Above the Fold is in Alpha, Coming to Steam

Above the Fold is a video game where you play the editor-in-chief of a newspaper. Back in spring, I introduced this new project to the world and now the game has just entered alpha, which means that most of the basic gameplay features are in, or at least planned out.

The game lets you build a newspaper from the ground up, hiring reporters, assigning them stories, picking up advertisements and shaping your content to cater to specific demographics. Along the way you have to make decisions based on both random and historic events, your reporters will get their own ideas, accidents will happen. Mistakes are made. Fun is had by all (or at least the person playing the game, one would hope).

Build a profit, invest in upgrading everything from your access to sources, to setting up your own email server – but do so wisely. Each upgrade comes with its own advantage, but spend too much, too fast, and you might run into trouble come pay day.

While the game was still in pre-alpha, I made this little teaser …

There is of course a website associated with the game, as well as a Facebook page and a hashtag you can follow for more regular updates on the progress. I also want to mention the mailing list, which is only used for major announcements and for recruiting playtesters – so if you want to play the game early and give some feedback, that’s how you get a chance to do that. Sign up on the website or through this link.

The next call for playtesters goes out a week from the day of writing this. Just saying!

Still a work-in-progress, The Office is where you go between new issues to manage your newspaper.

Above the Fold is a Passion Project, as in I am making it for myself first and foremost. It’s a game idea I have had for years, and I am finally good enough at the craft of making games, that I can take on the challenge.

That was my main motivation when I started, but besides that, working on this game has also helped keep me both sane and focused while hunting for a job in real world. Having a somewhat ambitious project to work on has not only helped to keep me mentally stimulated, it has also worked as a way to maintain a schedule and task- and project-based mindset. Passion Projects are good that way.

Even though this game has been a solo project* up until this point, I am still using tools (trello, Jira, MS Office, Confluence) as if I had a team. Not only is it good practice, it’s also going to make life so much easier, if and when I do bring on other people to work on the game.

If you’re curious about the plans for the next few versions, take a look at the Development page on the website, which features a roadmap of the next several versions, and which features will be focused on when.

Above the Fold will be available on Steam eventually, likely in Early Access before final release, but there’s no date yet.

*I say solo project, but in reality about 8 people have already assisted with feedback, playtesting and ideation. I’ve done all the development, but their help has been/continues to be super valuable!

Top 3 Tips for Better Management + Bonus Tip

I was a manager long before I started working professionally, going back to when I first started organizing after school clubs for gamers in my neighborhood, as a young teenager.

I am not intimidated by the idea of taking charge of a situation or team of people. In fact, I enjoy trying to balance all those things! It can be stressful at times, sure, but it’s also fulfilling to bring people and pieces together to create something bigger than myself.

Over the years, I have worked in many different setups and with projects of every size and budget. In the following, I will share three things that I’ve come across, which made a difference to me and (I hope) made me a better manager.

Transparency in Good

Working at Valve taught me that transparency can work very well across product teams, departments and professions. Valve has a flat structure, and short of HR personnel files, pretty much all information is readily available to any employee who cares to look it up. This is in stark contrast to most other bigger companies I’ve come across, where everything is on a strict need to know basis.

Transparency is inspiring and motivating. If you are curious about any aspect of the company, you can do the research. If you have an idea, you can check what’s already in the works and see if and where it might fit in. You can find the decision makers and talk to them directly – just be sure you’re not wasting people’s time. With great power comes great responsibility, after all. Coincidentally, no one considers it a waste of your own time, to seek knowledge about what/how the company is doing.

Transparency helps to break down walls and creates a culture where employees are encouraged to talk to each other outside their day-to-day groups. It breaks traditional corporate hierarchies and lets ideas flow according to interest. It also helps to bring everyone up to speed on new developments, company vision, and can even quell harmful rumors.

Delegate with Trust

Many managers find it hard to let go and trust others to do something, they themselves may have to answer for at some status meeting down the line. While understandable from a human perspective, it is also terrible leadership. If you have qualified people on your team (which I assume you do), the best thing you can do is trust them to do the thing they were hired for – which includes making as many decisions as the project allows on their own.

