Outsourcing is Not Always the Best Option

In a past post I mentioned how game developers should focus on game production rather than game engine production. While it’s true that game production might require making changes to the engine, I still think that’s the ‘rule of thumb to follow’ – concentrate on making the game, rather than the engine.

While outsourcing and getting 3rd party components is important (and recommended), that’s not always the best solution. Some months ago I wasted some of my time to find a suitable level editor. I even bought one, just to see that the features promised didn’t work in my end. The support said ‘works here’, and I waste more time finding the solution. I have been planning the editor for some time, and today I started programming it.

It’s not complete yet, but after 2 hours of coding I managed to put together an editor that ‘works enough’. It’s simple, yet efficient for what we need right now. It will require some more work to get it usable for player, and it will require some additional features (like saving slots for levels) before it can be integrated in the game.

Nevertheless, I think the biggest lesson here is to find out what you need. I had some kind of idea about what I would need in the past, but as it wasn’t crystal clear – the editor I bought couldn’t match my needs. After all, how could it match my needs when I had only a rough idea about what I would need. Today the needed features for the editor are clear: and instead of hoping to shop for the right editor, I planned and started programming it.

Before you outsource, I really recommend checking out the following:

  • Define exactly what you need. This is the crucial part: unless you know what you need, how on earth are you going to get that?
  • Estimate how much time it would take to program something by yourself, and how much it would cost to get somebody else to do it. I didn’t deal efficiently with this part when I was looking for the editor, and the end result was that instead of spending couple of days for building my own editor I wasted several days and some money on something useless.
  • Decide. Very obvious, yet extremely crucial element. After you’ve defined what you need and estimated how much time or money would it take, then you need to make a decision – and stick with it. I decided to program the editor by myself, and I have much better feeling about this compared to the feeling I had when I bought the editor.

Using 3rd party components is okay, but doing in-house is sometimes a better alternative.

Blog Apocalypse – What Would You Say in Your Last Blog Post?

I’ve been tagged by Creating Abundant Lifestyles to participate a “blog Apocalypse” project. A project that will generate some charity and links. It all started from Urban Monk who is donating $1 per every link he gets. The idea of the project is to write a blog entry, as if it was your last one.

Here’s what my entry would like – if this would have been my last chance to blog:

So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish

Be nice to each other.

I believe this summarizes everything pretty well, in a simple and short manner. As that was only a pretended ‘last blog post’, I’m glad I don’t have to say that for real and can keep publishing new content every day. To keep this project going, I’m tagging more people and hoping to hear what they would say in their last blog post.

Jake Birkett – Games, Aikido, positive thinking.

Seth Godin – it would be nice to hear what the marketing professional would say in his last blog post. (By the way, his Purple Cow book is a must read about marketing)

Problogger – Darren’s great blogging site is the number one place to find information about blogging, I wonder what his last blog post would be all about…

Jay Barnson – I bet Rampant coyote’s last story would be worth reading.

Cliff Harris – guy behind Kudos, and upcoming Rock-Legend games to name a few.

Guy Kawasaki – His business advice is priceless. Let’s see what he would say if he would need to do his last blog post.

Build Your Own Book Library

I’ve always wanted have my own book library. In the recent years I’ve read and bought more books than ever. If you enjoy learning new things, then consider building a book library in many areas besides programming. I think books about psychology, business, sales, marketing, productivity, project management, success etc. are must read for game producers and indie game developers.

