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Games without strategies

Digital Extremes wants to break the trend of live-service games meticulously planning years of content ahead of time using road maps…’What happens then is you don’t have a surprise and you don’t have a world that feels alive,’ [community director Rebecca] Ford says. ‘You have a product that feels like a result of an investor’s meeting 12 months ago.'”

— Steven Messner, “This Means War,” PC Gamer, Feb. 2020, p. 34

Video games have been leading indicators for almost forty years. It was back in the early 1980s that games started welcoming modders who altered the visuals, turning Castle Wolfenstein into Castle Smurfenstein, adding maps, levels, cars, weapons, and rules to game after game. Thus the games became more replayable. Thus the games became whatever users wanted to make them. Thus games — the most rule-bound of activities outside of a law court or a tea ceremony — became purposefully unpredictable.

Rebecca Ford is talking about Warframe, but what she says about planning and road maps points the way for what’s happening with business strategies overall. The Internet has not only gotten us used to an environment that is overwhelming and unpredictable, but we’ve developed approaches that let us leverage that unpredictability, from open platforms to minimum viable products to agile development.

The advantage of strategy is that it enables an organization to focus its attention and resources on a single goal. The disadvantages are that strategic planning assumes that the playing field is relatively stable, and that change general happens according to rules that we can know and apply. But that stability is a dream. Now that we have tech that lets us leverage unpredictability, we are coming to once again recognize that strategies work almost literally by squinting our eyes so tight that they’re almost closed.

Maybe games will help us open our eyes so that we do less strategizing and more playing.

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