Tag Games MD Paul Farley explains the value of getting things wrong

'Let's learn to understand and survive failure'

Tag Games MD Paul Farley explains the value of getting things wrong
Paul Farley is MD of Tag Games, a Dundee-based developer behind the likes of Doctor Who: The Mazes of Time on iOS and Funpark Friends for iOS and Android.

On the face of it the mobile games industry has never been in better shape.

There can be no doubt that mobile gaming has finally come of age and has reached a critical mass in audience size and reach.

It has also, finally, achieved the respect of our peers in the wider games industry. How things have changed in the twelve years since I first designed a mobile game!

Despite having come of age as an industry we still face many challenges. The harsh reality is that profit, or even breakeven, is a pipedream for a large proportion of independent mobile game developers.

There will always a few prominent winners that literally take it all, but unfortunately a far greater number of losers.

Competition has never been fiercer. Change never more rapid.

Delicious sauce

Countering this is the knowledge that a hit game provides financial rewards akin to a lottery win, not to mention the chance to bask in the glory of success and the adulation of your industry peers.

The perception that you have found the secret sauce can be intoxicating and dangerous, not just for you, but for the rest of the industry. The reality is that we are the 99 percent and if we're smart we can fight for a more equitable share of the spoils.

But first, the bad news. There is no secret formula for success in this industry. There is no secret sauce.

Many times in the past six months I have spoken with publishers keen to tell me they will deliver chart success for our games. Smells like that secret sauce doesn't it?

A few months later and after watching a number of their games fail to make any impression on the market it's seems their secret sauce needs a new recipe.

While I recognise that hard work, talent and experience can all improve your chance of success, there are no guarantees – despite what others will tell you.

Surviving failure

Quite frankly I feel we do ourselves a disservice by focusing so greatly on trying to understand success, as shallow and fleeting as it often is, and might be better served spending some time equipping ourselves to understand and survive failure.

In mobile gaming technology, platforms and audience trends move at break neck speed. Even if you did happen upon the formula for success now, you can guarantee a few weeks later that formula would be irrelevant.

Prior to the launch of Funpark Friends, Tag Games' first large scale social mobile game, the team went to great lengths to learn everything we possibly could about social gaming and how to create a successful title.

We learnt from the best in the business, yet on reflection a large number of our learned assumptions were wrong!

Perhaps we would have been better served seeking out mentors on the periphery, rather than on the podium?

I was therefore encouraged to see developers talking about their failure in depth at the IGDA summit during Casual Connect. It takes courage to stand up and tell the world you got it wrong, but the reality is most of us get it wrong at some point.

There is no shame in failure if you're prepared to learn from it.

Even Zynga

Zynga's acquisition of OMGPOP/Draw Something highlights perhaps one of the biggest problems for the mobile games industry – our players are transient, fickle and almost impossible to predict.

They might love your game today, but you can't be sure they'll be back to play tomorrow.

When the app store updates with another thousand games demanding their time and money your game is already yesterday's news. That's a tough nut to crack, especially with player acquisition costs rising all the time. If Zynga can get it wrong, so will you.

If we consider a studio like PopCap with their seemingly unblemished record of hit game creation it would appear if there is a secret sauce they must have bought the entire store! Not much sign of failure there.

Yet probing further it's evident that PopCap have been incredibly fortunate in being able to build an organisation that manages to keep its failures behind closed doors by killing off struggling projects internally.

Moving on

The combination of 'getting lucky' and being incredibly smart in your ability to exploit that 'luck' to its full potential is a potent one.

Neon Play is another great example of a studio that has seen initial success (Flick Football) translated into long term sustainable success by being smart, in this case building cross promotion into their games early on.

If we can spend more time in understanding how to not only survive failure, but use it as a positive influence in improving all aspects of our business, perhaps we won't need to cross our fingers and hope for the best so often?

After all we have as much chance of winning the lottery this weekend as we have of catching that mobile gaming zeitgeist moment.

My hope is that as an industry we can go beyond our obsession with the illusive secret sauce of success.

The move from product to service, and premium to freemium, offers us a fantastic opportunity to leave the hit driven mentality of the past behind and create a more equitable market for us all.

I believe the first step is to embrace your failure, but then again I have a habit of being wrong….

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