?””

Email 1:

Me: Where in London, and what’s the budget? Any skills in particular?

Email 2:

Recruiter: Tottenham Court Road, no skills specified

(ignores the “budget” question)

Email 3:

Me: OK, location is good. Since you didn’t answer the budget question, standard rate is X.

Email 4:

Recruiter, less than 3 hours before close of business the day before due to start contract: “Ah that’s way over budget so this is a non-starter I’m afraid, thanks anyway.”

Many recruiters I’ve met would say “I don’t want to bother the client with unimportant questions”, but if you’re hiring a contractor at short notice and high cost, IMHO there’s no such thing as an “unimportant” question.

And, of course, if they’d bothered to do this stuff up-front … given I administer a non-profit network of 200 mobile developers (including many freelancers) … they just missed out on the chance for me to recommend them people within their budget range. Stupid, stupid, stupid.

games industry recruiting

There IS no skills gap; employers are lying to themselves

In the games industry – especially in the UK – big employers have spent the past 10 years claiming there is a “skills gap” – that not enough people are being “trained by universities” (which shows how stupid the speakers were; Universities don’t do training, and most never will – it’s against the core principle of a University). Meanwhile I’ve been counter-claiming that they’re making this up, that there’s no “gap”, and that they know this full well – they just want an excuse to artificially pay lower wages than they deserve to.

Now someone’s published a book on the topic. Unlike my straw-poll arguments, this has actually been researched :), so it may be a lot more convincing. I haven’t read it yet, but this interview with the author has enough juicy details to have me convinced it’ll be a good read.

For instance, here’s a segment on “how does an employer start with 25,000 candidates for a role, and then declare that there exists no-one suitable?”:

“…and the way screening works is you build in a series of typically yes/no questions that try to get at whether somebody has the ability to do this job. And a lot of that ultimately ends up, it’s all you can ask about, is experience and credentials. So you end up with a series of yes/no questions. And you have to clear them all, and I think people building these don’t quite understand that once you have a series of these yes/no questions built in, and the probabilities are cumulative right? You have to hit them all, then you pretty easily end with no one that can fit.

So say that the odds are 50 percent that the typical applicant will give you the right answer in terms of what you’re looking for for the first question, and a 50 percent that they’ll give you the right answer to the second question. Well, then, you’re down to one in four people who will clear those two hurdles, and once you run it out to about 10 questions, it gets you down to about one in 1000 people [ADAM: i.e. on statistics alone – independent of quality etc!] who would clear those hurdles.

… the first hurdle is usually, What wage are you looking for? And if you guess too high, out that goes, right?

… at the end of the day, you find that nobody fits the job requirement.”

games industry recruiting

Looking for a games industry job in UK, with enthusiasm but little experience?

How about this one:

A “buyer” for Sainsburys: you get to influence the titles stocked by one of the UK’s biggest retailers. I’ve never – ever! – met a games-buyer before, but I know quite a few buyers for more mainstream areas (clothing, fashion, etc), and so long as you’re organized and diligent, it sounds like a good job. You spend a lot of time dealing with the ebb and flow of what the public are actually buying – surely, very good practice for a career in design or publishing.

And yet, as I said … I’ve never met one before. Strange, that.

EDIT: and here’s another one, for Argos:

Google? Doh! recruiting

Google interview questions: beware the Interviewer

This is from 4 years ago, courtesy of Steve Yegge. I just came across it by accident, it’s wonderfully well written, but one bit caught my attention in particular:

“First, you can’t tell interviewers what’s important. Not at any company. Not unless they’re specifically asking you for advice.”

Wait – what? … why not? Surely – if you’re being an honest candidate – your views on what’s important are a huge part of the interview process? These people want to know what you’ll be like as a colleague, how you tick – no?

“You have a very narrow window of perhaps one year after an engineer graduates from college to inculcate them in the art of interviewing, after which the window closes and they believe they are a “good interviewer” and they don’t need to change their questions, their question styles, their interviewing style, or their feedback style, ever again.”

Ah. Right. Yes, makes sense now. Sad, but true.

I will also add: for all the reasons Steve cited, I *do not run interviews this way*, and haven’t for a long time now. In my late twenties, I learnt the hard way how stupid a lot of those practices are.

