Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The "Hit List"

Today at SCAD Hong Kong (Savannah College of Art and Design) the subject is the "Hit List." According to the very brief summary in the syllabus, assignment 2 is "The Industry and Hit List (Choose ten companies and decide on a focus.)"

Now most students operate on a strange form of hearsay. We don't really know much about the world, and to be honest its kinda huge and unfathomable and vague at the moment, so our opinions concerning what our job opportunities are and where we will be happy is built from the opinions of other people.

And so most students, when confronted with the Hit List assignment, would end up engaging in a process somewhat similar to this.

  1. Start with empty document
  2. Place studio of favorite game at top of list (Skip this step if suffering from low self confidence)
  3. Place studio of several lesser known artistic games on list
  4. Activision and EA are tyrants
  5. Getting into a Japanese company is too hard because they are too insular
  6. Put Ubisoft and Bioware on list
  7. Realize you haven't filled in the list, just start putting down 'cool' games companies who did games you like
  8. Hand in & move to the west coast
Let me tell you about my class's experience with the Hit List.

The first thing you need to know is that my professor makes a strong argument for the case that not everyone is supposed to go out and get a job working for a big name company. A lot of students are going to want to try and launch their own studios. Some of them just don't like being told what to do, others want creative freedom, some want to choose the projects they'll work on, and still others will simply have a knack for it. 

From this vantage point, if we aren't interested in getting a job, our experience might be more like taking a look at our 'environment' as game designers. We need to look at everyone around us who a) can help us or b) has a good example of 'how it's done' that we can reference.

Even from this vantage point, however, we're subject to a lot of hearsay, prejudice, and insular research. Maybe now our intellectual steps in leading to our Hit List would go something like this:
  1. You'd just be treated like a cog in a big name company, and you'd never be able to make decisions.
  2. Small companies have to do stupid 'snack,' Hello Kitty, and movie promotion games, and basically sell their souls to the devil in order to make money. 
  3. If you had to people in suits to financially help you out, you would have no creative freedom and you'd be a slave to the person paying you.
  4. Start off making small apps and iPhone games with help of friend who is interested in going into games business with you. 
  5. So fill the list either with: small artistic companies to join, companies you want your company to be like, and/or friends who can help you start your own. 
Some of these statements may be true or slightly true; others may be false. Whichever they are, they still stem from an incomplete way of looking at things, and a faulty logical reasoning process. Furthermore, they come from a failure to accurately define that thing inside of us- as game designers- that makes us passionate about games.

One of the most important things my teacher does for any new student on a graduate level is to question every statement they make. To us it seems antagonistic, passive aggressive, frustrating, and disrespectful in the face of our passions, hopes, and dreams. But the fact of the matter is that while "I'm passionate about video games," seems to be a complete grammatical sentence, it isn't actually a solid idea. You can't figure out where to go with your life, or what's really going to make you happy, with that statement. 

My professor digs at the route of what makes us who we are. Why do we love games? Why did we first start playing them? What emotional, mental, psychological needs do they sate? When we play, what are we really looking for? And more than that, when we create, what is it about games that we're so fascinated with that we feel we NEED to create anything at all?

He also forces us to examine our emotional drives independent of our artistic drives. As an artist, a character designer might be fascinated with a certain style of shape, movement, or coloration. But as an individual, that character designer might actually be motivated to go into games because they are interested in group dynamics, culture, or international conflict, and they perceive games to be the proper medium, the proper vehicle, for their expressions. 

When we go out and find jobs from SCAD, we aren't just identifying a neat company and sending in our resume. We are much more active than that. First of all, we don't limit ourselves to big American companies. There are local companies in Hong Kong who have ties all over the globe that come in every week to talk to us students. We print business cards ASAP, develop a network, and soon we know a guy who lives next to Steve Jobs (or did, sniff) and might be able to recommend us to a Scandinavian company working on precisely the sort of interesting problems we most enjoy. 

So when we make a Hit List, we aren't just looking for company names. We are looking to do an in depth research-based assessment into the rest of our lives. We are looking at what each company has to say about itself, who the founder is, what the vision of the company is, what idea/theory/artist's-statement holds them united. We want to know who is in charge of each company, what they eat, what they do with their lives, do they travel, are they a member of the NRA, what do they have to say about Starbucks? What company culture is like, and the campus, and overtime?

