Category Archives: smArt Management

Gamasutra: Ethan Levy’s Blog – A playbook for cutting the corporate purse strings

This is phenomenal, must-read advice for any indie starting up.
“A playbook for cutting the corporate purse strings”

Two and a half years ago, I left the security of a stable job at Electronic Arts to cofound a now failed start up with a longtime colleague. Based on our time making free-to-play games at EA, we saw an…
Link to full article.

Sync Stories: Ideas for Business Travelers

I wrote a new article about clever uses for BitTorrent Sync! “Sync Stories: Ideas for Business Travelers”

Sync Stories is a column dedicated to our users. Each week, we showcase a different use case for BitTorrent Sync and the personal stories behind it. In this week’s edition: Art outsourcing manager …
Link to full article.

Gamasutra: Joseph Kim’s Blog – Mobile UI and Game Design: Screens vs. Flows

This is a fantastic guide to UI design and process, including practical usage details and non-obvious drawbacks and solutions to varying approaches. Even if UI/UX stuff doesn’t interest you, this is a great way to lay out process. “Mobile UI and game design: Screens vs. flows”

I initially published this post in my personal blog Check it out to learn more mobile gaming techniques, analysis, and industry opinions.
Link to full article.

Use the Problem Steps Recorder Tool to Document Problems in Windows

The detail level is overkill for my uses for art pipeline and process documentation and troubleshooting, but this could still be extremely helpful for some. Has anyone used it? “Use the Problem Steps Recorder Tool to Document Problems in Windows”

Windows: Explaining a problem you’re having to someone else is never easy. In Windows, there’s a tool called Problem Steps Recorder that can create a document of every step you took while having a problem…
Link to full article.

Slides and information from my XDS 2014 presentations!

[UPDATE 11/26/2014] The video is now online! Check it out:


Hi everybody! I just finished giving my presentations at the External Development Summit 2014 in Vancouver. Here are the slides for the first:

Tech and Tools of the Globetrotting Freelancer
Have you ever considered striking out on your own and living an exciting life as a freelancer, being your own boss without being geographically tethered? Perhaps you already freelance but want to learn how to hone your craft and reach the next level. In this talk you’ll learn how the clever application of technology can untether you from your location and get you connected and mobile from anywhere in the world, fully ready to rock for your clients. I present analysis of the best cloud-based and local email storage, file transfer and collaboration tools. I’ll teach you how to balance security with convenience and how to build a go-bag full of every gadget and peripheral needed to keep you connected and powered up anywhere in the world on a bootstrapper’s budget. This talk applies to freelancers, contract producers, art production managers, or anyone that collaborates with remote teams. Technology will set you free!

I’ll update this a bit later with links to all of the tools and tech. I just wanted to get this online ASAP!

3 reasons never to use in-line images for art feedback

Hi all! Quick tip — don’t use in-line images for art feedback! Ever. Seriously. This shows the correct way to Attach images instead of embedding them as inline images. Again, this applies to art feedback, not general emails. The primary reason is that they’re annoying to save and they make searching for attached images later very difficult, when they really don’t need to be. Think of this in the context of working on a project with thousands of emails spanning hundreds of contacts. Being able to come back to an attached image later becomes a hell of a lot more important when you’re operating at scale. Fortunately, this is an incredibly simple process tweak anyone can do. 🙂

Here are three reasons why you should never use in-line images for art feedback:

  1. It makes Gmail’s search vastly less effective. It prevents searching by filenamekeywordattachment in Gmail.

    Example: If I’m looking for Art_Pasta_paintover_14.jpg and it’s an Attachment, I can search Gmail for it. However, if it’s embedded as an in-line image, it cannot be searched for, so I have to remember who was on the email, what the subject was, what some of the key words were, etc. I get ~150 emails a day and I can’t expect myself to remember absolutely everything.

  2. It strips filenames. If you have to use the images, it requires manually saving them. Since it doesn’t store the original filename, it’s dependent on the end user to adhere to naming conventions and place the file appropriately. If you save the file and ever need to find it again, now it only exists as whatever you thought to name it, or in an email you can’t easily search for.
  3. It breaks formatting. Large images completely obliterate formatting by stretching out the horizontal scroll bar, which makes ALL email replies span multiple pages. This makes emails unreadable and is a great way to kill a thread, if that’s what you’re trying to do.

I’d initially considered JPG artifacting and re-saving images degrading image quality, but that doesn’t seem to be the case in my limited testing. Here’s an interesting tutorial on checking for JPG artifacting in Photoshop.

Thoughts? Agreedisagree? I’d like to hear your comments!

Worklog — how to create an art wall.

Art management time! Has anyone created a wall grid full of printed art assets for basic tracking and visualization? How did you do it and what did you track? I decided to design a system for that today.

I do all my project tracking in Shotgun ( but I like the idea of a wall to visualize relationships between sets, with really limited tracking indications that map to asset-specific tasks.

Let’s choose a standard 8.5 x 11 piece of paper to print on. That’s 2550 x 3300 pixels at 300dpi. Let’s see how many figures (characters in this case) we can fit onto a sheet. The practical considerations here are:

1) Scale. How many can I fit onto one sheet and still be meaningful? If it’s too few it’ll take up too much wall space. If it’s too many it’ll make looking at it difficult. We can also use either portrait or landscape mode, depending on the proportions of the image. Additionally, if there are too many and you’re printing updates, if you update more than one asset in a sheet you’ll be printing up new pages all the time.

5×4 grid: 510×825
3×3 grid: 850×1100
2×3 grid: 1275×1100
2×2 grid: 1275×1650

2) Buffer room at the edges in case you’re using a paper cutter. Do EVERYTHING you can to size it correctly so you don’t have to use a paper cutter to correct it. Trust me, I’ve been down that road.

