You ever get the feeling that big change is not only around the corner, but under your feet and all around you and ready to concuss? Yeah, I’m there.
May the God of Holy Shit, This Is It look kindly upon me and mine. If She does, we should be in contract to buy one house and in contract to sell one apartment this week. The list of tasks that encompasses all that must be done to switch addresses is swallowing up a megabyte of my hard drive. My hopes and dreams are now recorded on my iPhone’s Voice Memo app for Steve Jobs to listen in on, if he’s so inclined. If he’s not, then the next person to listen to those hopes and dreams will be me, in my new place, with my newness all around me — either happy, or not. Still dreaming, or not. Seeing the forest for the trees. Or not.
Longest week ever. Which makes it one day longer than last week, the previous winner. However, after down upon down, I’ll focus on the good, and it is gooooood. I got feedback back from the editor that she loved my book. Not many notes, except some devil’s advocate suggestions and grammatical crap.
My first thought is, of course, that this is too good to be true. How can someone who doesn’t know my work read it for the first time and like it so much that she calls it one of the highlights of her year? Should I read the part one more time where she wrote that the book is absolutely wonderful and my story and style are engaging and terrific?
Can my boasts be more blatantly wrapped in (currently) half-assed insecurity?
I think this is my version of happy.
Watching Digital Nation on Frontline I’m seeing a hell of a lot of agenda disguised as concern. The show is fascinating but it gets lazy — leaning on assumptions when the data isn’t there. If anyone can tell me the study done of multitaskers was executed without an agenda then I’d also like to hear your thoughts on Fair and Balanced ™.
However, I share the concern. Not that technology is making us dumber, or even less wise. In fact, an alternate title for this post could be “How to appear dumber than you are.”
My concern is that decision-making as a skill is atrophying.
In a world that moves this fast and has this much data available within seconds, we’re under the impression that clicking a link is making a decision. Of course, it is, but it’s not an important one. A standard morning is now jam-packed full of tiny choices (what to have for breakfast, what socks to wear, how to get to work this morning). Then you can add literally thousands more (should I click on that news link or just favorite it? is that feed interesting to me? which email should I answer first?) In the midst of so much noise, and in the vein of fast-pace for fast-pace’s sake, why should a more complex decision require more thought?
The funny thing about the flawed study of multitaskers in Digital Nation is that it fell into the same trap that multitaskers fall into. Gather seventeen pounds of data, shake, repeat, realize you need more data to make a good call and come to a conclusion anyway.
There’s a simple rule for making a good decision, and it applies to any dilemma from “should I call her and apologize?” to “should I launch the game?” to “should I attack Iraq?”:
Consideration should be equal to the facts in front of you.
Facts, as defined here, means hard data (“she’s always hated it when I apologize”) and strategic priority (“it’s the opening salvo of the War on Terror! winkwink”).
In a nutshell, you need to look at the problem you’re trying to solve, determine if it’s important, ponder the consequences if A or B is done based on solid data/history, and decipher the bones that drop on your desk. It may be that the decision isn’t needed right now because the priority isn’t high enough. It may be that the data is insufficient. But, in the end, if the problem is big enough it deserves big thought. BIG thought.
It takes time, sometimes. It takes quiet thought. It even takes patience. None of which feels in abundance these days, right?
Having said all that, I highly recommend Digital Nation. It’s good data ;-)
While they’re mostly in the Alpha stage it’s pretty clear which titles will need more TLC than the others. It’s always interesting to see how quality, or lack thereof, can emerge almost immediately. Every game is a “game-of-the-year” contender before it starts getting built, but the sheen of a fine-tuned spec is the first element to dim.
Even in the face of problems on the battleground, I enjoy the process of guiding the design and getting at the fun of a title. It can be tough, especially when tackling a few at a time, but good teams ultimately hit a stride where the final product comes into focus and everyone converges on what needs to be done.
In many ways it’s like writing a book with an outline. But in the case of crafting online games, the outline’s ending is doomed from the moment fingertip meets keyboard and the first line of code is laid down. With online games, in fact with any game development, you’re working with committee (especially at AOL). This means the product is more at risk to get paralyzed by points of view; and conversely, a team effort can blossom into tremendous gains for the title.
Case in point is a game we made last year called Ice Breakers. There were only 3 people building it — all of us focused on making the same game. Then we had the larger Games.com team, which had other tweak ideas and various methods of communicating said ideas. For a while it was a mess. But as we hammered through the frustrating meetings, the harrowing internal tests, the hurt feelings and late nights, we arrived at launch with a great game. Ice Breakers now sits at #2 on Games.com and has been there, consistently, for a year now. It rarely has less than 2000 people playing at any given time. People spend an average of 30+ minutes engaged and enjoying themselves. That’s what I call a success, by any standard.
Will any of the other games we’re making reach that level of success? Definitely. Will it be because of well-crafted specs, clear communication and hierarchical design decisions that sweep confusion and delay aside? Not a chance in hell. But the semi-organized mess of opinions, ideas, sweeping arguments and eurekas that will get us to the next hit will likely be as fun as the product we launch. In hindsight, of course…