Progress Comes Faster Than Expected

When you meet someone who is very knowledgeable about a topic or skilled at an activity, it’s often overwhelming to think about the distance between where you’re at now and where they seem to be. For example, if you struggle to exercise regularly (or at all), you might look at someone who runs 5k every morning as if they were an alien with six heads. It seems like they’re worlds away from you, like closing that gap is impossibly large. This is especially true if they’re doing something that you aspire to do, but you feel like you’ve tried in the past and failed.

You’d be amazed at how quickly that gap closes when you start doing the thing. Starting is the hardest part, as you likely already know. Making a commitment—written, with a friend, with a purchase, or with a sign-up—can help overcome the difficulty in starting.

I’ve been keeping this vague so far because the examples I’ve seen in my own life are extremely different from one another. In all cases though, the first feeling was “I’ll never get to that point” and the result was that I got closer than I ever would have imagined, with less effort than I expected.

Some examples: A (mostly) vegetarian diet was something I could barely comprehend before my vegetarian girlfriend moved in, and it has taken very little adjustment for me to become accustomed to it—and to make interesting vegetarian meals! When I started running last summer, with the goal of finishing a 5k run, in my mind a triathlon was something that only professional athletes did. Now, I’m planning to learn to swim—properly, as opposed to my current “put me in a pool and I won’t drown”—and I’m aiming to do a triathlon in the coming years. Switching gears completely—when I started listening to heavy metal after starting to play drums, the songs that screaming vocals in them bothered me. Why would anyone want to hear screaming? And yet, a few years later, during a chorus of a metal song with a non-screaming singer, I found myself thinking that the song was lacking a certain kind of low, fierce scream to get the energy level where it needed to be. There are countless other examples in my life of times when something that seemed far away was actually much closer than I thought.

Starting is the hardest part, and starting something new or different requires commitment. Once the commitment is made, you may be surprised at how every small step closes the gap between you and the person you thought you could never be—and it doesn’t take that many steps until you realize the gap is small enough to step over.

Learnings From Our Most Recent Hiring Experience

Ah, the hiring process. Exciting, tiring, and fun. I thought I would share my experience of this round of hiring at our company, Clever Endeavour Games, in the hopes that readers might get inspired or learn something. The process is very far from perfect, and I’d be curious to hear any thoughts or improvements in the comments section that might help readers as well. I’ll talk about what we did differently in hiring this time around, the selection process, biases, interviews, tests, responding to candidates, and tips for employees applying for jobs (if that’s the only thing that interests you, skip to the bottom!).

Let’s go.

We just went through the hiring process again, this time to hire a new community manager at Clever Endeavour Games, as Geneviève (our current one) is moving into a production and marketing manager role. She helped tremendously in this hiring process, and while she had a big part in the process, this post is meant to reflect my learnings throughout the process, not her learnings or the learnings of Clever Endeavour Games as a whole.

The job description was written to be as fair as possible and attract as many qualified people as possible, especially ones who are members of communities that are marginalized in the game development sphere. This is in line with our recent commitment to fighting for change in the industry, and it led to some changes compared to our last hiring round:

  • Writing a job description that was open to people who had volunteer experience and not only professional experience
  • Explicitly stating our intention: “We welcome applicants from a variety of backgrounds and levels of experience, and are ready to dedicate the necessary amount of time to onboarding as needed. We recognize that members of marginalized communities often face challenges when it comes to gaining experience in the gaming industry, and we want to make our hiring process as equitable as possible.”
  • Moving several things from “requirements” to “assets”—many of the things we thought were hard requirements initially could be learned fairly easily upon further inspection
  • Reiterating at the end of the “assets” section that candidates should “Please remember that a job description is a starting point and not the end of the line—even if you don’t tick off all the boxes above, we highly encourage you to apply”
  • Running the posting by a diversity consultant who helped us to refine our wording and make some of the above changes

The result? We had more applicants that were women and/or members of BIPOC communities than ever before. We were also really, really impressed with the applications that we received. But was that because of the nature of the job itself or because of the job description? Hard to say, but we’ll craft our job descriptions carefully going forward in hopes that the wording had some causal effect on the diversity of the applicant profiles we received.

Selection Process

Of the 65+ applications, only a small handful had no related experience or cover letter, and at least 25 passed a ‘first look’ round. My method for looking through these applications was to actually start ranking them as I read them. I put my notes about candidate A on a page, then the notes about the next application went either above or below that first person. I continued that process until I had my ordered list of 65+ applications, and after a second look there were very few changes to be made to that order. It would have been impossible to do them all and then try to sort through them afterwards!

Our hiring committee was made up of me, the current community manager, and another co-founder who handles some HR with me. It was important to have this committee to try to mitigate some of the biases which I’ll talk about in the next section. We discussed our top picks and narrowed it down to a top 14 list, and ended up choosing 7 people to interview and test. It’s worth noting that each of our top 10 lists were vastly different from one another, which is more proof that a hiring committee is a good idea.