Looking back at my sole Google interview, it explains a lot: I had no idea that Google accepted / allowed these practices among their interviewers – I’d assumed they’d have actively stamped them out. Apparently not. It was a big part of why I never considered Google again: if “A people hire A people” and “B people hire C people”, that part of Google’s process stank of the B people. Not a place I wanted to work…

Of course, Steve’s still writing about Google’s hiring, and his criticisms seem to be getting sharper over time. Just last year, he dropped this into a post:

“It’s a match made in heaven, I’m tellin’ ya. It might take you a couple tries to get in the door, because Google’s interview process — what’s the word I’m looking for here — ah yes, their process sucks at letting in all the qualified people. They’re trying to get better at it, but it’s not really Google’s fault so much as the fault of interviewers who insist that you’re not qualified to work there unless you are exactly like them.”

So … given Steve’s one-man crusade to undo the bad work of Google HR, I’d recommend anyone rejected by Google to give them another go. But don’t look at interview prep questions, don’t brush up on obscure programming technique – just read and re-read Steve’s blog posts, and remind yourself that it’s “a stupid process” you’re trying to get past, one that doesn’t fairly represent the company – nor the colleagues – you’ll be working for.

games industry recruiting

Games QA job in Brighton UK

No link provided, but should be easy to find the studio email HR address:

“Hi All, I’m looking for a QA person to join us at Zoe Mode. I need someone with experience as I need QA for multiple titles of different genres. A sense of rhythm will help. Please pass this on, thx.”

Alys is a good person to work with.

entrepreneurship facebook recruiting startup advice web 2.0

New startup, aiming for acquisition by Facebook

Please email me (adam at if you have skills / interest in the following:

  1. Mass market (i.e. everyone + their mom) telling stories
  2. javascript frameworks for complex visual 2D stuff (e.g. iGoogle, Netvibes, etc)
  3. Visual manipulation of large 2D images on mobile (especially iPhone)

NB: we have no funding yet, just an idea. This is a scatter-gun first approach – if things go well, there will be another call for people in 2-4 months time.

advocacy games industry recruiting

Team Bondi: apparently, working weekends is “inevitable”

In yet another Team-Bondi-is-great-and-I-<3-the-Crunch letter, Dave Hieronymous manages to come across as a corporate apologist, or simply delusional. Heard of the 5-days-a-week working week? Well ... reading Dave’s open letter … I guess everyone else on the planet is just … a slacker? … not trying hard enough?

“Recognising that working on the weekend was inevitable”

Your project took 7 years.


For a project that most industry professionals I’ve spoken to agree could/should have been done in 2-3 years.

And working weekends was “inevitable”?


“I never (and in my experience, neither did any of the other managers) expected anything from my team that I didn’t expect of myself. The management team at Team Bondi was not ensconced in an Ivory Tower working normal hours while everyone else crunched. Brendan himself worked very long hours and few of us here in the studio are aware of how grueling the DA and motion capture shoot in LA was.”

So … do you believ that if you’re a sado-masochistic idiot who has no personal or social life and hates every living thing on the planet, including yourself … it’s no longer “abuse” if you force other people to live the same way?

I’ve already called Brendan out on this. So, for Dave, let’s recap: for the managers to work extra hours, when they’re sitting on vast amounts of equity and/or typically much larger salary packages (a 2x multiple – or more – is common), is one thing.

For them to tell everyone else – who is being rewarded very little by comparison – is another thing entirely.

Also, Brendan chooses what hours to work. His employees get told. “Agency” is a pretty huge thing in human psychology, and is a big part of that thing we call “Freedom”. You cannot simply ignore it.

Team Bondi: even their staunchest defenders keep damning it. If they offer you a job, I advise you: Run, don’t walk, in the opposite direction.

games industry recruiting

Clint Hocking thinks all young men are rapists

Seems a bit Freudian to me. According to Clint, Viking aggression wasn’t caused by eking out a bitter existence in freezing lands without enough farmland and food – a need to cull the local population, and take food from elsewhere to survive – but instead by the fact that all young men inevitably rape and pillage whenever they can

Normally, I’d leave him to his Hardcore Feminist Club and ignore him – but he’s using this as a metaphor to explain “what’s wrong with the games industry”. I’d say he’s as out of touch with the games industry as he is with history. And his article paints an implicit picture of the industry that’s deeply offputting.