Here are some books I’ve read and recommend:

Game production:

David Michael (Indie Game Development Survival Guide, excellent guide for any indie. Some information is bit old and would require an updated edition, but much of the information are still applicable today)
Dan Irish (The Game Producer’s Handbook, a must read for any producer)

Then some others in the fields of business, marketing, success and so on:

* Jay Abraham (Excellent marketing man. Immediately get his book Getting Everything You Can Out Of All You’ve Got – it’s one of the best marketing books I’ve read).
* Napoleon Hill (Think And Grow Rich is a good one about success)
* Dale Carnegie (How To Win Friends and Influence People is a classic – must read for anyone wanting to be a leader)
* Anthony Robbins (While he has bit ‘strong’ opinions, I believe his motivational attitude and books are must read for anyone. I really enjoyed his Awaken the Giant Within.)
* T. Harv Eker (Secrets of the Millionaire Mind, I enjoyed this 200 pages long advertisement quite much. I say ‘ad’ because the book is like a sales pitch for their Millionaire Mind Intensive seminars. I did pick some useful pieces of advice that made it worth buying)
* Harvey Mackay (Good business books, I enjoyed the Swim with the Sharks without Being Eaten Alive)
* Brian Tracy (I’ve read some of his books, but I think he says the same as anyone else. Still, some of his books might be worth checking – but I won’t be naming any specific one here)
* Stephen Covey (“7 Habits of Highly Effective People – and other 7 Habits series – recommended)
* Robert T. Kiyosaki (Rich Dad, Poor Dad and Rich Dad, Poor Dad: Cashflow Quadrant. The stories are made up, but the business lessons in them are worth checking out.)
* Seth Godin (Marketing books, I especially enjoyed Purple Cow. Permission Marketing was pretty good as well)
* Jeffrey Gitomer (I’ve read only one book, and it is a very good one about sales: The Sales Bible)
* Paul Arden (It’s Not How Good You Are, It’s How Good You Want To Be, inspiring book about common sense & success)
* Gandhi (Gandhi An Autobiography: The Story of My Experiments With Truth, classic reading)

Here’s some authors that are on my ‘to be checked later’ list:

* Earl Nightingale (I’ve been recommended to read author’s book – haven’t done that yet, but will do hopefully soon)
* Denis Waitley (Haven’t read)
* Wayne Dyer (Haven’t read)
* Og Mandino (Sales book, haven’t read)
* James Redfield (Spiritual, haven’t read)

I’ve also got recommendations to read biographies (or autobiographies) of the following people:

* Andrew Carnegie
* Benjamin Franklin
* Abraham Lincoln

I haven’t read their biographies yet, but they are on my ‘check later’ list.

Where to get & buy books?
I’ve been getting books from several places (as most of the time they are not sold here in Finland)

  • Libraries – you don’t have to buy everything, you can read free copies in your local library. I recommend checking out this option – although I personally like to collect books and prefer buying them.
  • Play.com – fast & free delivery. I really recommend.
  • Amazon.com – really difficult to find out the final price, but as the rate of dollar is weak at the time of writing this makes a good choice for getting book. (The downside for Finnish deliveries is that it takes ages to get books here)
  • Amazon.co.uk – Faster delivery than in amazon.com, but requires a calculator to find out where to get best prices.

Tip for making reading faster
Some people highlight significant parts in the book (like, if you see an important message you would need to highlight it with green or red color), and then in the future you can check out the books fast and see the important points. I found that this practice has a good and a bad side:
- Good thing is: it strikes you as significant
- The bad thing is: it messes up the book.

At least for me. I like to keep my books clean & tidy. So I made another solution for highlighting: I use pencil. And I make small vertical lines in the margins of the book – I don’t highlight anything on pages. I think I get the most benefits: the book is still tidy (they way I want it to be) and I still can catch the important parts. I will use one thin line for “significant” points and two thin vertical lines for “very significant” points.

Tell us your book recommendations
Do you know books to recommend? Please, share your suggestions and put them here. Please, provide the name of the author and the book. It would be also nice to hear what topic the book is about (like, is it a programming book, success book, business book or what).

LiquidWeb.com Webhosting – 9 Months Review

We purchased a dedicated server from LiquidWeb.com in the end of July 2006. I’ve promised to give them a review and briefly put: everything has worked fine with the service and there really hasn’t been any major problems with them. In exchange for this review (and having banner link on my site) I’ve received a discount for the server. As with any other review on this, I will give my honest opinion & constructive criticism regarding the service.

