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Things I could not say during investor presentation

As an Indie developer, here are the things I could not say during investor presentation: We are indie developers. We have a modest idea of changing a bit of the world, even though so slightly :) We love the games terribly as a tool to get rid of the ban

Ergun GUVENC, Blogger

September 18, 2012

10 Min Read

Things I could not say during investor presentation

As an Indie developer, here are the things I could not say during investor presentation:

We are indie developers. We have a modest idea of changing a bit of the world, even though so slightly :)

We love the games terribly as a tool to get rid of the banality, mediocrity, absurdity and lies of the real life even for a moment. As all sensible indies, we are on a pursuit of “how to do” as well as our dreams and motivation.

Because the thing we know well to the bone is that the paradigms of game world have changed, stones are moved and nothing is ever the same now.

After the investor presentation I have given a short while ago, all of a sudden these ideas rushed into my mind.

What I mean is, the answers I will give to your questions will not bring any insight to the new world J

Because, the arguments enclosed in your questions are no more valid, and there’s no use in pretending as if they are.

Here is the flow of  arguments:

  • If there is a rockStar that has ever developed an AAA game or former manager in a big company like EA, it is good; otherwise, it is bad.

  • If you have serious success stories, then it is good; otherwise, it is bad.

  • Numbers are good especially if they are expressed in millions, it is very good, but it is irrelevant how you do it. If you’ve ever received any investment, then it is good; it means someone had seen a value in you. Whereas the paradigms and the circumstances under which those investments were made are irrelevant…

What I mean is this is a theatre, just as Erich Rise said, “a success theatre”…

This article is an effort to put forth something tangible to explain why I think this way. I will make use of some theories in order to do that.

I believe we should first recognize the business landscape where we develop, distribute and sell games and establish partnerships; we should understand paradigms of this landscape right.

In fact, it is the characteristics of this landscape that determine all criteria of all successes and failures, our perceptions, problem definitions and our proposed solutions.

It seems that trying to understand what is going on based on paradigms which do not belong to this landscape and taking actions over them is one of the reasons for our confusion.

In this effort for understanding, I believe that defining this landscape as a system and adopting a holistic approach to it, is much more important than the knowledge of each piece .

There are dozens of studies which approach from the perspective of systems and holistic approach particularly the complexity Theory and complex adaptive systems.

By using Cynefin model which seems the most practical to me, I will try to explain assumptions in the background of this arguments and particularly why these questions are irrelevant.

First, the model:

Cynefin Framework…. Complexity of the system. It defines 4 types of system…

“Cynefin draws the world’s systems into four paradigms, arranged in a quadrant as per the attached diagram**. They can fit into Simple, Complicated, Complex or Chaotic. Each paradigm has its own characteristics, and systems can shift from one paradigm to another.”




1st type systems, Stable:

“In a Simple system, the relationship between X and Y is direct, linear, and easy to understand. When I do X, I will always get Y, and it’s easy to understand why that is the case.  A hand-pump is a good example of a Simple system. I move the handle up and down, and I create hydraulic pressure within the pump, and water comes out of the nozzle.”


2nd type systems:

“In a Complicated system, the relationship between X and Y can be worked out, but there may be many stages in the process. When I do X, I get Y, but a lot of other things need to happen along the way for that to remain true. An Airbus A380 is a good example of a complicated system.

When the pilot pushes forward on the throttle, all sorts of electronic commands are sent via carefully constructed circuitry to various mechanical components which allow fuel to flow to other mechanical components which eventually cause turbines to spin which force air through intakes which push the aircraft forwards until thrust creates enough forward momentum that air flowing over and beneath carefully arranged flight planes can lift the aircraft into the air. The planning and analysis that has allowed this reality to occur has taken decades to develop. If I do X, I will get Y, providing other parts of the system are in alignment and the analysis has been successful.”


3rd type systems:

“In a Complex system, X and Y have a relationship, but it is one characterized by feedback loops and a measure of uncertainty. It is not necessarily clear how I get Y from X, and by reaching Y, I may in fact affect X. An example of a Complex system might be a Hummingbird. It is an intricate, delicate set of chemical and biological reactions which allow it to remain alive and in flight. It requires all manner of inputs to maintain stasis- heat, energy in the form of nectar, oxygen to feed into its bloodstream, and even (on a simple level) certain needs that are best described as ‘emotional’ (or perhaps ‘evolutionary’) such as a mate. The way these various inputs react will determine how well the hummingbird functions, and the links, while perceivable, are highly interdependent and affect one another in a delicate ballet of constantly shifting targets. If I do X, I will get Y, which will inadvertently impact upon X, which then affects Y, and so forth.”


