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Category: Personal

Thank you, bad managers

This weekend I was sorting out some old notes and papers. I’m one of those game designers who print documents and read them aloud. I don’t know the science behind it, but it’s a method that works for me to find redaction issues in design documents.

Like many, I have participated in countless projects that have failed. There is one common problem in my case: bad leaders. However, I feel like I’ve learned a lot. Working on a game that is later canceled or unreleased is an experience that contains a little death. Especially for creative people, those who would have done it another way. People who are constantly learning about best practices. Who would actually like to put those practices into action. People who have to adapt to a direction that too often has nothing creative about it.

You enter a vicious circle, where you get stressed. Putting the documents in order, I realize that the journey counts for a lot anyway. I hope to get better final results in the next 10 years, but I believe that even working on a hopeless project is a great opportunity. I feel I have to thank all those who have granted it to me and believed in me.

Thankful for being here

Yesterday I read a very interesting publication with advice on how to find work in the video game industry.

I’ve noticed that in other technology sectors lately, it’s more companies that are looking to hire people, than the other way around. The reality is that the video game industry is a lot of people’s dream job.

It amazes me when I think back on everything I had to do to stay there. And we are always in the balance, our career can always end for physical, and psychological reasons and in general related to our path.

So I can only thank you for still being here.

Second love letter to the juniors

Dear junior,

One of those moments of radical change has arrived in our sector. I think you too have seen a beautiful image or a surprisingly well-written text. You will certainly have noticed that artificial intelligence algorithms have learned to generate content that is indistinguishable from human content.

I think we are ahead of a revolution, like the one that happened years ago with the arrival of 3D technologies. The revolution will inevitably involve the world of game development.

Not only do these tools allow for quick content generation, but they also learn from all the people who are entering their prompts. It is likely that in a short time the AI will optimize also the creative part of writing prompts.

There have been abuses in my opinion. Developers trained these systems with content taken from the web, without the consent of the people who generated them. Think of everything you’ve written on the Internet, think of all the articles, think of all the images posted on the most famous sites. Someone took all these images, codes, and texts and fed the algorithm which is now able to accurately imitate even the style of concrete people. I don’t know if this thing will be punished sooner or later. However, “the omelet is done”, as we say in Italy, and now these tools are there.

What does this mean to you?

The goal is human replacement

First of all, this technology has the main goal of replacing humans in certain activities. Those tools are capable to be faster of any artistic process. However, nothing can replace a human being. Our learning capacity is far superior to any existing mainframe. We are already quite capable, almost instinctively, of recognizing most AI-generated art. Did you noticed that? In the case of video games, one of the things that drive people all over the world to play games is the chance to see something created by other people.

This admiration surprises us, we like to talk about it with friends and online. “Have you seen the new God of War? They did an incredible job!”. It’s not God of War itself that surprises us as a game, it’s the thought that there are people who have been able to do this that creates a market. Games entirely made by AI will never have a big market, don’t worry. There will probably appear some pantomime of a game. And maybe someone will get rich thanks to that. But it will never be a big market, that’s my bold prediction.

Less bullshit jobs available

The second point is that surely someone will think about hiring fewer inexperienced people. In fact, many junior professionals are hired to support seniors in smaller tasks. Think of an RPG, maybe there are secondary characters in a city that the Players will visit. These characters will have barks to say, and these barks are usually left to junior writers. It will probably be possible to automate this process using AI. So that, it will so no longer be necessary to have a junior person who writes these contents. It will be enough to have only one person who will edit things already written by a machine.

However, studios will always need senior staff. And senior people inevitably have to go through the junior stage. It is convenient for the studios to also hire juniors so that one day they will become seniors. There will be less work, that’s for sure. If a company thinks of just automating, it means that that company doesn’t appreciate the value of human imagination. It means you won’t get that job, but that job was probably a bullshit job. You saved yourself a problem, believe me. My advice? Learn the techniques of your profession while also taking into account these new technologies. Be confident in your creative personality, but show that you also dominate these technologies.

We are afraid of The Terminator

The last point is that we don’t really know what will happen with all this. We can assume that the professional world will never be the same again. But we don’t know, maybe next week we discover a big scandal involving these new technologies. Maybe we will have proofs that someone stole intellectual property content from the web. As a result, regulators will shut down all these technologies. The world sometimes changes in a matter of a few hours. And this happens to us too! Therefore, when something really surprises us, the first reaction is defense. We think we’re going in the wrong direction, and maybe we’re even dramatic at times. Our defense mechanisms are also unpredictable. My final advice, therefore, is to accept the beauty of our nature as it is. Let all innovation amaze us, don’t be afraid of anything. ‘Cause none of them can stop the time, as someone said.

They said me “no” again

I got in touch with a manager of an important company for a position that was definitely too big for me. Anyway, trying never hurts. I had the opportunity to take part in a selection process. The process included a technical test that I had to deliver in a time frame set by myself. I accepted, even though I had promised myself not to. I carried out the test and also asked for help from people more experienced than me, for feedback. These people helped me, thank you, Susan and Katie.

