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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 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.

My Game Reach - Call for closed Alpha participants

Originally posted on the Pixie Software website

We’ve just hit an important milestone in the development of My Game Reach and are ready to open up access to a small number of early users. So we’re looking for game developers to join the closed Alpha and help us refine certain aspects of the product offering. To join the Alpha sign up here.

My Game Reach is an online tool which helps you monitor and analyse the effectiveness of your marketing efforts so you can continuously adapt and fine tune your strategy.

My Game Reach closed Alpha signup

What does the end of Steam Greenlight really mean to game developers?

Valve shuts down Steam Greenlight With Valve announcing that they are shutting down Steam Greenlight and introducing a submission fee, at lot of people have been voicing their thoughts online. As expected, opinions have been polarised. Yet the news seems to have largely flown under the radar of the community at large and I'd really love to see a healthy discussion about this as more developers become aware of it.

In this blog post I want to address the natural kneejerk reaction of "oh noes, moar fees." Many have had that, and many others will. Hopefully I can seed it with some food for thought as part of the bigger picture in my attempt to get people to consider an alternative point of view and look at it more objectively.

As with most things, there are arguments for and against Valve's decision and I keep identifying with both. On an "academic" front, it can be discussed with economic theory (I'm not just talking about money). On other fronts the argument can be framed a bit differently, but ultimately it still boils down to economic principles as well. Concepts such as survival of the species vs. the individual; equal opportunities; competition is healthy; etc...

Yet this whole issue ties into other thoughts I've been having for the past few years for which I've been experiencing cognitive dissonance. It is not specifically about the end of Greenlight or the submission fee per se. It is about how this fits within the wider "openness of game development" argument and what it should really mean to developers, beyond its face value.

You are running a business (Yes you are. Well, you should be!)

First let me make a clear distinction between making games and doing it sustainably. For the former, none of this really applies because you'd want to create games irrespective of issues like Steam being accessible for you to sell games on it or not. If being on Steam concerns you, then I would argue that selling your game and generating revenue (to whatever degree) is of interest to you.

So, painting in VERY broad strokes, let me define two types of developers sitting on opposite sides of a theoretical scale:
  • Purists - not interested in revenue
  • Commercial - only interested in maximising profits

If you're the purist extreme, then you're probably not even reading this. You don't care about anything other than making games for yourself and maybe close friends. Which is wonderful! However anything beyond that means you fall somewhere on my theoretical spectrum. Where that is depends on how important it is for you to have strangers play your game, or that you turn a profit, or that your game receives positive acclaim or what not. Wherever you land, you still need some degree of critical or financial success from your games.

If you don't think that this means treating game creation like a business, then boy do I have news for you!

Yes my friend, you have entered running-a-business territory. True, businesses exist in different shapes and sizes, from single-person outfits to multi-billion dollar companies. You need to understand where you fit in all this, but it still boils down to using sound business principles whichever way you look at it. Management, finance, marketing and all that jazz. If you've been paying attention during the past year or two, more and more game developers are recognising and highlighting the importance of not treating games as a simple hobby…unless they are specifically just that. But please be honest with yourselves. Simon Roth articulates some of these concepts very well as he addresses the "Lucky Indie" myth.

Take me, for example. I run a microstudio so I have to wear lots of different hats. A significant part of my time is spent on business development, a good part of which consists of marketing and PR. So much so that it was worthwhile to create some internal tools to help me be more productive because unfortunately there aren't many gamedev-focused business tools out there. One of these tools pairs sales and marketing data to help me identify what works and what doesn't, saving me hours of repetitive work. (Warning: shameless plug alert) I've developed it into a more robust product called My Game Reach which will soon be entering public Alpha. You can visit to learn more and get access.

Economic theory

I was planning on diving into economic theory and discuss the concept of barriers to entry and exit; what happens when there are none; perfect competition/market and other types of markets; etc…

However reproducing that knowledge here is of little value when you can very easily Google it. And please do (right after reading the rest of this) if you're not familiar with the basics of what I just mentioned. Be informed! Remember: you are running a business.

The "democratisation of game creation" (No, this is not a reference to Unity's mantra)

This topic is constantly discussed over and over. Let me pick the main argument from the "pros" column which is inclusivity and providing opportunities to those who would otherwise be unable to create games. I chose this because I agree with it and am all for it.

