Category Archives: Serious Business

Something New

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Exciting news everybody! I might be the co-founder of a brand new indie games studio! There is so much I want to share with you, but I just can’t tell you that much right now. We want to make sure that this is really happening, and there’s a few papers left that need signing.

What I can tell you however, is that I found the most awesome people to make games with, and the timing seems right. I truly believe we can make something cool together. We’re a really small team with a interesting mix of talents. I have been looking for a setup for a while now, where we all bring something different to the table, where you can learn from each other and see new possibilities together. I’ll share more with you as soon as I can. Promise!

Living With Dyslexia

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First things first. I’m no expert on dyslexia. I’m no doctor. If you think you got dyslexia please contact your doctor and ask for options to help you deal with this learning disability. I’m writing this to share my story. Perhaps this post can help someone else, at least I hope so : ] Let me know in the comments if you have dyslexia and how you deal with it.

Just writing this post in English is a major accomplishment for me. I absolutely hated learning English when I went to school as a kid. I’m native in Swedish and Finnish, and learning three languages at the same time can be a real challenge for any kid, not only for those suffering from dyslexia. I started to attend my English classes when I was 10. To me learning this new language was like trying to break the Enigma code. Frustrating, boring and to me totally impossible. Nothing made any sense, everyone else seemed to get it while all my exams came back with red ink all over them, cruelly highlighting every single mistake I made. No matter how hard I studied, no matter how much I tried I just felt plain out stupid. I drew lines on my table during class, one for each minute, then stared at the clock an erased them away as the minutes passed, a simple sort of progress bar until I could get out of class and on with the rest of the day. I guess I don’t have to tell you I was not my poor teacher’s favorite student.

Let’s rewind a bit, back to when I was 6. I remember a lot of the kids in my preschool had started to figure out the basics on how to read letters or spell their name at this time. Everyone were so excited to start school, and my friends tried to read out loud all the signs and letters we could see when walking to the park with the class. I was so jealous. Looking at strangely shaped letters and actually seeing a word or a name seemed like pure magic. I was very exited to start school, I just couldn’t wait to learn this awesome new skill!

However, starting school proved to be a very frustrating and at times very overwhelming experience. I’m not really sure when, but after a while it became apparent to both me, my parents and my teachers I was falling behind, my spelling, reading and writing was not developing like it should. I tried just as hard, even harder, than the other kids to learn, but something in my head just seemed…broken. After a while I started to hate reading, I hated the mandatory weekly spelling tests (yeah, we had mandatory weekly spelling tests at my school from when we were 8 or 9 years old and upwards). My teachers tried to help me, they would read out loud my failed attempt at spelling words like “katt” (Cat in Swedish) and said stuff like “but can’t you hear it’s pronounced [katt], with two t’s. If you only use one it’s pronounced “kaaaat”. This made zero sense to me. After a while I just pretended I to understand so they would leave me alone. Mostly I just guessed how to spell.

My brain did it’s best on its own to come up with creative solutions and to make up for what I was lacking in reading and writing. One example is that I loved the idea of writing a diary, but since I just couldn’t get the words right I resorted to drawing each day in my diary, instead of spelling it. I guess my passion for drawing and painting was really born somewhere at this point. I had the best grades in gymnastics and drawing, but I loathed the Swedish classes because they they made me feel stupid, like I was not an equal to my friends, like I had a broken brain. It’s very easy to start feeling alienated and then panic when you realize something is wrong, that no matter how hard you try you just can’t seem to fix it. Especially as a child. Feeling inferior, stupid and of less value, almost every day for years or months, is not a good thing for any kid.

Luckily for me I happened to be born in a time when dyslexia had just been “discovered” and starting to gain traction no just among researchers, but also among teachers in Finland. I remember I was so scared when my parents first told me I had something called dyslexia, but after learning more about this condition and taking some tests it felt very good to finally have a name for what I was experiencing. To know that I wasn’t stupid! In my case my dyslexia mostly affected my reading and writing, but I’m also notoriously bad at separating left from right and also have a mild face blindness. My overall coordination of hands and legs are also somewhat lacking (which was a huge challenge when taking ballet classes later). Doing jumping jacks is a serious challenge for me.

