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Secondary Values

9 Jun

Last time, I posted the first part of the JPS studio mission. That covered our reason for being and our Primary Values:

  • Player-driven narrative
  • Quality gameplay and quality presentation
  • Collaborative company culture

A couple of folks commented that those Primary Values seemed surprisingly Profit and/or Business oriented, rather than Art oriented. I’m going to have to come back to that some time, in a later post, but before that, I want to talk about the Junction Point “Secondary Values .” These support the Primaries (obviously) and, if you were surprised at how conscious we were about Business before, fasten your seatbelts. The studio’s Secondary Values are

  • Innovation (all right–one for the Art crowd!)
  • Partnership (huh?)
  • Profitability (uh oh…)

Let’s look at each of these in more detail.

Innovation

For some developers, it may be enough to refine and polish. We strive for something different, something more—we want to change things.

As an adjunct to “Quality,” and as a natural outgrowth of the value we place on player empowerment, all Junction Point Studios games showcase some feature or combination of features players have never seen before. Each game advances the state of the art in some demonstrable way.

In a business crowded with sequels and “me-too” product, however professionally presented and packaged, we believe the marketplace demands—players demand—novelty in setting, in tone, in graphical style and/or, best of all, in gameplay (notably, for us, the areas of player expression, player experimentation, player choice and obvious, significant consequences). Note that none of this precludes working on sequels, licenses or collaborating with others in the creation of characters, worlds, stories or anything else.

From a practical standpoint, this secondary value leads to questions like “Does this game advance the state of the art in any demonstrable way?” and “Is there an approach to this problem or a way to implement this game system that will be new to players while remaining true to our primary values?”

Partnership

Though our internal corporate culture is our primary concern, the business of game development is increasingly one of cooperation and collaboration with groups outside the “home office.” We work, more and more, with individual contractors, outside companies that create assets for us and, of course, funding and publishing partners.

We treat these external resources as much like internal team members as we can—with the same respect and honesty with which we treat each other. In particular, we work closely and openly with publisher representatives in Development, Testing. Marketing, PR and Sales to provide them the information and materials they need to do their jobs as effectively as possible—they’re part of the team, too.

From a practical standpoint, this secondary value leads to questions like, “If I had to promote this game, what would I want and can I help deliver that?” or “If I were a tester, would I have the tools I need to help find bugs that will compromise our other values?” or “If I were a contractor, would I feel like part of the Junction Point Studios team?”

Profitability

Our goal is to create high quality, innovative games, but to do so, we must generate sufficient revenue to sustain a viable business. We must, in other words, remain profitable.

In part, we achieve this through a focus on quality. In addition, we achieve this by making our games as accessible to as many players as we possibly can. We strive to reach an ever larger portion of the growing game audience. And we maximize potential sales by giving our publisher the tools to do the best job possible of marketing our work.

(Note: If you’re a publisher or other potential funding partner, you might want to stop reading here or, at least, skip the next paragraph.) 

However, it’s important to note that we do not believe that the only question—or even the most valid question—one can ask about a game concept, or a finished product, is “Will this game generate maximum profit?” Profit, yes, absolutely, but the desire to make money may be tempered, at times, by our other values, as outlined here.

From a practical standpoint, this secondary value leads to questions like, “Is there a way to save money on this aspect of development without compromising our other values?” or “Is there a way to increase the revenue-generating potential of this game without increasing cost or risk?”

Three Contracts

To achieve our goals, we must live up to three implicit “contracts”:

  • We have a contract with each other requiring that we work together to the highest possible standards and with utmost respect. We strive to satisfy our individual and collective creative desires, to advance the state of the art in gameplay and to help our teammates grow as people and as professionals. Collaboration and the unfettered exchange of ideas are paramount.
  • We have a contract with players requiring that we offer them maximum entertainment value. We embrace players as collaborators in the creative process—as much the authors of their own, unique gameplay experience as we are. Our games provide tools to encourage their creativity and active participation in the story. We never lose sight of the fact that our players are as smart and demanding as we are.
  • We have a contract with our publishers requiring that we work to remain solidly in the black. Our decisions may not always result in maximum return on investment but we will always make enough money that our publishers will, without hesitation, continue funding our efforts.

So there you have it. The full version of the JPS mission statement—the one I probably should have kept to myself. Let me know what you think. Am I crazy? Does this sound like a reasonable set of values? Does JPS sound like a cool place to you? Talk to me, people!

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The JPS Mission (Director’s Cut)

5 Jun

If you check out the Junction Point Studios website, you’ll find a page outlining the company mission. It’s short, pithy, straight to the point and accurate, as far as it goes. But as anyone who knows me will tell you, I am one wordy bastard, and I don’t think the web version of the mission statement goes far enough. The website guys gave me two paragraphs to describe the company mission and I was, frankly, a little lost. I need more elbow room than that—a LOT more.

Below, you’ll find the first part of my longer version of the mission statement–long enough that I’m splitting it into two parts. The first part, below, covers the overview and our Primary Values. A second part, which I’ll post soon, will cover the Secondary Values and wrap things up.

