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We’re going to kick this series off with an overview on what it means to be a professional creative (as in, someone who makes a living from their creativity), the business models we build around our projects and how they contrast against the business models of software development and manufacturing.
Why the contrast? Why not adopt the standard business administration format embraced by MBA programs and startup business self-help-books everywhere? You know, so we can “just make games”?
Because a successful career in creative industries fundamentally shifts the focus of our bizdev away from the cost-effective production of products, towards the cost-effective production of experiences (you know, the kind that involves real humans feeling feelings and stuff).
BizDev in Creative Industries
It seems like a relatively minor change doesn’t it? Shifting the focus of our bizdev by just one word: from “product” to “experience“.
But changing one word in how we arrange our business priorities completely alters our definition of success! How we recognise it. How we measure it. What we will do to achieve it (and how we treat other people in the process).
This isn’t touchy feely humanism. This is practicality (with just a bit of touchy feely humanism, because dammit, humans are nifty!). Creativity is about human experiences: an understanding of, connection to, and empathy for the experiences of other people.
Without that empathy we can’t be creative (seriously, the ability to imagine an experience outside yourself is a required function for creativity to happen AT ALL). And if we can’t be creative, then we can’t produce experiences worth tuning in for, worth sharing, worth paying for. It means that we can’t do our jobs, which means we can’t support ourselves.
Product manufacturers can measure success in a spreadsheet: little green or red numbers track the increase or decrease of products produced, units sold, cost of production and distribution.
That doesn’t work for the creative professional developing experiences for audiences of 10, 100, 1000, etc. The result of human experience is measured by behaviors, reactions, emotions: the emails you get from a kid overseas who sends you a drawing he made of the main character of your game; the smiles and handshakes from fans at a games conference and the t-shirts and posters they ask you to sign.
If we’re staring at spreadsheets tracking statistics, we may not see those behaviors and reactions that tell us that we’ve achieved what we set out to achieve. We may miss the result of our creativity entirely.
Without this emphasis on people and real human reactions (as opposed to statistical analysis) we cannot see if our projects have had any effect at all – it gives us nothing to learn from, nothing to guide us towards making better decisions in the future.
The “1, 10, 100, 1000 Core Fans” Principle
I’ve spent a long time experimenting with business models in creative industries, both with my own projects and coaching other developers through theirs.
When every single project and audience is different, and the market changes so dramatically from year to year, how the heck do you coach a game designer through business development in a logical, step-by-step way?
Well, first you start with an audience of One. What do you have to do to satisfy an audience of One? Someone you have never met must be able to download, play and enjoy your game (and give you feedback so you know the whole process worked!).
This one question gives you everything you need to start fleshing out the entire experience around your game from the moment someone first reads about it, then installs it, boots it up, plays through from start to finish and enjoys themselves enough to want to give you good feedback!
If you can’t do this for just one person then how on earth would you ever expect to do this for an entire “market demographic?”
After you have your first core fan the question becomes: “How do I extend this experience to ten people I have never met?”. You have a whole new set of design questions to answer at this point! You’ve learned from the first iteration of your distribution pipeline, probably found aspects of the gameplay experience that could be improved, and you’re learning more about who your audience is and what attracts them to your game.
Then, when you have ten core fans (and you should know your first ten fans by name; they will teach you SO MUCH about how to take care of an audience), then you can think about what you might need to design and build to reach one hundred core fans.
After one hundred core fans, it’s time to find a way to reach one thousand.
It is all a series of design challenges! From 1 core fan to 10 to 100 to 1,000.
If you can get one thousand core fans, well, then you should be just fine, my friend.
What I’ve Learned the Hard Way About BizDev in Creative Industries
(And really interesting things…)
- A Game Business Model: Learning from Touring Bands by Daniel Cook
- 1,000 True Fans
- RSA on Empathy and the “Power of Outrospection”
- The Empathy Machine by Maria Konnikova
- John Cleese on Creativity
- The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp
- Creating Minds: An Anatomy of Creativity Seen Through the Lives of Freud, Einstein, Picasso, Stravinsky, Eliot, Graham, and Ghandi by Howard Gardner
- Rework by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson