Hatchery is back with no-nonsense feedback to startups


By Dennis Clemente

You better be prepared when you present at “The Hachery: Are you serious?” meetup, because even if there are so many similar meetups in the city, it doesn’t fail in one regard: giving serious, constructive feedback.

The secret to its no-nonsense approach probably lies in two things. It has fewer startup demonstrations—four this time, as one presenter didn’t show up. Second, startups have five minutes to pitch to the panel of investors, usually four or them. In the startup demo world, the five-minute presentation format is, of course, an eternity and for the panel listening, just more information for them to give serious feedback that startups truly need to hear.

It also helped that The Hatchery’s first meetup last September 25–after taking the summer off–had the candid Kamran Elahian talking about his decades-long investing experience. The other panelists were Jeff Neu of B2B Ventures and Gregg Young of NY Angels, respectively.

The investors were unanimous in saying how all the presenters need to review their financial projections. Elahian spoke at length about how in the interest of time, presenters should not do three-year financial projections, believing this to be unreliable based on his experience.

“Value is in the eye of the beholder…not in the spreadsheets,” Elahian, talking about an unspoken reality in this business. “Make (investors) like you.” He added: “Establish value then negotiate.”

With over 29 years of experience in the tech industry, Elahian has co-founded 10 hugely successful companies. As the chair and co-founder of Global Catalyst Partners, he has invested in multi-stage companies in the United States, China, Japan and Israel.

The first presenter, Aspirevest, connects individual investors to financial advisors and asset managers in the alternative investments space pay per connection auction and data social feeds.

CEO Daniel Roth sees a $1 billion opportunity, especially with “the financial world (being) 10 years behind the internet.” He is looking to raise $750,000 with a milestone in 18 months.

With 3 US patents, bio-medical startup Synchropet is also seeking $750,000 in its variation on PET scanning for animals. Working prototypes are called rat cap and pet insert MRI It is competing in a $235 million by doing something smaller and cheaper.

Each unit could cost $295,000. Beta products are expected to be done in December, delivery by the end of the summer of 2015 and sales by the end of 2015. It’s a high ticket product, especially being in the hardware category. “Make sure you are in the cash flow,” one of the investors said.

“I have about 15 customers for the rat cap from Europe,” said founder and CEO Marc Alessi.

The rise of personalized medicine is something that Bridget Osetinsky, co founder and CEO of Hyperfine, is hoping to capture with its Cornerstone tool. It aims to redefine the landscape of data search tools by introducing intelligence algorithms that will help in knowledge extraction in hospitals initially.

For $20,000 a year, doctors can also reportedly use it among patients using on-premise solutions and later, in the cloud. It is seeking $3 million and would have to figure out issues of liability and confidentiality.

CEO and founder Chris McBride presented Alta Editions, a digital platform for premium cooking content as a way to solve hard-to-find free recipes online.

“Cookbooks represent a $3 billion global market,” he said as he noted how Cooks Illustrated may have the American market but not the global market.

What is it going to do different? Re-launching early 2015, it will reportedly have a more personalized (approach) based on skill level, dietary needs, food purchases and user tastes. Founded in 2011, it faces an uphill battle. Content space is really difficult.

GoPRit and University Beyond were initially scheduled to present.

Storytelling in app world needs both Agile and Waterfall

brooklyndesignBy Dennis Clemente

Does the Agile methodology work in storytelling? If you ask Brian Kelly of Small Planet Digital, a full service mobile agency with 57 apps in the Apple Store, he thinks storytelling needs both Agile and Waterfall.

Using TV series as a case study, Kelly argued how Agile alone is not enough. “A pilot is the MVP, the episode the sprint and the season the version. Nobody writes the season(s) upfront.”

Stressing this point, he said, “When Agile works, it works but we’re often hired to tell stories and create new narratives. And agile is not really good for telling these great emotional stories.”

Kelly was one of three presenters at the Brooklyn Mobile Designers meetup along with
Refinery 29’s UX director Eben Levy and senior UX designer Juan Sanchez as well as Luke Miller, formerly of Yahoo and whose energetic speaking voice, will do him well in his incarnation as a mentor at General Assemb.ly.

