Breaking The Wheel

Design

A picture of Dwight Eisenhower, a man who understood the paradox of planning all too well

The Paradox of Planning

One of my favorite quotes revolves around planning.  It came from Helmuth Von Moltke, a 19th century German Field Marshall: “No plan survives first contact with the enemy.”1. The implication here is simple enough: the plan that makes total sense on paper quickly falls apart when confronting the entropy of reality. And yet planning is essential for getting a team moving in the right direction. As Dwight Eisenhower said, “I have found that plans are useless but planning is everything.” And thus we arrive at what I like to call the paradox of planning: planning is the act of creating something that is simultaneously infinitely valuable and completely worthless.

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A photo of John Boyd, author of Destruction and Creation

Destruction and Creation: John Boyd’s Analysis and Synthesis Loop

Here’s a question for you: is dog-fighting (the airplane variety, not the literal kind) an art or a science? It’s obviously an art, right? Two pilots, and a wide-open sky – the possibilities for maneuvers and counters are positively endless. Endless, that is, except for this funny thing called “physics”. Far from being limitless, a pilot’s options are severely restricted by his altitude, speed, weapon load, and aerodynamic characteristics. The man the world has to thank for codifying this realization is one of the history’s great iconoclasts: United States Air Force pilot John Boyd. But Boyd’s gifts to the universe were not limited to the military, and one of his last major labors before he died was a paper and presentation he called “Analysis and Synthesis” or, alternatively, “Destruction and Creation.”

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A picture of a bottleneck, because auteurs bottleneck stuff

Bottlenecks and Hindsight: Why Auteurs Make Horrible Economists

This post is about an empirical issue: the economic cost of being an auteur. When I originally posted this entry on Gamasutra back in 2014 it was not without its detractors. David Jaffe even dropped a line on it, saying he thought it was neat, while simultaneously implying that I was full of shit. Nonetheless, in retrospect, I still feel this idea is worth considering in an industry like ours, one that consists of both public personas and massive-team-based endeavors.

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An image of a white space analysis diagram

White Space Analysis: Avoiding The Commoditization Trap

Marketing has the same basic premise as football, judo, and hacking: find the opening and exploit it. In terms of your competition, the opening is known in marketing as the “white space”: the area of the canvas without any color. How does one identify the white space? With a simple exercise called, appropriately enough, a white space analysis.

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Sunk-Costs and Ugly Babies: On The Value of The Scientific Method – Game Planning With Science! Part 8 Featured Image

Sunk-Costs and Ugly Babies: On The Value of The Scientific Method – Game Planning With Science! Part 8

It struck me one day that “Game Planing With Science” has a glaring omission: the value of scrapping a plan. The goal of “Game Planning With Science” is to forecast, not predict. It’s to estimate and understand, but not to codify. You can’t codify the creative process, or the future for that matter. Just as important is the fact that life doesn’t care about your plans. Reality is going to be what it’s going to be. You can’t change reality to fit your plan, so modifying your plan to fit reality is the only path forward. As Dwight Eisenhower, one of the most immensely quotable people ever, once said, “Plans are useless, but planning is everything.”

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A diagram of Porter's Five Forces Analysis

Five-Forces Analysis has Grim Tidings for Free-To-Play on Mobile

This post about five forces analysis originally appeared on my old blog and Gamasutra. I find that it’s as relevant today as it was then. Mobile is still a hot bed of both independent and publisher-backed development. And for good reason. There is a massive addressable market and mobile devices have high user engagement. Mobile also supports smaller test launches and rapid iteration, meaning that developers and publishers can treat mobile games less like products and more like businesses. Add to that the lack of any marginal production or distribution costs, and you have a super-sexy platform. And that’s exactly the problem. Mobile is so attractive and so accessible that the market place is perhaps the purest example of “perfect competition”, the yin to a monopoly’s yang.

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Scheduling Video Games Scientifically featured image

Scheduling Video Games Scientifically! – Game Planning With Science! Part 7

This post is a bit of a capstone. It utilizes all of the tools to make video games scientifically that I covered in the Parts 1-6 of “Game Planning With Science”. Make sure you’ve reviewed those weighty tomes before digging in here. In this post, I’m going to walk you through how to utilize capacity charts, story points, user stories, variance, and the central limit theorem to forecast development time lines.

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User Stories Make For Better Consensus – Game Planning With Science! Part 6 Featured Image

User Stories Make For Better Consensus – Game Planning With Science! Part 6

There’s a saying in data science: Garbage In, Garbage Out (or GIGO, if you prefer). The most advanced formulas and models won’t provide outputs worth a dead cat if you don’t have high quality inputs. When it comes to something as difficult and uncertain as feature planning and estimation, that’s quadruply so. In this post I’m going to walk you through the system I’ve used successfully, how it works, and why. And it’s all based on the counter part to the story points from Part 5, user stories.

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A picture of Dark Souls and an Ikea location, both instances of strategic design in action

Strategic Design: Why Dark Souls is the Ikea of Game Development

One of the sources of crunch is the proverbial kitchen sink: throwing too much content and too many features into a design with too short a production schedule. The reasons can be myriad. Features in competing games. Pressure from publishers or marketing departments. Overblown ambition. The instinct makes sense. As the saying goes, nobody sets out to make a bad game and to that end there is a reluctance to cut corners or make omissions that would compromise quality. But, what if there was a way to cut content and features strategically, so as to make your game more competitive and better serve the needs of your fans? Enter: Strategic Design.

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