Dyslexia don’t affect IQ in any way, but it certainly made me feel less intelligent to my friends and the other kids in the class. Not being able to read or write properly did not feel half as bad as that feeling of being stupid. I know that everyone who has dyslexia probably experience it in their own way. In my case the condition made my spelling super bad, I mixed capital and letter cases, my hand writing was a mess, I flipped “d” and “b” when writing. I often wrote the same word twice and was unable to see this until someone pointed it out for me. When I was reading it felt super exhausting and I had to read every word out loud and slow up until I was 10, which was super annoying for my classmates. I read the letters in the wrong order. My reading was  slow, but I adored stories and tales. Instead of reading books I listened to tons of old tapes containing audio books from the library, sitting in my room, drawing. It was my way of getting into the amazing world of books without having to struggle for hours with each page. So all this time I was drawing stories in my diary, I was listening to stories and loved to craft my own in my head, I even made a small weekly news paper about what was happening in my made up land for my toys and sold it to my family members. I wanted to break into the word of letters and books, I just did not know how.

My school finally helped me out and I got to see a special teacher each week that helped me to understand my dyslexia. I slowly learned how to read and write, and when I was 11 we got computers to my school, which helped a lot. The spell check in Word was my best friend. I was slowly starting to crack the code, and it wasn’t long until I started to write my own short stories, which I absolutely loved doing. But learning a foreign language really felt like starting fresh again with all the issues.

I totally hated it and struggled to get good enough to pass my English exams with little to none extra points. This utter hate towards English (and sooner French) followed me until I was 16. By then I could read and write Swedish without problems, even if I still did a lot of spelling mistakes and performed below average in reading comprehension tests, but I was OK. I was actually more than just “OK”. I wrote two books and a short story at the age around 15 to 16, and even handed the short story to my Swedish teacher for feedback. She gave it back to me with “excellent, never stop writing, Sara!!” written on the last page. I still got those books saved on a floppy disk somewhere.

Then, when starting in my new school after finishing the mandatory one, after turning 16, something just clicked in my brain. It was like I was suddenly able to understand English. I found myself enjoying the English classes more and more. Playing video games certainly helped a lot at this point. I was still far behind my classmates, but at least I was finally understanding and I was making progress. I totally loved the course books that contained chapters from a variety of novels, and even went to the library and borrowed the books in English just to read the rest. Afterwards I held brief presentations for the class (in English) about the book. It was like that last piece about How To English had finally downloaded into my brain and I could run the .exe just like everyone else!

When I started studying video games at university three years later I noticed I was light years behind the average English skills of my class, but ever since I’ve worked hard to make up for all that lost time in school. I got great coaching from people around me, and writing this blog here is a way for me to constantly trying to improve. I still feel sometimes I need to make up to get to the same level as others, but I think I’m closing in on a good enough level quite soon.

Today I have learned how to deal with my dyslexia, and I feel very lucky that I was diagnosed so quickly, meaning that I was able to properly learn or write at all. I still make plenty of spelling errors, and I use the spell check of my web browser on every other word I’m writing in this post. I’ve kinda accepted I’m never going to learn how to spell certain words like because, sincerely, inconvenience, forest and unfortunately (among with välkommen, människa, känner or emot).  I know I need to check and then double check all emails I send  at work(approximately 40-70 each day), and I know I sometimes make spelling errors on my Twitter. To me that’s OK.

When it comes down to my clients however, if I post something for them, I usually spend quite a while obsessing about the spelling, checking and double checking and then triple checking and if I ever make a mistake with the spelling I honestly feel like my whole day is ruined and I get a a brief moment of anxiety where I briefly feel my arms and stomach go numb over the panic. I just don’t want to let others be affected.

On my private Facebook I regularly make spelling mistakes when posting an update, and it annoys me to death, but I just can’t seem to wipe away that last trace of dyslexia, I guess that’s who I am, and I choose to be grateful of all the other things this has given me, like my art. What makes me sad however are when people I know try to make “clever fun” of my spelling mistakes. It briefly makes me feel like when I was 8 or 9 and struggling each day not to feel inferior to my friends and classmates. I have never told my friends about this, but it really makes my heart sink when people try to be funny about my spelling. I’m sure they mean no harm.

