Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Advice to a Young Game Developer from an Old Industry Veteran

Got this question today and thought it may be of benefit to someone.

A friend of mine landed a contract position and now they have been offered a new, better, position at a NewCompany. They WANT to stay at CurrentCo, but their boss cannot commit to a full time position. Since their game is about to ship, it makes it even harder to decide to stay because, well, CurrentCo is going to experience a Reduction in Force. Adding more complication... they have only worked at CurrentCo a couple of months, but they have been excelling in their job and people have noticed. 

Will they lose their CurrentCo job no matter what? Who knows?

NewCompany is regular full time. Plus some benefits. 

Here's what I sent them and what I want you to critique. This COULD be bad advice in the current state of the industry. What do YOU think? 


It is a good problem to have. 

The balancing act is:
  • Do I have stability (a joke in the game industry)
  • Have I worked at CurrentCo long enough to make NewCompany feel comfortable hiring me? 
  • Will NewCompany offer better benefits (including stability)?

I think you're in a situation where:
  • You don't feel stable
  • CurrentCo cannot offer stability
  • NewCompany sounds good (and for purpose of the reader's perspective, both companies are large and have existed for a long time, making them about equal in COMPANY stability). 

When I was at a LargeCo, I got a job offer I really couldn't refuse from SmallCo. Better money, better lots of things, including that "stability," because I had just finished a big game and there was no commitment to another project for our team. Finally, LargeCo couldn't / wouldn't match the money / compensation SmallCo had, so I left with a clear conscience. I broke no commitments with LargeCo.

To do that, I had to, essentially take the SmallCo job, with SmallCo knowing that I was going to take my offer back to LargeCo and see if they would match it. This worked because the person I was negotiating with at SmallCo knew he was going to have to give me more than LargeCo and, well, he and I had worked together before and he knew I was worth the hassle.

So... can you get the new job and then try to leverage it at CurrentCo? Hell yes. Go land it and take that fact back to CurrentCo. If you've told your boss that you don't have stability and the new job provides it, well, they can make you a full time offer or you can go to your new job. If CurrentCo makes you an offer, tell NewCompany that and keep your gig at CurrentCo. 

There are other factors at play here, too. Your job at CurrentCo could end abruptly. Especially since they are shipping a product. At the end of products, that's when the management has to decide who to keep / fire. Lots of factors there, and one of them that you can't do much about is "Last Hired; First Fired." It's hard to swim that far upstream to best people with years behind them. Because a full time hire will likely mean that they'd have to lose someone to get you in the regular full time category. 

Lots to think about here. 

But if you're looking for stability, that's the real leverage you have with CurrentCo to make that move and feel good about it. 

If you're looking stay and be part of the CurrentCo family... you may have to take the risk and hang out until you get converted or fired. 

Good luck in your decision. 

Monday, September 12, 2016

No one is going to maintain your career. So, where do you start? Here are some "Resume" and "Online Presence" tips to help.

Imagine you are in the market for a new job, or you're thinking that you want to be on the market. How is your marketing machine working for you? How does your online resume stack up to the competition? How well does your LinkedIn profile match your real skills? Are unwanted people reading your "private" social posts? Can anyone find you online or are you lost on page 43 of a Google Search?

If you aren't certain your potential employers are going to be stunned by your work, or if your answers to these questions aren't certain... you need some help. Let's talk about what you can do to give yourself an edge.

Make no mistake... NO ONE IS GOING TO DO THIS FOR YOU. You have to do this yourself. Immediately.

To get noticed and to get through the screening process, we'll start with your resume. After all, what's a resume for? It's not supposed to get you the job. It's to get you an interview. 

Resume Tips
  • A reader should be able to get the highlights of your experience through a quick scan of your resume. Think 6 seconds. Then... think 2. What ARE you? Can they figure that out instantly? If not, then you have work to do.
  • Your resume must be attractive when you send it through email, print it out, and when you post it online. The best way to ensure that is to save it as a PDF. Electronically, that's about as good as you can get and be able to expect most people to be able to open it. 
  • Your resume must be well-formatted in a manner that is appropriate for this century. I.e. no tables or other graphical weirdness. No matter how cool it looks, these have to be parsed by programs (resume readers) and if the program gets confused, your resume gets tossed.
  • It must be written in a way that is easy to be read by humans
  • Finally it must be edited so it is tight (brevity is important) and so it gets to the meat of your experience quickly and succinctly. No one wants to read War and Peace.
Once you have your resume whipped into shape, you can start getting your online presence aligned with it. 
Online Presence Tips
  • Get a LinkedIn profile. You can expand your resume sections here in a more detailed manner. It is an "addendum" to your resume, not a mere duplicate.
  • If you have your own site, make it easy to find your resume. That resume should match your LinkedIn profile closely enough that there should be no questions when the two are compared. 
  • Make sure all of your links work. Nothing says "I'm not paying attention" like having a broken link to your resume, for example.
  • Check the security settings on your Facebook (and all social media). Make sure only the people you want to see your stuff have access. Can't figure it out? If there's something you don't want seen... delete it asap. 
  • Pay attention to what you're saying online. If you don't want the HR manager at your next company to show it to the person with whom you'd be interviewing, probably should delete it. And never write that stuff again!