Biases and potential questions to ask yourself as employer

In trying my best to not be biased, I became acutely aware of all of the biases that inevitably come up when reading through applications. I’ll talk through a couple of things that went through my mind, but I certainly won’t claim to have “solutions” to these. Hopefully sharing them here will help make people aware of biases they weren’t aware of, or give them inspiration to think about how to do better in their evaluations.

Years ago, I learned about research that suggests that “white” names receive more interview callbacks than other names (compared to African American and Asian names according to this study). A blind hiring process involves removing any information from candidates’ applications which are not essential to the job (including names). While we didn’t use this process (and admit that there could be bias that crept in because of it), a blind hiring process can help with this. There are some suggestions of tools or ways to do it in this article from GlassDoor, and we may consider a tool suggested there in the future. To be perfectly honest, I didn’t realize these tools were as accessible as they seem to be when we went through this hiring process.

Another bias I recognized was when I caught myself thinking about the tiny, seemingly insignificant icon next to people’s email account in Gmail. Did a picture help the candidate favourability, or harm them? Does an image of something non-human—say, a colourful abstract picture, help or hinder? I found myself liking to see the person’s face, even though the image is something like 20 pixels wide and can’t be seen any larger. I found that in cases where there was no picture at all, the person seemed mysterious to me, like they were hiding something. If they had an abstract picture or a picture of a character from a movie or show, I found it more personable. When someone had a cartoon picture of themselves, that gave an even closer feeling but still not as human as an actual picture.

But then that got me thinking, how much does physical attractiveness come into play? We’ve all heard studies about physical attractiveness leading to bias in hiring, but does this come into the equation in a place as inconspicuous as the tiny email icon? I like to think not, and I think learning that this bias exists and recognizing it is the first step toward fighting it. So then the question for job-seekers would be: is it better to put your face or not put your face in that picture?

On a similar note, pictures on resumes generally seem to be discouraged in 2021—many sources say that having one is a bad idea (JobScan blog, Workopolis blog, and others) and that some employers won’t even consider applicants with a picture on their CV. However, a study from the Society for Human Resource Management suggests that a lot of recruitment is done with the help of social media, and some job sites suggest that not having a photo or presence online can be a turnoff to employers. In our case, since the role we were looking for is social media, most applicants shared their social media profiles up front and encouraged us to look at them. This makes the idea of blind interviewing nearly impossible, even if it is the fairest method. In the future, for roles that are different from this one, we might try to employ a more blind process at least for the early stages.

We had applicants from a very wide range of educational backgrounds, possibly due to the nature of the job, possibly because of the wording of the job posting, and possibly due to chance. I started to wonder how much I value—or how much any employer values—different degrees, and where that value comes from. I believe that people have some sort of degree hierarchy in their minds, perhaps based on prestige, competitiveness of the programs, salary of jobs in that field of work, what their parents did for work, etc. And what about no university degree at all? There’s also individual bias related to particular interests—as someone who is more interested in music composition than history, maybe I’m more likely to think favourably about a music grad than a history grad. In this case, the university degrees were examined more closely if there was little or no job experience, or no samples of work. Generally, I used this as a guide to applicants’ secondary skills. In general, this degree bias is something that we all need to try to check at the door before walking into the room of applicants—again, a blind process can help with this, but so can consciously not ranking one candidate higher than the other based on their degree or where they got it.

There is a positive side to seeing this great variety in degrees though, as it got me thinking about secondary skills that we might be lacking in the studio. We’re a very small studio (7 people, with this new hire), and if someone has a music background or a writing background or a graphic design background, this could be extremely valuable as it fills some skill holes in our team. That said, if the hire would actually rather develop their secondary skill, you may find them unhappy to be working in the job you actually hired them for. This discussion was brought up within the team and actually acted as a window into a larger question of whether the company should be aiming for more specialized employees or more jack-of-all-trades employees. I’ll spare you the details of that conversation, but there is no right answer to this, only preference!

Interviews

We finally whittled the list down to seven candidates who we wanted to interview and administer a test (that we referred to as a writing exercise to take some of the edge off).

To reduce bias and give everyone an equal chance at success, the questions were the same and were asked in the same order for every candidate. There’s plenty of data on why informal interviews aren’t ideal, so I won’t touch that here. We ran our interview questions by the diversity consultant to see if there were any improvements to be made. I’ll list some of the questions here which I had thoughts about, and share those thoughts in italics. If anyone is curious about the whole interview question list, let me know and I can share that too.

  • Introduce ourselves and what we do on the team, explain formality of interview and why
    • ↑ This came about because our most recent hire had told us that the process seemed very formal while our every day interactions were very informal, and it was a bit jarring. We wanted to clarify that and explain why it’s important to give every candidate the same questions in the same order.
  • Describe the way we work—who does what, how often we talk, our meetings, etc.
    • ↑ This was a bit odd to throw in right in the middle of the interview. The idea was that we wanted to explain how we’re quite democratic but we still have a structure where specific people make specific decisions, and see if there were culture questions that came up. In reality, this explanation was mostly met with silence or some comment of “oh that sounds great” (whether the candidates actually believed that or just said it to be polite and fill the space I’m not sure…).
  • Do you have a favorite content creator in games?
    • ↑ This was a great question for a community manager who will be doing marketing and outreach work. It was clear to us who had a good handle on the streamer ecosystem and some candidates even gave examples of streamers / content creators that they liked because of their values and community, which tied in perfectly with the values we tried to put forward on the job posting itself.
  • Can you tell us more about yourself, any fun facts or interests that you want to share?
    • ↑ This was one of my favourite questions because we finally got to see (for most candidates) how they speak and act when they’re no longer nervous about doing an interview. That said, this leads dangerously into the realm of informal interviews, which is both why it’s natural for me to like it but also why it’s an easy trap to fall into that we restricted to only the last few questions.