Both Levy and Sanchez talked about the lessons they’ve learned in mobile design. Some of the key learnings they shared:

• Never assume they’re going to use (a feature)
• Consistency of experience is important
• White space is part of our background
• The problems you face may not be the interactive but how you need to diversify interface points
• Work closely with data analysts, to (design) in an honest way
• The biggest thing for us is the monetization of mobile
• Challenge is how to balance advertising needs vs. user needs
• It uses an internal tool to test

Using a newsfeed as case study, Miller advised people to take these three points to heart: usability, pagination and universal app for mobile and tablets. He stresses how it’s wrong to use a product person (internal) as test user.

Miller talked about the tools he has used. At Yahoo Finance, Miller used Hype. For interaction, he now uses a new tool called Pixate. “(The latter is) almost object-oriented programming, not timeline based, and with no coding.”

He urges designers to use data collection. “It’s good for hypothesis.”

Startups in mobility: charters, electric charging and smart automation present mobility concepts to BMW


By Dennis Clemente

You know the brand behind the ultimate driving machine? BMW is also investing in startups under BMW I Ventures. And since it’s in the automobile business, you’ll have to be in the area of mobility services like the startups that presented last September 23—Buster, EverCharge, SmartCar and TransitScreen.

Founded in 2012 to help groups and charter operators find each other, Buster might as well be the Uber for group traveling. “It’s a marketplace where customers can discover, compare and book group transportation online,” said founder Matthew Kochman who also offered a similar service to fellow students back at Cornell University.

Reportedly an $11.4-billion market, Buster is for everyone who wants to book private group charters, whether for a school trip, company excursion or fun weekend getaway. Average price per booking is 1,000

With over 20,000 charter industry operators, Buster is reportedly aggregating bus companies and aims to offer centralized fleet services as well as discounts on insurance, maintenance and financing.
Next presenter, EverCharge is an electric vehicle charger from your parking space or for apartments and condos. You just tap your access card and plug in for EverCharge to automatically authenticate your vehicle and log your usage for billing purposes.

Minimum charge for EverCharge’s membership is about $40 for 500 miles.

From California, SmartCar is automation for connected vehicles. It is a web service that connects to internet-connected cars wirelessly over a cellular network. You should be able to configure and monitor your vehicle’s automation settings from your smartphone, tablet or laptop.

Founder Sahas Katta talked about the many features of its app. If you want to have the perfect temperature in your, for instance, you can set a schedule and Smartcar will automatically begin cooling or heating your vehicle. It is also reportedly energy efficient.

It can also reportedly learn your driving patterns and automatically create a schedule to charge your car at the right time.

Smartcar is designed for the Tesla but it is working to have connected vehicles from other manufacturers in the near future.

A different startup from all the rest was TransitScreen. Matt Caywood recognizes the growth of smart cities, so he’s concentrating on real-time display of all transportation options at a specific location. This includes digital display ads.

The last presenter, Valet Anywhere, hopes to offer on-demand parking valet service for cities. Right now, it is only offering its service in New York City, the $25 billion parking market. “We hope to solve parking,” said founder Robert Kao.
How does it work? It assigns a uniformed vetted valet who greets you and parks your car for you. Valet also returns the car to you…wherever you may be in the city. Actual parking is said to be included in the price.

“How do you scale?” That was the frequently asked question by the guest panelists Matt Turck, managing director at First Mark Capital; Chris Thomas, founder and partner at Fontinalis; and Ulrich Quay, managing director at BMW i Ventures.

How not to overdo on your site or app’s features


By Dennis Clemente

If studies indicate 50 percent of a product’s features go unused, how do you make sure you don’t overdo it? The answer is quite obvious: You need user testing. What’s less obvious is how you go about this process.

At the Kaplan Center last September 22, The Agile/Lean Practitioners group brought back Danielle Tomson of the Occum Group and Steven Cohn of Validately to discuss various ways of gaining user insights from the prototyping stage.

