Fog Creek Software
Discussion Board




Joel Topic Idea: Boneheaded Business Decisions

I'm sure each of us has them and maybe it's a problem of not seeing the big picture while inside the trenches but.....

Sometimes my company does things that really seems shortsighted.  For example.  One company I worked at 10 years ago was a video game publisher.  As such they had both internal and external developers.  I was internal.

Internally we had a script driven image processing tool to process images to get them ready or the product.  For some reason the company thought it was to their competative advantage to keep it a secret so they would not share it with external developers.

It seems really shortsighted to me.  The company was in the business of publishing games.  It costs lots of money to make them.  By forcing outside developers to write their own tools the company (1) paid for man months of redundant development (2) spent some part of their limited budget on funding the redundant tools instead of having the money and time be spend on making a better game that would sell more copies (3) forced the developer to make their own tech therefore all of a sudden the outside developer owned it.  If the outside developer had been given permission to use the internal tech then if the outside developer decided to switch publishers later they would have to consider all the tech they would lose permission to use.

In other words, from my limited point of view there were no benefits to keeping the tech private.  Only many many negatives.

Another situation came up recently.  I now work for a game hardware manufacture.  We are trying to make prototypes for new games as cheap and as fast as we can given that game budgets are now $6 million.  One way to do that is to prototype on a PC.  The problem is, without the real console controller you can't test out new ideas and really tell if they work or not.

None of the companies that make USB adaptors console cotnrollers to be used on PC support all the features of those controllers.

One company is willing to add support for those features but they need the techinical info for the controllers.  My company won't give them the info.

First of all, we can see this info is generally available given there are 5 or 6 clone controller companies.  Second, by not co-operating we spit ourselves because we can't prototype on easy to program PCs, we have to use the actual development hardware with it's super high expense, limited availability and poor development environment (relative to Windows) and limited libraries and resources.  It seems to me not giving the info will end up costing the company lots lots more in the end.  Both in that making prototypes and trying out new ideas will be harder and take longer and also in opportunity loss.  Faster prototyping means more ideas mean more change to find that awesome hit idea.

Again, I can't see their reasoning except blind ignorance (maybe on my part)

I'd love to see Joel write about this and also to hear other people's experiences with similar issues.

Gregg Tavares
Thursday, July 15, 2004

All game developers have tools they've developed and which are a vital part of their development process and a competitive advantage.

It makes a lot of sense not to give them away to potential competitors.

You might see the provider as some innocent provider. But once they have your tools, what's the betting they would use that new capability to win more business from your competitors, using your tools.

So I don't think that was a foolish business decision at all.

Me And The View Out The Window
Thursday, July 15, 2004

Well, the company had both internal teams and external teams?  Didn't the external teams feel unsafe sharing their code because they were *competiting* with the internal teams for business??

i like i
Thursday, July 15, 2004

If you can create a game more efficiently, that's great.  However, if you efficiently create a crappy game, you're screwed.  If Mario Bros was the sloppiest-created game ever, it would still be an awesome game, because the concept is incredibly cool.  Your biggest competitive advantage, once you can produce anything, is to produce high-quality fun games.

sir_flexalot
Thursday, July 15, 2004

"Your biggest competitive advantage, once you can produce anything, is to produce high-quality fun games.
"

Well put.  If your only competitive advantage (or "barrier to entry" by a competitor) is your technology, then you have a problem. 

Technology is changing every day. You better have a MARKETING advantage (customer contacts, good reputation, whatever).

It seems so common for people to worry about PROTECTING the business they don't even HAVE yet.  E.g., people who are working on "patent pending" new programmy languages, etc.  If you can't get a customer to BUY YOUR PRODUCT, then you're not in business.

Mr. Analogy
Thursday, July 15, 2004

I don't believe the tools are really a competative advantage.  Every develop thinks they have the best tools but go read some of the postmortems or look at a making of article or visit the developers.  Every developer has similar tools.  They are 5 to 10% different a most.  That difference is not a competative advantage IMO.

And remember, I'm talking about the point of view of a publisher.  The publisher makes the most money by selling the most games.  They sell the most games by (1) having the most games (2) getting their games done quicker (3) having better games.  Sharing code with all your contractors promotes all 3 of those ideas.  Not having to spend time on tools means either more time to make a better game or getting the game done faster. #2 and #3. Getting the game done faster promotes #1.  Not sharing code hinders all those ideas.

From the developers POV, it's in their best interest possibly, to not share.  The developer's POV is anything they can do to be more efficent and spend more of their resources making a better games for making them faster then other developers is a win for them

From the publisher's POV, it's in their best interest to get as many games as possible, as fast as possible and of the best possible quality.  For the publisher, sharing code and tools with any developer working for them supports those goals.

Frustratingly, this topic is side tracked.  I don't want to discuss games.  I want to hear from other people that have had situation at their particular job where they strongly felt the company was shooting itsself in the foot.  Especially when it feels like the company is following standard business practice.

Joel has mentioned several.  For example he mentioned asking 1000 users to delete e-mail on the server instead of installing another a $100 hard drive.  My company did that too.  The cost of a new drive $100.  The cost of 1000 people wasting time to delete e-mail, probably several thousands of dollars in wasted labor.

Gregg Tavares
Thursday, July 15, 2004

I'd like to point out that selling games is affected in a HUGE way by reviews and by word of mouth.  I remember seeing final fantasy versions sell into the millions on either pre-order or in the first runs, and that's hard to do unless someone gets a copy and tells everyone it's awesome, and likewise when they get it, they also think the game is awesome.  Remember Zelda?  I can't think of one person I knew that didn't have Zelda, mostly because I told them all it was awesome.  All the marketing in the world may sell a few games opening day, but the next day/week/etc. your sales will bomb if the game is not fun.  Whereas fun games, great games will increase their sales over time, and have a VERY long sales run.

sir_flexalot
Thursday, July 15, 2004

How about companies persisting with an inefficient architecture despite knowing its inefficient? Even though 50 developers waste 5 days per month working around the architecture.

Changing to a better architecture isn't possible because

(a) no time to develop new architecture
(b) all the developers know the existing architecture, so haven't got time to figure out something else

You don't want to know how many years its been like that...

Chris
Friday, July 16, 2004

> If your only competitive advantage (or "barrier to entry" by a competitor) is your technology, then you have a problem. 

Ever heard of Doom? Doom's biggest feature at the time was that it did things no-one else could.

Me And The View Out The Window
Friday, July 16, 2004

Re: the OP's question - this sounds to me like the same ground that Rick Chapman covers.  Since Joel speaks favorably of and sometimes cites Chapman's books, it seems unlikely to me he'd write a whole essay on it.

Or do I misunderstand?

- former car owner in Queens
Friday, July 16, 2004

> Ever heard of Doom? Doom's biggest feature at the time was that it did things no-one else could.

I wouldn't have played it if had just done things that no-one else did

I played it because it was fun, and it stayed fun for a long time.

S. Tanna
Saturday, July 17, 2004

*  Recent Topics

*  Fog Creek Home