Before co-founding 7 Generation Games, I worked 10-plus years as a journalist. The last three of those years, I was juggling being both a journalist and journalism professor.
In both positions, I expected perfection from myself and those around me. The expectation for journalists is that you put out something that is flawless. I’d had that hammered into me, and I was hammering it into my students. You don’t just strive to produce something error-free every time, it’s a requirement. No typos, no dropped words, not even weird line breaks. You’re credibility hinges on what you put out. And any screw ups you make not only reflect on you, but on the reputation of your news outlet. The idea that you would publish an unedited, unreviewed, rough version of a story is jaw-dropping.
You can’t wait until you’re at this point to get your product out there. When you’re building a tech product, it’s the complete opposite. When you hear from entrepreneurs that have failed, you often see some recurring themes. One of them is that they didn’t get the product out there soon enough. They were waiting until the had the final, “run it on the cover of the Sunday paper” version. That you don’t put it out until it’s Mary Poppins-level, that is:
Maybe if you’re Apple or Microsoft that’s true. But as a startup, you can’t wait until you’re at this point to put your product out there.
I can understand that desire. I’m not going to lie, the first dozen or so times that I had to show “Spirit Lake: The Game”, I kind of cringed inside. Not because I didn’t think what we’re doing is great or believe in our company, but because it wasn’t perfect.
Heck, the first few times I showed it, I don’t even know if I’d call it good. There were technical errors. You’d get stuck at random parts. Once you got into the 3D world, it was unarguably awesome, but the intro was pretty weak. The end was abrupt. There wasn’t always consistency – some places had dialogue as text, some places had spoken dialogue only, some places had both. The install had a tendency to drive people nuts.
As a founder of an early stage tech company, you need to refine your HGTV skills. What I mean by that is you need to learn from those guys on the house hunting shows who take people who have dreams of the perfect home into the houses which are in their actual budget – but far from that dream – and the guys say to them, “But see the potential.” Then they renovate the house in like a week, do a big reveal and everyone ends up in tears, saying “This is better than we dreamed.”
A major part of improving your product is putting it out there, getting it into the hands of users and consistently making it better. At 7 Generation Games, we’ve been doing that now for over a year with our first game. It’s still not perfect, but it’s getting much closer. By having it in the hands of more than 1,200 people, we were able to find and improve it 100 times faster than if our 12 member staff had tried to go through it all by ourselves.
We got excellent feedback. We were reminded that sometimes, you are your own harshest critic as much of the response we got — even on parts that we internally thought we kinda “meh” — was overwhelmingly positive. We also learned that by involving your users and making improvements based on their feedback, you earn their respect. They don’t say, “Oh, this early version wasn’t perfect. You suck.” They say, “Wow, you took my feedback and made changes based on what I said to make this game better. That’s awesome.”
We’ve streamlined the install making it like 1 million times better. We’re eliminated possibly 100% of the technical type errors. We just received the new intro video animation from our wonderful animator Danny Ochoa this morning. We’ve gotten all of the major things out of the way. To steal from the HGTV analogy, we’ve fixed the foundation issues, rewired all the electrical, put in new floors, fixed the leaky roof. Now, we’re in the final stretch, where it’s really all about the aesthetics. We’ve got to put up that second coat of paint and do a little interior decorating, and it’ll be time for the emotional reveal.
Right now, “Spirit Lake: The Game” is a house you can live in. And it’s just steps away from being the house everyone watching a home wishes they had.
And – while I would not advocate publishing your rough, unedited first draft to the masses in journalism – when it comes to launching a tech product, I think it’s a key to success.