There are small pockets like he describes; in my experience, they’re a minority, and they’re generally USA studios consisting mostly of recent graduates clowning around … or run by adult men who have issues with growing up, and still behave like kids.

But huge swathes of the games industry are nothing like that. I can only speak from personal experience (at a wide variety of companies), but … Clint’s description is the exception rather than the rule. It’s also IMHO more damaging than beneficial: apart from convincing everyone in their right mind not to hang around the 20-something wannabe-rapists that make up the bulk of a studio, he paints a picture of industry-wide mediocrity and workplace horror that would send any rational person running in the opposite direction. It’s not like that. Really.

advocacy games industry recruiting startup advice

Rockstar’s LA Noire, McNamara, Team Bondi, Crunch, and Advocacy


A month ago, PC Gamer reported that “The idea that crunch wasn’t all that productive was raised, but there was enough experience in the room to shoot it down. “. I found that unacceptable, both as a concept, and as something for the media to report without challenging it.

Last week, it became public that LA Noire was built on the living corpses of hundreds of developers, approx 100 of whom have been stripped of their hard-earned professional Credits (take with a pinch of salt – but the allegations are compelling).

The guy in charge – right at the top, where the buck stops – went on record to document some of his abusive behaviour, and to argue that his behaviour was perfectly acceptable. He implied that anyone who refused to be abused by him was … unprofessional or naive.

(aside: never, ever, EVER work for Brendan McNamara. Read the IGN article to see why. If you wonder: “but maybe this is ‘normal’ for the games industry?”, here’s the answer: No, it absolutely is NOT normal, it is NOT acceptable, and I believe many professionals would agree it has reduced the quality of the game that was produced. LA Noire could have been a better, more profitable game)

IGDA – a 10,000-member organization for game developers – refused to censure this behaviour. Despite having an entire (mostly useless) committee devoted to “Quality of Life”.

(UPDATE: IGDA’s now responded properly: “Brian Robbins, chair of the IGDA Board of Directors, said the association would fully investigate the issue. … ‘reports of 12-hour a day, lengthy crunch time, if true, are absolutely unacceptable and harmful to the individuals involved, the final product, and the industry as a whole,’ Robbins told Develop.”. Yay!)

Erin Hoffman – famously EA_Spouse, who campaigned hard for fair treatment of employees back when her husband was a victim – could only say (according to the IGN article):

“Ultimately, all the developers can do is work their hardest to get hired at better companies. It is every developer’s responsibility to know their rights, and be willing to fight for them,”

i.e. there’s no help for you. Executives, Management, Industry Organizations – have zero responsibility. It’s the problem – and the fault? – of the lowest people on the foodchain.

(“basically, … you’re fucked”).

The biggest issue in the professional games industry today

A conversation I had recently, someone posed the reasonable-sounding idea:

“[you can] provide advocacy on the benefits of eliminating crunch, or information about the crunch and overtime pay policies of various companies, historical crunch duration on past projects, etc.

But at the end of the day it’s up to everyone to make their own individual, informed decisions about how they want to conduct their professional lives.

My response, which I feel is too important to keep private (bear in mind I’m quoting myself slightly out of context here)

Society is based on contract: we sacrifice some things, and we take on extra responsibilities, in return for the benefits and the assurances.

One of those responsibilities is to look after each other. This has nothing to do with “personal choice”. It’s to do with dragging everyone up to a high standard of living. Without it, society functions poorly, and ultimately fails. Once society fails, people who had a high standard of living suddenly lose everything: you can never sleep safe at night. Nothing you own is yours. Everything can be taken from you, and there is *no* comeback.

The “payment” part of the social contract isn’t optional. It’s a binary thing, you have to take the whole package, or none at all.

What is the IGDA doing about this? What is Erin doing? What are you doing?