While I haven’t been directly dealing with their support my friend (who is managing the server) said that “support has always been very good”. The server has been fast and sites load quickly. I don’t even recall any downtime. There’s always some downtime when dealing with webhosts, but our dedicated server hasn’t experienced any major (nor much even minor) downtimes.

Pretty much the only problems we have faced were with the remote backup: there were some problem with the hardware, but that was sorted. This shows how little issues there has been with them – they’ve taken care things properly.

LiquidWeb service in a nutshell
Here’s a quick list on how I’ve seen their service:

  • Powerful dedicated servers (I have no experience with their other packages)
  • Good support
  • Reliable: very good uptime
  • No major problems, any minor problems taken care fast
  • Fully managed
  • Decent price

Naturally I don’t know how well LiquidWeb’s other packages work (since I’ve only used their dedicated server package), but we’ve been very pleased with the speed, price and reliability of the dedicated server and I personally recommend their services for those who need a webhosting. Their shared hosting comes with 30-day money back guarantee, so if you want to try them you’ll have time to get your money back if you are not pleased with their service.

Don’t take my word for it – I’m the one who gets paid for writing this
I personally recommend their service as I’ve been happy with their dedicated system, but I would recommend not not just take my word for it – I recommend checking out what other people say about their service. You may find reviews from sites such as WebhostingTalk and Indiegamer.

I strongly recommend taking monthly plans (not just with LiquidWeb, but with any webhost), because that way you can check how they perform for you. Depending how their performance goes after 3-4 months, then you can either continue with them or choose another host. After the ‘initial test period’ you might consider taking a yearly plan.

Bottom line
Their dedicated server service has been great, and I warmly recommend it. Travis Stoliker has been my personal contact with them, and I’m sure if you want to ask questions from their packages, Travis can help you. If you need a reliable and fast webhosting and are going to contact LiquidWeb.com, you might simply tell them that you’ve heard about their service via GameProducer.net and would like to talk with Travis. I’m sure he can assist getting you the package that suits your need.

Video That Explains in Plain English What Are RSS Feeds Are All About

Common Craft has made an extremely nice tutorial about what RSS feeds are, and how to use them. There are two types of Internet users, those that use RSS and those that don’t. This video is for the people who could save time using RSS, but don’t know where to start.

After you’ve played the video, consider subscribing to the GameProducer.net RSS feed – click here.

You might also be interested in reading the blog entry about efficient RSS usage. The article and comments are filled with tips.

What Subway Could Learn About Marketing

I have visited in Subway (the bread place, not a metro) once in my life, and I have to admit these guys could use lessons from simplicity. When I tried to order “one sub, please” I got answer from a busy salesperson “What type?”. I was like… “Umm, type?”. The manager noticed this and told the young salesperson to point out where the different types are presented. He did, and then I tried to decide whether to take barley or oat sub (or whatever choices they have, I can’t remember). I picked one, but it wasn’t the end of choices. I ended up answering to the following questions: “half or full?”, “warm or cold?”, “what kind of salad?”, “how about mayonnaise?”, “Garlic?”, “Dressing?”, “What drink?”, “Diet drink or normal?”, “What size?”, “Eat here or take-away?” and “bank or credit?”.

I felt almost exhausted!

All I wanted was something to eat – like “chicken bread” or whatever, but they made me go through a darn long process. I remember saying “yeh, yeh, yeh – put all that there” after the 700th question (okay, it might have been less – but you get the point). I went there to eat, not to get interrogated. Besides, in the end I didn’t have a clue how all this would cost me, because the pricing was so confusing with all kinds of extras, discounts and so on. Don’t know what the situation is in other countries or cities, but here they sure managed to make things complex.

While it’s good to give people the possibility to choose and customize the product for them, it might also be a good idea to give some sort of standard or basic options where no additional customizing is needed. Same lessons can be applied in games or other products as well: give people easy way to use the product, but have option to customize (or to use shortcuts) for more experienced users.

The good side was though, that Subway sure knows how to serve bread. It tasted delicious.

