Buy My Product: How to Get Your Audience Interested

Ribbon cuttingIf you’re a highly technical and introverted person like me, then marketing falls well into the area of things you don’t want anything to do with. But whether we like it or not we all gotta do it at some point; whether it be selling ourselves as employees to an employer or, in the context of this blog entry, marketing your product to the consumer.

If your development team has been using an Agile-like development process, then this is where we start to see some big benefits from following the doctrine of Agile. Just to reiterate what I’ve said in past entries, Agile projects can adapt to change and one of these types of changes can be consumer input (Fogelström, 2010).

Now it may sound a little weird to give, or even in some cases sell, the consumer a product that isn’t done yet. But this has become a popular trend among game developers as of late, although they often refer to it as beta-testing or early-access. The great thing about these early-access opportunities for consumers is that they can give the developers input as the product is being developed based on a tangible product rather than what incremental information your marketing team is putting out onto social networks. That’s not to say that, just because the consumer can’t use the product means you shouldn’t value their input, on the contrary their input should still be extremely valued and considered by your development team (Fogelström, 2010), because if they’re giving you input then odds are they’ve already developed some degree of interest in your product and could be a potential customer when you do reach a release point.

Steve Jobs

A true master of marketing

Another important factor to look into is that, although your marketing software, your audience may contain people of varying technical background. It is for this reason that you have to shoot for a healthy medium when unveiling of presenting your product so that you don’t get to bogged down in technical details such that the low technical audience doesn’t know what you’re talking about, but also so that the highly technical audience can still sate their thirst for knowledge about how your product works. Even as a die-hard Android fan and lifelong Windows user, I must give credit to Steve Jobs for perfecting this art, he managed to capture the appeal of both non-technical and highly-technical users with the products he marketed because he knew how to appeal to both groups, and of course the truckload of charisma he carried with him during a big Apple unveiling didn’t hurt.

So there you have it, use Agile’s ability for change to incorporate consumer input into your product and everyone will benefit from it.

References:

(Secondary)

Brice, A. (2013, March 19). The brutal truth about marketing your software product. Retrieved December 1, 2014,

from http://successfulsoftware.net/2013/03/19/the-brutal-truth-about-marketing-your-software-product/

(Primary)

Fogelström, N. D., Gorschek, T., Svahnberg, M., & Olsson, P. (2010). The impact of agile principles on market-driven

software product development. Journal Of Software Maintenance & Evolution: Research & Practice, 22(1), 53-

80.doi:10.1002/spip.420

Ribbon Cutting [Image]. Retrieved November 23, 2014, from: http://bit.ly/12jvplO

Steve Jobs [Image]. Retrieved November 23, 2014, from: http://bit.ly/1yaj55A

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Handing off the Project

baton-handoffYou can’t hold the client’s hand forever, eventually they need to be setup with the tools and the knowledge to be self-sufficient. Handing off a project to the client is no small task, it essentially requires slowly disseminating all the latest information (status, issues, backlogs, etc.) to the client. Such procedures often gets referred to as “mind-melding” in my workplace.

The most important thing is to make sure that this hand-off is as thorough as can be. Everything from email records, meeting notes, and any materials that are associated with the project’s development need to be assimilated (Curnow, 2003). This is where good file-keeping habits really pay-off. When handing off a software project, it is also particularly important to hand over the pre-compiled files to the client. Obviously that includes the source-code, but it also entails graphics, videos, pictures, or any other kinds of media that are incorporated into the finished product, so that the client can easily hand-off the project to another developer in the future (Curnow, 2003). The goal is to make sure that the client does not have to be dependent upon you after this hand-off is 100% complete, unless otherwise agreed upon.

Communication is a big part of these hand-offs, both parties need to understand what the other’s role will be during the transition period and after the transition period. Will be involved with any kind of maintenance or future upgrades to the software? Will the contractor provide any kind of training for the client? These are the kinds of questions that should be brought up when the transition is being planned. It is recommended to make these hand-off periods take place over a period of time, a rushed hand-off is just asking for trouble down the line. Taking the transition slowly will ensure that everyone is on the same page when it comes to an end.

wpa
The big risk at the end of the hand-off, especially for software, is the possibility of something going wrong afterwards. If a major bug is found within a software product after it has been handed off, the client needs to have all the materials they need to either get their in-house developers on the job or hire another contractor to the deal with it. Either of those options require that the client has things like source code, documentation, a list of known issues, meeting notes, or anything else that could give the new developer insight into the inner-workings of the software so that they can pick up where the previous developer left off.

References:

Agile Lifecycle [Image]. Retrieved November 16, 2014, from: http://bit.ly/15MbQoA

Baton Handoff [Image]. Retrieved November 16, 2014, from: http://bit.ly/1pF6unX

(Primary)

Curnow, B. (2003). Handing over and moving on. The International Guide to Management Consultancy: The

Evolution, Practice and Structure of Management Consultancy Worldwide, 1, 227.

(Secondary)

Ferris, B. (2012, June 7). How to Hand Off a Project Successfully. Retrieved November 17, 2014, from

http://cobaltpm.com/project-hand-off/

 

 

Employers: What are they looking for?

job-interviewAnyone who has sat down to tailor a resume has asked themselves a question along the lines of “what will create the best impression?” or “what will optimize my chances of getting this job?” Ultimately the employer will weight skills above all else.

Let’s split up skills into two categories, technical skills and soft skills. Technical skills tend to be specific and easily quantifiable; application development, speaking a second language, or the ability to operate heavy machinery can all be considered technical skills. Soft skills on the other hand are a little more broad and are skills that you can find in most jobs; communication, leadership, or teamwork are some common soft skills.

