Change of focus

The funny thing about working as a consultant and selling your services is that you have very little predictability in your business. No matter how useful your skills are, no matter how in-demand your services are, you don’t always get to choose when the work starts and ends. Plans change, clients’ needs wax and wane, and a previously concrete plan for what you’ll be doing over the next few months can suddenly turn into idle time, with no other clients waiting and ready to take advantage.

For contractors, that’s a mixed blessing. Finally you get some breathing room, a chance to catch up on all the little loose ends that you’ve pushed to one side while you’ve been busy. For me, a chance to actually play some games instead of helping to make them. It doesn’t take too long however before you start to get restless, when you’re not actively engaged on something and your brain has some time to wander. During this particular down-time, I took the opportunity to try and reset my brain a bit, do some DIY, catch up on my reading, and other non-computer related stuff. I know that I could have been working on the VR stuff I’ve been putting off, but I felt like I lacked the focus needed to really get stuck into it, I’d been too long working on other peoples’ projects. Even when the DIY was done and I was properly back in the office, something was still nagging at me, and I spent more time pottering in the office organising than anything solidly useful.

The other thing staying busy with client work does is make you lazy about introspection. If I’m honest, the steady supply of business had allowed me, to fall into something of a safe, comfortable place. It was well past time to take a long hard look at the business plan and re-assess. Tim left the team over 2 years ago now, and Dan has been full-time on his Ph.D. work for almost as long. Black Company Studios is, and has been for a long time now, just me, consulting with our various clients and developing software for them. I think it’s time to stop lingering on the trappings of a larger team, and accept that reality.

There’s no shame in it, I feel. What we have always been good at is providing our expertise in software development to our clients. Actually making our own games and apps, not so much. For too long when talking about our work I’ve mentioned those non work-for-hire projects with a little bit of embarrassment, that they were things we notionally did, but they never received enough attention to make them projects we could hold up and be proud of, they were always just a footnote. That’s mostly because I felt that the work-for-hire we provided was always where we could add the most value. So changes are afoot to help us, me, refocus on that strength. The Belford Road office, large enough for 5, but really only holding me and a whole bunch of boxes and old machines, is being left behind, as of the end of April. There are hot-desk environments that would suit a lone developer much better, and often enough I’ll be working on-site with the client anyway. The machines and excess equipment have been sold off for token amounts and will actually see some use instead of lying cold in the corner of the office.

And finally, I’ll be trying to increase the breadth of clients I look to work with, not just games studios but all sectors. That’s already partly happening – 90% of the work over the last 12 months has been more 3D visualisation than games. Having to be a generalist for so many years has given me a grounding in many aspects of software development; .NET tools, DevOps and build pipelines, building web services and tools, user interface work both on the web and natively, high-performance/low-latency coding. It’s time I put those skills to work. Because after a lot of hard thought, I’ve come to the conclusion that what I enjoy about my work isn’t limited to making games, it’s knowing that I can do good, useful work, for whatever clients I deal with.

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Last modified: February 06 2020.