Friday, April 15, 2011

Making Mantra

I recently watched Charlie Cleveland's "1 Hour Video Game MBA" presentation from GDC 2011 (thanks GDC Vault!) In it, he discusses his own indie experiences, as well as the tips he's garnered from a dozen of the more influential business books he's read. I encourage you all to watch his presentation if you're interested in the topic of indie business (or even any business). He does a great job of walking through his discoveries and learnings in the field.

One area which I wanted to expound on today was his point about "making mantra." He mentioned authenticity consistently separated good and bad companies. Authenticity meaning how well they aligned with and embraced their mantra.

When Charlie talks about making mantra, he's referring to a statement that defines the purpose of a company. Likening it to "invoking a god" or "casting a spell," he says it should be short, actionable, and meaningful.

This got me thinking about what my own core values are. What I want my company to be? What is my mantra?

I guess a good place to start is to list ideas and values which are important to me, and base a first draft on those. I won't nail it in the next 15 minutes, so I should plan to get a good sketch of my mantra done, and expect to revise it later. Here's what I came up with:

  1. Core RPGs
    1. Focus my products on the computer rpg player niche, especially those with a pen and paper rpg pedigree.
    2. Focus on players who like exploring game worlds, customizing characters and equipment, creative problem solving, and story.
  2. Respect the user
    1. Avoid DRM, and instead design games to enable patronage through piracy.
    2. Let the user choose when to play. (e.g. no time management mechanics, no pressure to play at certain times)
    3. Favor intrinsic motivation over extrinsic motivation.
  3. Stay small, fat, and happy
    1. Grow slowly, and only as necessary.
    2. Stay fast and adaptive.
#1 is really why I got into this business. I love video games, and I loved playing AD&D, Rifts, Shadowrun, and a host of other pen and paper games growing up. Making those come alive on the screen and sharing them with others is a passion for me.

#2 is important to me, and I think it will be important to my customers as well. I want my games to be something the user chooses to play when they want to. I don't want the game to punish the user for not playing at certain times, or get in the way of their lives.

#3 This is something Charlie mentioned in his talk, from Paul Hawken's book, Growing a Business. Being big is not the only successful outcome for a business. In my case, this is especially true. If I can achieve the financial stability I need to allow me to pursue #1 comfortably, that's perfect.

So what does this sound like as a short, actionable mantra? "Core RPGs that respect the user" is a roughshod attempt at it. But it leaves out #3. Maybe I need a logo for that?

Ok, that just looks like a happy poop. I'm going to have to think this over, and put some more work into it. Stay tuned!


  1. That really does look like a happy poop.

    On the topic of pen and paper RPGs and enabling patronage through piracy, you should look at the Eclipse Phase RPG by Posthuman Studios. Posthuman was founded by some talented guys I worked with when I was writing for Shadowrun and their entire game is Creative Commons licensed. You can remix it freely and they post official torrents where you can download PDFs of the game books.

  2. Hey Jay! Just checked out their RPG website, thanks for the tip. The setting they're making produces a world quite close to what I was thinking, though the mechanisms are different.

    And their philosophy makes a lot of sense to me. In particular, their point about "obscurity was a far greater danger than piracy" is exactly in line with my thoughts. I don't want to restrict people from gaining access, I want people to play my stuff! I like Three Rings's take on the free-to-play model too: the free players are the content for the paying players. It's a tricky mechanic to work into the design, but I'd like to try it.

  3. I think you may really have something in the Happy Poop.

  4. What can one do with a happy poop besides accept it?