Business, processes, and things to drive improvement

About a week ago I was at PegaWorld. I’ll tell you what, for a rather dry business application – business Process Management, those guys know how to party. That being said, it is a really powerful platform to help automate existing processes or to interact with other systems to put a wrapper around the inputs and outputs of that system. That’s pretty powerful. Pega is one of those pieces of software that has the potential to “disrupt” the way traditional software is built. Essentially it eliminates the need to actually develop software the old fashion way, and allows users to create process flows that then generate the underlying Java. Now that doesn’t mean all coding will go away, especially at the interface API level, but it’s still a huge step forward to leveling that playing field.

I think this raise an interesting point, software is going to eat the world according to a lot of VC type folks. However, what happens when a piece of software enables more people to do what software was enabling people to do? I think it’d drive down the cost of enabling automated solutions. Not only are there super high level “languages” like Pega, there’s also a great deal of higher level programming languages out there, such as Ruby on Rails, JavaScript, Python, and others that help to develop the application as you’re building it. Swift from Apple is another such language. It shortens the learning cycle. I’m partially through building an App in Rails and I’d never used it before, it’d be a lot harder to do the same in Java alone.

All of this really drives a concern – we could just automate bad processes. Things that doing faster don’t actually help any customer or ourselves actually accomplish any sort of goal. This is a problem if you don’t actually understand what you’re trying to do. This is something that I think a lot of startups miss – who cares that I can really efficiently do something, when some thing isn’t really worth doing? It’s a waste of time, energy and activity to do that. Software eating the world or other types of automation are only useful to anyone if they actually work to improve the underlying structure they are being built upon. PegaWorld had some interesting talks of people that looked into this, but it was basically tangential when it needs to be at the core of everything that’s happening.

Apparently in the show, Silicon Valley, every startup ends up saying that this product is going to make the world better. Simply saying that doesn’t make it so – I’m sure that Ubisoft and EA believe that their games are going to make the world a better place. You could argue that by excluding something from the next Assassins Creed game really did make the world better by driving a conversation about the choices that developers and companies make when bringing a product to market – and how poorly those decisions can go for the company that makes them. It’s important to understand the root cause of a problem as well as any risks changes pose to the business when you don’t deliver on something you are selling.

Saving video games from publishers

There’s big money in video games. No one can deny that, especially now that the definition of casual gaming has changed from Wii type games, to games on your phone that mimic some really old school type flash games (bejeweled for example). One of the largest game publisher is EA, they have been notorious for making both amazing games (BF4), amazingly bad games, amazing games with poor execution (SimCity), and amazing cash grabs (Dungeon Keeper iPhone). However, it’s not alone in trying to destroy gaming.

Zynga made a pretty big run at the title and likely helped shape the current state of our gaming industry. They were the original most successful company in facebook for gaming coming up with Mobwars and Farmville. They’ve been replaced with King.com (Candy Crush) now though and have nearly gone out of business. At one point they had a higher valuation than Facebook.

The point of these games is similar to a casino. Keep you coming back and keep you putting money into the machine. They design games to be addicting and put frustrating blockers in your way to entice you to pay money to overcome those obstacles. They technically are “Free-to-play” but they certainly aren’t “free-to-have-fun”. For example, about a year ago Real Racing 3 came out and to unlock everything with cash, it would cost $503!

The article that got me thinking about this topic highlights a 1997 game called Dungeon Keeper which has been released on mobile platforms. In the game you build a dungeon and try to kill heroes that come through and kill your monsters. One of the things you do is dig out spaces for your dungeon, this used to just take a minute or two in game time. Well, EA did it’s little cash grab option with it and now that same space will take roughly 30 hours to mine out unless you pay them money to speed that up! Here’s a video with a nice little summary of the topic.

Now, we know that this hasn’t been limited to mobile games for some time. It’d hit the hardcore gamers in the form of Downloadable content (DLC) and in many cases would be a $15 or so charge to make the game functional on top of the $50-$60 you already paid for the game. In some cases they’ll also charge you for other visual upgrades and stuff like that.

In some cases the companies are doing it because it’s a beloved franchise and they know people will fork over the money for it even if they’ve vowed to never buy from that company again (BF4 after SimCity debacle for instance). This is because they are able to charge monopoly prices being the only game in town.

In other cases, they are able to charge this behavior because of the addictiveness of the game and the pressure of your peers playing the same game. It’s a casino mixed with keeping up with the Joneses mentality. The worst of the worst and company are pulling in as much money as they can on it. In many cases those games are straight up copies from other companies – or at least the game mechanics are the same.

This has made some people discouraged over the future of the gaming business model. I believe that we have some of the most generous people in the world in gaming. You have the Extra-Life fund raising event, HumbleBundle, and a ton of other things like that. There are also really honest folks out there trying to break into the industry, just look at Steam Green Light, Kickstarter Games (check out KBMOD’s Crowdsourced corner), and just the sheer number of new games and apps that have a single price and are honest about their pricing (this link will take you to a list of games that are pay upfront or honest free to play).

Which makes me think that we have two different type of people running gaming companies. We clearly have psychopaths at the head of the company and normal regular people trying to do right by their customers. I think the hardest thing is, we have honest people working for those psychopaths, which is unfortunate.

What can we do as gamers and employees? Well, if you think your CEO is a psychopath leave; it’s going to be an unhealthy work environment in general. Secondly, if we want to see those business models die, educate your friends on how horrible this movement is for gaming in general and point them to cheaper alternatives that aren’t cash grabs. Help inform your friends that aren’t savvy about this. Send them links to games that are better, more fun, and less vile in their pricing schemes.

If you have any recommendations for honest, safe gaming, let me know in the comments!