28 August, 2011
I’ll offer the typical excuses about why I have not posted lately: life is perhaps a bit too exciting lately. I’ve been heading to a lot more of those dreaded “meetings” where I’m partially responsible for either telling people how cool Storybricks is, and more frequently, why this means they should sign a check to help us achieve our goals.
So, let me give you a glimpse of what’s been going on in my life.
It’s conference season
This time of year is busy with conferences. I was with Namaste at Gen Con earlier this month, now I’m heading to Dragon*Con in a few days to speak there. I might be heading to the Austin GDC depending on how things go. I gave a pass on PAX Prime, mostly because I knew I was going to be going to so many other conferences already. And, earlier this year I had gone to the GDC and LOGIN conferences. Given that conferences wear me out severely, it’s rather tiring to keep up this pace.
Because I’m putting a lot of my time and effort into Namaste, something has to give. Unfortunately, one of those things has been posting, particularly the recent Weekend Design Challenge with the d20 classless system. (I’ll get back to that, I promise!) I’ve also not been pursuing a few of my personal projects: The Internet Crashed has languished after most of the rest of the writers bowed out, and my Restless Deep stories have come to a halt.
Chin-deep in business
I’ve also been going to a lot of meetings. Namaste’s CEO Rodolfo Rosini has been in town, and I’ve been going to meetings with venture capitalists and angel investors to pitch the company to them to get investment. It’s interesting to see how that side of the business works up close and personal; now that I have direct experience, I’m pretty sure I prefer to the creative side of the work much more. But, as I’ve said before, creative types need to understand business, even if you’re not the one out there pitching and raising money. Being naive will lead to problems if/when the business person you’ve been working with suddenly puts his or her own needs ahead of yours.
Raising money is a lot more complex than you might first think. It’s more than just selling an idea or even a demo, it’s about choosing the right investors. Some investors are going to want to exert more control than others, and giving control to one that doesn’t understand your market can be problematic. Ideally you’ll find investors that have experience in your market, so that they can provide contacts and useful advice when you encounter problems. So, it might be worth taking a less favorable (on paper) deal if it gets you access to people and experience you would be able to otherwise.
Further, you have to be careful about how much money you raise and how much you think your company is worth. Raising too little money carries obvious problems: you have to go back and get more without necessarily having sufficient proof to support your idea, which means you might get a worse agreement for those follow-up funds. But, raising too much money is another danger; being too cash-flush could encourage wasteful behaviors which could be costly down the line. If you obviously ask for too much, it can make you look like an unsophisticated newbie, too. Then there’s the issue of the valuation of your company, or how much your company is worth. Value your company too low, and you run the risk of giving away too much of it for the funds you need and not having enough to exchange for later investment to grow. But, if you go too high you could run into problems increasing your valuation enough to make the initial investors happy. This is why a bubble is a potentially bad thing, if you say your company is worth $5 million because you’re doing the hot new thing and then that bubble bursts, you have to hope the next round of investors agrees your continued work is worth more than $5 million under the new environment.
Finally, you have to manage your relationships with investors. Being connected in a network counts, and I’ve seen this quite plainly working with Rodolfo. Talking to every investor he mentions other investors he’s in contact with. Being connected means that not only are you working hard, but that other people might think your idea is worthwhile, too. Even just getting a meeting with some investors shows that your idea might have traction that other projects lack, so mentioning the other people you have talked can go a long way toward convincing people that your pitch is worthwhile.
I will say that things have been going well. We have had a few offers of funding, and it looks like we’ll be choosing investors soon. So, we’ll see Storybricks continue to grow!
Working in the open
I’ve long said that the game industry fascination with secrecy is dumb if not self-defeating. Thinking that others are out to steal your precious idea is silly. As I point out, I wrote a detailed post on my elemental advancement design concept, and even proved its worth by making a game. Has anyone ripped off the idea yet? Sadly, no.
That’s why it’s been good to work out in the open about Storybricks. Instead of secluding ourselves away for a while, we’re showing our work. This was initially inspired by the Lean Startup philosophy, but it has had a lot of other good aspects as well. First and foremost, we’re able to show it to people and start getting good feedback. As clever as the team is (and, make no mistake, we are damned clever), we won’t think of everything. Especially doing something new that will eventually be in the hands of a specific type of user, we want to make sure that we are making a useful tool, and not just something we think is useful and easy-to-use. There have been quite a few examples of other tools that were simpler to use… for developers. For normal people, the tools were still impossibly complex.
We’ve also been able to demonstrate a demand for the project. The attention we’ve been getting has been tremendous, particularly from the MMO bloggers. This helps us by demonstrating to potential investors that we’ve got something that people actually do want. There’s also the psychological validation where we approach our work with more enthusiasm since we know we’re doing something useful that people are very excited about. So, there have been a lot of benefits to doing our work in the open.
But, there are still risks. Thankfully most people understand that our art is essentially a placeholder, but I’ve been worried that there will be people who judge the idea based on the assumed production values. There’s also the risk that something we’ve talked about turns out not to work out quite as we expected. How will people react if they were really looking forward to something we can’t deliver on? Will we start getting hate mail because we “promised” some aspect? Sadly, that’s pretty typical for game projects. And, often, expectations are higher than can be realistically delivered upon. But, the early stage of a project is always the most exciting, as that’s where the opportunities seem the most open. We’ll see how it goes as reality sets in.
Overall, it’s been a great experience. I’ve enjoyed working on the Storybricks project, and experiencing more of the business side of things has been educational for me, even if it’s not something I think I’ll ever be great at. The goals are exciting and the team is wonderful to work with. I think that even if things were to go sour (and all indications are that they are going pretty much the best they can), I’d still be a better developer for it. And, that’s about the best thing I can say, really. So, while I might not be writing as much as I’d like and wearing myself ragged going to conferences and meetings, I’m still enjoying my work.