Of course, as in all things hiring, there are a plethora of biases that pop up in interviews. I’ll list a few here.

A candidate might share common interests with you—growing up in the same city, sports you both play, having the same favourite video games as a child, etc. and this might affect how much you connect with them. A hiring committee should help with this.

The order and scheduling of interviews may affect your judgment as well—are you more likely to pick the last candidate because their interview is freshest in your mind, or least likely because you’re tired of interviews already? Are you more likely to pick the first one because you’re constantly going back to them as the marker of what a candidate needs to beat to get through, and recalling the interview with them enough times that it becomes familiar? Or is the first one the least likely because it’s the farthest back in your memory? I don’t see any way around this, except to maybe make sure not to schedule all of your interviews back-to-back, which will surely tire you out by the time you reach the last few candidates.

How does the time of the interview affect your feeling about the candidate? While the study suggesting that judges give harsher sentences when hungry may have some correlation-implies-causation issues, there may still be something to the fact that we act and differently in the morning, in the afternoon, when hungry, when tired, etc.

How much does the composition or quality in video calls affect your judgment of the candidate (probably unconsciously)?

There was one mistake that we made in the first interview that I wanted to bring attention to in case it helps someone in the future: at the end of the first interview, we told people that there would be a writing exercise and then a second interview, but there was only a second interview for the candidate we actually selected! The “second interview” was more of an informal job offer and chat to get to know the person, so it was misleading for us to close the first interview by saying there would be a second one.

Tests

There was some back and forth within the studio about whether or not to have candidates do a test, and whether or not to pay for the tests. After speaking to other indie studio owners and some very successful (i.e. in high demand) freelancers, we decided to do a paid test for all candidates that were offered an interview.

As I mentioned previously, we had hired a diversity consultant to look at the job posting and interview questions. Initially, she was quite adamantly against the testing process due to concern that the candidates with professional experience would almost surely score better on the test than ones with only informal or volunteer experience, and that we would need to develop a clear marking scheme before we receive the complete tests. We took her consideration into account and tried to design questions that allowed candidates with less professional experience to compensate with creativity, and we tried to avoid questions that would obviously be easier for those with professional experience. For example, we had drafted a question that asked: “if you had $10k to spend on a marketing campaign for Ultimate Chicken Horse, what would you do with it?” This was changed and, in hindsight, was quite obviously a question that would test someone’s ability and experience in working within a marketing budget, which is against what we were going for in the original job post.

On the other hand, one of the questions we kept was the following: “When you think of good online community management, is there any game, game studio, or non-game brand that comes to mind? Which one, and why?” This is the kind of question that, in my opinion, would allow anyone who has been in and around game communities to answer well, without giving advantage to people with professional experience.

Having applicants do a written test was definitely the right call—we found that the results from the writing exercise were very eye-opening, especially combined with the interview notes that we had. Some people who did extremely well in the interview were a bit underwhelming in their written test, and some who didn’t amaze us in the interview came out with an extremely impressive written test.

An additional argument for having help in the hiring process: there were details that came up in the writing exercise which I didn’t anticipate, but that Gen—my colleague who wrote this part of the test—did. For example, we asked candidates to make sample images for social media—this tested people’s ability to size images correctly for different social media platforms, using fonts or colour schemes similar to what we have on our website, using the right hashtags for the right social media platform, etc. These details helped to differentiate candidates in important ways.

Different analyses for different job posts

The analysis of the candidates for our previous hire—a Unity tech artist—was very different from the analysis of the candidates for this community management job.

For a (mostly) art position, content is the most important thing—what is their portfolio like? Is there a diversity of project types and styles? Can they show that they have a good understanding of the basics, like anatomy and perspective? A test might be less important but still necessary to see if they can match our style and work quickly. For a programmer position, I imagine that playable projects might be the most important thing, followed by a test (but I admit it’s been a few years since we hired a programmer).

For this job, it was much harder to define exactly what we were looking for. We were open to a candidate surprising us with a skill we didn’t know that we needed, and we were open to changing the way we do things to accommodate their skills. As the person who is ultimately responsible for culture at the studio, I was also focused on what kind of energy that person brings to the team and how that would change the team dynamic. On a team of 7 people, this is more significant than you might expect, and I would argue that it’s a valid part of the analysis. That said, this made the analysis very difficult, especially given the fact that people can be nervous in interviews and the fact that video calls are always less personable than in-person meetings. In the end, we had several candidates who would have been a wonderful fit for the position.