Game Production Lesson From Boris Yeltsin

Boris Yeltsin (February 1, 1931 – April 23, 2007) was, from 1991 to 1999, the first president of the Russian Federation. Those who want more information about him and his background should check out Wikipedia. I’m focusing on the lesson in game production I recently picked from his actions.

In a past television news I happened to see (I say happened, because I usually avoid the news because of all the negativity) them showing a short video clip about Yeltsin and explaining that he had one major attribute, that made him stand out from many other presidents. Yeltsin was said to have publicly apologized from the people when he made mistakes. I think that’s an excellent lesson that any producer, leader, worker, or member in the team can use.

Let’s face it, everybody makes mistakes. I remember somebody saying something like: “If you are not making any mistakes, it’s unlikely that you are doing anything at all.” Mistakes and temporal failures are okay. (And for the record: I say temporal, because failures in reality are the stepping stones to success). Everybody makes mistakes, but not everybody is willing to admit when they’ve made one.

I appreciate people who are willing to ‘swallow their pride’ and apologize if needed. I’m not saying that everybody in the team should start saying “sorry, sorry, sorry” all time of the day. I’m simply pointing out that it’s not needed to be right all the time. It’s okay to swell your pride and admit if you’ve made a mistake.

When you take this kind of attitude in game production (or basically into any team work) you’ll notice couple of amazing things to happen. First thing is that it will become easier to deal with others. Getting from situation where nobody is taking responsibility and admitting if they’ve made mistakes to a situation where people are taking responsibility is simply amazing. It makes easier to discuss with others. This is one ingredient in creating a workplace where people stop hunting the one who caused the problem, and focus on solving the problem. If the team leader is being able to openly admit when he was wrong, the others will appreciate him more. Just compare this kind of behavior to the situation where the leader (or your boss) refuses to take any responsibility for any problems (since they were caused by somebody else, but never the leader). Does that make you appreciate your boss if he is not taking responsibility for his work?

A former Russian president got more appreciation from people due this simple action (admitting mistakes) and so can you.

Pjio Referral Program Launches – Early Adopters Benefit

The new Pjio.com referral program launches. Basically it’s a new service that rewards members for promoting and developing the site community. The program is different to many other referral programs by rewarding members over the lifetime value of an ever-expanding community. Members are rewarded with status points, known as Karma, Credits and a share advertising revenues where applicable. The rewards are earned by the member as and when the referred member participates in community activity or earns advertising revenues from a uploaded game.

Besides offering lifetime rewards, until the end of 2007 referrers qualify for 50% share of the referred members earnings. So, if a referred game developer earns $500 in ad-share, the referrer earns $250. This comes from Pjio’s cut (so both developers and referrers win in this deal). The system is 2-tier, so basically when you refer a friend, and they refer their friends – your network grows.

As you can see, I’ve chosen to experiment with the system. As they are just launching the program, I cannot personally recommend or tell how good it will be – but I know for sure that early adopters (like me) will get an advantage compared to those who get later in the system. The 50% share won’t be available for so many months after all, and the 2-tier system might be better for those who get in early.

We’ll see how it goes, here’s my referral link – check it out in case you are interested: Pjio.com.

How to Deal With Work When You Are Extremely Busy

You have to be even more precise, and work even more carefully when you are really busy.

In my own experience, rushing into several things at once only makes the situation worse. Let’s use an example Let’s suppose I have six tasks on my to do list. Six tasks that I absolutely need to get done in just one hour. It’s very easy and tempting to rush into spending only a few minutes per task and ‘do it as quickly as possible’ so that I could move to the next item on the list. Often, some tiny (but important) details might get missed when rushing into work, and instead of finishing six tasks, I might end up having six barely finished tasks.

And you know what barely finished means. It means unfinished.

Instead of rushing into doing all six items, I’m trying to pick the most important one – the one that has the biggest impact, and finish that one properly. After I’ve finished the task, I move to the next one. If I end up having finished only 1 out of 6, then I’ll simply have to accept that. After all, finishing 1 out of 6 is better than finishing 0 out of 6. I can also try to delegate or try to delay some of the tasks if possible. If I absolutely need to finish them, then barely finishing is not going to get me any closer to the goal. I’ll simply finish what I can, and that’s it.