Tomson said there are three types of user tests: desirability, usability and feasibility.

In terms of desirability, she said it’s important to interview, observe, survey and A/B test. When interviewing, ask for open question, making sure to dig deep.

“Instead of telling the user what specially needs to be done, give them a task,” she said. “Ask the user what he expects to happen. What’s in it for them?”

Breaking it down, asks the what, when and how questions. Does the user want to use it? Would they use it? How would they use it? When is it essential in the early phase and in creating new features on old products? How is the minimum viable service (.i.e. test the service before the product, figure out the interviews, surveys, paper prototyping)

Quantity is not always quality when it comes to number of users. Tomson adheres to Jacob Nielsen’s five-user test method: test more users if they are in a highly different group (egg. 5 students and 5 teachers). Read more here http://www.nngroup.com/articles/why-you-only-need-to-test-with-5-users/

As for usability, ask what does the product fulfill in the user’s needs? Why and why not? Do the features or UI/UX enable them to do so? Does the product do what you intended? Figure out how what tools to track behavior.

As for the feasibility part, ask how this feature can achieve business goals?

Constantly validate, but Tomson says it’s also important to keep two things in mind: the goal and hypothesis. “A goal is something you hope to achieve—what do you want the behavior to be? A hypothesis is something you think will happen—what do you believe the behavior will be?”

Cohn talked next about his startup Validately and how it is supposed to recruit users, create tests and get rapid feedback for different types of prototypes. Demonstrating Validately’s functions, he shows how it can show both low fidelity and high fidelity, including support for Axure and Balsamiq. With Axure, he said you can just add in the URLs and test the prototype on Validately. For safety, he said you can create a non-guessable URL to send to just a few people.

Overall, the validation site should be able to gauge desirability, measure usability, test the look and feel and make custom tests.

Cohn’s key takeways about user testing involved the following:
• Test what people do in their native environment
• Filter qualitative feedback based on actions
• Test on customer segments
• Be open to data

Jason Klein explains angel work; Sailo offers you a boat to rent

jason klein

By Dennis Clemente

How many times have you seen investors make actual Powerpoint presentations? Another question, how many of them have you seen present in front of a big audience in an engaging way—smiling at that? Even more pointedly, when did you last get a great handshake, smiling again and with steady eye contact?

In a job that requires lots of patience, it’s refreshing to see angel investor Jason E. Klein do all these in front of all the aspiring entrepreneurs at the ERA Roundtable last September 18 at Microsoft. Last time this blogger met a smiling investor it was Fred Wilson.

In the grand scheme of things, of course, you wouldn’t probably care if they were stone-faced and taciturn as long as your startup gets funded. Still, it certainly works for Klein and his investments.

Klein is founder and CEO of On Grid Ventures LLC, an advisory and investment firm in digital media, marketing and information. He also is chairman of the Harvard Business School (HBS) Alumni Angels of Greater New York, a member of New York Angels ad several NYC-based incubators.

Klein was at the ERA Roundtable meetup to give his feedback to the startup presenters who can also learn a thing or two about presenting with a PowerPoint deck, even just to show the landing page and twitter handles of their startups—the better to promote them and engage attendees.

Klein talked more in behalf of the HBS Alumni Angels, explaining how its members invest on their own individual accord:
• They invest in what they know
• They seek ROI
• They do diligence (20 hours of work, background check)
• They build a portfolio. They want to build a range of investments
• They want to add value

More important perhaps for startups is what HBS Alumni Angels looks for when investing in a startup. Here’s what Klein outlined:

A game changer, preferably. If not, then a key piece of a game changer that could be a part of a greater solution.
Competitive edge. Why you will win vs. your competition? Assuming the competition wakes up, how do you defend your turf?
Angel and entrepreneur-friendly terms. There are sample term sheets at gust.com. The valuation should be realistic, given the stage need for additional rounds of capital, and potential exit scenarios.
The CEO. It looks for vision, leadership qualities, uncanny drive, intelligence, smarts, results-focus, and high professional standards and ethics
Value added. Having overseen and grown companies, it wants to help grow yours. Respecting your time and full plate, your involvement will vary over time based on circumstances. A New York City metro area location is preferred. To apply, visit https://gust.com/organizations/hbs-new-york/apply

“Typically, I or more investors become investors,” he said, clarifying again that the HBSAANY as a group makes no recommendations for investment.