Telling candidates they didn’t get the job

Most candidates were emailed individually to let them know that they weren’t selected for the job. For the top candidates who weren’t picked—the 6 other interviewees—I wrote as much feedback as I possibly could about their application, interview, CV, and why they were not chosen. For the top 25 people who made it past the “first look” round, I also sent them individual emails. These emails had a copy pasted portion, and a sentence or two of specific feedback about why they weren’t selected for an interview. The remaining 25 or so applicants were sent a copy pasted email, though they were still individual emails (that is, I didn’t just put a bunch of them in BCC).

I realize that giving this amount of individual attention to each applicant isn’t always possible for a large company that receives a thousand applications for a job, but in my case this proved to be worth the effort. Here is why: “Thank you so much for getting back to me and providing genuine feedback regarding my application. I can’t express how much I appreciate not receiving a cookie cutter response.” And “I can honestly say I’ve never experienced this level of effort from an employer before. And based on this exchange alone I know that Clever Endeavour is a studio I’ll always keep my eye on for more opportunities going forward.” You can be sure those people will be good for our company image—it’s a small industry and respect goes a long way. I also reached out to some of our top applicants to send them a job posting that went up around the time we were hiring for another position they might fit. It was as simple as 3 minutes of sending emails, and based on their responses they found it both surprising and refreshing.

If anyone is curious about what these emails looked like, feel free to reach out to me or comment on the blog and I will share (without names or identifying details of course).

Miscellaneous stuff for employers

I’d like to take some time to share some more miscellaneous learnings for employers, especially those who are relatively new to hiring.

  • It always takes longer than expected (this is true about everything in game development, but let’s stick to hiring for today heh). Going through applications takes longer than you think—even with only ~65 applications, that’s still 65 CVs and about 60 full pages of cover letters to read.
  • Setting up interviews can be drastically sped up by using a service like Calendly, as opposed to going back and forth a million times with all of the candidates. Still, getting all of your interviews done as close together as possible can be challenging, and extra time should be factored in for trying to juggle interviewees schedules.
  • It might be a good idea to quickly tell the lowest rated candidates that they were not chosen. I found that I was leaving a lot of people hanging as we reached out to our top candidates for an interview, sent a test, waited for tests to come in, and then reviewed those tests. We could have told the top 15 applicants that we need some more time, and told the bottom 50 that they weren’t chosen for interviews to save them some time and nerves about the job search.
  • Leave more time than you expect between the final interview and the expected start date. Even when you choose a candidate, there’s a contract to sign and there may be some back and forth about it.
  • A candidate may be already employed elsewhere, and will have to tell their current employer that they’re leaving. It might be more respectful for them to give a month’s notice to transition smoothly out of their position and allow the employer to find a good candidate to replace them, compared to an abrupt notice of departure in two weeks. Again, it’s a small industry. If your future employee tells their employer that their new job will allow them the time to transition out nicely, they will have more respect for you and your company and this could go a long way.
  • I can’t remember who said this, but I read somewhere that when thinking about the likelihood of success for a new hire, 80% of the process happens after they’re hired. What I gather from this is that with even a few good candidates, it’s hard to make a “wrong” pick, but it’s important that you onboard them well, set clear expectations, and help them grow into the position you’re hiring them for.

Tips and tricks for employees

Lastly, I’d like to share some tips and tricks for people applying for jobs. I wrote these down as I was going through applications, so they’re in a bit of a random order.

  • I’m reading over 60 applications, time is of the essence!
  • Make sure to link to relevant material. Every click is precious, and I’ve had to dig pretty deep to find some people’s work. If you’re including anything that exists on another site, like a Twitter account for example, hyperlink it. Some applicants said that they have a YouTube channel and associated community that they manage—but it took me a while to actually find it (Google to find their Twitter, try to guess which one is them, find the right Twitter, get their YouTube channel link, etc.) since their channel doesn’t have a massive following. Now imagine if there were 1000 applicants instead of 65. Every second counts!
  • Tell me why we should want you, not only why you want us. There’s an implied and undesirable power dynamic created the instant you say “your company is so great and amazing and I’d be honoured to be able to work there” without saying “this is why your company will be better off than it was before with my presence on the team”. I know it’s difficult to express this—many people worry about coming across as over-confident—but it needs to clear in an employer’s mind that it’s a win-win when we hire someone, not an act of charity to “let someone work for us”. And let’s be honest, no company is perfect enough to deserve that kind of worship anyway.
  • Formatting is important. It’s an unpleasant feeling to be on your 16th application of the day and open a 2000 word email and a cover letter that’s 2 full pages of size 9 font. Also, please don’t riddle your CV with a million different fonts. There are many great resources about combining fonts and creating appealing visual layouts, please use them! If you’re not good at this kind of thing, ask a friend who is.
  • My favourite email and CV format was as follows:

    Hey Rich (or Gen, but not “dear hiring manager”),
    One or two sentences that introduce themselves and explain why we should be interested in them—”I have experience in (insert topic)”, and explain why they’re interested in us—”I saw your job posting and find it interesting because…”
    • Bullet points listing the most relevant experience and skills
    • Bullet points listing the most relevant experience and skills
    • Bullet points listing the most relevant experience and skills
    Sentence with links to portfolio and work samples
    Attached CV and cover letter

