Saturday, October 24, 2009

The first hard Learning of the Cats

This post begins a journey of unpredictable length which describes things the Lean and Mean Cat Team has learned along the way towards achieving significance within the games market. We will begin with the hardest lesson first, then possibly move on to easier ones later.

A hard lesson for Expert Cat: Mastering Perspective
This is a lesson about communication and understanding where one of the biggest risks with your product really lies. Expert Cat has gone through a life long journey to develop an understanding for this type of situation so it will not be a nice and easy lesson to describe. But we shall give it a try, Expert cat is whispering his s33kritz into my ear as I try to write them down.
This is what Expert Cat looks like as he is trying to convey this message for me to write down.
As you can see he is sitting next to little blue dots and lines which say Node, Link and System. This might not seem like something which is a learning, but it is a pillar of the most fundamental learning he wants to tell you about.
He says that in the beginning he thought about the world as if it was made out of Nodes. That means things which has properties in themselves. It is an effective way of observing things to treat them as nodes and it makes life for the Expert Cat easier on the surface. He can describe them and point at them and people who listen to him has a decent chance to understand what he is talking about.
Links are a bit trickier to understand. They are the connections between nodes which describe that the nodes are interacting with each other somehow. This is a lot harder for Expert Cat to at first understand, even harder to make use of and almost hopeless to describe. How do you describe that the car and the road are connected through a link, you cant see it? Maybe the tires are a link, maybe it is the driver which wants to travel who is the link or maybe it is the engine which make the tires turn with force. Expert Cat almost goes crazy trying to describe this to other cats.
Systems are a bit easier to describe but harder to create. Expert Cat can lump a car, a road, an engine and a driver into a clump of things which together are a system. When he describes the whole system to other cats they intuitively understand that they could make some use out of the ability to drive along roads to places at speed and derive some type of value out of it.

When Expert Cat was young
As a youngster Expert Cat wanted to do great things for the other cats in the world and began working on creating things. Since back then he was only really able to understand the concept of Nodes he went about and made things. Sometimes his things caught a litle bit of interest among the other cats but nothing really worked. What is wrong with my things? - he though a bit sadly.
No one really wants things it seems. Well, actually there are situations where thing are wanted but those are special cases which Expert Cat will tell us about later in this story.

Expert Cat is trained by Master Cat
After making a series of failed things Expert Cat went out looking for a Master Cat who would become a great teacher. Master Cat began training Expert Cat at using different perspectives of looking at the world and introduced Expert Cat to the idea of systems. The things Expert Cat had been making were failing because they were not part of a system which the other cats were part of. The things which had partial success had by a chance become adopted by other cats as pieces of their personal systems which are hidden in the mystery of cat souls.
Master Cat spent years and years and mentored Expert Cat to learn how to observe systems. About ten years after meeting with Master Cat our Expert Cat emerged as a fully trained systems observer.

A trained Expert Cat
To make things successfully our Expert Cat learned to create links. Sometimes links demand the creation of Nodes, and sometimes links demand other things. The core understanding of Expert Cat was to see that things without links are dead weight, waste and useless creations in general.
The next problem for Expert Cat is to describe what a link is. This is a fundamentally tricky problem because they are always different in detail but similar in the abstract. Since the details always differ we can make one detailed example and try to move onwards from there.

Details of a Link
Lets us begin describing a link. We will describe the link of Eating. We can look at something and notice that it is getting Eaten. A good start. Expert Cat wants to create the link of Eating.
To create the link of Eating our Expert Cat needs to become dependant on two nodes. One node is a Cat, who Expert Cat thinks will be interested in eating. The second node is a Fish which Expert Cat thinks has suitable fit for the occasion.
This is a deep understanding of the Expert Cat. The value in the system of "Cat eats Fish" lies within the interactive process which is commonly called eating. The value of the fish which is not eaten can be considered "inventory" which according to lean is a risk. From now on when Expert Cat make things he defines his thing as the interaction between the nodes in the system. The ten years of training which Expert Cat has contained a few weeks of trying to understand the writings of Guru Cat Chris Crawford who says the trick to creating games lies with defining the design from the verbs in the design. Expert Cat believes this argument says the same thing with different words. Expert Cat believe verbs are quite useful when defining links.

Creating systems through Links, Nodes or Systems
While training with Master Cat our Expert Cat learned a few other things about systems. Different types of systems require different approaches towards their creation. To avoid needing to write far too much text we will narrow the problem down to two extremes.
The two extremes are described by a Guru Cat called Steve Blank. He uses a model which is a useful framework to dig at this problem. He uses the words "Customer Risk" on one end and "Technology Risk" on the other. Then there are things which has both...
On one extreme end we have a system where the risk is the functionality within the nodes. At this extreme end we find things such as a Fusion Reactor. If you can get the Fusion Reactor to work as it should then you have your value right there. Infinite power for a low cost. We can define this value as its node. If it works it will also have value for the other cats in the world.
On the other extreme we have the taste of Fish. Does the taste of the fish which Expert Cat is creating have any value on the market? The risk here is not that the Fish has a taste, or even if the fish exist, but rather if the taste causes the cat to eat. How does the cat eat the fish? Oh noez! This is so complicated Expert Cat is almost trembling at the notion of describing the situation.

To describe the problematic description as hypothesis
We need to use another lens to look at the problem to get a perspective which has a better chance of succeeding. To create the correct taste when cooking the fish our Expert Cat creates a hypothesis that says: "The fish tastes good enough to make another cat eat it." This puts the link to the test!
Now our Expert Cat can cook the fish with an inventive recipe and try to make another cat eat it. He can modulate his test and see if he can make another cat pay for the cooked fish, and see which of all the cats are willing to eat it or not eat it.
By successfully describing his fish recipe as the properties of eating he has obtained the all powerful insight into how changes to the recipe influence the value of the system. Wewt!

Ok, so what does this mean in practice?
Our Expert Cat understands how to differentiate customer risk versus technology risk. When Expert Cat joins a Mean and Lean Cat Team he knows that his team will be more or less suitable to handle the different types of risks. A team full of scientist and engineering wizard cats is likely to be suitable for taking on technical risk, which a team full of marketing Fixers and emotional Artist cats is suitable for taking on customer risk. A team which has a healthy balance of both is likely to take on challenges which contain both types of risk.

Kinds of risks for game creating cat teams
This is a pretty big system which practically is rather simple to understand.
Games with some Technical Risk:
  • MMORPG's
  • Next Gen AAA Console Games
Games with Customer Risk (Everything else):
  • Flash Games
  • Web based community Games
  • Facebook Games
  • Marketing Campaign Games
  • Indie Console Games
  • Indie PC Games
  • Oldskool Games
  • etc
Note that no games that the Expert Cat think is a game has purely Technical Risk. Defining a game Hypothesis as Nodes is thereby almost a guaranteed failure. Alright, Expert Cat jumped over a long series of arguments to reach that conclusion, but his time is running out and he wants to get out of here rather than keep on telling us the details of this story.
Farewell Expert cat, enjoy the sunshine and the Fish cooking! *waves*

Fixer Cat comes in to finish the lesson and says:
- Lean and Mean Cat Teams that use Agile or Scrum to create games need to learn how to define their Backlogs as links. If they fail to do this and instead base their work on creating nodes they become statistical death marches. However, if you create an MMORPG or a Next Gen AAA Console Title you can use a bit of both nodes and links to deal with technical risk.

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