Seeing It Through Episode 3: Company, whatfore art thou?

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What is a company? Who is a company? How is a company? Am I a company?

Sometimes, like in a very good tv shows, companies are actual people, but most of the time they are groups of people striving towards one goal together. Companies are interesting things, and making companies, and importantly making the esprit de corps of companies is a particuarly interesting thing. Today, I’m going to discuss the various milestones that make our company feel like a company. This morning, Paul and I were able to get down to 3 types of goals that you’re always chasing towards when making a company. They are: symbolic; practical; and perpetuating. I’m going to do a bit of a discussion on each one and talk about how we’re trying to make ourselves transition from been a garage indie start-up to being a fully fledged company.

The Symbolic and the Practical

The symbolic is oftentimes the easiest and the most visible of the steps in creating a company. For us, the first practical step to creating a company was our incorporation into a registered company. That was a big step, but much like any significant symbolic gesture, until it is backed up significant action and practical results, there is not much use to it. What the symbolic is particularly useful for is that it forces you to shift your paradigm. The incorporation into a company for us did exactly that. It allowed us to have a singular drive towards a goal. It detached the work we were doing from any one individual and gave us a shared ownership of the work. I strongly believe it was that we were a company, with basic contracts et al that inspired us to push ourselves just that extra bit to produce our first Flatland game.

The symbolic and the practical go hand in hand; the symbolic needs to act as an impetus for the practical, and the practical needs to back up the vision that the symbolic represents. For us, since the creation of the first game we’ve made several important, symbolic steps. Our move into an actual office, away from a bedroom has facilitated anther paradigm change. We’re still not exactly sure how to be as effective as possible in an office, and we often worry “are we scrappy enough?”. And a practical thing that has to come out of our move to a more professional setting is a more professional pipeline for our organisation.

The Perpetuating

From these practical achievements our next stage is perpetuating ones. These perpetuating ones are ones which create a legacy which are lasting and are the basis on which a company can be formed. The most easily quantifiable of these is a steady income stream. For us, one of the major reasons I feel as though we still question whether or not we are a real company is the fact that we all still have divided attention. Saul and I both work seperate jobs to allow us to spend time on the SeeThrough projects, and Paul is considering getting one himself. A steady income stream would allow us to devote all our time and energies into this project, however the income stream is merely a manifestation of the more important perpetuating goal ahead of us; that is of a steady production pipeline. In our previous posts we have discussed our desire to produce an Alphasodic model of games. Once a month produce a new level, or levels, with rich and compelling gameplay. As the original Flatland has taught us, if we are able to produce something, then we are able to make money. Our products are good, and people are willing to spend money on them. Now the question is, are we good enough to keep producing that, month after month, year after year?

We have a good team, and we are trying to create processes and systems which will be able to exist without anyone in the office becoming irreplacable. As a company we did alot of soul searching a few months back and we know that the kind of company that we want to be needs to be one which allows us the creative freedom to pursue our goals without the company needing us there constantly. As a video gaming company, we can do that, however we now need to work hard to ensure that the procedures are in place. In some cases, like at Valve, that can mean producing a handbook for new employees or it can be like McDonalds (there is much to be learnt from turnkey solutions) where everything is incrementally proceduralised.

The X-Factor and the Sink or Swim

In the end however, the achievement of x number of goals is not going to produce the feeling of a company. It’s much more than it. It is that definitive “sink or swim” moment which you have no way of predicting when or what it is. A break in any industry, and in any field of life is the culmination of opportunity with preparation, and whilst we cannot control the opportunity, or when and how it will arise, all we can do is keep preparing and ensure that when the time comes, we will have mastered our stroke.

The Question

What are some watershed moments in your development histories? When did things become ‘real’? And were these moments symbolic, practical or perpetuating?

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