There was another part of my answer, relating to the idea that people were disseminating knowledge, and that was enough:


[but…] They could also grow a pair and say: “crunch fucking sucks. The only people who don’t know this are the ones at the top of the food chain exploiting everyone else. *OF COURSE* it doesn’t suck when you’re not the person doing it.”

They could say: “if you’ve never crunched, and you’re about to join a company that does crunch, DON’T DO IT. Find somewhere else unless you really have no choice.”

They could say: “here’s a list of companies that have publically admitted (or been outed) as using crunch regularly (or even permanently), or as a project-management tool.”

See how fast companies change in the face of that.

But it doesn’t work, fighting the employers. They won’t change

Yes, it does work. You just need a big enough lever.

[UPDATE: there’s a lot more details now on’s bad website that requires login – use the email “” and password “fuckgi” if you want to read it. See what effect this has. Personally, I’ve now also added Vicky Lord to my list of “never work with this person ever”]

(an aside: is 10,000 members enough? Well, allegedly it was enough to scare one of the abusive employers – Mike Capps – into joining the IGDA board just to stop it from fighting for reforms that would have coerced him to change. There’s some reading between the lines there, but most of it comes from his own public statements)

Personally, I was treated extremely badly by one company (Codemasters). Weeks after hiring me, they fired me. They did it illegally, so it’s hard to be sure, but it seems I was intended as an object lesson to bully a large AAA team into bowing into submission. Perhaps: “we can fire him for no reason, we can fire the rest of you. STFU and work harder, SCUM!”.

Within weeks, something like 20 people had resigned from the team.

Within months, I was getting cold calls from people who’d told me they’d been offered good jobs at this company, but had turned them down *purely because of* hearing about what was done to me. I’d never heard of, spoken to, or met these people.

Within a few years, I was hearing stories of how the company had changed – had been forced to change – its practices.

In a way, all I did was what Erin describes: individuals fighting for themselves.

In practice, I had to lose my job to achieve it. As an individual developer, I was fucked. This is what’s wrong with Erin’s view of the world: it is NOT ENOUGH to tell everyone to sort their own problems, unaided. It’s our collective – and individual – responsibility to help each other.

games industry recruiting

Games Industry Art Jobs –

Relatively new. I had a brief look, seems to be a fair number of “entry-level” art jobs, as well as standard full-time roles:

agile recruiting startup advice

“I have never regretted firing anybody. Not once.” – Mark Suster

One of those things that most business people don’t talk about unless prodded. I’m not sure why, but I assume it’s one aspect of the fear “don’t burn any bridges; don’t let anyone think you can be nasty; don’t let anyone see you’re human”. None of which are healthy, long-term ideals IMHO – although they may be a good idea for many people. (they’ll often keep you in a job you’re unsuited for for longer than you would survive without them).

“I have on many occasions regretted not firing somebody quickly enough.

I’ve made every excuse to myself in the past, “I can’t fire him now, he owns the customer relationships and it’s a crucial point in our sales process.” Or, “I haven’t given him a long-enough chance to prove himself – let me see how he develops” or even, “it will have a big impact on morale because she is well liked. I can’t afford that right now.””

Some other good points in the post from Mark, including his list of 3 key ideals in hiring. Although … I still don’t agree with his “if [you change jobs] 5-6 times there is probably a pattern that isn’t completely the fault of some asshole boss.”. Well, I agree with the deduction – I’m sure there is a pattern, something interesting causing these rapid job changes – but I don’t agree with his conclusion that this is a bad sign in a jobseeker / candidate *for a startup*. (for a corporate role, it’s a huge red flag; for a startup, it might even be a positive selector; IMHO it’s too complex an issue to make catch-all pronouncements like Mark’s)

(and c.f. my previous comments on hiring, e.g.:

“I’ve noticed practically no correlation between skilled people going on to fulfil greater potential – many did, but many got worse. I’d still hire very skilled people – you know they’re useful – but … and this is a reflection of my own interests … in a startup environment, I’d tend to look for the enthusiastic ones by preference.”

programming recruiting


Most “gamification” achievements I couldn’t care less about (and this is the Dirty Secret of gamification – most consumers don’t care), … but this is one of the few that I do:

(and I post this in the full knowledge that it’s possible to game (i.e. cheat) your way to well over 2k rep on StackOverflow … but I’m chuffed anyway)

Unlike my experiences of the SO clones, SO is *still* a very high signal-to-noise ratio, in my experience. And so I still care about it – and value the SO score on other peopl’s profiles

(yeah, not-so-subtle hint: your SO score is now a standard part of any employer’s background checks, if they’re smart. Can make the difference between getting an interview or not, let alone getting the job)

entrepreneurship recruiting

Given the chance, would you…

…trip someone over, or … Help them stand?