In the presentation of the startups, Sailo stood among the other three presenters with a simple but very promising idea—rent a boat from the owner. It makes sense when you think about how many boats supposedly sit idle: 95 percent.

Before you worry about who’s going to steer the ship, Sailo is offering what others have left out: Having a captain of your choice for your peace of mind.

“You need someone who actually knows what he is doing—the captain,” said co-founder Delphine Braas who is looking to raise $500,000 to expand. “We also vet the boats and the insurance.”

Braas assured that Sailo can cover a trip up to a million dollars. If you list your boat, an insurance provider will look into it. Captains have to upload their license.”

Klein was receptive to the idea, suggesting partnering with Active Captain and asking how she is going to scale the business. “We are looking forward to doing a lot of marketing…offering loyalty perks and more.”

Sailo is available in the tri-state area with plans to launch Florida in the Fall.

The other presenters were Hello Fang, Kidklass and CthruNutrition.

Challenges in e-commerce content; big companies investing in startups

orrick  at fulton

By Dennis Clemente

If you have not noticed, big companies have joined the tech investing bandwagon. If you have not noticed, the tech meetups are also adding more topics in one meetup night.

Last September 17, Orrick moved its meetup at WeWork at Fulton Center from the CBS Building to discuss three hot issues.

• The astounding differences on both sides of the buy button by Scott Kumit, founder and CEO of Keep Holdings

• What’s hot in ecommerce? New business models, new markets with content marketing becoming instead the most talked about part of this sector.

• Structuring a partnership with established companies

The e-commerce panel consisted of Adam Kalamchi, founder & CEO of Brilliant Bicycles; Philip Krim, co-founder & CEO, Casper; Matt Krna, partner of SoftBank Capital; Spencer Lazar, principal, General Catalyst Partners, and Amit Mukherjee, associate, NEA. It was moderated by David Concannon, partner at Orrick.

The second panel consisted of Melissa Gonzalez, founder & CEO, The Lion’esque Group; Liza Kindred, founder & CEO, Third Wave Fashion; Seona Skwara, group marketing manager, digital marketing of Nestlé Waters North America and Kim Grennan, innovation strategist, Global Strategy Group of Verizon Communications. It was moderated by Kelly Hoey, chief marketing officer of Cuurio.

With the e-commerce panel, Warby Parker was considered the standard for success in its content marketing.

Because there is so much noise out there, an honest brand persona goes a long way, said one of the panelists. The product has to reflect its reality.
As for the e-commerce model, many of them agreed that you can test at shopify before you invest in your concept.

One observed how more unique goods have proven to be great sellers. If you’re a small brand, this is good to know. “Consumers now are taking risks.”

When talk moved to pop-up stores as a way to promote e-commerce sites, it begged the question if it’s more of a showroom or an inexpensive way to test.

The other discussion about partnerships with big companies provoked a question from the audience, “How can a startup trust a big company to support them?”

Before the actual responses came, the panelists said they don’t sign non-disclosure agreements, just like any other investor. They assured the audience that an idea still requires execution, which companies can’t reportedly be bothered to do, because of their other vested interests.

One panelist said $15 million revenue may not push the needle if the company is already earning $130 billion.

That may also indicate if a company is going to steal your idea or not.

Scaling your apps and getting users: Think strategy


By Dennis Clemente

At Dumbo, Brooklyn last September 16, Digital Dumbo divided its meetup into two segments. The first part focused on scaling apps with Nakul Patel, partner manager of Parse and Will Schenk, co-founder of HappyFunCorp. The second part tackled how to get users with Deepanjan De, client partner of Facebook and Al Harnisch, strategist of Prolific Interactive. That was the order of the presentation.

Now if they were switched around, Prolific Interactive could have been the first, because it talked about a very important facet of mobile app development that is not talked about—having a strategy beyond the two stages of conception: answering what is the problem and what is the solution.

