Entries in Executive Producer (2)

Tuesday
Apr292014

Backyard Monsters

Role: Executive Producer (supporting)

Contribution: After just being hired at KIXEYE, (it was actually called Casual Collective at the time), I was set up to learn the ropes of Free to Play by supporting Dave Scott who was then starting work on War Commander. My role on Backyard Monsters was that of a Product Manager / Project Manager.

Design Challenge: Put the team on a path to work more collaboratively and iterate faster. This was far less about changing the game, but more about changing the way the team worked. 

Backyard Monsters was already fairly successful game and was the foundation that allowed KIXEYE to develop Battle Pirates. When I joined the team I became part of a passionate group who knew their product and consumer well, were able to release quickly, but had a ton of churn in development with way too many things to do, but not a clear priority of which to do and why.

The first step was putting the team on Kanban as our development methodology (we would later switch to agile as the team grew in size). This illuminated all sorts of issues around work flow including issues with ownership, testing, spec documentation (there was none) and communication.

I remember my first stand up meeting, where I explained the rules, (say what you did the day before, what you are working on now, any blockers), I went first then Dave. Dave went through the flow as normal, then told Kevin and Eric what they needed to be working on, leaving Eric and Kevin to repeat what Dave just said. This showcased a huge flaw in how the team was working, because everyone was waiting for what Dave wanted and no one was empowered to execute on their own using their best judgement.

Once people could execute on their own, the next major step was establishing what they needed to execute against. I established a spec template and made sure all features both large and small were properly specified with wire frames. Wire frames was another fun project, since I could easily get into Flash and pull out all the assets, so I built a stencil set in Omnigraffle which allowed anyone on the team to build full, perfectly accurate UI mocks in minutes. That stencil set would be used all the way until the game was finally put into maintenance mode nearly three years later.

My last best action on BYM was hiring Ryan Sindledecker to take over as Product Manager and watch him help run the game smoothly and efficiently for the next two plus years. 

Thursday
Apr242014

War Commander

Role: Executive Producer (supporting)

Contribution: Once I joined KIXEYE, (it was actually called Casual Collective at the time), I was set up to learn the ropes of Free to Play by supporting Dave Scott, who was then starting work on War Commander. My role was that of a Product Manager / Project Manager.

Design Challenge: Follow up KIXEYE’s successful Battle Pirates with another RTS game that pushes the genre further adding in individual unit control and synchronous battles.

Funny story, the artist who did this used my head as reference. At the time War Commander had just started development and the team was just Dave Scott, another engineer and myself. The plan at the time was to get War Commander out in a few months which I quickly realized was not going to happen. One of my favorite moments was when I asked to read the GDD for War Commander and was told there wasn't one, nor a concept doc. In fact there were no words what-so-ever written down documenting the game. I knew instantly what my first job was.


The main thing I focused on in those early days was process. Though KIXEYE had made two great products in Back Yard Monsters and Battle Pirates, they were not set up to be able to repeat those successes. I started off by documenting everything, getting the whole company to move over to Google Docs. Then went to task building their first specification templates, which they still use today. Next was implementing Scrum on Back Yard Monsters and War Commander. Lastly I established proper UX discipline, making sure we did wire frames and user testing as well as data driven development. 

I had the good fortune to help get War Commander started on the right track and got to enjoy seeing the new people hired to the team build upon this foundation, making War Commander another great success for KIXEYE. Only thing better than that was seeing the new best practices take hold and watch those once learning become the teachers.