7 Lessons I Learned From Playing Baseball

I played baseball for over 10 years in the past and there are some lessons that are applicable also to game production and leadership.

#1 – Sometimes there are not so good days
I remember when I was about 15 years old and on one summer I was learning to hit the ball to pretty long distances. Our coach was pleased with this and we trained this “new trick” over and over before the upcoming match.

When the match started, I remember getting instructions from the coach to try hitting those long shots I took earlier when training. I didn’t manage to hit the ball long even once. The coach was patient and we both knew what I should do and kept trying. In the end I had several opportunities to try hitting the ball as long as possible, but couldn’t succeed no matter how hard I tried. It just wasn’t my day that day – and coach also understood that.

Some days just are like that – you cannot expect every day to be all glory.

#2 – Sometimes there are good days
Then on the other hand I remember playing one of the best matches sometime before I quit playing baseball. I was maybe 18 or 19 and remember that no matter what I tried to do – I succeeded. I remember I hit short distances and long distances, and everything I did happened the way I wanted. I even remember when I hit one poor ball and accidentally the ball flew in a good spot. Even when I “failed”, for some reason I was lucky and got it right.

I’ve noticed that this happens also in game production (and life in general): sometimes there are good days, and sometimes not so good days. Sometimes things just don’t go well, but you have to keep doing what you want and eventually at some day everything will go the right way.

#3 – Concentrate on your own game
This is something I learned from the matches: I don’t think we ever had the problem that we would had need to watch for the mistakes made by the opponent. Most of the time the problem was our own game: we had to concentrate on our own game and keep it simple.

I think checking out competition in games and in business is okay, but I also think focusing too much on the competition is not going to help you. Basically I think you gotta do a darn good job by yourself. Balance is needed in this.

#4 – Don’t shout at the judges
I think I’ve heard our team members shouting at judges and complaining about their decisions hundreds of times. What I don’t recall is that it would have helped even once: the judges who were shouted at turned even more stubborn – and it probably did more harm than good to complain.

I don’t see there’s much reason to shout or whine (in baseball, life, work – or anywhere). If you have something to tell, you can tell what you think about and that’s it. Getting somebody on your side is not going to happen by shouting at him – this will probably just reinforce the opposite view.

The way to get people to see your point-of-view, is to first look at the situation from their point-of-view. Agreeing on something, and then presenting your alternative ideas gently.

#5 – Too heavy baseball batt should be changed
When I was a kid, I remember I was hitting the ball with a too heavy baseball batt – and it sure didn’t go well. There was a simple solution to this problem: a lighter batt!

Similarly in game production you really have to ponder what kind of tools you really need. You don’t need to have the most complex, the most expensive production software. Sometimes switching to a lighter alternatives might make things easier.

Just because “everybody else is using complex tools” doesn’t mean you should too.

#6 – Roles are important
I usually was player number 2, which meant I usually needed to get the first player from base one to base two. I sort of “specialized” in this job, and it suited well for me. There were other guys who were doing something else.

When you think about game production, it’s no different: you have people doing different things. Some people might do art, some music, some code – some manage the project. Indies might be exception to this rule since they often are lone wolfs, but even indies might consider using specialized services (such as outsourced art).

In baseball it worked fine – and it also works in game production.

#7 – Hamburgers and chips – rewards – are good
Then the juiciest lesson: after matches we went to eat hamburgers and chips. Boy it was a pleasure to get some junk food after matches.

Don’t forget rewards: they play important role in game production. Rewards can be anything from hamburgers to trips to different countries. Reward yourself. Reward your team.

And for the record, it was Finnish baseball I played.

One of the Most Powerful Leadership Lesson That’s So Easy to Forget

I’ve been reading a book called First, break all the rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman. The following is a quote from the book:

One of the most powerful things you can do after reading this book is to go back and “rehire” your best people – that is, go back and tell them why they are so good. Tell them why they are on of the cornerstones of the team’s success. Choose a style that fits you, and don’t allow the conversation to slip into promises about promotion in the future – that’s a different conversation, for a different time. Simply tell them why their contribution is so valued today. Don’t assume your best know.

I’ve basically “known” this piece of advice before, but I kind of hadn’t realize how important that last sentence is: Don’t assume your best know. I think I’ve assumed that my team members know how they important are, so I suppose it’s time to go tell each of them how important they really are. Basically – the project wouldn’t be going anywhere without them.

I’d like to add that it’s important to tell each individually. I don’t mean this as a “management technique”, I simply say this based on my own experience: whenever I’ve got “praise” from my bosses in the past, I’ve felt better when they’ve talked directly to me. When they were talking only with me, and telling me “you’ve done a good job” it has felt good. It had much more meaning to me compared to situations when they’ve spoke to the whole team saying something like “all of you guys in the team made a good job”.

