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The gaming and tech start up worlds have a lot of parallels. Both of them bring together smart, innovative people who want to make exciting new products.

Dmitry Tsukanov, Blogger

June 20, 2023

9 Min Read

I’ve been involved in gaming for as long as I can remember. It’s always been a huge part of my life, as a hobby and a form of entertainment. So moving into the industry was always going to be a natural progression. I gained my first gaming credit back in 2005 and have worked for Nexters for seven years now. I’ve learned a lot in that time, including the fact that a lot of what can be learned and used as great practice in the industry can be very useful for the world of tech startups too.

The gaming and tech start up worlds have a lot of parallels. Both of them bring together smart, innovative people who want to make exciting new products. The world of game development is very much a place of innovation and “rock n roll values”. But tech leaders and developers can learn a lot from the gaming industry. And I’d like to share some of the main lessons that you can translate into your work.

So, what are the key lessons we can find in the gaming industry?

1. You need to remember the broad idea behind a game when developing the details

While UTPs and small features are important and need to be integrated into a successful game, what is really important is the broad idea behind the game. This is what draws in your audience and fanbase. It is also what will capture the imagination of your team and the people you’ll be working with as you develop. So, as an example, on one occasion I was in a team developing a big feature for a game, for which the battles had to involve hundreds of players. As we were working on it, the developers liked certain solutions which they then became focused on. But these particular solutions resulted in indifferent or unsuitable solutions. What was more, this was never tested on players. So we ended up with cumbersome gameplay and having to throw away nearly half a year of work. What had happened here? Well, we’d lost sight of the big ideas behind the game and gotten too ingrained in the details. We had forgotten what we were trying to give our audience. Tech products work in a similar way, while the features are important, the idea for a tech product or venture also needs to be kept ahold of while being developed. You need to keep asking yourself the question: “What problem were we trying to solve here?” or “What are we trying to give our audience?”

2. Make sure you have a diverse team working on your game, to create the best product possible

Combining people of different characters and mindsets in the same team will bring together a better range of perspectives. Grouping a team that complements one another generates chemistry. A good team has different strengths; one person may invent, another sells better, and the third draws. A classic example of this is the dynamic of Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs, one needed the other and their work and experiences complemented each other enough to create the huge success of Apple and its products. Diverse teams have actually been shown to increase revenue with diverse teams earning 2.5 times more than on average per employee. Diversity also helps you see your product differently or reach a far wider audience. Try to bring on team members who are going to see the product development strategy with an alternative view. One that is different to your own and existing team members. In the past I’ve worked on games which could have reached a far broader audience if this alternative viewpoint had been in place. But instead we were reaching audiences which essentially mirrored ourselves. When surveyed, we found that players had all the same tastes- interests, favorite movies, music, and so on- as the developers. Diversity helps you push beyond the room.

3. A good game should appeal to something in everyone, so create a tech project that also appeals to a huge range of audiences

Games bring together players who are looking for different things: communication, competition, new experiences, or just to have a good time. Designing a product that appeals to these different aspects as well as a variety of user groups becomes an integral part of the development process. There are plenty of examples of games which have focused on a single audience or aspect of gameplay, which have consequently struggled to be successful. Classic RPG games really illustrate this. They haven’t considered their entry threshold enough. In many of these, players need to learn entire rulebooks about the world in order to effectively create a character. This is too much of a barrier for some players or audiences. This lesson can be directly taken into creating a tech product, as it needs to appeal to multiple audiences. Don’t alienate people before they’ve even really begun using the product. You want to make the barriers to product use as minimal as possible in order for everyone to be able to use it and find something of value in it. By making it accessible and universal, you’ll find a much greater audience. 

4. You need to learn to delegate when managing your tech development team

This means that you have to trust the right people. So for example, if you have agreed to launch a new feature or game then you need to give people this responsibility. It’s a creative process which isn’t served by micromanagement. Trusting your colleagues in their creative process drives better results in the end.

5. Create a working environment that makes use of working in the office when needed

While there has been an undeniable shift in how we work since the pandemic, the office is still a vital hub for when communication needs to happen at a rapid pace. While art or creative work can sometimes benefit from working at home and taking the time to reflect in peace, much of the invention and testing process requires dynamism and fast communication. You’ll be wanting to talk in person for much of the development of the tech process, in order to create the best product possible. So knowing how to establish working practices that benefit everyone is one critical skill that is important to both the tech world and the gaming industry.

6. Build a team with an inspiring dynamic

If a game is a product, then the team that creates that product are essentially its parents. So picking a team that is going to work well and inspire and support one another, as well as shaping the best product is hugely important. It’s important to ensure that a team should represent every part of the products in its early iterations. Often when a product is in its infancy there is a need for a smaller team, but it is important to consider how this will scale over time. As a project matures the need for a larger team is likely and this ability to scale can be one of the most challenging parts of start up culture. A successful team and product tend to grow together so it’s important to have a plan about how you will scale and add to that team.

7. Have a strong idea right from the start

A good idea is what energizes your team, so focusing on developing that and creating a commitment to it are one of the most important aspects of building a team that can be at its creative best. Choose people that can embody that idea and then this will lead to creative and scalable results. That team will evolve naturally. And with it so will the vision of a project or product.

8. Learn the times when it is best to start from scratch

The process of development informs your new ideas. Sometimes going back over a development process can help you to overcome a problem, rather than simply scrapping things and starting from scratch again. Of course maintaining motivation can be challenging but this is something that similarly evolves over a product’s development. In the initial stages the fact you are creating something new works as a great motivating factor and then over time the audience reaction is where to focus in order to keep creating great work. Seeing their approval and dedication to a product, as well as their potential ideas or thoughts on it keeps motivation high.

9. Look around the industry to find sources of inspiration and motivation

None of us exists outside the culture of the world and this is particularly true in the world of tech or gaming, all of the new ideas are built on solutions of the past. We can think of it as a collective effort whereby the greater the percentage of new work and ideas that are being generated the greater the results will be in the future. Taking inspiration from others, working together, and building on work and projects that have been created before creates an industry that benefits us all.

10. Separate the aspects of a product and evaluate how much time needs to be invested in each

There are so many different aspects to any game: graphics, gameplay, design, music, and story. All of these elements inform the success of a game and bring different values. Each of these elements will have different meanings and values dependent on the views of a player.

11. Look to other art forms or ideas for inspiration
There are so many things in the world that can inspire and inform game design. For example, when designing a game you need to find references from real life that bring people pleasure. So it’s about looking at small moments and sensory experiences that happen in day to day life and transferring that into a game. This could be anything as diverse as the sensual experience of clicking the bubbles in bubble wrap, or the meditative experience that people enjoy when fishing and sitting and watching the float on the water. Seeking out these experiences and then seeing how these moments of enjoyment can be transferred into a game are all great ways to gain inspiration and bring about new products and innovations. In the same way other competitive dynamics can be an endless source of inspiration when crafting new game concepts. Sports are a classic way we see competition structured. This is in terms of how tournaments and competitions are structured, as well as what is important to both teams and fans in participating in these sports. This is something that we try to employ in our work at Nexters. We want to incorporate the team aspects and the philosophy of what a game or a win is.

The process of development and inspiration in the gaming industry can be easily extrapolated into the tech one. All products and their development run along a similar pattern and model. There is the same process of problems and developing features. Breakthroughs happen in industries that are adjacent to one another, so taking lessons from other industries brings a competitive advantage and means that you’ll be building a more adaptive and diverse business. So now is the time to act. Take these lessons and go out there and improve your tech venture.

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