Creativity And Science Sitting In A Tree…

As long time readers of Denki’s website may recall, I wrote a blog for Gamasutra back in 2009 about the importance of predictable and measurable results in any creative process.

In it I said we had to stop worshiping the creative process and start studying it, and that one of Denki’s aims had always been to demystify the game development process by shining a light on its ‘dark arts’ through the application of scientific method to the creative process.

Fast forward to 2011 and I’m reading a book that Sean recommended to me:  The Lean Startup” by Eric Ries.  In it I find Eric championing exactly the same thing: the application of scientific method to the creative process.  Finally – we’re not alone!

In Denki’s case it’s applying scientific method to the creative process of Game Development; in Eric’s case it’s the creative process of Starting A New Business; but there are many similarities I recognise instantly, and they are as striking as they are inspiring.

To be clear, Eric’s model is far more considered than anything we’ve come up with at Denki so far, and his comes complete with practical, referenced examples of the sorts of predictions, experiments and results his process can deliver.  I really would recommend reading it to everyone working (or wanting to work) in creative businesses, and particularly those of us already in the games industry.

By comparison with Eric’s Lean Startup model, Denki has its Dragons’ Denki model: an experiment in applying scientific method to the game development process that we began back in 2007.  Unfortunately we still don’t have conclusive results from this experiment, since the Xbox LIVE Arcade version of Quarrel (the first product that could make it all the way through the process) still has to be released.  But once it does we will be able to tell which parts of our process worked, and why.

Initial signs based on the iPhone/iPad version of Quarrel are already encouraging, such as the positive reviews and awards the game’s received, but we’d identified as far back as 2008 that real-time multiplayer is Quarrel’s killer app.  So until there’s a version with that feature in the market-place we really won’t be able to judge the results in context.

Even so though, it was clear to me as I was reading The Lean Startup that Dragons’ Denki itself and The Denki Way development foundation it’s built upon are just specific implementations of the more general principles described by Eric in his book.

It seems to me like Denki has arrived at its own version of The Lean Startup from first principles through our own observations and experiences of working in the games industry, and in Dragons’ Denki and Quarrel we’ve shown that the approach applies just as well to developing creative media, such as games, as it does to building Startups.  Better still, Eric has even provided some incredibly useful new vocabulary for the bits of the process we hadn’t identified yet, such as “validated learning” and “pivot”.

In science, that’s known as independent verification and it’s usually a pretty good sign you’re getting closer to the truth.

In that 2009 Gamasutra blog I wrote, “Denki aims to be part of the movement that will eventually drag creativity out of the dark ages it has lived in for far too long.”  On the cusp of 2012 it looks like that movement may have finally found a name: The Lean Startup movement.

Do take time to  read the book, and (if you’re in Scotland at least) join us in Dundee on Monday 30th January to share your Lean Startup thoughts and experiences with us.