It’s easy to notice when people use praise as a “technique” compared to when somebody is really taking time to speak with you individually, and telling his honest opinion. It’s important to remind your team members how important they are.

When was the last time you said your team members how important they are?

What to Do When Others Misinterpret Your Words

What should you do when a team member has not understand your task assignment? What do you do when somebody misinterprets your words? What to do when others are not doing what you meant?

The first reaction might be focusing on telling others what they would need to do. Some people might end up blaming others for not doing the job as it should have done.

Don’t do that.

If somebody misinterprets your words then it’s your job to articulate yourself better
The policy “If you are saying something, and others don’t get the message – then it must be on the receiving end” is a bad one. The first thing you might want to check is to make absolutely certain where the problem lies. Not for the reason to blame, but for the reason to solve the problem. As they say: unless you first locate the problem, you cannot fix it. Your team members might give you hints that will help you locate the problem. They might tell what you should have done, and you can use these clues to spot the problem.

If your focus on thinking what others should have done better, then you might be missing some obvious mistakes you are doing. Even if I first think that the other should have done a better job, I can think about my own behavior and see if there’s some improvements in my approach. Often I can spot some obvious flaws in my approach and can make the necessary adjustments.

Some practical examples:

  • If your sound artist is not doing the kind of music you want, then you can tell him what kind of music you want. You can also ask him to help you to help him. Ask him to tell you what he needs you to do, and then do that.
  • If your animator is not doing the kind of work you expect, then give samples to animations what you want to see. Heck, show examples using your own body. Wave your arms and jump if necessary. Again you can ask your artist to help you with it.
  • If the level designer cannot follow your plan, then you might want to check out your plan together and ask for specific details what’s wrong with it.
  • If the marketing department doesn’t get the idea on what’s the big idea, then go on and show examples on how other studios have marketed their product and describe and show how your product is different.

Do this
If you blame the other (or worse – don’t even say that aloud) you are kind of stuck. If others misinterpret your words as a leader, then it’s your job to take any necessary actions to make sure the message reaches the other end. Improve your own approach, involve the other party and ask specific questions regarding what’s not clear. Don’t focus on finding out whose fault it is. Make it a situation where both parties are focusing on finding the solution.

Stubborn Leaders Get Stuck

Two men are walking towards each other. The first guy thinks “That guy needs to step away from my path”. The other guy thinks “Looks like I need to step aside.” No conflict. The other guy steps aside, goes work and lives happily ever after making games.

The other man continues walking on his path. His philosophy is that he will never step aside, because it’s a question of principle. He knows that tough guys won’t step aside. He encounters many people on his path, but manages to make others step away from his path.

Until one day.

He encounters equally stubborn man – and they both stop walking. Neither one steps aside. It’s a question of principle. Both of them wasted time, grew a very long beard and felt really bad for the rest of their lives.

The end.

Do you know leaders like that?
Do you know people like those in the story. I’ve met some – actually quite very – who are “stepping aside” when needed. They are not avoiding everything. They will negotiate when needed, but they won’t get stuck or waste time because of stupid principles.

Then I know some people who waste great amount of time because they just don’t know when it’s good time to be flexible, and good time to be strict. They think being strict always is the best strategy (and to be honest, I also personally sometimes have this problem in certain situations. For example, sometimes I cannot stand waiting just a few minutes…).

The problem with being strict always is that it’s not a flexible strategy. It will get you stuck. It will mean wasted time on small details that have no real value compared to bigger objectives. It might mean you get stuck on doing timetables in a certain way when in reality you should be focused on working the project. It might mean that you don’t get the right talent in your team, because he might be doing work in different way than you expect.

Being stubborn is not a good strategy. Not for anyone who wants to make progress.

Military Leadership

Last weekend I saw two military officials discussing in a television show. They were asked what kind of leader they respect? What kind of qualities a good leader must possess?

Both responded: “They kind of leader who treats you as an individual and really listens to you.”

I bet you can see how efficient this piece of advice can be. It’s priceless for video game producers or leaders when dealing with others. It’s priceless for anyone dealing in customer service or in sales. The military officials continued by saying how motivating it is to work and carry out commands for someone who is listening to them.

Don’t you agree with this? Isn’t it true that those it’s easier to respect those who treat you with respect? Wouldn’t you agree that whenever you have been purchasing something and got somebody to deal with you personally, it has been easier for you to make the buying decision. You can do the same to others: you can motivate others to do what you want, by treating them as they want. Whether it’s leading the team or dealing with a customer, you can consider really listening to others and concentrating on solving their problem.