    This format allowed me to pretty much copy paste their bullet notes into my own notes about all of the applicants, which means that this applicant basically determined what I was going to say about them to the hiring committee, and didn’t need to depend on my biased and potentially hurried judgment. Another top format pick that I liked was the same, but the whole cover letter was in the email itself after the links to portfolio and work samples.
  • Keep your interests on your CV! I know that in high school or university they tell you not to include interests because it looks unprofessional, and maybe this is a personal thing, but I would rather hire someone with diverse interests relative to the interests of people on the team than someone who has exactly the same interests. And, seeing as people tend to have pretty unique interests, it’s always better to see your interests to encourage the idea that there’s more to you than just your work experience. That said, the video games industry is a creative one, and I could imagine some people arguing that this isn’t “professional” enough if you were applying for a job as a lawyer or accountant. But even then…
  • I now understand why people tell you to write your address on your CV. When I was looking through and considering remote work for the duration of the covid pandemic, it was important to know who lived where.
  • Mention the languages that you speak—secondary or tertiary languages can be an asset even if you don’t think your knowledge of that language is useful, or even if you’re just a beginner.
  • Don’t send zip folders where possible—if files are large, send a Google Drive link so that we can view things online. While the zip is downloading, I might click to something else and either forget about it (again, imagine 1000 applicants and only a couple of days to look through them) or just be slowed down generally. If samples can be attached directly to the email, great, otherwise links to websites are great.
  • Make sure to keep the 30 minutes after your interview free, they often run longer than expected. Employers should respect your time, but if the interview is going great and runs long, you want to be able to get as much of yourself into that interview as possible.

Thank you for reading! I learned a lot through this process, and I hope I was able to share some of that learning with you in this article. As always, feel free to comment or to reach out to me directly if you have questions, thoughts, feedback or anything else.

Watering the Right Seeds

With all of the changes taking place in light of the covid-19 pandemic, it’s been pretty incredible to see the enormous capacity for good that humans can display. Free food distribution from restaurants, people volunteering to pick up food and essentials for others, free online workout classes, doctors and nurses putting themselves at risk and working days on end to help, etc. This has been incredible to watch, and I’m pretty proud of humanity—this is one of the rare times you’ll hear me say that. And of course, I don’t need to provide examples to show that we humans also have the capacity for terrible evil and wrongdoing.

I was listening to a conversation between Tim Ferriss and the Buddhist monk / clinical psychologist Jack Kornfield and wanted to share something from the podcast. One of Jack’s Buddhist teachers, Thich Nhat Hanh, talked about the wide range of human capacities using a metaphor of seeds. (The following is paraphrased from Jack in the podcast). Within every human is the capacity for doubt, anger, and anxiety. But within us is also courage, compassion, and peace. It’s very easy to give in to the pressure and to water the seeds of doubt and anxiety.

If, instead, you water the seeds of compassion and peace in light of this situation, those seeds will grow into towering trees that sway in the winds of change but never become uprooted.

The displays of compassion and generosity we’ve seen in this pandemic show us not only that we have the capacity to do good, but also that how you deal with this situation is up to you. This is a wonderful time to practice responding to adversity, choosing your priorities, and choosing what kind of energy you want to put out into the world and to those around you (virtually, I hope).

Which seeds will you choose to water during these trying times?

Sometimes It’s Just The Wind

Biking to work last week, I noticed that I was in a higher gear than usual and flying—it was super easy today. I wondered to myself if it was the fact that I had a better breakfast that morning, or that my workout the day before was in the morning and not too leg intensive, or maybe I had just slept well. The thought floated away pretty shortly after it arose.

On the way home, I found myself pushing harder than usual, and not feeling like I was moving much. I knew immediately that it was the wind, it’s not that I wasn’t strong enough, but rather that the wind was more intense than usual. In hindsight—and as you read this—the realization I had was a pretty obvious one. I wasn’t particularly strong that morning, it wasn’t my breakfast, it wasn’t my sleep… it was just the wind. And that afternoon my additional effort wasn’t because my lunch wasn’t nutritious enough, or because the day at work was stressful.

After having this thought, it made me question how many other things in my life—both good and bad—I attribute to things under my control: my mood, my physical state, my energy levels, etc., when sometimes it’s just the wind.

Rock Stars vs Superstars at Work

I started reading the book Radical Candor by Kim Scott after several team leads in the games industry mentioned it being the best management book they’ve ever read. There’s a section in the book about understanding what motivates every member of your team, and working toward managing with that in mind.

She talks about knowing who your “rock stars” and your “superstars” are—this idea apparently came from another team lead at Apple with whom she worked. Rock stars are the people who enjoy their craft and are reliable and consistent in their work. They don’t necessarily want to “move up”. As she says in the book, “not all artists want to own a gallery; in fact, most don’t.” Superstars are ambitious and need to be constantly challenged and given opportunities to grow. A large part of the rest of this section in the book explains how one is not inherently better than the other, and how your bias—as a boss or simply as a person with a personality—can lead to thinking that one type of worker is superior.

Most importantly, how you reward these different personality types should be very different. The rock star type doesn’t necessarily want the promotion, and the superstar doesn’t necessarily want the stable, fixed-duration contract.

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/4/4b/Kiss-live-at-allphones-arena-070.jpg
Rockstars and superstars but not rock stars? I dunno.

It’s interesting to think of these people in the context of the games industry for a few reasons. First off, can you think of people on your team who are (paraphrased from the book): a force for stability, ambitious outside of work or simply content in life, and happy in their current role? Can you, on the other (and equally positive) hand, think of people who are: a change agent, ambitious at work, and wanting new opportunities?

Second, when you’ve hired in the past or if you’re planning to hire in the future, what level of ambition (if we want to call it that) are you looking for? How much is your personal bias a factor in this decision? Do you know what the other folks are thinking who are equally responsible for hiring? Maybe in the case of a work-for-hire studio, you know which projects you’re hiring for and you want more of a rock star to get the job done within budget, on time and without stress. Alternatively, maybe you’re just branching off to start a second project in your studio and you’re looking for a person who can start off as a programmer, move to team lead, and then run an entire project on their own within two years.

I thought this was an interesting reminder to check my biases. Hopefully this—and surely the rest of this book—will help make me a better manager. Either way, food for thought!

Two Problems with “Mark Unread”

If your job is anything like mine, you need to do deep concentrated work but you also have to be on top of things outside of your control, like responding to people and fielding tasks that pop up seemingly randomly.

In my quest to become more productive and less distracted, I’ve been doing my best to focus on one task at a time, and I try to get that concentration by ignoring additional things that come up. Ignoring, in this case, means seeing a notification for something business-related or seeing an email pop into my inbox and marking it as “unread” after reading it.

Two problems with this.

The first is that I probably never should have seen the notification in the first place. I shouldn’t have the email tab or Outlook client open on my computer at all when trying to focus, and I shouldn’t be getting Slack notifications for something that isn’t urgent.

The second problem lies in acknowledging the distraction. If I’ve opened an email, I’ve read it, and I’ve wasted time. I’ll have to re-read it before responding anyway, plus I’ll probably have to slot it into my email priority list (even if that list is only in my head).

Here’s a puppy to break up the text for ya. Pictures of email are boring.

Some ways I’ve been trying to improve this:

1. My “focused task” window is now the same one where my email is, meaning that while I’m doing my task, the email tab can’t be in focus. I have two monitors, and I used to have email open on one screen and whatever I was doing—manipulating an Excel doc, writing a blog post, whatever—on the other. I’ve switched it so that I have my task list on one screen with the current task or some reference open, and the screen where email once was is switched to my working task so I don’t see email pop up.

2. I clean up my inbox at certain times in the day. Usually this is first thing when I arrive, right after or before lunch, and at the end of the day. Anything that comes into my inbox can wait a few hours, if not a few days.

3. I use gmail filters to tag emails automatically when they come in, which gives me a head-start on prioritizing. “Bills to Pay” emails are tagged and red, “Bug Reports” are pink, “Learning Stuff” is blue, and “Received Payments” is orange (you’d think I would have made it green but oh well).

3.b I only clean up things with a certain tag at larger intervals than my usual inbox clean-up. “Payments”, for example, need to be noted in our accounting software, documents need to be renamed and saved, etc. Nobody is waiting on this with any amount of urgency, so I do these once a week or so. “Bug Reports” need a quicker response, so every few days or couple of days I clear these out.

Do you have any tips for improving focus at work or managing things that pop up unexpectedly? Feel free to share in the comments! Thanks for reading!

Work Hack of the Day

Mini work-hack! I guess some would call it a life hack, but I’m not sure it helps your life so much outside your work—and if your work is your life there are other problems to address. Anyway, I’ve been using this cool thing called AutoHotkey at work, which allows you to set hotkeys to type things for you. Essentially, I press ctrl+shft+X and it works its magic.

I have one for my email, one for the date (types the current date), which is super useful for naming files since we name them with 2020-01-09 [filename] to keep things in order. I’ve got one for our work address, which makes form-filling much faster, especially when you have to fill a form in 13 times because it keeps breaking. And finally—after over 4 years of typing “Ultimate Chicken Horse” 90,000,000 times—created a hotkey for it. I probably could have saved an entire 24h of work time and a sore pinky if I had done this years ago.

All of the credit goes to my co-founder Kyler for showing me this, and of course to the people who make this software. I’m sure there’s other software that do the same thing, but AutoHotkey has been very reliable for me for years and it’s a non-profit company making an open-source software. Download it here.

At this point you may have gotten what you need from this post, which is that you should use something like this to speed up your life. If you want to know how I set up the software at Clever Endeavour, read on.

I don’t think there’s a more basic way to use this software than the way I use it, which essentially follows the first steps of the beginner tutorial. My script looks like this:

^+u:: ;Send UCH
Send, Ultimate Chicken Horse

^+a:: ;Send address
Send, 123 Sesame Street, Montreal, QC, H2E 3R9 

^+x:: ;Send email
Send, rich@somewherecool.com

^+d::  ; This hotstring replaces "]d" with the current date and time via the commands below.
FormatTime, CurrentDateTime,, yyyy-MM-dd ; It will look like 2018-01-29
SendInput %CurrentDateTime%
return

There are a ton of things that you can do with this software. At one point, Kyler was using it to do something like: open a program, move the mouse some number of pixels down and to the left, click, type something in, move the cursor again, press a button, and close the program.

Hope you enjoy! If you have questions, I’m probably not the best person to ask but they have damn good forums and tons of documentation exists about the software.

My Experience on the IGF Design Jury

I was on the jury this year for the Independent Games Festival design award, an amazing experience that made me rethink what good game design is, and what game design is in general. None of the stuff I’ll be talking about will reference games in any way that will divulge what games were played and nominated, and the fact that I was on the jury was made public a while ago. This post will talk about questions that came up in my mind, and I’ve saved the best and most controversial one for last.

The first thing that came up in discussions between the judges was the question of what constitutes game design, and where the limit is on what falls under design vs. some other aspect of the game. Keeping in mind that there’s also a Grand Prize to vote for, we started discussing. On one side of the spectrum, people will say that everything is design. How the audio interacts with the setting and the movement of the player, how the story interacts with game mechanics, the difficulty progression, the art style serving the game’s purpose—all of this is design. On the other end of the spectrum, people will say that design is what is left when you remove everything else: the art, the story, the environment, the audio—if you removed all of those things, are the underlying systems, level design, skill progression, reward systems, etc. well designed?

In our group, it seemed that the majority ended up agreeing that we should be looking at design as specifically the elements that designers touch, and the Grand Prize discussion would take into account more broad design things like how it all comes together. For this case, I concluded from discussion with judges that game mechanics themselves need to be cleverly designed, well balanced, and tie in with the other elements of the game, and the design has to be innovative in some way. Doing something that’s already been done—but doing it really well—is definitely praise-worthy, but I don’t think it’s what I imagine for the Design award for the IGF. As someone who tends to skew more on the side of “everything is design”, I was okay with this mostly because I put my favourites for all-around design as votes for the Grand Prize.

Opus Magnum by Zachtronics was the winner for design last year. I haven’t played it, but I’ve heard great things.

This brings up the point that our definition of design depends on what we’ve read and learned, and how we came to be game designers. In my case, I consider myself a designer but not “the designer” on my team, as we all pitch in on overall design tasks. We’ve never hired a designer whose job title isn’t either artist, programmer, or something else along with designer. That surely plays a large role in my feeling that the game design includes everything about the experience and not only its systems. I’m sure someone who did a bachelor’s and master’s degree in game design would have differing views on this.

Another question was how innovative the design of a certain game actually was. For example, I played a game which had a very innovative storytelling mechanic, and I thought it was incredible. Then, in discussion with other judges, I learned that the mechanic had actually been done several times in other games that I hadn’t played. That changes things. I didn’t have time to play all of those other games—some of which were 10 years old and on PS3—and so I had to rely on gameplay videos and other judges for input.

How good did the overall game have to be for it to win an award in design (or anything else)? How much is your opinion about the design mired by something like bad writing, or an inconsistent art style? Two points here: first, I think it’s unlikely that a game that fails miserably in some important facet (other than design) will be nominated for design, simply because people will not have had a good time with it and that will influence their thoughts about its design. Second, I think I would have trouble voting for a game for design if it was truly awful in another respect. Some of the games I saw were decent in writing or art but had great design, and that was good enough. Anyway, all of these questions came up and needed to be addressed while looking at the nine gazillion games that were played.

The last, and most fun question, involves whether or not good design = commercially successful games. Games were sorted by votes per view, to avoid giving an advantage to games that were voted for simply because they were popular and judges had already played them. It seemed that the top voted games in votes/view in design also happened to be mostly commercially successful games. This doesn’t give anything away because there were plenty of top design contenders that weren’t as commercially successful, just for the record. The question is: were games nominated for design because they were already popular and more people knew them? Or are well-designed games generally commercially successful because good design leads to good game sales? I don’t have the answer, but it’s something to think about and discuss.

Thanks for reading! It’s been very enlightening and hopefully I’ll be invited back again!

On Setting Your Baseline

The conversation started when discussing gym membership prices with my brother. I’ve been going to EconoFitness, a budget gym downtown which sees approximately 3000 people trying to work out on any single piece of equipment at one time. I’m switching to another, more expensive gym, though still far from the expensive end of the spectrum. The question was, how much would you pay for the convenience of not having to wait for gym equipment, having clean equipment, and having showers at the gym? None of these things are essential in order to get a workout, so where do you draw the line? Would you pay even more for steam baths, saunas, warm towels, and top-of the line equipment?

