S o you have an idea for a promising Facebook game, or an application? One of the most critical business decisions you will have to make is which development partner you should hire. Here is a list of key elements you’ll need to take in account during your development partner selection process to help you minimize risk and position your application for success;
Do your homework
No matter where you find your developer, you must always do your homework. Asking for client references is always a good start, but you usually don’t know who the references are, so often developers will give you their personal friends, or “friendly” clients and partners. Try to dig deep into the relationship between the provided reference and the company and ask for specific examples of work the development company has performed for the reference, some problems that may have occurred during various projects and how the developer responded to those problems.
Always research any work samples that the developer has given you. Just because you receive a link, or screenshots for an application that the developer has produced doesn’t necessarily mean it’s actually their work, nor does it indicate the developer’s true level of involvement with it. Often developers put games/apps as a part of their portfolios that they’ve collaborated with other companies on, so try to understand their level of involvement with critical apps listed in their portfolios.
Several years ago I hired a developer to create a Facebook game that my company was working on at the time. During the first few conversations while addressing creating scalable applications, the development company told me that they once built a game that supported over 3 million monthly active users. After our game entered its beta phase, we noticed major performance issues when the application received too many simultaneous players. I decided to purchase the application’s historical data that the developers told me had over 3 million MAUs. When I saw the data I was shocked to find out that the app they mentioned never got anywhere close to 3 million users, in fact its highest MAU count was slightly over 100k. Websites such as www.AppData.com provide paid access to historical user trends (MAU & DAU), so I could have saved a lot of money by purchasing this data early on in my development partner selection process.
Evaluate the Company’s Processes
You can minimize the chance of failure by hiring a company with mature design, development, project management , and QA processes. This is particularly crucial when working with offshore development teams, which further increases your chance of failure if solid processes are not in place. This does not mean that a company with less mature processes is less capable of delivering your project, but it does help you to reduce the risk.
A good way to check the developer’s understanding of your needs is to ask specific questions and hear the developer’s input. Typically developers that say they can do everything, without outlining potential risks and problems, are just trying to close the sale rather than understand the full extent of your requirements. A project that is taken on without full understanding of the specs is often destined for failure. Take time to evaluate the personnel that will be involved with your project, particularly the lead developers, designers and project managers (years of experience, qualifications, list of projects under the belt…). It’s also a good idea to ask about which project management, qualify assurance and communication tools and applications the company uses to engage with its clients.
Once your application reaches its BETA phase and is close to launch, a heavy load of quality assurance will need to be performed. As the client you will be involved, but you don’t want to take the time to personally diagnose every single bug. A nightmare scenario is a developer that hands off a partially functional app over to you and expects you to perform all of the quality assurance yourself.
Avoid Agencies that don’t add value
There are many digital agencies out there that can connect you with the right level of talent for your needs. Agencies typically don’t have full time design and development staff, but instead connect you to development resources that are a part of their network. This means that you have to be very wary of agencies that simply act as outsourcing shops without adding any value to your project, especially if their development partners are located offshore.
Agencies that don’t offer a consultative approach are typically acting as outsource shops, meaning that they take on your project and charge a mark up on top of whatever they’re paying their development partners. This increases the cost of the application without adding any additional value to justify the added margin. Look for agencies that help you refine your idea, outline problems and offer solutions. A good agency will a solid understanding of your application, the market and can connect you to the right resources no matter what gaps your game/app may possess (analytics, game design & development, distribution, etc).
Structure Proper Contracts & Agreements
At the end of the day this is business, and you need to be properly protected from a legal standpoint. When structuring your agreements with developers make sure that the milestones and payment terms are clearly outlined. Try to make sure that payments get released only when developers hit certain milestones (e.g. alpha phase with a fully functional avatar and combat system). Also try to incorporate some refund terms for when time sensitive milestones are not met, as well as if the application does not function properly.
Don’t forget to make sure that a well outlined scope of work document is in place shortly after the contract is executed. You want to have a clear roadmap of all the features and milestones in place before jumping into the design and development phases. This is a mistake junior development teams often make, paving way for ambiguous milestones and throwing off the timeline and budget for the project.