3) Buffer room at either the top center (for magnets) or in the corners (for push-pins) so you’re not covering up information.

4) Clearly labeled asset name with stroke around text, for easier visibility in all conditions. I like white text in Impact with a black border, or inverted colors if necessary.

5) Limited colors so we don’t waste printer ink.

6) Character is on a neutral RGB 128 grey background, but outside of those bounds it’s white. This saves ink, and prevents the painful contrast of looking at a character with a bright white background. That’ll distort your perception of color and values. (note: I’m using a placeholder since I can’t show any of my game’s assets.)

7) Stroked inside edges of the image. This’ll aid in snapping them correctly (although you should be using Guides) and cutting them out, if you absolutely have to.

8) When you print, make sure to Scale to Fit Media otherwise it’ll clip the edges by default.

9) Clear indications of asset status at the bottom that you can mark with a ballpoint pen or Sharpie. I have “R C B S T I,” which stands for “Ref – Concept – Blockout – Sculpt – Texture – Ingame.”

After several experiments, this is what I ended up with:


This is what 4 of them on an 8.5×11 sheet looks like:


And this is what all my experiments look like on the wall:


Bottom right is the winner. 🙂 Obviously this is just the start of a LOT of effort, but I feel like I have the design down and have avoided a LOT of pitfalls I’ve subjected myself to in the past.

Hope that was helpful, or at least interesting! I’d really like to hear how your studios do it and if you have any suggestions on a simpler format, or if there’s anything I haven’t covered.


How to get answers faster!

One of the most important concepts I’ve learned as an art producermanager is this: If you want to get a specific answer from someone, make your best guess — ANY guess — and invite their feedback on it. It’s 10x faster than asking them to start from nothing, even if your guess is horrible. It’s a starting point *you* create, and it works because it’s easier to critique an existing idea than conceive and commit to a new one.

Predicting layoffs: How to check your studio’s health

Hi all! With the spate of layoffs recently, I’ve been thinking of how to assess a studio’s health so you can predict whether or not doom will come, and when. These are various ways I usually assess a studio’s health, and it’s upon that basis that I make the staygo”sorry, I’m booked out for months and regrettably unavailable for contract work” decision. This article applies mainly to full-time employees, but it could also be useful for contractors wanting to know if their clients will continue to have money to pay them.

I’m still new to the stock market side of things, but I’ve been trying my ass off to pay more attention to this ever since I worked at a THQ studio that was recently hit with massive layoffs. Following that rollercoaster has been instructive.

So, these are my questionscritera in no particular order:

  1. Track publisher stock movements and events. Sign up for Google Finance, add the big pubs (ATVI, EA, TTWO, THQI, ZNGA, UBSFF, KNM, NTDOY, CCOEF). How was their last quarter? Year? 5 years? How close are their sales projections to the actual reality when they release quarterly reports and how do they spin it? What obvious lies can you identify over time and what’s the common thread between them? What time of year have they historically performed “restructuring” and layoffs? (usually financial quartersbeginning of FY, but still.)
  2. Subscribe to the news. GamaSutra Newswire and to get a decent spread of up-to-date information on the industry. I subscribe to their RSS feeds in Google Reader so I only have to go one place to check. I also check GameTab occasionally, but I’ve had connectivity errors with the site recently. Beware of rumors and fearmongering, but still pay attention.
  3. Track patterns in press releases. Are there patterns between sequences of press releases like “This game will sell 5m!” – > “We have faith in the product.” – > “The product’s sales fell short of our expectations.” – > “In order to cut costs after disappointing sales, we’re restructuring our organization and have reduced [studio]’s headcount by 75.” How cyclical is this? Is there a predictable sequence of announcements that could give you an indication of what’s next?
  4. Know your publisher’s product catalog. Find out their fiscal year dates, and other games’ ship dates. What has happened to them when they miss a date? What is the organizational health and reputation of other owned and non-owned companies under your publisher’s umbrella? If you had to guess and be realistic, if shit hits fan which studio *should* be shut down first?
  5. Know your company’s track record. When did your company ship its last title? How did it sell? How did it rate on average? How about the one before that? Do they have a track record of missing ship dates?
  6. Know your genre. What genre is your game? Does that genre tend to sell well? Who are the biggest players in that space and are you competing directly with them, or trying to find a new take or angle or iteration upon the genre? Do you think your game compares favorably? And is its release date close to the release of another juggernaught in the same genre?
  7. Know your studio’s employee retention rate. How many people there tend to stay for the long haul versus staying only a year or less before moving on? “How long has the average employee at your company worked there?” is a question I have ALWAYS asked in an interview and it often makes people uncomfortable. 🙂
  8. Know who runs your company. Who are the principals of the company and what’s their history? What’s their relative rate of success with regards to companies runmanaged previously, success of previously shipped titles, how long they’ve leadmanaged? How long have they worked at the same company both currently and in the past? Mainly, find out if they hop around or commit for the long haul.
  9. Know your team’s history. Has this team worked together before, either as a whole or in small groupscliques? Check previous companies. Look up all the leads up on LinkedIn and Mobygames and map out concurrent employment and previous working relationships for future reference. Write it down.

That’s all I’ve got off the top of my head for basic high-level stuff. I could dig deeper into tech and so on, but this is a lot of data already. Still, these are all considerations I consider important and I’ve always dug into companies in this way and add to the list of criteria over time.

I’m curious what people think, and I welcome comments and feedback! If I’m completely full of crap, please let me know because I want this to be better. 🙂 Thanks guys!

[update] Thanks to Dave Shramek and Matthew Weigel for informing me that EA’s stock symbol is now EA (not ERTS) and to include Zynga (ZNGA)! [/update]