Visiting London, this question comes up a lot. Just now, I was on a train where as we pulled into the station the driver announced that the train on the neighbouring platform was the Express train to same final destination; he encouraged passengers to run to the other platform, and promised to wait if the other train left too soon.

I was the first person to reach the other platform; just as I arrived, the other driver started the engines and slowly pulled away.

You might pass this off as coincidence, but I’ve seen it many times first hand from London transport Employees: they delight in fucking over as many people as they can. I’ve even been threatened by London Transport staff, and was too naive to realise their behaviour was illegal.

But on a smaller scale are all the ordinary citizens who passively aggressively respond to perceived slights by barging others as they enter or leave a tube train, or deliberately walk slowly and block the pavements and escalators. When I was one of them … In my mind, I was exacting petty revenge on the woman who barged everyone out of her way when entering the train, or the man who jammed his briefcase in the closing doors so theyd re open and let him in (delaying the train and risking breaking it in the process – I’ve been on London trains that were cancelled because of exactly this).

But some years ago I realised you have a choice at each such moment; two paths lie before you, each goes to the same destination, but the journey is markedly different, and will change you; which path would you prefer to be defined by?

I still resent the petty bastards like tonights train driver who watched people run to his train then pulled away at the last moment – perhaps I even resent them more, as I think about the escalating pyramid of misery and vindictiveness they cause – but it’s also mixed with a small measure of pity, that these sad people will probably never again be truly happy, too wrapped up in their schadenfreude over others.

games industry recruiting

UK: J2EE/Web developer for games backends (Blitz)

“We are looking for a passionate and experienced individual to help with the design construction and maintenance of a variety of web-based entertainment and social media game service”

This being Blitz, the job is of course in Leamington Spa, which rules it out for most people :(.

But if you’re a web/server/java developer looking to get into a mainstream games company, could be a good start.

entrepreneurship games industry recruiting

“if you train your staff, there’s a risk they’ll leave; if you don’t, there’s a risk they’ll stay”

On twitter the other day (but Twitter’s crashing at the moment, so I can’t find the original author).

Coincidentally, came up in a private games-industry forum today too, where someone was actually trying to argue it’s a *good thing* that their employer pays below-standard wages for all engineering staff. WTF?

Anyway, I think it’s a great quote. Just remember that “train” can be replaced with “pay” and “treat humanely”; a lot of weak company directors (and managers) talk themselves into the idea:

“If I keep my staff downtrodden, lean and mean, and low self-esteem … they’ll be forced to carry on working here, no matter how bad it gets. They won’t have the self-belief needed to leave!”

…but are too scared/panicked/stupid/lazy to think of the obvious immediate side-effect: what kind of product is going to be produced by people in that state of mind? Definitely not “quality”, or anything that will increase the success of the business…

games industry recruiting

2011 Games Salary/Contractor rates survey

If you’re working in web/games/etc, please fill out the short survey on salary, contractor rates, project size, etc

Once the survey is closed, the writeup will appear here – feel free to bookmark this page!

Until this, this is a HOLDING PAGE POST to workaround a design flaw (and some bugs?) in Google Docs.

Interim results: 150 responses so far, but if you know people who are NOT programmers, get them to fill out the survey!

advocacy entrepreneurship games industry recruiting

How Valve runs a successful game business, hires people, and more

Here’s a long (long!) video interview with Gabe Newell, CEO of Valve (one of the biggest / most successful games companies).