I know many people probably judge me on my spelling mistakes as just not caring or being lazy, but the thing is I’ve been playing the game of reading and writing on “hard” my whole life, so honestly I probably put way more time into reading and writing than most people ever will in a lifetime : ) I’m dedicating this post to my 10 year old self, sitting in front of her English books, feeling stupid. I wish I could tell her not to worry : ]

 

Where Did All The Original Content on Facebook Go?

Now I’m going to do something ironic. I’m going to complain about social media on my blog, and then maybe tweet or Facebook about it! It’s something I do every now and then, haha. But really, I think you can complain about society and still be a part of society. And Facebook is very much its own digital society. I’m a fan of picking apart and understanding why you feel the way you do, and then perhaps implement some kind of change to improve the state of things. I’m not really a big believer of complaining silently or just nagging and never do anything about the problem itself. I don’t have much time and energy, so I’m gonna just burp it out. The stuff I’ve been thinking about. Here it goes!

I’m very passionate about social media, marketing and PR. I just feel like I’m having some problems with the tools and the direction they are going in. One such tool is Facebook.

I feel like Facebook has become a really bad version of Reddit. And it has happened slowly and over 1-2 years. Every time I log into Facebook I’m greeted by the same kind of content. The content is roughly:

  • “Funny” or “fantastic” videos someone liked or reposted.
  • Photoshoped images with some words of wisdom written all over them. You know the Carpe Diem-stuff.
  • Reposted political articles from the biggest newspapers in Sweden.
  • Reposted comics from some video game site.
  • Reposted photos of things I don’t care about.
  • Click-bate articles or videos.
  • A bunch of people engaging in a never ending argument in someone’s update.
  • Something about a friends’ friend (which I don’t even know) has commented on an update written months ago (WTF Facebook?).

Simply put I feel that I find less and less reasons to keep using Facebook. I’ve adjusted my friends settings and been trying to shape my feed into only displaying happy, positive, interesting and original content. This involves removing people I don’t actually know, and muting people who post things I don’t want to see, but I don’t want to lose touch with them since I enjoy hanging out with them IRL. But it feels like true, original content posted by the people I care about is becoming increasingly rare. It’s more like Facebook has grown into a badly curated flood of stuff I don’t really care about or find interesting.

I can’t just stop using Facebook. There’s still a few things left the service provides that it’s hard to come by on other platforms, but it starts to feel like these reasons might not be enough to keep me coming back in the long run. The advantages of Facebook is:

  • Being able to stay in touch with people I don’t meet on a daily or weekly (or yearly) basis, but that I still care about a lot.
  • Invite people to parties and get invited to events and parties I want to attend.
  • Get feedback and keep track of my art progress.
  • Getting updates from my closest friends and family.

Not to mention I need Facebook to do my business. I mean, almost everyone is on Facebook, and I need it to do my job, but I just feel like I’m crawling trough this flood of bad content. Of course I’m sure some people think that the stuff I post is annoying crap as well.

I feel that the things that once made Facebook fun in the early days, are kind of lost now, somewhere in that muddy flood of spam. In the beginning it was a way of keeping in touch with people and get genuine updates and photos from their lives. Today fewer and fewer have the time (and perhaps the energy) to craft original content. It’s way easier to share an article about a political topic that you find online, than to write your own text.

I don’t mean to offend anyone of my friends who are posting things like Carpe Diem-photos, funny videos from Vine or links to cool blogs. It’s not you, its me. I just feel like Facebook is a waste of time and energy, but sure, it has it’s small nuggets of gold every now and then. My problem is that it’s a very long time since I enjoyed Facebook. I feel like I want to achieve a way of monitoring things on Facebook for my job, but other than that I pretty much want to keep away from there : )

 

A Decision

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This summer I think that I finally understood a conversation I had with a previous co-worker. We were talking about what to do the following summer, and I said I would probably travel a lot since I got my friends and family are scattered all across the Nordic countries. I have four (!) summer houses within the family that needs to be attended if not every year, but at least every second year. Stuff like checking that the roof is still there and that no tree as fallen over the sauna. It’s like going on a tour every summer to be able to visit all my relatives and perhaps if I’m lucky get some relaxing time by the sea. I’ve grown up with this, so I don’t find this traveling that exhausting, but to other people it may seem stressing, but for me it’s natural.

