I’m nearing a launch of something which got me thinking about pricing. Pricing should ultimately reflect the values of the company which are in alignment with some kind of strategy. As freedom is a core company value, the best way to spread freedom is to lift all boats with rock bottom low prices. Unfortunately, low margins make for tough business. Fortunately, the infrastructure is only one aspect of the business strategy.
Figuring out a strategy requires answering questions like what is my business? and how do I mind it? Ultimately, here, is where my core problem manifests as a human. As I’m not free of pathologies within the human spirit, and I find myself shaving the Yak pretty far out in the field. Instead of biasing towards focus, I’ve made the decision to lean hard into my ways. I made a decent career out of it, and I am in a reasonable retirement state.
The promise to myself is that I’m not allowing myself to feel the guilt of taking a random detour. Life is a journey meant to be explored and witnessed.
Now, I’ve decided, late in life, to take the way of the artist. I find myself thinking about Arnold Schwarzenegger who had a stellar career for a variety of reasons. What some may not know is that Arnold created much of his wealth prior to acting. His story is interesting, and I can’t find the interview where he credited his success in movies due to not being a struggling actor.
Beyond manifesting my technical art with the Adama Platform, I want to design board games. I like them, and some of them have this enduring quality which is hard to pin-point. My endgame business plan is to design, ship, and sell board games.
This is where my pathologies raise their head because, for whatever reason, I can’t just focus and ship a game with existing tools.
I just can’t.
I can’t do it.
However, I no longer feel bad about my pathologies. I have accepted that I am a flawed man. Comparison is the thief of joy, and there is no end to the stream of people to compare yourself too. It seems that the real question in life is whether or not one can find the courage to live life on your own terms.
So, here, I am building a business around my pathologies. Instead of building a game studio, I’m building three businesses in one.
Here is how I visualize my strategy.
There are three pieces of the strategy to contend with: the infrastructure, the IDE, and the games.
Adama, represents the infrastructure part. It’s the trunk of the tree, and it must be reliable and work exceptionally well. Reliability and stability here are requirements since I don’t have the focus to context switch. Doing things right requires doing the deep math such that ideas are stable for decades. Fortunately, my career was made within big tech’s infrastructure bowels. I know infrastructure, and I have a math degree.
Don’t worry, I’ve got this.
Sadly, infrastructure isn’t great business since it is a low margin game within a winner-take-all market. That’s a rough place to be. Worst yet, if you are successful in building a good service, then the big tech empires will copy it. Hell, that’s a principal engineer promotion right there!
This is a reason that Adama is 100% open source. I’ve benefited tremendously from open source projects as they made my career, so I’m perfectly happy to give back to the larger technical community. While it does suck that many corporations are parasites on the open source community, my definition of success with Adama is not based on the market.
Success, for me, is that Adama spawns franchises across the world. If a big tech infrastructure company comes along and offers it at a lower price, then great! I can use it and shift my focus. This is a good thing since Adama bucks the ideal advice of starting with a customer problem. At the time of this writing, Adama has one customer: me. It would be beyond fantastic if others see what I see.
All of this informs me that the pricing strategy should be competitive and industry defining with exceptionally low costs. The infrastructure is for engineers by an engineer.
With the infrastructure shaping up, the question now is how to bring people into the infrastructure. Unfortunately, people don’t want to forge JSON messages by hand nor read JSON to play a game; thus, the infrastructure requires some kind of user-experience.
Here, my pathologies raises yet another eyebrow with the boldest of proclamation: “hold my beer”.
Will I use Unity, Unreal, or some other existing game engine? No (but I am excited about Our Machinery)
Will I use React, Vue, or other web framework? Fuck no.
The discussion I had with my pathological psychosis is to commit to the web browser with eyes that yearn towards Nintendo Switch and other consoles. I’ll try to minimize my yearning… The good news is that the user-experience backed by Adama can be radically simplified because of the stream. There is an entire manifesto on building a user interface with Adama.
I intend to create a relatively simple engine to turn Adama’s JSON into images similar to mail-merge; this is the easy part. The not-so easy part is feeding the engine from a design angle, so I’m leveraging a series of side projects over my decades to produce yet another editor.
Life has a way of stacking regrets, and one of my deeper regrets is giving up on a “Crazy Ajax” IDE called Jovian Katana. Since it was never released and you have no idea what I’m talking, it was a WYSIWYG design environment for webb applications. It was a complete environment that my friends and I used to build a social network back when building a social network was cool. It had fatal flaws around SEO, and fortunately the world has moved on since then in many ways.
So, I’m going to rebuild a grand new WYSIWYG editor tuned for “reactive canvases”, and the competition for my engine is… paper. That’s right, I’m targeting paper as the competitive medium. I want it to be easier to build a board game with my IDE than grabbing card stock to make cards. As an aside, I also think it would be neat if the IDE would export assets compatible with Game Crafter, but that is a stretch goal.
Now, this IDE is going to go well beyond a simple WYSIWYG editor, and it will be a complete madman’s collection of tools. If it seems like a good enough idea, then it ships! Here, I intend to embrace a more jolly mode of building since my discipline to ship infrastructure feels like overkill. I’m just going to wing it and ship often. I aim to misbehave.
The business strategy for this IDE is make it available to all Adama developers willing to pay for their infrastructure usage. $5 will go far given Adama’s low pricing. This feels fair, and this IDE becomes more than a game builder. It will have a collection of tools useful for other domains as well due the generic nature of the Adama Platform. Perhaps Adama is “too open” or “too generic”; instead of running away from this criticism, the mission is to lean into it and go hard making super tools for super people.
The IDE will then embrace an “open core” philosophy such that any assets, like the 2D templates for the reactive canvas, will have a corresponding open source package. This philosophy should maximize freedom for Adama developers to leave, and this feels fair (albeit an awful business strategy in this world).
The minimal value proposition of the IDE is a convenient way for Adama developers to gain insight into their infrastructure, and this is where the most polish will be applied. For everything else, until I build a community, then the core customer of the IDE will be: me. My aspiration is that I can build a community of board game builders that find my tools compelling to provide feedback.
And, here is the core of the business. When I’m am old man, I want to say that I at least tried to bring my friends and family together around a board game that I designed. I got into computing because of games, and somehow I wound up in big tech doing deep infrastructure. Clearly, I have pathologies and tendencies that make using existing stuff hard, and I can’t just sit down and make a single game with available tools.
The personal challenge at hand is to not get stuck in the meta games of infrastructure and tooling. I must ship games for this business to work. However, everything I am doing now is a deep and long term investment.
The core business model is driven by producing content, and the market for board games is growing. Gaming itself is huge business. Ideally, I’d like to make a good game with tremendous replay value, but this is an exceptional challenge. The way forward is to get good at producing games, playing them, playing with them, tweaking them, and figuring out the art of game design.
“What makes a good game?” is the question then I intend to discover, research, and play with.
Building the infrastructure out as a SaaS, making my IDE available, and shipping games creates an interesting opportunity: Democratizing online board games. The vision is that board games can started, finished, shipped, and monetized online.
It’s going to take a decade to get there, and I hope you are excited to join me.