The top desired technical skills vary depending on what industry you’re seeking entrance into, a company seeking an engineer might be interested in their experience with computer-aided design modeling programs whereas a company seeking a programmer could be interested in the programmer’s experience with PHP, MySQL, etc. These are generally the kind of skills that people learn in school and/or specialize in.

Programming skills, technical support, networking, project management, and database administration top the charts in terms of employer demand for these skills. This list is not all that surprising either, most modern businesses rely heavily upon software to an extremely heavy degree, so much so that having technical experts in-house is essential. Within my own job as a software tester, although I consider myself to very skilled with the usage of computers, if one of those technical skills on the top five list weren’t present within our organization, it would be very hard to get our jobs done. Most companies are coming to this same realization that they need technically skilled people with sometimes very specific areas of expertise in order to keep their operations running smoothly (Zwieg, 2006).
High_Tech_Occupations_Highest_Number_Employees
Soft skills on the other hand, tend to be far more universal across most positions that you’ll come across. The top soft skills that employers want are communication, teamwork skills, flexibility, problem solving skills, and leadership kills. The reason why these skills are so desired is because, no matter how many technical skills you posses, not having these skills can serious hinder your ability to function within the workplace.

Communication is by far the most desired of all of these soft skills (Zwieg, 2006), many jobs require you to work with others and, in the process of doing so, be capable of clearly articulating what’s on you’re mind in a way that minimizes miscommunication. Even within a highly technical job, such as my own job as a software tester, these is a need to be able to communicate very clearly in order to keep things running smoothly. If I were report a software bug and not clearly describe the steps to replicate it, this could mean having to take an extra half-hour in a meeting in order to explain each individual bug to the developer. I could easily have saved that time by just writing it out clearly to begin with.

Both soft skills and technical skills play important roles within the workplace, lacking one or the other will seriously hinder your chances of an employer choosing you for the job over someone that already has these skills developed.

Citations:

Employment Stats [Image]. Retrieved November 09, 2014, from: http://bit.ly/1B4uSDH

Interview Sign [Image]. Retrieved November 09, 2014, from: http://bit.ly/1y7hKLr

(Secondary)

Mason, B. (2014, June 1). Top 10 Soft Skills in Demand. Retrieved November 10, 2014.

(Primary)

Zwieg, P., Kaiser, K., Beath, C., Bullen, C., Gallagher, K. P., Goles, T., … & Wion, R. (2006). The information technology

workforce: Trends and implications 2005-2008. MIS Quarterly Executive, 5(2), 47-54.

 

 

The Evolution of Computer Game Development: Modding

PongAll my prior blog posts have been about Agile development and selling yourself to employers. So this entries’ subject may come as a bit of a surprise. Today I am going to enlighten my readers on a different form of development that occurs within the computer game software industry.

This form of development is known within the gaming community as “modding.” For those of you who are unfamiliar with the term, modding typically refers to user-created content (ranging anywhere from physics engine tweaks to visual texture redesigns) that is made post-release for commercial computer games.

That term “user-created content” can be found in a variety of software, Google Chrome for example gives community developers the ability to develop extensions for the browser that provide additional functionality. The idea with computer game modding is very similar, the developers ideally design the game with a modding API so that community developers, sometimes small teams but often individuals, can write a “mod” that tweaks some aspect of the game with the intent of making it better, fixing something the  developers won’t fix, or just for the sake of humor. If we look at the modding community behind the vast multitude of mods for the computer game “The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim,”  we can see that there are mods made for improving the combat system, fixing software bugs that the official development team never got around to fixing, and mods that add things that are just down right silly; such as replacing the appearance dragons commonly found throughout the game with children’s cartoon characters that fly around breathing fire onto the player.

Silliness aside, encouraging an active modding community has some major benefits for development studios that choose to employ it. For starters, the game will grow long past its development life span. This varies depending on how extensive the modding api is, if the modding api only allows access to visual textures then the modding community won’t have much to work with and it will fizzle out very quickly. However by granting the community nearly full-access to the game’s capabilities, the modding community can create new missions for the player, new stories and plot-lines, new dialogue, gameplay, sounds, graphics, scripted events, and a plethora of other possibilities that were probably excluded from the original game due to development budget constraints.

Thruster Comparison

(Figure A) Left: Standard thruster options in Space Engineers. Right: User-made option alongside standard options. Screenshot credit: Sean Vail

Modders can even go one step further than small additions; in 1998 the Valve Software corporation released the computer game Half-Life. Half-Life’s game engine was easily moddable and the community eventually created such comprehensive mods that the result splintered off into a separate game, known as Counterstrike, and eventually was sold as a retail game itself (Sotamaa, 2003). This active modding community can also alleviate demand for new features from the developers. We can see an example of this in the title “Space Engineers” in which there used to be only two options for thrusters in the game for players to build spacecraft with, the modding community reacted quickly to this void and added a variety of new thruster options to the game, as can be seen in Figure A.

Developers stand to gain quite a lot by building game-engines capable of supporting these user-generated additions, and it ultimately leads to a far more pleasing experience for the user when the game they purchase is continuously improved upon by the community long after the developers have stopped supporting it.

Citations:

Pong [Image]. Retrieved November 2, 2014, from: http://bit.ly/12cBaCR

(Secondary)

Scacchi, W. (2010). Computer game mods, modders, modding, and the mod scene. First Monday, 15(5). doi:10.5210/fm.v15i5.2965

(Primary)

Sotamaa, O. (2003). Computer game modding, intermediality and participatory culture. New Media, 1-5.