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I am stepping down from my role as President of the MVGSA

The Malta Video Game Studio Association turns 5 next month, and as it nears this milestone it is with heavy heart that I am announcing my stepping down from the board and from my role as President of the MVGSA.

As one of its founding members, I can recall our excitement at the prospects of what the association could achieve. We knew that the first few years would be challenging but also critical to establishing and positioning the MVGSA as the trade association for Malta's game industry. Now, as the association has been transitioning into its second phase, one of growth, I find myself having the same feelings about this exciting new chapter in the association's journey.

Malta Video Game Studio Association

I am grateful to have had the opportunity to lead the association through a number of different challenges. Most of this typically happened behind the scenes, working with government and other Maltese and international stakeholders to provide a better working space, environment and opportunities for our studios and the sector at large. Still, we managed to strike a balance between addressing the long term growth of the games sector in Malta and the more immediate needs of the studios. This would not have been possible without the dedication and hard work of the Executive Committee to support the game development sector and the association’s members.

Our greatest achievement so far has been the platform we launched last year. It represents a significant time and financial investment through which have been delivering a collection of programmes and benefits, ranging from monthly workshops on various aspects of running a games business, to mentorship schemes, to providing funding for studios and freelancers. This platform has been an overwhelming success, and I am saddened to be leaving at the point when it is about to make its big launch and unveil its brand locally and internationally, especially after all the hard work that went into it. However I am particularly proud to have built it up to this point that it can now take a life of its own and continue to expand upon its successes. I am stepping down safe in the knowledge that I am leaving behind something that will continue to benefit the Maltese sector for years to come under the guidance of the Executive Committee and my eventual successor.

I would like to thank the MVGSA members and committee for their trust and continued support throughout these years. It has been a privilege and unique learning experience to have been entrusted with the leadership of the association. As I start this new chapter in my career, I will continue to support the game development sector in Malta and the MVGSA as it takes on new and exciting challenges.

How is the game development landscape changing?

Many of the things which have been happening these past few years (both good and bad), and which will continue happening beyond 2020 are a direct result of one thing. It's something I've been saying for a while now, and no matter which way I try to steer my arguments and observations, I always end up exactly where I left off:

Low barriers of entry.

The changing landscape of game development

In March 2017 I had written a blog post on what the end of Steam Greenlight really means to developers when its shut down was first announced. A lot of my comments stemmed from this very low-barriers principle.

Taking all this into consideration, two things in particular stand out:
  1. In the past 3 or so years, more and more people seem to be realising (and are surprised by that same realisation, which is a fascinating phenomenon to observe) that if they want their game to be successful, to whatever degree, they need to do something about it and take it seriously.
  2. The industry has developed huge echo chambers. Subsequently, a very damaging culture of "trying to fit in" and conformity (cue Locutus of Borg memes) has grown. I would normally have expected the opposite i.e. for it to fuel a desire to innovate, break out and get ahead of the crowd. Perhaps in 5 years or so it will be a different story, once Darwinian theory really kicks in and when the group of people mentioned in point 1 above grows even bigger. However this will have a huge ripple-effect, a mini-extinction event, which is not altogether bad: to continue the evolutionary analogy, it's detrimental to the individual but good for the survival of the species. We've seen smaller versions of this happen on a micro scale within regional clusters. This will be a bit bigger.

What's your view on this? Tweet at me (@caruanas) or join the discussion in my GamesBiz group on Facebook.


Those of you who follow me on Facebook may have seen me vent my frustrations on the GDPR regulations in a 3-liner post last Friday. You may have also noticed (or participated in) the subsequent ruckus which broke out in the comments section of said post. This got me thinking that I should probably write something semi-objective about the GDPR, in case someone still has no clue what on earth GDPR is about (you should).


What is GDPR?

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is the EU’s new data protection framework, designed to harmonise data privacy laws across the bloc and to increase individuals’ rights and protection. It replaces the 1995 directive and comes into force on 25th May 2018. There will be no grace period.

Does it affect you/your business?

Short answer: a virtual certainty.

Why all the hullabaloo?

Why is this any different than other laws which require changes to a business’ operations?

Besides the fact that conforming to the GDPR requires significant and cumbersome changes which need to be implemented, the big fuss is due to its impracticality, the huge, huge potential fines (up to 20 million Euro or 4% of global revenue, whichever is highest) and, worst of all, its relative unclarity and opacity.

So until very recently, what many have been doing is simply preparing as much as they possibly could, in the hopes of understanding the regulations even better or to be able to learn from others’ experiences in dealing with the necessarily changes.

Now comes the race to actually implement, although if you haven’t started yet you might be a bit too late, or running it close (depending on the complexities of your operations). Either way, most of it feels like a shot in the dark; a best guess. The alternative to this which many are opting for is overkill, just to be safe. Unfortunately, case law (and the initial casualties) will light up the way in a few months' time.

My advice (it’s not very pretty)

The best piece of advice I can give you:
  • read the full regulations (including the recitals). It’s not fun, but essential (link below)
  • read the Article 29 Data Protection Working Party guidelines. So far they seem to offer the clearest and most detailed explanation on this very opaque directive (link below)

I was originally planning on creating a "core principles" cheat sheet for everyone, but a cheat sheet implies brevity and succinctness for which GDPR is completely unsuited due to its complexities.

Also, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of websites offering something like that. Just type “GDPR” in Google and choose your pick. They’re all different flavours of the same thing. Try to find a reputable and impartial website which doesn’t stand to directly benefit off consultancy fees.