I also believe that opening the floodgates is not a panacea. It feels like a catch-all cop out, a sweeping attempt without really making an effort to carve out valuable, well-planned, targeted opportunities. With such sweeping "solutions", the opportunities which are created can easily be negated by the resulting cacophony, the general lack of quality and diminishing faith in the product/industry.

To be clear, there are MANY people and entities out there doing excellent work at creating unique opportunities. These stand in harsh and positive contrast to the others and provide greater value just because more thought and effort was put into them. Amongst the more recent examples is Devolver Digital's offer to demo games at GDC on behalf of developers impacted by the ban on travel to the US from certain countries.

This reference to the openness of game development is not a cue to start hysterical calls of indiepocalypse again. This has absolutely nothing to do with that. In fact I don't think indiepocalype exists exactly in the frenzied way it has been perceived. I do however think that the actual hysteria itself is the true (bad) product of an industry where anyone and everyone can create games and put them to market with virtually zero barriers to entry, amongst other things. But I digress…

I also want to argue the other side of the coin. Again I make the distinction between creating games and selling them for profit. Democratisation helps immensely in getting more people to create games who otherwise might not have had the opportunity to do so. This in turn boosts (albeit slightly obscuring) the talent pool, fuels the games-for-profit sector, and so on and so forth.

Perceived vs real competition

Whether platforms or stores are open, curated or what have you does not change real competition. A game exists with or without Steam, the App Store or <insert other over-populated platform of choice>.

However a barrier for entry (such as a Steam Direct submission fee) will probably thin out some games which are only put there because the barrier of entry is low. Cheap clones, recycled-asset games, shovelware. True, these might not have been strong competitors in the first place, but they affect discoverability since they contribute to the overall noise which prevents your own voice from being heard. That is unless you have very good marketing, in which case "high-five"!

Yet as all this cycles back it will lead to a stronger breed of games. Survival of the fittest and all that: only those which can cut it will survive, creating even stronger competition. But this would be of benefit to the industry as a whole and foster a stronger, healthier competitive environment to work in. A rising tide lifts all ships.

(Real) Competition is good

This last point leads me to the point that competition is a challenge. In fact it is one of many challenges, right up there with financing, skill gaps and geopolitical issues to name a few. Challenges foster innovation and force people to think creatively to come up with novel solutions to existing problems. Adriaan de Jongh makes some excellent points along this vein in his talk from Screenshake 2015 which he describes as having skin in the game

The ever-changing landscape

It's all so very, very complex. The purpose of this blog post is not to take a stand but to illustrate how kneejerk reactions on either extreme are seldom right and never helpful. Assertions such as "No, putting a price on submissions is bad because it stifles opportunities" or "Yes, it is good because it thins out the crowd". When unaccompanied by a constructive argument building up to that conclusion, such statements serve no one. These issues are nuanced so let's be sure to discuss them judiciously.

The game development environment and climate are always changing. Compare where we are now to where we were just before Steam Greenlight launched in 2012, and XBLIG before that, and so on and so forth. Stores, platforms, tools, trends, tech, people; many have come and gone or changed completely. In fact as I am writing this, Twitch have just announced their plans to sell games directly through their streams.

Opportunities disappear every day and new ones present themselves just as frequently. Steam is just one of these changes. If it is going to happen, it's going to happen. The question is what are you going to do about it?

I'm starting a weekly Faction Overlord devstream

This Wednesday 24th February I'll be broadcasting the very first Faction Overlord live devstream! I'll be streaming some game programming on my Twitch channel every Wednesday at 11pm CET.

Live streaming was always part of our plans for open development but it kept being put on the backburner. Mostly because we wanted to make sure we could commit to a regular and consistent schedule which provided good value to the stream viewers. We also needed to take care of some logistics related to hardware, internet connection strength and reliability, physical space etc... but all that has been sorted out now.

Over time I'll stream more frequently and have non-programming content as well, but for now join me every Wednesday at 11pm CET on my Twitch channel and don't be afraid to join the discussion in chat!

See you in stream!

Faction Overlord Twitch development stream schedule

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