No one likes micro management, and most managers who do it, are really just overly worried and need to let go. Micro managers aren’t helping anyone with their meddling. I am not saying you should ignore people, or not train them before letting them loose, just that you give them direction at first and let them ask questions on their own, once those directions are given.

Delegate responsibility and then trust that it is taken seriously. That doesn’t mean that you shed responsibility. It means you include others fully, to the degree they are comfortable and qualified, in getting the job done. If you really can’t trust your team enough to fully delegate tasks to them, then there are bigger issues at play – and I’d start with a close look inwards (if everyone else seems to be wrong all the time, you’re likely the wrong one).

Though it can be hard to let go, the results speak for themselves. Sure, there will be the occasional mistake but those happen anyway. What you get once you learn to delegate, is a team with stronger engagement and motivation, and with a sense of purpose you just can’t buy (well, maybe you can, but it’s much more cost efficient to invest in trust – trust me). Quality and productivity go up!

Fight for Your Team

There will be situations, where you’ll be delivering bad news. Projects end, budgets are slashed, deadlines are pushed – there are many variations. One thing they all have in common? If you’re in charge of a team, and bad news is coming, you better fight with everything you got to either avoid it or minimize the impact on your team mates. As team lead, their interests are yours as well, and from their perspective, standing up for the team is your greatest responsibility.

At the mid-management level, you have the added pressure of having to push back against people who are technically your superiors. This is where most managers crumble and end up throwing their teams under the bus (whether they mean to or not). You cannot be afraid to push back, if that is what makes sense in the situation. Sometimes there is nothing to be done, but if you didn’t try, you have failed.

It’s important to keep in mind, that in a healthy work environment, no one is your adversary. Everyone wants to create/ship/sell something awesome and make a lot of money, maybe even get some repeat business.

In my experience, solutions can often be found or compromises can be made, that can lessen the impact of a delay or project setback. It’s almost always a matter of decision makers failing to think the extra step out, and consider the immediate impact on those “on the floor”. Having been on both sides, I can easily see how that happens – no system is perfect, which is why human connection is key.

Bonus Tip: Meet Your Coworkers!

As I said, human connection is key. Get to know those you answer to, and those who answer to you. Once that happens and there is a basic human connection (you don’t have to be BFFs here), it becomes more natural to communicate. Pushing back ends up just being seen as constructive discussion, internal secrecy becomes plainly ridiculous, and trusting people to do their jobs becomes the default.

Have lunch with your coworkers every now and then – not just your team mates! If you have team meetings, invite someone from another team to sit in. Sit in on one of their meetings too. You’ll be amazed at how much easier it becomes to understand each other, and to share relevant knowledge and information, once you put the phone/laptop down for half an hour and meet each other in real life.

The Chain of Interests

I know a lot of creative people, I’m sure some of you can relate to this.

I have many interests and had a go at making a living off of several of them with varying degrees of success. I am a published author, I have published mobile apps and video games, I was a photographer for 10 years, and so on.

I often think about what my life might have looked like, if my interests weren’t so scattered. What if all I had ever cared about was music, for instance? Or software architecture?

With many interests, it sometimes feels like time is wasted on transitioning between states, or dabbling to learn things that may never be used again. From a marketing perspective, it is also very challenging to jump back and forth between different outlets, target audiences and messaging. Especially if you are doing it by yourself.

So, what if I had only been a writer? Would I have been a more successful, highly skilled writer? Would my brand be stronger?

It seems likely but here’s the thing: it’s connected like a chain. I am a better writer because I took a lot of portraits as a photographer. Why? Because I studied mood lighting, facial expressions and listened to people’s stories, all of which is transferable to writing.

I make better video games, because I studied how to build suspense in a movie script. I write better songs because I enjoyed building the guitar (seriously, I wrote 7 songs directly inspired by building a Stratocaster).

Of course there is a trade-off. I am not a specialist, which can get in the way, for example when looking for work. I am more of a big picture, high level kind of guy, less focused on polishing the details (though I work well with detail-oriented people). I accept these trade-offs, because the positives make it worthwhile.

Still, there are days where I wonder “what if”?