Friday, November 03, 2006

Strategy vs Implementation

So I just had a catch-up call with David Edery (of Game Tycoon fame). Of the many points we discussed one stuck with me after the call -- the question of whether it is better to sit 'high up' and control the strategy (for a game, product, brand, company, etc) or sit 'down low' and control (or influence) the implementation. That is -- BizDev or Production?

As some of you may be aware, a while back David accepted a position as the Worldwide Games Portfolio Manager for Xbox Live Arcade. In this position he has the responsibility to set the strategy for the entire XBL portfolio. Too many casual games? Not enough retro? Need more sports? Less parlor games? etc.

I, on the other hand, am burried deep in production. My bosses tell me the game I'm going to make, and I do everything I can to make it the best game possible. Generally speaking the strategy of the 'what', 'when' and 'why' is pushed upon me. I create the 'how'.

I am envious of David's position at Microsoft because I like to think I have something to offer in the strategy department. David, if I may be so bold, is probably a little envious of me because he would like to get his hands dirty and create something. The grass is always greener...

It reminds me of something Seamus Blackley said at this year's GDC which, to my ears, was the most profound and poignant thing anyone has ever said at a GDC talk: "You guys are the future, and it’s a beautiful future if you open your mind and actually think about business a bit more." (keep in mind he was talking to a room filled with designers and programmers and artists who, if I understand his point properly, could help out industry tremendously if they thought not just about the art of making games, but also the business of it).

The parallel between the two points, to me, is that the reverse point to that raised by Seamus is also true. Producers, Marketers, BizDev (etc) can all do their part to improve our industry if they try to think a little more creatively sometimes and look at the art of what we do as well as the numbers.

Whether you are in Production dreaming of strategy, or a Portfolio Manager thinking of making cool games I think we can all stand to benefit by thinking like 'the other guy' a little more in our daily jobs.


Blogger kim said...

Amen to your point and to Seamus'.

I think it's wrong to look at Bizdev as 'high level'.

It's perhaps better to look at management and strategic planning as high level.

Bizdev is perhaps slightly higher level than say 'entry level programmer', but you can make teh same kind of hands-on impact by architecting the clever deal as you can by being a lead programmer and architecting a clever graphics innovation.

I moved from engineering into bizdev because I found the industry was drifting from one where technology made the biggest difference to one where the business decisions were becoming the controlling factor (maybe I'm wrong - who knows).

2:03 PM  
Anonymous Clint said...

Right on man.

Before I started working with Ubi, I actually just assumed this was impossible. I thought the biz/marketing folks would NEVER look at what they did as being part of a creative endeavour. And I freely admit that I mostly didn't give a shit about making money for them either. But a few key people - all of whom you know, Ben - changed my perspective on people on the 'business' side. Because they came half-way, I realized I had to come the other half-way to meet them in the middle, and I've been a fuck of alot happier for it.

This isn't to say that we don't still have disagreements about where creative and business sit with one another, but for the most part, we've carved out a domain that works for both sides, and we're just haggling over details.

The best part is, that I think the end product is better because of it, not worse or 'compromised' or somehow a lowest common denominator. I think people in the business side can often help creatives develop something more resonant because they (the good ones anyway) have a big picture of what resonates.

7:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

At the scales of production I operate on (teams and budgets and order of magnitude, or two, smaller than AAA) I literally sculpt both aspects of my company's operation as I go. Because I run on a virtual paradigm, I have the freedom to scout out freelance talent anywhere in the world and incubate conceptual development that might turn into a prototype and future production deal. I simultaneously manage and influence the development of a rapidly iterating art/play concept on its way to and through a publisher/production deal. I have to keep looking for fuel to put in the furnace in order to minimize unwanted downtime and make a living. I think that paradigmn is the most intense synthesis of art and business you can get (I also believe the contract-based production unit paradigm is highly scalable, but have yet to prove so).

12:12 AM  
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