To expound on this, Harnisch showed a case study of Threadless’ Type Tees. It looks like its functionality can forge a brand identity for the startups’ e-commerce app. The functionality is, of course, a direct result of the user experience design.

The next step was testing the app for users out there. This included promoting the site with different ads posted on Facebook. Testing meant showing how an ad copy or different color or even an entirely different creative could be presented to Facebook users and see how they interact with the e-commerce app.

Clearly operated like an ad agency with Eric Ries’ lean startup methodology in place, Prolific’s Harnisch said this beehive of activity was all part of its mobile app campaign…to boost installs and registrations for the app.

“The first lesson is to tell a story. The second lesson is to know the audience. The third lesson is to stay relevant (eg. keeping up on pop culture),” he said.

Even with just a change in color, Harnisch recognized how “small things make a big difference.” It turned out the agency’s most successful ad involved designs with cats, of course. Aside from successful installs, it had a viral effect

Results from its campaign resulted in 45% installs and 53.3% checkout.
But this is assuming you have a budget. Because when asked how much this could cost a startup, this blogger could not believe his ears: It was in the “hundreds of thousands.” It’s understandable, though, from its list of clients—all FORTUNE 500 companies.

Is there a solution for small startups? Is there a way to serve small startups without deep pockets? That is a good question that is not so easy to answer.

Since the topic is about scaling businesses, Facebook was also in the room.

De talked about Facebook for Business, giving us the numbers only the social network can only crank up– $170 million monthly active users and lots of users: one in every five minutes on a Facebook property. “We reach more of the right people. We drive action. All of the people who matter of you,” he said.

What’s the power of Facebook targeting if you need to get users? He put it as follows: having your core audience; sophisticated mobile targeting with unsurpassed accuracy; reaching the people you already know; getting your lookalike audience (finding more people like your best customers).

Among the tactics you can employ include promoting a special offer to drive people back to your mobile app.

If we need further convincing, De listing the following:
• Have an app ad or installs served in a news feed
• Drive discovery and action in the news feed
• Show a video in the news feed
• Have mobile app ads for installs

Getting users would mean managing your app for scale. This is where Parse comes in.

After joining Facebook last May 2013 and subsequently building over 260,000 apps, Patel describes what offers Parse under three pillars: Parse Core, Parse Push and Parse Analytics. With Parse Core, it reportedly handles everything you need to store data in the cloud such as store basic data types, including locations and photos, and query across them without spinning up a single server.

To increase engagement, its Push notifications are a direct channel to app users. With Parse Analytics, you view your app open rates and API request data via the Parse dashboard. It allows real-time viewing of analytics on API requests based on REST verbs, device type and Parse class.

“Our next step is to automate analytics,” Patel said.

Parse offers native SDKs for creating apps for all your devices. It is an API provider, your server team and database handler. “The sweet spot for Parse is the CRUD API, where you can manage your own data and have simple admin tools for operations,” said Patel. This CRUD API is for creating, reading and updating any type of resource that you want, without having to think about servers.

“Use Parse if you refer to your backend as a Content Management System. If you have extensive backend business, elaborate admin tool needs, or complicated business intelligence requirements,” he added. It reportedly added 140,000 developers this year.

The other presenter was HappyFunCorp. It’s a software engineering firm based in Brooklyn that builds for the web, app and all Internet-based products. Schenk talked about how it blends the best of product engineering, product design and strategy.

Deepening consumer engagement with Tapad’s mobile solution

data-driven photo

By Dennis Clemente

How can you make devices talk to each other, so they’re all in sync, even your behavior?

Attempting to understand consumer behavior across related screens and the ability to reach the right people on the right device at the right time is not easy.

But Tapad and its proprietary technology may be the key. Dag Liodden and George Gemelos, co-founder ad CTO and SVP of Data Science, claim publishers and advertisers can now deepen consumer engagement with a more fluid experience while increasing campaign cost-effectiveness.