After two weeks I got the answer. I didn’t pass the test. The answer came accompanied by comprehensive feedback on the reasons. I read the reasons, I would have liked to defend my assessment in a videocall. Yet, re-reading my proof and reading that feedback I find myself agreeing on many points.

Feedback

A constant in my life is that they tell me I don’t get straight to the point and I arrive as confused. I seem too academic and introduce concepts that aren’t always very clear.

Then there are comments about typos, but I’m not a native speaker.

Some questions have been interpreted by me from a different point of view. So my answer came as wrong.

Conclusions

Technical tests serve to prove how a designer structures a problem to derive systems. There are two basic types of thinking in this regard.

  1. There are holistic system thinkers, who look at the big picture to find patterns.
  2. There are those reductionists who start from the details and then get to the big problem.

I am a professional of the first type. In a short time frame, it’s hard for me to get straight to the point. And this is a big problem for technical tests. I have never passed a single technical test in my life. I believe that is because of this. But I’ve always worked, and I must say that my colleagues are always quite satisfied with my work.

I shouldn’t agree to take assessments during the selection process. For me, they are a big commitment. Following, an unnerving wait. And the answer is always no.

My path for the next future

In recent months I’ve been deciding about my professional path. On the one hand, I like working as an advisor for companies. In fact, you learn a lot more this way.

When you work for an important corporation you learn to work in that context. When you work like a warrior-mage level 20, instead, you learn the hard way.

But, it’s a very stressful lifestyle. Sometimes hard times add up with 2-3 clients and it’s not always easy to manage.

So when I get a tempting offer I choose to try to enter the selection process. These are long and tedious, made up of expectations and many uncertainties. Doubts and insecurities come out and block part of the rest too.

This is my rant for today.

15 years in the Games Industry!

I realized that I am turning 15 in the video game industry this year. Not bad, considering that the average time is 7 years. I have doubled the average, and I am satisfied.

There have been times when I haven’t found a job in my industry and I’ve dedicated myself to something else. I have been a QA tester in a cybersecurity company. I was a data scientist at a robotic automation startup. All these experiences have enriched me.

I am very happy that I was able to stay in the industry. Despite the various blows received, I always got up. Thank God I wasn’t too impressed, although I bear the consequences.

Nowadays my job is part of my identity as a person, and I’m not sure that’s always a good thing. Many people work as game designers, I AM a game designer. People appreciate my designs, they always reveal a passion for the projects I am involved in. I have serious difficulties relating to the lack of professionalism, though.

Personal challenges

When I see a roadmap based on “best practices” without reflecting on “whys” and with no connection with the Players of the game, my blood boils.

I can’t accept the use of KPIs as targets, a huge mistake that is very common in the industry. Direct efforts to improve indicators and your game become a means of justifying investments. Not a means to deliver a great playful experience to people. I understand that we talk about KPIs with investors, it is a way of selling. But transferring these discussions to those who have their hands in development is deleterious.

I always think of all references and edge cases and it is an activity that engages my mind a lot even when I am in front of a book in the evening. And if I see the solution being replaced for no reason, I already know that I will spend a sleepless night out of anger.

My love for game design

I love to define everything in detail. In a self-respecting team, some more visionary people manage everything and make decisions. I like to help these people land ideas down. I like to support them in their decisions.

Someone has to do the dirty work! Prepare documents, wireframes, and flows. Square all the numbers in a spreadsheet. They are long and difficult activities. For some, they are also boring. I love doing them! I’m a game designer, it’s not that they pay me to do it. I do it for love!

My goal for the next 5 years is to improve my relationship with the profession. And my next full-time gig should start me in the World of leadership. I have seen a lot of things, now it’s time to take part in the strategy too!

In the meantime, happy anniversary to me!

The value in silence and resilience

Every so often I ask myself: what am I doing and why? It’s something that comes in handy, makes me put things into perspective and sometimes leads me to swerve on the path of my life.

I went to an event last week where I met a lot of friends and also alumni. It is amazing the amount of talented people that exists in the video game industry. Every time I go to these events I am surprised. Since the fashion of the home office began, unfortunately I am less in contact with so many people. There are very few people who, like me, decide to share the little they know online.

On the other hand, there are many people with exceptional talent who do their work in silence. They will not be known, they work for big companies very often diluting themselves in the mass but making millions to the corporations that are so lucky to have them in their ranks. Or they’ve been working on their own independent game, maybe for years. I really admire this resilience, even though I can’t help but notice the enormous risk of doing so.

However, life is one, and therefore I always ask myself: what am I doing? Probably the answer is: the right things to find my way.

A serious doubt

The other day a friend of mine passed me this message:

Never until now have people boasted of not having read a book in their lives, of not caring about anything that might smell slightly of culture or that requires a minimum intelligence.

Today’s illiterate people are the worst because in most cases they have had access to education, they know how to read and write, but they don’t exercise.