Okay, that's enough to sink your digital claws in for now. Questions? Just post 'em in the comments!

If you want some personal attention, email me at billyjoecain@gmail.com

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Capture the Essence. What IS the Game?

One of the challenges of building a video game as a project manager is trying to define the "essence" of the experience. You have to define that essence as early in the process as possible because it is going to help drive every aspect of the game for you. When there is a choice in development, you should always take the path that is most strongly tied to the essence.

For instance the essence of a game like Pac Man could be described as "collect dots and avoid ghosts." Once you have the essence, you write your game around that, which in turn generates the remainder of the features that support it.

The game's essence is inextricably linked to each part of development so that every aspect of the project melds into one. The project manager's role is to continually ensure that the game is on track and to ensure everything supports it, and continually redirect the team toward the goal as the project moves forward. When the team internalizes this behavior, the project begins to take on a life of its own. Your job, as a project manager, is to ensure that their creativity is allowed to flourish as long as deadlines are met. 

Additional features in Pac Man that support "collect dots and avoid ghosts":

  • Eating Power Pellets that allow you to eat ghosts
  • Earn additional points for eating multiple ghosts in a row
  • Enjoy mini-cut scenes that bring out the character of the ghosts
  • Collect special items at certain times
Question each of your project's features reason for being. Do they each support the main essence? If not, they gotta go. Or maybe they can be re-imagined. The choice is yours to explore.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Are Videogames Becoming Marketing Machines? Yep.

The Marketing Cycle May be Complete. 
Are games becoming marketing machines? I believe so, and it may just be another evolution of the game industry's business model.

The goal of every commercial game is to attract players and earn income for the developers. To do this, developers incorporate every aspect of marketing possible, so that users want to tell one another about it in some way or another. After all, word of mouth is the best marketing tool.

(Social) Word of Mouth
First, creating a story that interests a customer enough to participate (or creating a place a player can create their own) is core to inviting them into an interactive experience. The better the story, the longer they play. Once players are engaged and enjoying themselves, the game can allow you to share your progress, so those players are your best marketing tool.

How did the Game Industry Integrate Marketing into its Products so Fully? 
Business models in the video game industry have constantly evolved. Beginning with a "buy it once" model with software literally sold in "baggies," over the years there were other evolutions including the "try and buy" and monthly subscriptions. Downloadable content for previously purchased games has added extra revenue to developers after the sale. A very successful model is "Free to Play" (F2P), where customers receive a free game, but to enhance their experience they may purchase virtual goods through real money micro-transactions. This is very prevalent in current mobile titles, where customers prefer free downloads because they can try a game with no financial risk.

Designing in-game virtual goods and a way to encourage but not force (i.e. market them) players to purchase them is the core to turning a game into a business that can support a development studio.

In addition to micro-transactions, there are also opportunities for in-game advertising can be used. Done well, integrating advertisements in games in ways that create more immersion into the experience (Pennzoil ads in a racing game) or enhance gameplay (ask a player if they would like to watch a video to earn additional fuel for a tractor in a farming game) can help game developers earn extra income on F2P games.

The Final Loop?
This leads to an interesting situation... marketing of the F2P game drives players to the game, and once they are playing the game, they are encouraged through play to purchase virtual goods, which are in-turn marketed to the player within the game experience. Adding the ability to socially post those purchases continues the game doing its own marketing. In-game advertising allows the game to market even more products.

So, what do you think? Are games marketing?

Monday, January 4, 2016

My Password Technique - What's Yours?

Is the beginning of the year a good time to change your passwords? Seems as good as any!
Here's my password "plan" to avoid using the same password on different URLs and hopefully prevent me from having to change ALL of my passwords at one time if there's a hack in one of my online profiles, etc.
I use a basic password that I customize for each URL. Then, I take the URL I'm logging into and pull two letters from it, capitalize them, and then add a weird symbol.
For LinkedIn, where my basic password is "pasword24" I would use something like: pasword24LI!
It's something I can remember and has lowercase, uppercase, numbers and a weird symbol. That way, all the passwords are similar and unique (to the point of a 2 letter ID that may be similar on different sites, like LinkedIn.com and Life.com (both start with LI).
You may want to use something that isn't a word or have duplicate or concurrent numbers or letters (which is why I deleted the second 's' and didn't use 21). I've been hit with that before and nothing's worse then having to have a special password once you've started working like this.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The secret to making things go faster? Trust.


Making awesome products with amazing people in a big hurry on the edge of the technological knife is fun! But it's not easy. Starting three video game studios in Austin has proven that to me without a doubt. Luckily a lot of people have helped me along the way. 

Thanks to those awesome people, I have over 20 years of Product Development and Project Management leadership experience producing, designing, and contributing to over 200 popular games on just about any platform you can name. It has been a great ride and I can say with authority that when you have a transparent environment with trust in your fellow employees, things just go faster. 


Trust can flourish if you allow it.
Create an environment and culture where there are no "surprises," personnel are allowed and encouraged to make mistakes quickly, a complete "Tree of Trust" can flourish, mistakes are celebrated and hopefully not repeated, and listen to and support the team's needs however you can. The love and effort you put into your culture shows through in the products you create, so make it awesome!


I love building teams to make great experiences. It's been my fortune to have had the ability to own the project vision for many of the projects I have worked on and having that responsibility has been very exciting. I love telling stories and taking people through immersive, interactive, meaningful experiences that allow them to explore their emotions. I love building community around these experiences so people can share their emotional journeys with one another. When people tell me how my products have given them a positive emotional experience, I am always grateful for having had the opportunity to be part of their lives. 


My role as a leader is like being the Road Manager for a band, in that my team members are the rock stars and my job is to make sure they have a gig, it's been marketed, their instruments are on stage in tune, the sound system is ready, and the fans are pumped up. All they have to do is make the music and rock the fans! When they're finished, I make sure they get a chance to sign autographs and have a new town in which to play. When the members of my team tell me they had a great gig because I have provided them guidance, authority, responsibility and assurance so they can be the best they can be, I am humbled. 


Billy Joe Cain is the Business Development Director for Meta 3D Studios (www.meta3dstudios.com) in Austin Texas. He has worked for Electronic Arts and started three game studios in Austin, TX. Since 1992, he has created games such as Wing Commander: Prophecy and SpongeBob SquarePants: Revenge of the Flying Dutchman.

Meta 3D Studios creates apps, games, and provides development support from art to code. If you need help, that's what we do.  

Please connect with him on LinkedIn! www.linkedin.com/in/billyjoecain

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Ever had a Game Killed? Wow. It sucks. Here's how to deal with it.

As an Executive Career Specialist in the video game and technical industries, sometimes my background as a developer may have some bearing on how you should manage your career. I've told these stories to others over the years and it occurred to me that they may be able to illustrate a point Mary-Margaret has made in her blog post: "You are a Free Agent and That's Not Bad News."

Let's Get Started

After working yourself to the bone on a game, pouring your heart into it, sometimes it is necessary for the game to die. Whether it's financial constraints, a change in market demands, the right personnel leaving the company, a lack of development progress, a lack of cohesion with the development team or some other reason, it is still painful. 

After an event like that, it is hard to decide to put your heart into your next game. It's a really difficult task and can seriously affect your emotional state. 

I am going to try to be vulnerable in this article, and since these stories are real, I hope that I don't offend anyone by being too honest.

I have been on a lot of projects and the ones that stand out as the most painful are the biggies that got killed. I'll start with the first and go to the most recent. There are others I skipped and many left out. And there are plenty after 1999, too. Maybe I'll write those up one day. Let's get on with it!



We survived. The game didn't.
The first project I was on that was "killed" was pretty weird. It was an adaptation of Wing Commander II on the Super Nintendo Entertainment System. I had been working on it until just before it was to ship, and then I had to go to England to work on Rugby World Cup 1995. The game was in the final stages of testing when I left and I was able to provide some design / data editing support while I was away. 

The game was approved by Nintendo, but the publisher, Pony Canyon, decided to not move forward with publication because it was the end of the SNES's life cycle. So the game does not even exist now. No copies. Nothing. Not even a backup. That is horrible. That thing was FINISHED! Very frustrating, but not as bad as it could have been. We could have been at 95% and have had it put to sleep. 

At least for me, it wasn't too bad; I had already moved onto a high profile project and was embroiled in making it get out the door. That helped my sanity greatly but I am certain it wasn't good for the others that had finished it.

Lesson learned: Get on another project that is moving quickly. It'll help you cope. At least it did for me.



CA was spaceage
bike riding in tunnels
I remember working on this for a year. This one had a few big issues, and the death knell was that the product owner didn't know the platforms we were trying to launch on. 

When he was asked during a product approval meeting what we thought about doing the game on Saturn (the game system), the answer he gave was that we'd do the game on every planet! Umm.... The final nail in the coffin. Bam. 

Lesson learned: Have the right people with the right answers in front of the right budget committee

RIP: PROWLER 1995-1996


This one really hurt. I was brought on after it had been in production for a while. For well over a year I worked a lot of overtime with a lot of people. Then it was killed.
No. It was a MECH game.

Prowler suffered from a lot of problems. It started as a 3DO game and since that market was changing, we moved it to PlayStation. That cost time and money. Always a bad sign. There were issues on the development team with project direction, we were using tools that were constantly evolving that required rebuilding the game models too frequently and the game's scope exceeded its budget. 

Without going into too much detail, it was ultimately killed in favor of other projects that needed funding in order to meet financial goals of Electronic Arts. 

Lesson learned: Pay attention to the power of the most important projects at the company. They may eat resources when they need them most. Most importantly... yours.



It was GOING to be awesome.
The PC version was the biggie. We knew it. But our group had console experience. Eventually the decision was made within Electronic Arts that the whole company had to make 25% cutbacks in salaries. Our executive producer was new at EA and made the decision to follow through on this mandate. I know it was immensely hard for him. He summoned me along with a cadre of other managers to an offsite to help determine the fate of our group. 

It was not long before it was apparent that the adaptation of Prophecy to PlayStation was not what was going to make the most money for the group, as we had to consolidate everything toward the main SKU. This was a harsh lesson to learn and it was unbelievably hard to deliver this news to my friends that I'd worked with for years. It still haunts me.

Lesson learned: If you are not working on the company's lead title, you are constantly on the chopping block, even when you don't think so.



This one was pretty much out of the development team's hands. The company was funded by winning a lawsuit against a larger company and the owner wanted to get the remainder of the funds owed. Allegedly so it would find the remainder of development. 

The owner went through the studio, filming how the projects were being made, and created a really cool video showing our progress. We were really excited to see that happen because we saw it as great marketing so we could get more press

Turns out that the right person saw it and realized we really needed the cash and that we were doing the right things, because the owner won the lawsuit and got the extra money. 

Then the owner took the money and the football and went home. Had the total right to go home. The trouble was that we didn't want to. 

Lesson learned: Everything can blow up at any time. 

There is a Silver Lining

Games get killed. Quarters come and go. Companies die. If you are going to work in an industry where your projects are pulled out from under you after almost killing yourself, you need to be aware of the dangers you face. And you should be aware of how much it hurts. 

There IS a silver lining here. The people you worked with on these projects also suffered this pain. Do your best to remember the good times: the first time you could play it, adding a new feature and experiencing it, the long nights in design sessions, a great meal shared with your team, or whatever stands out to you. These people may be the bridge to another job or you may be their bridge to another job. They'll also be there to validate your pain.

Lesson learned: In the end, the only thing that matters is relationships.

Being Ready for the Kill

Too much paranoia here, but be
aware that it MAY be up there.
No one knows when the end is near, really. You want to think you do, but you do not. 

The best thing to do is keep your resume up to date. Always. Manage your online reputation. Pay attention to what's going on in the industry. Who is hiring? Go to local networking events. Stay in contact with your co-workers / friends / family that may be able to help you find new work. Start an IGDA group for your area. [Insert your own idea here.]

Lesson Mastery: You are your own recruiter. You are the only person that can really make these things happen. GO UPDATE YOUR RESUME NOW! 

Final Thoughts

Help is totally okay to ask for. Really.
If you have real problems after a project death, talk to someone. These are serious life events. When you are out of control of a stressful situation it can have real repercussions on your mind and body. Talk to a professional. I am not kidding. There are people I have worked with that suffer from PTSD from the overtime on and death of a project we worked on together. They have had to get help, but I fear it was not fast enough and they didn't realize just how bad it was for them. Learn from their mistakes. 

And most of all, get yourself back into something creative that YOU are in control of start to finish. Take a class, find a hobby... just do something. Something that matters to you. 

I'll end this with an invite for you to talk about your projects that were killed. How did that affect you? We're all in this together. Maybe you just need to talk about it. Like me!


Billy Joe Cain is an Executive Recruiter with Mary-Margaret Network (www.mary-margaret.com) and focuses on the video game industry. He has worked for Electronic Arts and started three game studios in Austin, TX. Since 1992, he has created games such as Wing Commander: Prophecy and SpongeBob SquarePants: Revenge of the Flying Dutchman.

Please connect with him on LinkedIn! www.linkedin.com/in/billyjoecain

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