Could you use this style in your own work?

Are You Solving Problems or Complaining About Them?

There so many employees that have the thinking pattern of “it’s not my problem”. Almost whenever they need to do something that’s “not their responsibility”, they will refer to contract or they job description and say that it’s not their duty to solve that problem. Programmers might stop helping their customers because “it’s not their job”.

There’s one main reason why changing this attitude is so important. Solving problems is crucial to success. Successful businesses solve problems. Successful people solve problems. That’s why people keep saying “there’s no problems, only opportunities”. Problems give you chance to solve, learn and improve.

Whether you are a programmer, a designer, or a producer – do you think your boss will appreciate you more if you solve their problems, or if you keep saying “not my responsibility”?

I’m not saying that you would need to solve all the problems, or say “yes” to everybody. That’s not the point. The point is that you cannot keep saying “not your responsibility”. If you keep doing something that’s waste of time and “not your responsibility” then it’s your responsibility to improve the process. If you get 20 worthless emails that take 10 minutes of your time every day, then the problem won’t go away by whining to other workers how things are bad. Your job is to bring this issue in light, and either improve the process or get others to improve it so that you won’t be wasting your time in the future. At least make sure that the decision-makers know that there’s a problem in the process, so that they can make decisions whether to improve the process or not.

You make the decision whether you are a problem solver or not. Bottom line is – and I guarantee you this – that there’s much more room for problem solvers than complainers in any business in the world.

Ask Stupid Questions

There are two kind of people when it comes to asking questions: First of all there are the people who don’t want to ask ‘stupid’ questions. These people are afraid that others would laugh at them, or that others would consider them stupid. The more people are involved in the conversation, the harder it is for these guys to ask for help – even when they know they should. These guys end up paying high conference fees, smiling, nodding and telling how everything was wonderful – although they don’t have a clue what was talked about.

I personally believe there is no such thing as a ‘stupid question’. It’s not matter of stupidity – it’s matter of knowing something or not knowing something. If in the middle of a conversation, a company stakeholder asks “What’s Java?” – the programmers might smile or think “How crazy is this? Guy owns a tech company making applications primarily in Java, and he don’t even know what the term means”. Well, if the programmer then need to ask “What’s ROI?” – the stakeholder might smile. Both are extremely basic information, but you just have to know what they mean if you want to talk about them. It’s not matter of stupidity, it’s matter of knowing terms.

Then there are those people who ask questions. If they don’t know a meaning of something, they might simply others to give more information. They might ask “could you clarify, what you mean by ‘company strategy’ in this context?”. Or they might say “You mentioned bump mapping, I’m not quite sure what it means or how it would enhance the user experience. Could you give me bit more information about how it works?”. The higher levels the talk goes, the more important it is to know exactly what people are talking.

Being afraid does not help anything, and if others smile at you… well, then that’s basically their problem – not yours. You cannot change the way other people think about you, and it’s up to you to whether you understand or not what others are talking about.

3 Issues to Remember When Increasing Team Headcount

We are currently processing getting 3 new team members to our currently 5 member team. I personally don’t think in the idea of “everybody should get into team”, since from my experience that results to lots of wasted time. Sure, it might be fun, and it might you help find the right persons – but I personally try to screen good team players right in the beginning.

Why you need other team members?

This is the most important thing: why do you need team members? Be absolutely sure to answer to that questions before you proceed getting anybody in your team. Our team has had some additional need for animation, programming and concept art. We either need to outsource some of these areas (like concept arts and perhaps animation) or get new people to do these. We are still processing the “hiring” at the moment.

Focus on getting whose who do things, rather those who can do things

When I’m getting new people in the team I’m more concerned about getting people who have time and motivation to do things. I’ve seen many industry professionals, who can do amazing stuff – if only they would have time. I personally try to get talented guys who can actually finish something. I’m always more interested in “how people can contribute to the project” rather than “what piece of work somebody has done in the past”. Naturally, I will check what projects or work team members have finished in the past, but even then I’m more concerned to make sure that these people can get things done.

Increasing headcount means increased management

This one is really important: with 5 members (me included) in the team, there’s quite a lot of management to do. Coordinating, writing, communicating with the other people is always there. Since we are about to increase the headcount to 8, we need to be extra careful what kind of people we get in the team – and what it means in terms of responsibilities. Dealing with 7 other people means quite a lot of time spent on putting everything together.