4th type systems:

“In a Chaotic system, the relationship between X and Y, if there is one, will be very difficult or impossible to determine. If I do X, there’s no guarantee what I’ll get, and I certainly can’t be certain that I’ll achieve Y, and even if I do achieve Y, it may have nothing at all to do with having done X. A good example of a chaotic system is a burning house. There are so many processes happening so fast and in no discernible order, and the situation is evolving so rapidly and unpredictably, that it’s nearly impossible to actually map what is happening, either during the process, or even with the benefit of hindsight…”[i]


Characteristics of each of these systems as well as their ways of understanding, interpreting and interfering to the world are different. (See diagram-1)


For basic systems while this is to sense, categorize and react to the system,, for complicated systems it works as to sense first, then to find the expert, the analysis of the problem and definition of the proper reaction by this “expert” and to execute this reaction within the context of a plan.


I believe that at least a fragment of the domain we are in (social, mobile and maybe a little online) falls under type 3 due to the reasons I explained below. The most significant feature here is that nobody really knows much about the system. So, there is no “expert” who will solve the problem by understanding and categorizing it, in fact. J You only relax yourself psychologically when you think as if there is an “expert” and you look for him /her in the organization.


The fundamental paradigm of understanding and interfering to the world is summarized as “probing, sensing aka learning and reacting over a new action plan through what is learnt”.


So, I think that an essential part of our confusion is caused by seeing the business landscape  we are in as a basic or complicated system and trying to react accordingly.


Why social and mobile games are in Complex Space?


  • My first and most significant reason is that hundreds of millions of new people who do not even describe themselves as “player” have joined this domain in a very short time. Entry of such a huge mass into the market as “player” invalidated categorizations (even genres) that we used before to understand players and their preferences such as hardcore or killer, socializer, achiever, explorer etc.


Therefore, we have great volumes of new “players” that we do not have any information about their preferences, pleasures, and wishes.

These people may have hundreds of preferences which have not been discovered by anyone previously. The knowledge of “expertise” we use here to classify this mass is irrelevant, unfortunately.


  • My second reason is that new platforms increase, more than ever, the possibility of each player to influence in other words to give feedback to each other in a network. This is the background of the concept which is called “virality” in the sector.


This has created incredible amount of highly rich micro-feedback loops within the system. What and how my friends have played appear instantly on my wall as a feed. One of the most significant signs of complex systems is the existence of these feedback loops.


From among these loops, those working as positive feedback may amplify the information circulating within the system. Decisions (for example, the feeds from games in Facebook can only be seen by those who play that game) taken by platform owners become very significant at this point.


  • My third reason is that other powerful feedback loops have been established which may very rapidly deepen the analytic comprehension for player behaviors among players and developer for especially Facebook and mobile platforms.


Now, we can instantly monitor which part of, how and why the game is played or not played and we can take action accordingly. This provides a great adoption facility depending on the ability to “learn” and put it into practice quickly.


Therefore, enabling circumstances for developers to adopt quickly according to the events occurring within the system I mentioned in the second reason have been created.


These were not available in our domain 3-4 years ago.


In brief, what I’m trying to say is that especially for games developed in mobile and social platforms, it is not possible to reach significative points and to make sensible investments by following “Best Practices”, transferring X executive from a big company (which means “to find expert”) or by listing “success criteria” to be deemed right forever.


Oddly enough, it is currently available in the approaches we can use during these probes.


The best structure that we can use for 3rd Type systems in Cynefin model is the Lean Startup approach. We can summarize this method as to create one or more MVP (Minimum Viable Product) by splitting the game systematically right at the development phase (not whole game), and to develop them by testing with methods such as A/B testing, Cohort Analysis etc.



[ii] Build-Measure-Learn Feedback Loop


When looked closely, the similarity of the cycle of “build, measure, learn” described in lean startup with the cycle of “probe, sense, respond” described for complex systems in 3rd type. This is another story, so let it be the subject of another article.



Ergun Kenan Guvenc

CEO and Game Concept Designer

at Pixofun



[i] Embracing the Chaotic: Cynefin and Humanitarian Response


[ii] THE LEAN STARTUP (http://theleanstartup.com/principles)


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