Word of warning: A lot of legal and audit/advisory firms are offering free resources with a pinch of scaremongering thrown in. If you plan to engage any such firm, please do be careful and go to someone reputable who is ideally recommended to you by someone you trust. I’ve had a lot of firms approach me directly yet fail to promise to provide anything tangible were I to retain them for their services. Generally, they seem to be recommending that their (non-unique, in my opinion) interpretation of the GDPR should be then taken to (thereby unloading responsibility onto) a 3rd party who would use this to suggest a customised implementation plan for you. So be careful; their reluctance to assume responsibility for their professional (and paid for) advice should, at best, raise a flag.

Useful links

What has your experience with GDPR been? Tweet at me (@caruanas) or join the discussion in my GamesBiz group on Facebook.

How to run effective meetings

Do you agree with the blanket statement that "meetings are bad, unproductive and a complete waste of time"?

I don't.

Well, if you're in a meeting that is indeed bad, unproductive and a complete waste of time, then yes, that meeting is bad. If you're not, it's not. Sounds like a bunch of useless tautologies, but it's really that simple.

sheep meetingIs this what your meetings usually look like?

The tricky part is...wait for it...making sure that a meeting is run properly.

Slow clap

Yeah, yeah, I know. Easier said than done right? True, but it's not that hard. If you can chair a meeting properly, then meetings become the ultimate tool for a team because they facilitate communication and knowledge spread. How else can you communicate and discuss complex ideas in a fast, clear and efficient manner? Don't start pointing to online collaboration tools; you need verbal communication:
  • Information is both shared and received faster this way
  • You can be more expressive and nuanced through the use of tone, gestures, body language and props (whiteboard, pen & paper, etc...)
  • It's the most practical method of holding an active discussion

So how can you run an effective meeting?
Note: most work-related conversations between two people are also considered meetings in this context.

Here's a handy set of rules I try to stick to. They originate from lessons learned through my own experiences which were heavily seeded by the various books and snippets I've read over the years and assimilated into my processes. The most influential of these is a book about decision making titled The Effective Executive, by Peter F. Drucker.

Caveat emptor: these rules illustrate an ideal. You aren't always in a position to dictate your meetings' structure, and when you are it's quite rare that you're able to run things exactly the way you want them. Nevertheless they are what you should be aiming for; at best you end up with an effective hybrid of sorts and at worst you learn something and gain experience. Over time they will become second nature.

Before the meeting
  • Decide its purpose, agenda, time, duration and venue. Communicate these clearly, and in advance, to meeting participants
  • Only essential people should attend. Here's a trick: don't ask yourself whether a person needs to be there (you'll end up answering "yes" most of the time). Instead ask yourself what costs more: this person's absence or their presence? If their absence invalidates (i.e. wastes) the meeting or will cost you an unreasonable or impractical amount of follow-up work afterwards, then they should attend.
  • Prepare for the meeting; do your homework.

The meeting itself
  • Run the meeting in an appropriate format (see list below)
  • Someone should keep minutes. Their format should be practical and relevant to the nature of the meeting. For example internal meetings between colleagues can have casual, short (but clear) notes. Important meetings between executives of different bodies should be more formally minuted and structured.
  • End the meeting the second its purpose has been fulfilled. Don't raise other matters for discussion.
  • Always sum up before adjourning; it only takes a minute. Summarise the main discussion points, any conclusions drawn and decisions that were taken. Any tasks assigned during the meeting should be re-stated including who's responsible for them and by what deadline.

After the meeting
  • Send an email to all attendees with a copy of the minutes which, if taken properly, should include all relevant details you went through in your end-of-meeting summary. If this isn't the case, replicate your summary within the email (and appoint someone else to minute the meeting next time).

Obligatory stock photo of a cool-looking meetingObligatory stock photo of a cool-looking meeting

Meeting formats

Purpose: to prepare or agree on a formal statement/announcement/text/document/statute etc...
  • someone should prepare a draft beforehand
  • after the meeting, that same person should also be responsible for finalising the document and distributing it to the participants

Purpose: to make an announcement
  • should be limited to the announcement (and to discussing it if necessary)

Purpose: one person is reporting something to participants
  • should be limited to that report and a discussion about it

Purpose: several persons are reporting something to participants
  • discussions on the reports should not be held
  • entertain questions for the purposes of clarification only
  • if the reports are lengthy, or there are a lot of them, these should be distributed to attendees well in advance and then a stricter and preset time limit should be imposed on each report

Purpose: to inform someone about something, or to bring them up to speed
  • that person should just listen and only ask questions if they need further clarification
  • no discussions

Do you agree with this list? Do you have any tips you want to suggest? Send a tweet to @caruanas or join the discussion in my GamesBiz group on Facebook.

Essential personal skills in game development

At the risk of making the article title sound like clickbait, I can collectively refer to these skills through a singular, but broad, term: communication skills.

I don't mean marketing, although that does require strong communication skills. I mean being able to figuratively and literally stand in front of people, whatever their relationship is to you, and say what you need to say articulately, clearly and in a way that everyone can understand. You need to be convincing, even when you might be wrong or are doubting yourself, and especially if you're in a leadership role.

Personal skills

  • Speaking or writing...
  • Addressing team members, partners, employees, potential investors or customers...
  • Pitching, teaching, motivating, documenting or asking questions...

I'd rank this high in any sector, but perhaps in games I would place it at the very top.

  • We're not just a creative industry, where clarity and unambiguity is always necessary, but a creative-technical mix, which makes it exponentially more important
  • Remote teams are very common
  • Very noisy industry, so it’s the clear voice that stands out
  • Mix of experienced and inexperienced individuals, across the board
  • Global. Multi-cultural.
  • Not just hit-driven but also brand- and personality-driven

What other skills do you think are essential? Tweet at me (@caruanas) or join the discussion in my GamesBiz group on Facebook.

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