Five Rules From Game Development That Can Serve Your Business

October 16, 2015

Posted by: Michael Woolf

Five Rules From Game Development That Can Serve Your Business

A couple of weeks ago, Kotaku published an article entitled, “The Five Rules Of Australia's Most Successful Game Creator” - a conversation with Matthew Hall, co-creator of the game “Crossy Road.”

Crossy Road is a runaway success with more than 50 million downloads and revenues in excess of $10M. Additionally, Matt and his team have released seven games on iOS and five of those seven have made it to the number one spot. What’s his formula for success? Five rules.

Let’s see how we can apply Matthew’s rules to business development:

Rule #1: Make Your Game for One Person

Matthew makes a game for one person – not a demographic or a group – but a single individual. He says that the individual should be a unique, living person. He advises thinking about that specifically about that person. What will he or she love or hate?

In doing so, you end up applying a singular vision towards and specific goal and will usually end up creating something that will resonate with a lot of people who are coming to the product from the same perspective.

In the business sense, if you're producing a B2C product, this means focusing on an individual end user. Find the end user that has the most to gain or lose from the existence/absence of your product. If you’re building a B2B product, find a beta client that has a pain point that your product helps to alleviate and use their perspective to help free them from that pain. Chances are their peers and competitors have the same pain points and are looking for the same solution.

Rule #2: Watch How People Are Playing

A common joke amongst game devs is that every time you create a product, you’re actually creating four products: the product you conceive, the product you design, the product you build, and the product you ship.

Time and time again we’ve seen products that were designed for a specific purpose or to reach a particular goal, but when they reach the market they’re used for something completely different.

For example:

  • When was the last time you saw someone use a pipe cleaner to clean a pipe?
  • Have you ever used Avon’s “Skin-so-Soft” lotion as a bug repellent?
  • Do you keep a box of Baking Soda in your refrigerator to remove odors?
  • Have you ever used duct tape to fix a duct?

Think about all of the uses for:

  • Super Glue – designed as a field-suture solution for combat surgeons
  • Play-Doh – designed as a wallpaper cleaner
  • Slinky – designed as a stabilizing spring for Naval instrumentation
  • Listerine – designed as a surgical antiseptic and cure for gonorrhea (ouch)
  • Rogaine – designed to treat high blood pressure
  • Cork Screws – designed originally as “gun worms” to remove bullets/shots that got stuck in a musket
  • WD-40 – designed as a moisture barrier to product intercontinental ballistic missiles from rusting (“water displacement - 40th attempt”)

Don’t be afraid to watch how people are using your product, whether the use is what you intended it to do or not, and be willing to adjust your strategy to meet your users where in the way they’re using your product.

This of course leads to Rule 3…

Rule #3: Always Be Prepared To Change

In the business context, we call it a pivot. Understand that your users, your industry, and emerging models and trends will guide you to places that you didn’t expect to go. Being open to seeing the opportunities in a paradigm shift with your audience or your product landscape.

Matthew Hall reminds us, that it’s really important for developers to understand that when big shifts happen, it will necessarily change the perspective of your audience.

Businesses don’t create products today – instead, products launch businesses.

Business models have shifted over the last decade by simply changing that most  simple paradigm. What has emerged are single-purpose, product-based companies that have disrupted the status quo by redefining what a product even is. The end result is what we now call "the sharing economy."

Prior to that, large companies launched products with regularity. Companies developed those products over time and perfected the product through focus testing, market studies, etc. But the internet and the new digital landscape changed, forever, the way in which companies like Uber, AirBnB, Tesla, Waze, and others participate in commerce. That has, of course, radically changed the way that business is conceived.

Those industries and companies that are prepared (and willing) to change can ride the wave, whereas those that are not prepared to do so may end up swimming against the current for years - and perhaps may be dragged under in the process.

Rule #4: Love Your Failures

Years ago, Jack Shea, one of the greatest teachers that I’ve been privileged to have studied with, taught me a valuable lesson: trying to do things the ‘wrong way’ can both prove what doesn’t work and allow you to find surprises that do work along the way.

Those of you who have read my posts before will know that I often discuss failing and failing often, making more mistakes, and finding out what will work and what won’t. The earlier you can work through the thought experiments and account for each of the variables of your project, the more proficient you will become at finding your mistakes early while they are easier (and cheaper) to address.

Matthew Hall agrees and suggests that loving those failures is an incredibly powerful thing.

I’ve learned over the years to love the process, not the product. It’s not that I don’t love the products that I work on, but I have realized that it is not the end product that defines how I feel about my day-to-day success. Instead, learning to love the process is what drives me to constantly work to improve the creative processes rather than remain so invested in the product that I lose perspective.

When your project isn't the success you hoped it would be, you'll want to learn to love what does work, be prepared to evaluate what didn't, and consider the lessons learned along the way. Those failures will more often teach you more about what to do next time than your successes.

Rule #5: Be World Class

Building a business is hard work. Building a successful and thriving business is even tougher. As Matthew suggests, luck is sometimes an element to success. More importantly, however, whatever you do – give yourself the best chance of success by doing what you’re doing the best way you can.

Don’t misunderstand this to suggest that you should spend a lot of time or money to do so or build to an unattainable goal of "perfection" (whatever that is). Instead, in whatever you take on, don’t let your limitations (time, money, resources) keep you from doing the best possible product within those constraints. And constraints are a good thing. In fact, the more constrained you are, the more creative you’ll become (for a great example of this, compare The Matrix to its sequels).

The key is to remember that with each element of your product or company, approach it with the goal to make that element world class.

The difference between a $10 product and a $100 product should always be width, not depth. That is, the same level of quality on a smaller scale. Look to build out your product or company with an eye on developing in phases toward and end goal. But with each phase focus on building a world-class product.

Matthew points out that each phase of your product "needs to be world class in order to survive." That’s the same whether you’re building a game, a SaaS product, a widget, or a company. He reminds us that today, products are sold in the global marketplace and if you want to succeed on a grand scale your product has to be world class... and you "should be looking to compete with the very best on a global scale.”

Do you agree?

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