(incidentally: this post is shorter than intended. Someone at WordPress considered it acceptable to DELETE your post if your login cookie timesout before you hit the save button. Completely the wrong way to build a blogging platform)

Listening to the long interview, I found him saying some very concise, pithy things about the games industry, and the roles of us working within it. Some of them are clearly at odds with the “corporate” messaging that typically comes out of the larger games companies. Personally, I have often railed against those corporate statements and shouted “don’t believe a word of it! read between the lines – this is a person with their own hidden agenda!”, so I was delighted to hear Gabe providing much more rational and intelligent messages.

I transcribed a few as I listened, as they resonated with a lot of the concepts I’ve tried to hilight on this blog and elsewhere.

Employer responsibility, and a culture of humanism

“You cant ruin people’s home lives to benefit the business

we’re not telling them to work on the weekends, but people are working on the weekends

those really are the things we worry about”

Contrast this with the issue that made me quit the IGDA:

Mike Capps (CEO of Epic Games) who claimed that: “working 60+ hours was expected at Epic, that they purposefully hired people they anticipated would work those kinds of hours, that this had nothing to do with exploitation of talent by management but was instead a part of “corporate culture,” and implied that the idea that people would work a mere 40 hours was kind of absurd.”

Even when doing a PR-interview to try and un-fuck the issue – supposedly on his best behaviour, trying to sound like a good guy – Mike Capps felt this excused his behaviour:

“My guys ask to crunch. They say, “Hey, we’re not crunching yet. What’s going on? Why isn’t everybody crunching? This is really serious!” That kind of stuff.”

No. Doesn’t stand. You can’t abrogate responsibilty – especially not when you’re an at-will employer in a country with employment law that gives employers many rights, but employees almost no rights at all.

Gabe’s language (whether or not Valve actually does this) is in the opposite, humane direction: at Valve they “worry about” this, and supposedly seek to stop the behaviour, not to work with it.

A real games “business” is self-funding, always

“we fund our own projects so I dont have to worry about how the bank or whoever feels about our business decisions … it makes it a lot simpler to run the business that way”

This is the most common recurring issue I see with good indie games companies that fail – they cannot (or “will not”) grasp the importance of the above statement.

(EDIT’d this section to be clearer; and, of course, this is all IMHO – I have no idea what Gabe/Valve thinks on this)

Read that carefully: it’s “a lot simpler to run the business”. That should be a wakeup call to all the studios that say “I’d love to work that way, but I can’t afford to”; I’d say: you can’t afford *not* to.

It’s generally accepted that *if* you get to that point in your studio lifecycle, you’ve got it “made”. In practice, that should be turned on its head: until you get to that point in your lifecycle, you’re heading towards failure.

Often they make excuses to themselves that it’s “not possible” to run this way, and accept it won’t happen, and then blithely go about their business.

Net result: their games get worse and worse, as their competitors pull away from them, and sooner or later they drop below the standard it takes to keep getting new projects, and BANG! studio goes under.

All digital products these days are an order of magnitude easier/cheaper to make than they were 15 years ago, ignoring the staff costs; service prices have plummeted (web hosting costs, software suite costs, etc). They’re at least an order cheaper/easier to launch and sell in the marketplace. If you’re a startup, you should find it trivial to get to self-funded project status – ignoring the staffing costs.

So. Compared to 15 years ago, you have two obvious routes to self-funding: get someone else to pay your staff costs, but move *very* quickly to where you don’t need their money (because otherwise you’ll have a hard time forever), or do what you can with the people you have (you, your co-founders, the goodwill you can get from ex-colleagues, etc). It’s not excusable to say “self-funding our projects is out of our reach” – this is simply not true. It may require some ingenuity – or it may simply prove that your business is non-viable (if your business plan is to out-do Zynga at their own game, for instance, you’ll probably find it’s just not possible. In that case, declaring “we’re starting off non-self-funding, and when we get our first hit game (like Zynga did), it’ll be easy from there” is just papering-over your hopeless business plan).

How to get a *good* job in the games industry

“the main characteristic we look for is the ability

  • to create something
  • develop an audience about it
  • measure the reations to something you’ve created
  • and then change what you’ve built to reflect that
  • and measure again how much of a difference you made

Sound familiar?

If you’re serious about startups, it should do – it’s the path that et al have been pushing startups along for the past 5 years. The best of the entrepreneurs are expected to live and breath this approach by now.