Liodden and Gemelos were at the Data-Driven NYC meetup at the Bloomberg office last September 15 along with Tamr (data connection platform), Sumo Logic (turns machine data into smart decisions) and Panorama Education (data analytics to evaluate the effectiveness of education systems).

Tapad’s relevance these days could not be downplayed. Who doesn’t want their multitude of devices in sync somehow? Its proprietary technology reportedly assimilates billions of data points to find the human relationship between smartphones, desktops, laptops, tablets, connected TVs and game consoles.

Organizations with a large and growing number of data sources can certainly benefit from these companies as they claim to offer value for their services.

Ilyas of Tamr said most organizations use less than 10% of the relevant data available. The cost and complexity of connecting and preparing the massive variety of internal and external data required to power analytics and applications are unacceptably high. Tamr reportedly combines machine learning and advanced algorithms with human insight to identify data sources, understand relationships and curate siloed data at scale.

How did Tamr develop its technology? The concept and technology behind the Tamr platform reportedly began as a research project. After two years of product development, commercialization and deployment with customers, Tamr publicly announced the platform in the spring of 2014.

Tamr helps find, connect and enrich all of an organization’s data sources. The platform’s algorithms can reportedly analyze and determine which attributes to match–often handling over 90% automatically.

How does Tamr handle data security? Ilyas said Tamr requires as complete a view as possible of the data. Tamr will propagate security-relevant metadata to its output, enabling an organization’s existing security mechanisms to protect the data as needed.
How do organizations get experts to participate in expert sourcing?

Designed from the ground up as a cloud-based service, CEO Vance Loiselle said Sumo Logic reduces the TCO of log management and analytics through simplified provisioning. It liberates enterprises from having to manage on-premise systems, costly network attached storage and/or storage area networks, and puts an end-to add-on hardware costs and software upgrades.

Sumo Logic handles all log data collection, processing, storage, forensics and analysis from a centralized and highly secure cloud-based platform.

The Sumo Logic service leverages the scalability, reliability, redundancy and durability of Amazon S3. This enables the Sumo Logic service to provide customers with quality-of-service for log data retention at an extremely competitive price point compared to customers building their own highly available, disaster-recoverable storage arrays.

Tobi Knaup, founder and CTO of Mesosphere has Mesos to offer. It makes running complex distributed applications reportedly easier. Most applications now run on distributed systems, but connecting all of the distributed parts is often still a manual process. Mesos’ job is to abstract away all of these complexities and to ensure that an application can treat the data center and all your nodes as a single computer. Instead of setting up various server clusters for different parts of your application, Mesos creates a shared pool of servers where resources can be allocated dynamically as needed.

Current Mesos users include the likes of Airbnb, Vimeo, Hubspot and Twitter.

Aaron Feuer of Panorama Education is doing a social good. It is helping America’s leading schools collect, analyze, and act on feedback using student, teacher, and parent surveys. It is reportedly working with districts and states collecting feedback and analyzing data of more than millions of students.

De Blasio introduces NY’s first CTO, Minerva Tantoco

Minerva Tantoco
Minerva Tantoco

By Dennis Clemente

“New York’s tech story is an underrated story,” said New York mayor Bill De Blasio who graced the NY Tech Meetup last September 9 to introduce “one more thing” on the day of Apple’s big event: New York’s first-ever chief technology officer in Minerva Tantoco.

De Blasio is right. Ask New Yorkers if they know what’s happening in NY’s tech scene and it’s highly unlikely they will know about it. If you drop $128 billion in the conversation, you’ll get an incredulous look. That is actually the money poured into New York’s tech economy last year. While we’re at it, also tell New Yorkers that the city is the fastest-growing tech scene in the world and you’ll get bored looks directed at you.

The tech scene is not exactly a mainstream topic like news and entertainment. But at the NY Tech Meetup, it’s up front and center and fills up 600 seats easily. And yes, it doesn’t help that New Yorkers are not easy to please as well.

With De Blasio and Tantoco, Tuesday’s meetup was also one of its longest events., exceeding two hours on top of its show-and-tell format: 9 presenters and one (sometimes two or three) hack of the month that divides people: Those who think the show’s length is just about right and those who complain how by the seventh presenter, they have mentally checked out or left the building.