As you’ll soon see, this was written for internal use and, to be honest, I’m not really sure anyone who doesn’t work here—or is thinking about working here—will find it interesting (though I hope so!). Still, the short version left me frustrated enough that I figured I’d use my bully pulpit to get the long version out there.

So, brave reader, continue on, settle into your comfiest web-surfing chair, grab a snack and let’s talk more about what makes Junction Point Studios tick. (You not-so-brave types should click on another link now…)

Putting Power in Player’s Hand

Junction Point Studios is an independent developer of innovative electronic games that feature strong, player-driven narratives.

We believe long-term success can best be achieved by delivering games of the highest quality—in gameplay and presentation—within the limits imposed by the reality of time and budget.

We seek the most talented and dedicated practitioners of the art of game development to join us in a company culture that is positive, friendly, and team-oriented—a culture built on a foundation of cross-disciplinary collaboration, open communication and life-long learning.

Our success—creative and commercial—rests on these mutually supporting pillars:

  • Player-driven narrative
  • Quality gameplay and quality presentation
  • Collaborative company culture

Primary Values

Player-Driven, Narrative Games

Junction Point Studios focuses on the creation of games unique in their combination of strong narrative plot arcs and freeform, player-driven minute-to-minute gameplay. We may occasionally venture out into the world of abstract games or some other non-narrative form, but only as a “palette cleanser” before returning to our first love—story games.

Story or no-story, our efforts are driven by one critical concept: Unique player experience is as important as developer creativity. By “unique player experience” we mean that, rather than being funneled down a predetermined, puzzle-strewn path, players are confronted with problems solvable in a variety of ways. Our games allow players to explore, experiment and express themselves through their solution choices—and we show them the consequences of those choices. If we remain true to these ideas, no two players will end a JPS game having had the same experience.

Our goal, then, is to deliver on the promise of “shared authorship” and “emergent gameplay,” ensuring that players feel they have crafted their own experience through their in-game choices. The story we craft exists largely to provide context and significance for player choices and lends predictability and the impression of inevitability to the consequences associated with those choices.

This hybrid narrative/freeform player experience, a hallmark of the Junction Point Studios “style,” is delivered in a variety of ways:

  • Through player tools and interconnected game systems that allow and encourage emergent behaviors
  • Through player interaction with those systems and with the gameworld
  • Through traditional story-structure and preplanned and/or scripted “magic moments”

From a practical standpoint, the utility of this value lies in questions each JPS employee should ask him- or herself regularly: “Will this decision empower players more fully? Is what I’m doing putting power to shape the experience in the player’s hands or am I taking power from the player?” The preferred answer is to favor decisions that allow players to shape their own, unique experience.

Quality – Gameplay and Presentation

In game development, quality matters—it affects everything from sales to review scores to awards to fan support and even employee satisfaction and retention.

Great games matter.

Our goal is, then, to create great videogames. We define “great” or “quality” as:

  • A game that hooks players quickly and keeps them playing—and replaying—from start to finish
  • A game that has broad appeal, meaning we make games about things for which there is already an audience rather than believing we can manufacture interest and create an audience
  • A game that is as accessible as we can make it, in terms of player training and user interface
  • A game that looks as good as it plays
  • A game that reviews well—90+ review scores are always our goal
  • A game that generates positive fan response and competes for Best of Genre and Game of the Year
  • A game that we believe is better than the last one we made

From a practical standpoint, the utility of this value lies in questions like, “Will this decision make the game empirically, measurably better, as measured by observable playtest results and/or by review scores?” We are less concerned with questions like “will I like the game better, personally, if we do thing X?”

Positive, collaborative company culture

To create great games we must create a great work environment. For us, a quality workplace is one which is positive, warm, friendly, respectful, healthy and smart. Specifically, our culture embodies the following ideals:

  • We value collaboration among members of the same discipline but also across disciplines
  • We encourage everyone to speak his or her mind without fear of judgment or ridicule
  • We talk talking openly about any problems we see and work to ensure that problems are addressed quickly and don’t linger
  • We recognize that everyone can contribute to the creative process and actively encourage everyone to do so, regardless of title or position on the org chart
  • We hire the most talented, dedicated practitioners of the art of game development but, as important, we look for people with the potential to grow during their tenure with us and/or who can contribute to our own growth and the enhancement of our development culture
  • We encourage personal and professional growth, helping one another to grow, both personally and professionally—we are all teachers and students

From a practical standpoint, the utility of this value lies in each employee asking “Am I thinking of team and project, first, and putting personal goals second?” It lies in hiring the people who seem likely to fit into or enhance our culture and who buy into our primary and secondary values. It lies in finding ways to involve more people, rather than fewer, in all aspects of the game’s development, asking “If roles were reversed, would I feel a sense of ownership in this situation?” It lies in asking, “Now that I’ve finished my work, is there anything I can do to help that other guy?” It lies in asking whether you can help someone do or be better, regardless of the circumstances.

This brings us to end of Mission Statement, Part 1. I’ll post Part 2 later this week and then try to get myself on a weekly blogging schedule. (We’ll see how long that lasts!) For now, though, let me know what you think about Part 1…