December 2018 Update: or, “Ok seriously, let’s write about forming a game startup”

About 6 months ago, I struck out on my own to independently develop games with the intent of starting a company. I told readers on a previous post I would document the journey along the way as a way to hold myself accountable and hopefully share learnings with others who are considering taking a similar leap. I’d tried to start blogging in the past many times, but thought this time would be different with a little discipline, humility and transparency.

And then I went radio silent.

I could give a multitude of reasons for not writing more about the process, from feeling an existential dread every time I looked at the calendar and feeling like every hour I spent writing was another I wasn’t spending creating value and eventual revenue. Or feeling like I have no idea what I’m doing and afraid to write from a position of authority about a process that feels 99% new (despite calling myself the CEO of the product in my previous roles in product management). Or feeling like things are changing so rapidly that anything I write would likely be out of date a week later.

But no excuses, I said I’d do a thing, and then proceeded not to do that thing.

So let’s give it another shot. I’m (still) starting a business, a process that hundreds of thousands of people do each month (yikes!). I flopped around a whole lot during the first few months but recently started seeing tiny glimmers of traction in my search to “find the fun” before the bank account runs dry. I describe my work as a cocktail of exhilaration and stress that I continue to refill.

And this is (still) where I talk about it.

So what have I been up to since the last update?

Product

  • Developed what was probably an overly ambitious vision for the product (Mario Party meets HQ Trivia with a vibrant developer ecosystem) with an entirely unrealistic roadmap and backlog
  • Partnered up with an energetic, well-rounded PM who took the uncomfortable first step of forcing me to playtest the product with the team
  • Most recently realized that paring down our ambitious vision to a very narrowly defined product that addresses a passionate niche audience may be the better way to go (sad that I used to preach this stuff to teams but can’t take my own advice)

Design

  • Prototyped and prototyped and prototyped user flows through a 15-minute game show of minigames on your phone
  • Teamed up with a brilliant, thoughtful, all-around-solid UX designer to start bringing our vision for the app and website to life

Engineering

  • Started, stopped and restarted prototype development countless times as the lone full-time engineer on the team (trying to put that CS degree to work)
  • Switched tech stacks a dizzying number of times (React -> Unity -> React Native -> Unity -> various WebGL frameworks -> Unity -> all the way back to React… -> then back Unity)
  • Continuously sliced and sliced and sliced away at scope until landing on an MVP that players are actually playing(!)
  • Cried myself to sleep that I can’t find full-time engineers to help put me out of my development misery

Marketing

  • Confirmed the adage that one should spend at least as much time marketing the game as developing the game (*tear*)
  • Took on the part-time role as head of marketing between the hours of 7-whenever-I-fall-asleep PM, figuring out where diehard enthusiasts who might love our game are on the Internet, doing outreach in online communities where they hang out, talking about the game on social media, sharing screenshots and gameplay trailers, and pointing people to our Discord server (this was a huge turning point for us).
  • Started organizing Friday night “Game of the Week” playtests with people on Discord to play together, see what resonates and collect feedback.
  • More recently started focusing on developing distribution channels (think all those flash portals you went to in the school library) to get the game in front of as many people as possible. It’s not glamorous work, but we’re now seeing new organic players showing up to play(!).
  • Once again, this is a full-time job. Find someone to help you here, or prepare to take on a night shift job while watching Netflix.

Operations

  • Co-founded the company with a former colleague and HR ninja to tank all kinds of administrative matters relating to business entity, culture development, legal agreements, budgeting, funding
  • Established business requirements and goals for 2019, informing where we need to be with the product and engagement month-to-month

To that end, the key goals of the business for 2019 are:

  • Engage 10,000 daily active users (full transparency: we’re hovering around 30)
  • Generate $100,000 revenue (full transparency:… $0)

We have a colossal effort ahead of us.

It seems nearly impossible.

But impossible’s my favorite type of possible.

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Ron Forbes

Ron Forbes

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Virtual reality product manager 🥽 and Airbnb host 🏘 sharing thoughts on building tech products, leading teams, growing businesses, and living productively 💭