Solid Method For Keeping Promises

I recently started thinking how could I make sure that I keep the promises I give. I noticed that I’ve had 2 major factors that have influenced this. The first one is simply promising something that I can keep. I remember I promised to give interview with the makers of Lord of The Rings Online. I made that promise after I received an email from them to send them the questions. After I sent the questions I remember mentioning that “I will be interviewing them in GP blog”. Well, I never got the responses to my questions – and I could not publish the interview. And I’m not blaming LOTRO people for this. They didn’t give my promise to blog readers, I did.

While it might sound like keeping some small promises is not that important for you, they might be very important to others. If you promise to tell a good word about somebody – but you don’t – then that somebody simply might not want to waste time with you in the future, since you didn’t keep your promise. That’s why it’s important to keep all the promises, even the smallest ones. I personally have made small promises in the past, and while it has taken some time, I will keep those promises the way I can.

I’ve learned that I have to be careful when promising interviews or anything. If I’m not sure, then I might as not give the promise – or tell that what I’ve done. Like in the LOTRO’s case, I could have told that “They’ve accepted my request and I’ve sent the questions. Now we have to wait and see if and when they find time to respond”.

In summary, the first lesson is: think carefully before you promise something.

The second thing I learned was that I cannot rely only on my memory. I simply cannot remember all the tiny promises and words I’ve said. I believe I’ve promised at least few things here on my blog, but might have forgotten them afterwards (notice: if you want to remind me about some promises, now it’s a good time for that). I believe there aren’t many promises like this, but I suppose there might be something that’s simply lost somewhere. I’ve also noticed this when talking to some people. Some people simply promise to do this and that… yet, they fail to keep those promises. They might be like really small things, but small things might have a big impact.

I came up with a simple solution: use of a text file. I have made a text file for my promises. It’s really simple and fast to use. I will put headline, possible date and description for each promise I’ve given. That’s it: write down your promises.

Since I just started using this system, there’s only one promise at the moment:

In the future I will tell more about our team, and our team members – so that those who do things actually get the credits.

From that text I can see that I’ve made a promise to GP readers about Edoiki game.

I believe this is an extremely simple and efficient way to keep track on what you promise, when you promised and to whom you’ve promised. Certainly beats just relying on my memory.

Bottom line: Think carefully before you promise something. Write down your promises: what, to whom, when, with a brief description.

It’s Nice to Be Important, But It’s More Important to Be Nice

There are lots of different kind of people out there. You can see all around you people who think differently about titles. I’ve seen some publicly awarded game producers and leaders who “know” that they are important and make a big notes about their titles and achievements. I’ve also seen people who keep a very low profile (maybe even lower than they should!) and don’t give a rat’s (bottom) about titles.

Some educated people are also very keen to remind everybody about their achievements. While it’s nice to be important… I definitely think it’s much more important to be nice. Game producers who make a big note about their importance won’t go very far with their team if they think they are more important than the other team members. You have probably worked in a team who had a team leader – or someone with “higher rank” than you. If you think about those times, do you think you gave more respect to those who were “more important” than you (or made sure you knew that they “were more important”)? Or was it perhaps so that the leaders with fancy titles were okay – as long as they treated you and the rest of the team well?

Do you know what Dalai Llama responded when he was asked what he thought about people who spoke to him as “His Holiness The Dalai Lama”?

If you think about that for a moment. One of the most known religious figures in the world – how would he react when somebody spoke to him with such respect? I’m sure some religious figures would be proud. He didn’t. In fact, he laughed warmly. He didn’t make a big note about the title he had. Surely, others did – but when he spoke to others he concentrated on the “being nice” rather “being important”. He left titles away, and concentrated on relevant issues. Can you see what a big difference it makes in being respected? If he would keep saying and mentioning how holy he is, it might make him just another (religious) “leader” in the world.

I must add that it’s okay to tell what you have accomplished. It’s okay to be proud about your accomplishments. If you finish a game or demo or can help someone, that’s great and definitely something to be proud of. It’s okay to tell what you have done so that other people can get a better picture about you and your work. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t tell others what you have done, I’m simply saying that the moment you start to think that “being important” (or “more important than others”) is your goal then you are heading to wrong direction. It doesn’t matter if you call yourself “game producer” or not. What matters is what you do and how you treat others. If you treat others well in your team, and if you make games – you’ll see that it means nothing (in terms of importance) to call yourself a “game producer”. That is just a title which helps other people to know what you do. Nothing more, nothing less.

You can call yourself “game producer” if you wish, and that’s completely fine. It’s much easier to distinguish “car seller” from “game producer” if people have labels after their names. Similarly it’s much easier to talk to the right person if you can see “assistant game producer” or “executive game producer” next to people’s names.

Titles are fine as long as they serve a purpose – and their purpose is not about being more important than others.