That’s the math part that might not be realized sometimes. When I try to rush into finishing 6 tasks, it just might happen that I don’t manage to finish any one, and it might mean more work in the future. Instead of saving time, I just might have wasted time by doing something so poorly that it needs to be re-done.

Here’s a practical example: a busy morning. You try to shave, dress, eat breakfast and read the morning paper quickly so that you can get to work on time. You shave fast, dress fast and start drinking coffee fast while same time reading the newspaper. In haste, you accidently pour coffee on the newspaper, then stand up just to notice you have caffee on your shirt – and look into mirror just to see that your hasty shaving style gave you a nice bloody wound. Now you are already late from work, and didn’t manage to finish anything.

Rushing might not be such a good idea.

What if you cannot avoid situation like this, and you still need to get things done?

As I said earlier, the worst thing to do is poor job. It most likely makes the situation even worse, and you might end up spending more time on the task right now and also in the future. If you are really busy, and really need to get things done – then do the absolute minimum that needs to be done, but do it well. Like in the previous example, you might have simply skipped shaving, coffee or newspaper and dressed properly (bare minimum). Or you might have skipped the shaving and newspaper and only eat & dress. It depends on the situation.

You can also delegate your work. If you cannot do everything by yourself, then consider delegating tasks to some other people. Simply explain your situation and why it’s important that somebody else does it. When you explain the ‘why’ part, people are more willing to do things for you.

Learn from the situation: you created the rush in the first place, so it’s your job to decide how you are going to prepare in the future. What will you do to avoid being busy in the future? You might consider spending some additional time before the last day, delegate more work or use alarm clock – anything that works. And if things get busy, make sure you do a precise job.

What Are Trolls?

Last Saturday I published a story about trolls and treasure quest and Jake asked what trolls I was referring. Here’s what I meant. I meant that Your negative thoughts are the trolls, and the ones who give you negative thoughts might be trolls. There are ways to ‘fight’ against these trolls, and the way you need to ‘fight’ is to either ignore or turn the situation completely the opposite.

Here’s an example way to hear trolls shouting. Think about some guy, website, comment, incident, people, group or anything that made you upset/jealous/feel envy/etc.. Think of anything that made you think you need to make sure this guy is not ‘distributing his negative thoughts anymore’. If you can think of somebody whose comment made you upset, and you thought you would need to prove that guy that he is wrong (or stupid/idiot/arrogant/etc.), then you are getting in fight with the trolls – with some real trolls or with trolls that you created in your own mind.

Let’s suppose somebody at your workplace or in the Internet said a stupid comment and you started to think about that. You might be thinking by yourself how that guy “sure got it wrong” or “man that guy is an arrogant idiot”. You’ve just encountered trolls. I think you either need to ignore trolls, or turn your negative thoughts into positive thinking.

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t do anything if you confront something bad, I’m simply saying that you make a conscious choice to not to fight with trolls. If somebody in the Internet says something that you need to prove wrong, do you really think you are using your time well? If you start spending your time proving how somebody is a fraud, how the heck is that going to help you accomplish your own goals? If you think bad about somebody else, do you really think that the other person gives a damn what you think? (He might, but I wouldn’t be on that).

Instead, I recommend you simply ignore the guy who is trolling. If somebody is trying to upset people by giving harsh comments, he is graving for attention and the only way to get rid of the troll is to ignore him. If somebody is making you jealous or making you wish that this guy shouldn’t shouldn’t succeed then this ‘troll of negative thoughts’ should be turned into a positive thought: congratulate (in your mind) how that somebody is doing a fine job to see such success!

What’s more important to you?
It boils down to this question: what’s more important to you?

  • Prove that some guy was wrong?
  • Complete your project?

If you want to go fight with trolls, sure – go ahead. That’s where you end up. Killing trolls.

But then again, you might want to complete the quest and find the treasure.

Which one would it be?