Contrary to Popular Belief, Development is Not Magic

April 1, 2015

The quicker you learn this, the better your product will be—for you shall be a better client.

I just read an interesting piece about the pseudo-reality, made-for-YouTube series: Game_Jam and its highly-charged nose dive. Rosen’s recount of the transpired events captures a striking picture of a potentially magnificent project, skewed to perversion by the wants of an ill-informed, Pepsi-contracted “creative consultant” whose apparent interests lay more in product placement and fake drama than capturing the essence of the show. And Matti was his name.

Game_Jam, for those not in the know, was planned to be a series that would open the world of game development up to global audiences, but showing viewers the dynamics of developing a video game from scratch. Many people in the indie-game development world were extremely excited for a chance to showcase their passions…but thanks to Matti, it’s gone now.

Rosen concludes the article with a particularly striking summary:

“It is small companies and individuals, fighting for relevance in a sea of uncertainty…we need to be careful to approach those people who give it life, who make it such a vibrant and special place, with the respect and the space they need to build things we as critics and fans want to play.”

The mistakes were many: from denying the developers their life blood (coffee) and insisting they plaster smiles while guzzling only Mountain Dew, to attempting vicious drama between team members, the show was set to fail…and that says nothing of the appalling misogyny sprinkled throughout the whole, insidious ordeal.

But the ultimate reason for this capital failure can be boiled down to the fact that the producers (and subsequently Matti: the guy in charge) did not understand who they were working with. They took no time to understand the values of the participating developers and their team-mates and they made no effort to understand the game-development community. Simply put: their priorities were completely wrong.

The only reason any of these professionals agreed to do the show in the first place was because of their passion: creating games. Unfortunately none of the producers seemed to understand this, so consequently: the way the show was set up (if they managed to shoot any of it), the devs would have been too exhausted and annoyed to code, and too bitter from fake to actually do anything productive. What’s the lesson? Know your workers. Know your audience. Respect them both, or lose them.

Hence I say that development is not magic. It may seem obvious, but to the non-technical, mobile apps often feel that way. Those who do not know how to code, or no little about it, an app is as simple as a fun idea and some pretty pictures.

While having a concrete list of requirements for what you want in your app may be a great start, you need to come with a fundamental understanding that computer programs are guided by rules and those rules carry inherent restrictions.

Often times, clients try to put undue pressure on a development workforce because they don’t understand the reality of what mobile software development entails. Here are some things that, as a client, you should understand:

  • There is no such thing as bug-free software;
  • Estimates are precisely that: estimates (sometimes they are less accurate than other times);
  • Not everything you can think of is possible;
  • The final product is the developers’ interpretation of the analysts’ interpretation of the clients’ portrayal of his vision: it may look different than you (the client) imagined.

If you do not respect the passions of your development workforce, then you will fail to respect them; they will disengage and the result will be an inferior product. Matti’s mistakes all boiled down to this principle: he did not understand the people he was trying to manage. Matti’s goals were corporate sponsorship, product placement, and ratings—the developers’ goals were gaming. Understand that, although they may wear jeans to work, play a lot of video games, and maybe even collect action figures, developers are professionals. They take pride in what they do and often times they do it well. They are worthy of your respect.

Had Matti been more mindful of the teams’ interests, and more respectful to the developers, then Game_Jam would not have failed. In fact, I’m certain that they could have found innovative ways to reach the audience, engage the passions of the devs, and appease the corporate sponsors. Everyone could have been happy—but Matti didn’t take them seriously. He failed to respect them.

Never make the mistake of believing that because you’re paying someone money, that it gives you power over them: if you fail to see beyond your own interests, (as Matti did) then everyone loses.