It’s not even rocket-science – a big part of it is nothing more or less than the Scientific Method, over a century old now, which has driven most of the world’s research. It works. It’s a pity that so many people ignore it.

If you want to be a game maker, then … make games

Partly responding to the oft-quoted fear “but how can I get experience making games, if the pre-requisite to joinging a game team is that I already have experience making games??”:

“iteration cycle with Customer Feedback is the most important characteristic for somebody to be successful right now, and ability to demonstrate that through a portfolio, through a website, through a mod

If you have learnt anything at all, if you have achieved anything, if you have any skill – then you can *always* demonstrate that, somehow. If not, then implicitly your achievement doesn’t exist – if you can’t show it, it’s not there. c.f. the section Marketing is a science, not an art, and read Sergio Zyman’s book if you need inspiration here.

Which matters more: credentials, or mindset?

Atttitude and approach wins, apparently:

“you have to actually act almost like a CEO yourself, in terms of understanding an audience, understanding a market, building a product, taking feedbakc about the product evolving the product communicating about the product

more than whether or not you go to an Ivy League school … or take CS classes … or drawing classes … that for us is the key indicator of future success

an awareness of what’s actually going on right now tends to trump a lot of previous experiences … I think it’s going to be harder and harder for people to stay current as the pace of things accelerates … get in front of instead of get behind any structural changes of an industry you’re going into

Don’t take a job you don’t want, to sneak into the one you were too crap to get

And, so important (and lied about so many times by journalists, HR departments, recruiters, et al): the worst thing to do if you want to get into a game development job is to join QA expecting it to be an “easy route in”:

“each person that we hire has to be able to do that, even if they’re just going to be in marketing … or support … or QA”

i.e. QA is no “easy path” – you’re still held to the same criteria.

But also, as *so few* execs from EA etc are willing to admit (and I pick EA, because I’ve seen their senior people HR blatantly lie (IMHO) about this on multiple occasions, following their own agenda):

“at most companies they put in all these barriers to keep people from moving out of QA or support … in some companies you can actually get fired for trying to get out of support positions into the development organization …[so instead] build a flash game; ship it; make it better … and you’ll get everybody’s attention if you’ve got talent”


Recruiters: My fee for referrals is 5%

Have you had emails like this recently?

Urgent position – lead programmer

I need an awesome programmer for this fantastic company based in X. It’s an amazing team – probably the best I’ve ever seen – real household names, and they’ve got a cool office, like nothing you’ve seen before. These guys want only THE BEST.

If you don’t want it, please forward this email to all your friends WITHIN 24 HOURS OR YOU WILL DIE HORRIBLY AND TRAGICALLY THIS TIME NEXT WEEK.

PS: I know you don’t want it, but I thought this was a good way to get your attention before I proceeded to rape your Address Book.

Ok, so I made up the last sentence and a half. But I have – on multiple occasions – seen the words “actually, I know you didn’t want this job, it’s unrelated to your career – but I wanted to get you to forward it to your firends, please”. Unbelievable cheek.

More annoyingly, in the past 6-12 months I’ve seen a lot that add this, either in the subject line, or if you reply to them – for any reason at all:

We’ll give you $500 if you refer us to one of your friends and they get the job

Even the cheapest of the cheap, the true bottom-feeders of this industry, demand 7%-12% of first-year salary (I’ve often seen ones that try to charge 20% minimum, up to 25%, with no appreciable increase in quality or effort) if they find a candidate. Usually they do literally no work beyond mass-emailing everyone they can.

So, let’s be clear:

If you give them the candidate that gets the job, you just earned them around $10,000 for them doing nothing, and you doing the work.

Plus, if your friend is rejected (or is too late), you get the joy of having wasted their time. The recruiter gets to walk away, not giving a ****.

If you’re going to do such a referral, insist on a %age fee. 5% is a very reasonable amount – anything less and you’d be practically Cutting Your Own Throat. Please – the more that “normal” staff realise how much money is made by selling them like cattle, and the more they demand their fair share, the happier we’ll be (we all get more cash), and the fewer bottom-feeding recruiters we’ll see. Everyone wins (including the better-quality recruiters).