“Designing a product is keeping 5000 things in your brain — these concepts — and fitting them together and kind of continuing to push to fit them together in new and different ways to get what you want.” — Steve Jobs
I spent last week on the 2nd most difficult software development task: detailed planning. My first roadmap, made more than a year ago, described everything to the month level. My next, made in December, planned things week by week. This new March roadmap gets it down to the day-by-day. Before me now stands 120 work days of development, split into eight milestone deliverables, one every three weeks. Quite a lot was cut.
Earlier I wrote about timeboxing, which keeps things on track through the peaks and valleys of software surprises. Often there comes a point where you need to “throw one away,” where incremental adjustments just won’t cut it, where you need to start fresh with a completely new plan. Ripping up the floorboards can be stressful and confusing, particularly last week while swimming through the vertigo flu. Somehow I made it through to this much cleaner plan, one that gives me both confidence and relief.
I wish I could describe this planning process. With dozens of factors in play … this piece becomes easier when this piece is done, this piece needs to happen first so this audience can use it earlier, this one’s a nice-to-have, this one is risky … it’s a huge multi-dimensional puzzle with no easy answers. Looking back, all the pieces fit where they need to be, but getting to that point is a true mystery. It just happens, at least for me.
And so a new chapter begins, once again. Now to focus on now.
I’m fascinated by speed drawing videos. Within the span of a few minutes, you watch as an artist makes hours of small changes, giving you a true sense of the details that lead to a finished work. While we all know it probably takes a lot time to edit a film or animate a cartoon, it’s quite something else to watch the artistry as it unfolds.
Software is likewise a progression of tiny details. Throughout the day, I make choices and changes that slowly move the product along. First, I read my design notes and imagine how a feature will look and act. I then write some code to bring a piece of it alive. As I click “Run” to first try the change, I often have no idea what will happen. That’s the true beauty of software development. You make something and try it. Make something else and try it. This simple cycle defines my work life.
In the same spirit as speed drawing, I’ve been making two-minute Tidepool videos every day or so, showcasing each feature as it’s done. While not as immediate as time-lapse graphics, these videos hopefully give a sense of steady progress, a glimpse at my programmer’s canvas as I eek my way towards the finish line. Nine months from now, I hope to have 180 videos, six or so hours chronicling a software project, start to finish.
Will people watch them? I suspect not many. Investors occasionally, to see where I’m at. Players perhaps, to see how the game was made. My hope is that future developers will watch them for inspiration, to see what can be done each day over time, to see the steady pace of realizing a dream.
Exactly three months since starting, I’m done with project prep — business plan, website, trailer, and design. Starting Monday, I can finally roll up my sleeves and resume coding. I’m fantastically thrilled about this, particularly given all the word-squeezing and financial fretting of the recent past.
Programming is its own reward. You get in the flow and let the system lead where it will. There’s a stark and simple beauty to the task. Things either work or they don’t. Writing business plans and such is quite another matter. Imagining an audience reading and reacting, feeling them watch over my shoulder as I write … I’m so glad it’s done!
So now comes the moment of truth. I have 84 emails in my outbox. Once I click “send”, there’s no going back. No second chance at making a first impression. While I wish the 3D movies in the trailer were complete, I’ve decided it’s “fish or cut bait” time … time to stop preparing and start DOING. The 3D can come later.
So here goes … something.
Last week, with the website done and the trailer close, I was gearing up for the big private launch to my 84 insiders when I decided to finally call my lawyers. I was expecting maybe some tweaking to my aging Stock Purchase Agreement, but instead I received an earful about private offerings and state exemptions.
I’d known about stockholder limits from hearing the crowd-funding political rhetoric that led to last fall’s JOBS act, which passed. I knew the new law made it easier to have many small investors. What I didn’t know was that the SEC hadn’t changed its rules yet, that the needed provisions were in the “comment phase.” I was told, “You cannot have more then ten investors without getting federal and state exemptions.” They told me they could get these waivers for $5000.
Damn. I couldn’t afford the hour long lawyer talk, let alone the time and money these exemptions would take. With only five weeks until the money ran out, this was a problem. Moreover, I wasn’t allowed to make good on the promise I had made to my 84 potential stockholders that they could get a slice of future revenues for as little as $250.
So what to do? The crowd-funding site Kickstarter steers clear of this trap by focusing on purchase or donor transactions, such as selling future copies of a book. We could do the same thing, but our end product is free-to-play. We could sell the future coin-of-the-realm, crystals, but I’d already promised my 84 people free crystals for life.
What sort of MacGuffin could I sell to raise money? Some sort of special title or icon? Special mention in a credits page? A signed copy of a CD or thumb drive? Everything seemed rather cheap and unworthy of the trust these people would be putting into this endeavor.
Then one morning I woke and had a brainstorm. I’d sell real estate, or rather “fake estate.” The Tidepool world is split up into hectares (the metric acre, think “square football field”). To make your own neighborhood, you claim a hectare and its yours. People cannot modify it without your permission. Since the Tidepool world is modeled on our own world, you’ll be able to settle the hectare around your house. You could also settle Times Square or Beverly Hills.
The plan was to have the “Great Tidepool Land Rush” sometime in June, when everyone would walk from their starting point to wherever they’d like to settle, with all having the same opportunity to get choice spots. The new idea is to sell reservations in advance. Buy Trafalgar Square for $50 so that on Land Rush Day you’d already have it.
Yes, it’s really about supporting the project. The land is of token value, but at least it’s something that makes sense within the context of the game. When the world starts filling up, these areas will be desirable. And having played another “virtual world on top of our world” game before, I can tell you that it kinda sucks when someone else owns your own house. So we’ll sell “fake estate” as a way to raise money, at least until the lawyers can get us some real stockholders.