The startup presenters were Bubble, Dashlane, Heat Seek NYC, Hopscotch, Knotable, Makr, QuickMVP, Tengrade and The Campus Job. The hack of the month was bitshift.

It was a serendipitous day for Heat Seek NYC. With De Blasio at the event, the team of Heat Seekers asked the city to support its cause: provide a thermometer to residents with no heat in the winter. “It affects 200,000 people in the city and is the no. 1 complaint at 311. We look forward to delivering 100 sensors in buildings.”

De Blasio welcomed the startup’s idea, saying he will present it to the housing authority.

Two startups offered new ways of programming: Bubble is a new way of programming web and mobile apps without code, while Hopscotch offers a fun way of programming.

On the same day Apple announced Apple Pay, Dashlane took to the stage to assure the audience there are other brands and devices for it to compete against Apple Pay.

How do you boost your productivity? Knotable aims to lessen the noise in your email threads. Another startup, QuckMVP, can test a new business idea, reportedly in just five minutes. What about a way to boost students’ productivity? The Campus Job is a marketplace for students to find jobs. Another presenter, TenGrade uses a tornado rating system in its reviews from “reliable” sources—friends.

Makr is relying on its user experience to get people to use its app, a tool for customizing products (eg. corporate gifts, T-shirts), design and have them printed or manufactured.

Bitshift, the hack of the month, is a semantic source code search engine.

The secrets to designing a good game


By Dennis Clemente

Last September 2 at Microsoft, NY Games Forum provided an overview of its upcoming workshop with instructor Mark Heggen, Entertainment Applications director at AMC, talking about “not actual” secrets to designing a good game, pointing out each of his points for the audience, which consisted of beginners and developers.

People are terrible at randomness. Using a coin flip as an example, he asked how much do you let somebody win (7 successive coin flips is too much). It’s up to you to set the rules.

Games are not just games. What’s the best way to raise awareness about hurricane preparedness? In 2011, a bunch of kids took part in an invented ball game where kids fight a “battle storm?” aka the Navy who – for the fun of it– intimidated the kids like they were the storm. Organizers staged it like a big sports event, with videos, interviews, prizes. The kids were made to win, of course.

“A game is only good if it changes the experience,” he said. He believes even a crossword puzzle using pen and paper make a statement.

Tropes and clichés are your friends. You have to have a good reason to buck a trend. If you know what zombies do, the last thing you want to do is make them fly.

Games that are too simple to work, often work. We’re guilty of making things complicated, so when you think you’re making it more complicated than it should be, Heggen suggests the following reminders:
1. Your game + time = A more complicated game

2. Your game is more complicated than you think

3. So aim for too simple (it won’t be)

“Of all the things I’ve said this is the most valuable (to keep in mind),” he said.
Asked if there are rules in designing a simple game versus a serious game? “The principles are the same,” he said. Another question dealt with the thin line between being influenced by a game and stealing an idea for a game?” The lines are blurred.

Heggen started his career nine years ago as a game designer for Area/Code, which was bought ago by Zynga where he also worked. He helped create hit games like Drop7 and Parking Wars, as well as a huge range of experimental real-world gaming experiences.

After leaving Zynga, Heggen helped build the New York studio of Hide&Seek, an independent studio with an emphasis on developing new types of play. He now leads gaming efforts for AMC, including web, mobile, social, and second screen games.

NY Games Forum’s full day workshop for all experience levels will be on September 20. It will be platform agnostic, so it doesn’t matter if you are using PC or mobile and if you are developing LARP, sports or board games.
“It’s a great time to be making board games,” he declared.

What makes a great game designer? He said it’s about understanding the process. The workshop topics will cover concept development, rapid prototyping, playtesting, flexible design strategies as well as design resources, tuning and balancing, polishing, managing a live game and the secrets to a winning game. In playtesting, he is expected to tackle when to implement suggestions or ignore changes.

For more info, visit http://gmsfrm.com/