In most things, there’s a balance of cost vs quality. And in some things, there’s a point where quality is reached and then surpassed, and you end up in the realm of luxury. An old beat up rust-bucket car with faulty seatbelts may be cheap, but is probably below most people’s bar of quality. An entry model Honda Civic is slightly less cheap, but likely reaches the bar of quality for most people. A Porsche Panamera definitely passes the quality bar, but goes above and beyond and offers things that are considered luxury, but that nobody (even the Porsche owners) would argue are essential for the car’s function and regular use.

https://images.fineartamerica.com/images/artworkimages/mediumlarge/1/old-rusty-car-the-american-shutterbug-society.jpg

The discussion that my brother and I had revolved around the definition of a baseline, which differs from person to person. It proved extremely hard to define, but I’ll give it a shot.

To me, the baseline is the most simplified form of
what you feel you need to live a fulfilling life.

Two important things to note before I go on: first, I’m considering material possessions or things that money can buy, not things like fulfilling friendships or love or work satisfaction. Second, the baseline is not the bare minimum on which you can survive. Most of us can survive on much, much less than what we have as long as we have food and shelter, so that’s not what we’re talking about here. We’re talking about a comfortable baseline (note that the word comfortable is problematic… more on that in a bit).

To give just a few concrete examples from my own life, here are some of my baseline needs:

  • A car that allows me to drive to hockey, to visit my girlfriend in Ottawa, etc.
    • Baseline example: a basic, functional, safe car. Above baseline example: that Porsche we were talking about.
  • A bike that allows me to commute to work
    • Baseline example: any functional bike that gets me to work and back. Above baseline example: a sweet road bike that feels fast and light.
  • A workout routine for strength training
    • Baseline example: Gym membership at Econofitness or even workout from home with resistance bands. Above baseline example: a fancy gym with steam baths and a sauna.
  • Groceries that allow me to eat healthy
    • Baseline example: Staying away from junky food, avoiding very expensive foods such as pine nuts. Above baseline example: eating only organic foods and ethically raised meat and animal products.

The problem is that the baseline is constantly moving. My brother argued that no matter what you do, your baseline moves up as you earn more and are able to spend more on things that make you more comfortable, like the Porsche or the swanky gym. You start to feel that you need to be able to access gym equipment right away, or have that top-of-the-line elliptical machine in order to satisfy your fitness requirements. You start to lose sight of what it was like to work out at the budget gym, and you would feel uncomfortable going back to that after getting used to the pricier gym. In short, as your income increases, you allow yourself to spend more for things that are more convenient or luxurious—that becomes the new normal.

https://b52fit.com/wp-content/uploads/move-gym-4.jpg

I agree that this is what typically happens, and I believe that it’s a problem. This mentality is what causes people to be spoiled, to complain when things aren’t perfect, and to see the negative in everything that happens. It causes people to make illogical decisions about spending when income or life situations change, and it causes people to simply be less satisfied.

So what’s the alternative? Can you strive to live above your baseline, and treat yourself to things above this line, but maintain it so that you won’t be unhappy if things change? I think you can. I feel that you can keep your baseline low but still live above the baseline by observing your relationship to things that are above the baseline.

The first way to observe this relationship is to be grateful for the fact that you can afford that $80 pair of jeans instead of the $30 ones. The second is to constantly remind yourself that you would be absolutely fine with the $30 pair of jeans. Fine, meaning that you would be no less comfortable than you are with the $80 pair of jeans. More specifically, if you lost your job and had to buy $30 jeans, it wouldn’t cause you any amount of suffering—you would be equally happy. That doesn’t mean, however, that you shouldn’t get that $80 pair of jeans if you want them and can afford them.

As usual, I like to write about questions that I’m curious about and don’t claim to have solved. Hopefully, this can inspire you to think of the following questions as it has inspired me. What constitutes your baseline? What things do you currently do that are above your baseline? Are you grateful for those things? How much would your baseline move if your income increased or decreased? How would your life change if your income changed suddenly? It can be a fun thinking exercise.

🙂

What Would You Put on a Billboard?

If you could put just one (non-commercial) quote, sentence, or idea on a billboard for the world to see, what would you write? This is a question that Tim Ferriss asks in almost all of his podcasts and I really like it. Some examples of quotes that I liked from his guests are below:

“Do your part” – Esther Perel

“You are the average of the five people you associate with most.” – Chase Jarvis (and Tim Ferriss, actually)

“Shut up and listen” – Brene Brown

“Nothing ventured, nothing gained.” – Richard Branson

On my billboard, I would simply put “Don’t be a dick.” To me, this is the source of all of the world’s problems and if people could follow this very simple instruction, we would all be much better off. It may seem extreme to say that it’s the source of all of the world’s problems, but I actually have trouble thinking of a case where this isn’t the solution. Racism, sexism, misinformation, bad worker conditions, hunger, inter-state wars, etc. Just don’t be a dick!

There is an argument to be made that the problems I mentioned above require more than simply not being a dick to solve. It might take going above and beyond the base level of non-dickishness to actually solve those problems in the long-term, but in my opinion almost every day-to-day issue that exists can be helped, if not solved, with that mantra.

This is actually a thing I’ve been thinking and trying to live by since I was around 13 years old. The mantra, to me, is the path toward living a just life and making the world a better place. So what would you write?

Thought this was clever…

(Thanks to Reddit user r/straaajk for their post compiling some of these answers.)