Every day there are more and every day the market cares for them more and thinks more about them. The media compete in offering content designed for people who do not read, who do not understand, who ignore culture, who want to be amused or distracted, even with the dirtiest gossip.

The whole world is being created to suit this new majority, friends. Everything is superficial, frivolous, elementary, primary… so that they can understand and digest it.

They are the new ruling class, although it will always be the dominated class, precisely because of their lack of culture. And so it goes for those of us who are not satisfied with so little, for those of us who aspire to a little more depth.”

Jesus Quintero, Journalist, writer and presenter of radio and television programs

I work in mobile free-to-play since 2012. I started my journey in video games in 2007, dreaming of joining Bethesda, Bungie or Nintendo. More in general some company that impacted deeply in my personal life with their titles.

Free-to-play is based on a simple concept: you need a huge amount of people playing your game. For that reason, everything should be very smooth. Frictionless. We ignore conflict for the sake of keeping attention and awareness toward our service. People has to stay, everyday, with you. So that an obstacle may frustrate too much someone, and that person will go away. They will churn.

Many free-to-play games end up becoming an escuse to get people’s attention without offering any spark of culture. Without requiring any mental effort. Just come in, it is easy and rewarding!

Investments go towards those products, because they can scale dramatically. They can become profitable business. People doing game with passion, games that make people think, instead, have to fight every month to survive. To pay salaries and their bills. Maybe a YouTuber will take their game and stream it next week. Will someone simplify it for the people? Few people will invest in them, because they do not promise growth. They promise a message to the World.

My doubt today is: what am I doing?

How to build the next Supercell

I have a secret to build the next Supercell. Really, I have it! Have I ever built a company like Supercell? Of course not, but I mean: we live in the age of suggestions, advices, best practices, influence, likes, follows… So why shouldn’t I write some wise article about how to do things, right?

As any secret, this one is very easy to understand too: stop treating people like children. Easy, right? Let’s see three common ways in which you are treating your people like babies, including before they join your company.

Technical tests and assessments

In some case those are necessary, especially for junior talent or for talent that is switching radically the sector. For instance, passing from free-to-play to AAA. Anyway, if you are hiring a person in his forties please: give me a break!

Our curriculum, carreer and our ex colleagues speak from themselves. We have nothing to demonstrate anymore and we are completely capable of doing the job at a technical level. Do I really need to show you how I structure an economy in a spreadsheet? Do i really need to demonstrate my presentation skills? Do you want me to create a flow and a wireframe? Or worst, a single GDD bible? Please, I do this since probably before you joined that company. Again: give me a break!

Do this instead:

  • Interview for cultural fit
  • Review in detail past experiences
  • Ask for referrals of ex colleagues and employers

When I see a test proposal I just think: “ok, you are not capable of evaluating my kind of profile. Next.”

Show me the next things to do with no context

I remember when I was a little dude asking to my father: “Why should I do that?”.

“Because I say so”, was his answer.

35 years later, history repeats. And I am very tired of that. You give a task and a deadline, with no perspective. I will do that for you the best I can. I swear. But I will never understand anything like this. Why is this important for the project? And how will we demonstrate that in fact it was? When we shoud have some learning? What about the past iteration? How did it go?

Maybe you are too busy to explain well the vision behind any choice. That means that you are not doing the job you should, to me. Because if you are my manager, you should be focused on manage my team and myself. Not the game. Not the code. Not the art.

Put your hands on my work

This is tipically something that you do to game designers. And tipically something that occurs in small-mid sized companies. We spent weeks designing something, researching, getting the problem right, sync with all the people involved. And then you decide to change everything because you have your own idea in mind. You are the founder or the leader of the project and you have the last word.

I could be wrong and you right, of course. Still, you are stealing my opportunity to learn more about the audience and the kind of product we are doing together. I just feel that my solution will never be tested on the field. Your solution maybe can be successful. And probably you will be happy and still will recognize my work. But you stole my opportunity of seeing a design I made going out there.

Stop play with my toys, those are mine!

Smiling Suns

I was talking on the phone with my mom, and she said: “your brother sent me yesterday photos from the beach. He was happy, he also put a Sun that smiles in the message.”

The “Sun that smiles” is her interpretation of the smiling emoji. I grew up typing ASCII symbols to create smileys. Then with MSN, those symbols were automatically translated to a smiley. In our interpretation, a smiley is a face, not a Sun. My mother, instead, had nothing to do with all of that. First time she saw a smiley was in WhatsApp. Her interpretation is a Sun, not a face. And she is right, is a yellow round circle with eyes and mouth. It is not a face, definitely! It is more a Sun.

Her meaning is more poetic than mine, too. A Sun that smiles, a Sun that cries. That is not the face that my brother wanted to show. There was a third entity in their conversation. It was an happy day at the beach, and the Sun smiles. I love it!

Sometimes the same happens to our games. The shapes we present to the Players have a meaning for us, developers. And then the game is out, everyone in the World will play it. Some of them will see a face smiling. Some other will see a Sun, instead. And that’s very powerful.