And more importantly, who do we have to go out and meet who can introduce us to these people and get us a real interview? We weren't researching our environment; we were researching our ecosystem.


When I graduate from SCAD, I am probably going to launch my own studio. At least, that's what I think I'm going to do... ehm... To be honest, when I entered this quarter at SCAD, I was something in a funk. Over Christmas break I had realized I didn't quite know what I was doing or where I was going. I knew that I had gone to the right place- that Hong Kong and SCAD were both right for me- but I was caught by the fact that I really didn't have any idea what I was doing with my life.

The Hit List is specific to the person who writes it. Not just in terms of what companies they pick, but in terms of what they are even looking for. Making the Hit List requires doing a lot of research, and the knowledge available out there to be 'searched' is infinite in nature. It is imperative that the student start with some kind of vision, quest, or dream so that they can limit down the scope of their research. "I'll go wherever the wind blows me," is a good plan B, but it's an attribute of yours and not any way to formulate a Hit List. Not unless you want to find your future job employment opportunities by drawing lots (and then forming a list of all the potential options would take an infinite long amount of time).

So in order to do the Hit List, I had to move from 'free bird' to having a goal again. And I had to take a long hard look at how I feel, what I've been doing, what I've been frustrated about, any emotional discomfort I've experienced that might be shading my judgement, and the core of what makes me, well, me.

I wasn't precisely who I thought I was!

Good thing I like me better. It took a very interesting struggle. Even though I had no hard facts or data obtained as a result, my entire view on my prospects, my current projects, my future goals, and my own value did a turnabout. I realized that I was the sort of person to open my own studio. In fact, I'm entrepreneurial.  I want to start multiple businesses, get each to reach a level of stable success, do something big and new and different with each, and then sell it and start up a new business and repeat. I wasn't who I thought I was at all. I was the problem solving wing of a business partnership; I had it in me to want to be a CEO, and I most likely have it in me to be a good one.  

I didn't truly believe that before this assignment. 

Let me show you some of the Hit List I composited with my professor's aid, so you can get an idea of the base I've started with. My goal was to find creative and business talent that might be willing to help me, that I could partner with, or that I could study and ask questions from:

  1. Two preliminary locations I could mine my teacher for information on: Hong Kong for ease of setting up a new buisness; Canada for business tax credits that can help a new studio in its infant years.
    1. Ontario is trying to attract video games. They recently pulled in a division of Ubisoft, but they're offering up to 40% tax credits and tons of support structures for games to move in and currently have only 14% of Canada's industry. 
  2. Hong Kong Commons (Sheung Wan + Lai Chi Kok) offers cheap office space.
    1. Has an Incubator
    2. Jung Lee, was in American and Chinese Real Estate... corporate Lawyer... Huge Interest in Games. Interested in solving Big Problems like Hunter, Education, and Health. He's overseen a lot of Indie Stuff. He's the incubator for a company by someone else I need to look into (Claus). Studied Columbia University. Helped found the commons. Involved with Pacific Rim Private Equity. Interested in Early stage technological, social, and cross-borders companies. 
    3. Brian Ng- still researching
    4. Charlotte Wu - still researching
  3. Cyberport (Space) 
    1. Incubator called Incutrain
    2. Outplace, a very successful publisher group and games company, run by Yat Lee (Grew up in Austria, at the Conservatory he studied Classical music) He may invest, bring you to his company, help you out, acquire your company, etc
    3. Has Creative Microfund and Incubation program
    4. Enterepenuer, Knowledge, Collaboration portals. (& Success Stories to study)
    5. Will help through Seed (Microfund) STartup (Incubation) and Market Growth.
    6. Lots of discounts, financial assistance, office space (if needed). Peer Group, Consulting, etc. 
  4. Claus: The founder of 3D Avatar School, currently in Jung Lee's Incubator, he's started tons of creative businesses and done consulting work, he is a great person to meet and ask about how to launch a new studio. 
    1. Realized games were important to his kids, wanted to investigate them further.
    2. Has done a lot with using virtual spaces to try and make real world results  such as virtual world businesses, education in virtual spaces, etc.  (Synchronous Communication)
    3. Might be someone I want to Intern with if he has job openings
    4. His investor heard about him through a banker who learned about Claus from a Tedx Conference. 
    5. Has surrounded himself with the talent he needs. He has someone on business  education, foreign language education, a CTO, a chief of production, etc. Clearly I need to know him better. 
    6. Won Hong Kong ICT Award Best Start-Up Buisness (Offered by Cyberport ;)
    7. He likes travel, and recently went on a trip to Sri Lanka where he photographed locals, environments, and elephants. 
  5. Sources of Money in the Government:
    1. Create Hong Kong (CreateHK). Mostly Film, 300 million dollars investment fund in small companies and innovative ideas while employing new people. Jerry Liu.
    2. Invest Hong Kong (Invest HK) Hook you up for free with people, services, makes inquiries for you, helps get things done behind the scenes. Person to know is Wendy Chau for here and Creatieve Industries
  6. Innocenter: Free office space for designers
    1. Science Park: same management, mostly for health, and has game studios that work with health. 
  7. If I want to sell in China, there is a single gate keeper, and behind that the market is arguably very big. But then I have to identify who this person is and find someone who knows them.  I know some people who know this process (Adam)
  8. If I want to continue forward with Agon and Alea (I do, after some soul searching) then I need to know people who buy products for venues frequented by women. Someone to know might be Joyce Ma. How does she buy? I'd need to know a lot about her and how she makes decisions and postures/positions herself in the marketplace. 
  9. If you have selling figured out, then getting a business incubated is easy. You need respect for the fact that the business must grow and that the products must sell to get incubated. 
  10. My strengths/weaknesses: It's very easy to get me into problem solving with my skills, and to point discussions towards the skills I already know.
    1. We need to make sure this strength doesn't come off as 'afraid' of new topics; I need to show how I am unafraid to investigate areas, stay in those areas of discomfort, admit that I'm not sure, admit that I need to investigate more, and still be able to present a strong plan.
I had to know some things about myself to come up with this list, and also to figure out what to do with it next:
  • I have no destination, no perfect studio, and no perfect job. I want to identify opportunities and then explore them, to do and try lots of things. I want to work on many kinds of projects
  • I want to solve many interesting  sorts of problems. The way I solve problems is by injecting life into an area where there is none. I want to turn virtual worlds into personalized make-believe. I want to work with engines of simulation and discover how to pace them and work stories into them. I want to create virtual reality pets. 
  • I want to put myself into many situations with unique constraints and succeed. To always seek out new areas with new boons and new constraints, which need 'life' and to successful work with those constraints and boons to build new life.
  • I want to observe and learn how to be a successful life-long entrepenuer.
  • I enjoy tackling a difficult problem, building it up to a stable level, and then moving on to a new problem.  (I actually play video games this way. I play until my level of satisfaction under difficult circumstances.)
  • I will be the vision holder, the problem-solving creative talent that makes a project work. Will be the CEO. 
  • I will require a lot of help. I need to learn, be taught, and surround myself with advisers mentors, partners, and outside experience.  I need this to get where I really want to be.  You cannot run a company alone, or in a vacuum. 
  • I want to be a polyglot and world traveler. 
  • I want to be able to visit my family at least once yearly.
  • The cat goes where I go.
This translates into a sort of road map for the future, which I can crosscheck with my professor.
  • I need to publish small pieces of my own material, with a 3 or 4 man team, so I can begin to fathom what it's like to have one's own company. 
  • I need to get an internship over the summer semester, which will give me the opportunity to watch how someone else does things. To this end, I know that I want to work in an established small to mid sized studio, which makes games and has several games under the belt, and that I want to be mentored by someone high up to be given a birds eye view of the company.
  • When I graduate, or before I graduate, I will need to go under someone's wing. I need a business partner, and I will likely be going into an incubator. 
Which translates into some website requirements
  • I need to sell myself and my own skills. Myself is: A creative problem solver. Therefore, my website should demonstrate how I solve a wide variety of problems creatively. 
  • To the internship company, I will need to position myself as a high level intern who can handle a lot of responsibilities and a wide variety of tasks, and an interest in discovering what it is that company leaders really do. 
  • For potential sources of grant money, I must show my interest in solving compelling problems, especially because I really am interested in bringing technical jobs to developing economies, working to improve culture (particularly for women), and language and health education through games. 
  • For incubators, business men, and investors, I must show my interest and respect for business, and that I am studying these attributes and sensitive to them when making my design considerations. It is to my benefit that I am interested in making a very wide variety of games (all of which I will be able to make well), because I will be able to pitch myself (and the business plan) as opposed to attaching myself too closely to the game.