So anyways, I was talking about summer plans with my co-worker, and he said “damn, that sounds like my worst nightmare”. He told me that he used to lock himself into his room for days and work on his small projects, both as a boy and now as an adult. He hated when he had to get out of his bubble and go visit some old aunt or something. This guy is also one of those people who are kickass at almost every aspect of crating video games and have been playing in a semi-famous band AND started two companies etc.

This summer I had a very nice experience when I sat in the garden, in the orangery of boyfriend’s parents. I spent all my nights there, when visiting. I sat there all by myself, just reading, writing, sketching and listening to the sound of the nature. The little greenhouse got both reading lamps and a heather, and when the darkness fell you could see all the starts above you, and the forest surrounding you. It was very, very nice. And it sparked my creativity!

It’s very important to be left alone sometimes if you want to use your creativity. Actually it’s one of the most important parts of creativity. You need to have some space and time when you know no one will come and bother you. I think that this summer I finally understood why writers are notorious for locking themselves up in cottages by the sea and houses in the mountains. You need a place to create and concentrate on your own inner world. If you are constantly distracted by the outside world it’s hard to stay creative. What has become clear to me is that you only have so much cognitive stamina each 24 hours. You can spend it on different things, but once you reached the limit you need to wait and re-charge by sleeping. Unless you cheat a little bit and drink some coffee or take drugs (coffee OK – drugs not OK, bee cool stay in school kidz!). But eventually you need to re-charge.

Maybe next summer I will take a trip to one of the family summer houses and just stay there for three weeks and write, or paint or draw. I actually really appreciate when life is very simple and just about eating, sleeping, creating and perhaps doing some work around the house.

This is one of the reasons I yesterday decided I will no longer participate in endless discussions about “troll-topics*” online. I just get too angry and it eats away all my energy to read and article where 600 people applaud the online haters that drove Sarkeesian out of her home last week. I get all angry and distracted from what’s really important in life when I read a FB-post about if it’s OK to vote on a racist party or not. I feel like I don’t gain ANYTHING at all in the end. And have you ever seen someone say “hey, I think you are right, I must be wrong, you have convinced me” in the comments on YouTube? I surely haven’t. I just feel like I want to spend all that time and energy on what’s important to me. And that is creating stuff, family, friends and my job. It feels a bit like giving up, like if I don’t participate in these heated discussions I may wake up one day and Sweden will be a fascist country run by a Nazi-party just because I didn’t have the time and energy to engage in important online discussions. I feel like that is a risk I’m taking, and I need to do it.

 

* Certain topics seem to attract the lowlife on the Interwebz, like articles about feminism, anti-racism, alternative medicine etc.

Investing Time vs Spending Time

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What do you choose to spend your time and energy on? Or do you invest time and energy in something? There is a big difference in spending and investing. I’ve written about this topic a few times before, but this is something close to my heart for several reasons.

Multitasking is something I’ve tried to cut out of my life over the past months. Running my own business has really made me aware of how important it is to be able to make out what’s top priority, and to act on that. It’s hard to stop multitasking after years of abusing my brain with multitasking, but fact is that the brain of an adult human is better suited for solving one problem at a time, even if it might feel better to work on a lot of things at the same time. I find myself to be quite addicted to information. My brain craves information all the time. It wants to read, to look, to talk, to listen, to experience, to feel. From the moment I get out of bed to the second I try to sleep. On one hand I guess this is a side-product of living in the digital age where all of your friends (and foes) are accessible at your fingertips, where you can read news updates all around the clock, or watch clips at Youtube for hours to no end. The amount of information surrounding me each day is probably more than an average person experienced during a lifetime just four generations prior to me. The concept of “spare time” is a quite new invention. If I look back just four generations my relatives almost didn’t have any “spare time”. They worked from before the dawn to long after sunset. They were kept busy all the time, and the only time you didn’t to anything productive was when you were sick or dead. True story, bro. My elder relatives often knit when they watch TV, it’s one way of combining “doing something productive” with having “spare time”.

But just because information is out there, or surrounding us, it doesn’t mean we should go with it. I like that famous sentence from Fight Club: the things you own end up owning you. The same thing can be said about your habits, what you choose to consume ends up becoming a part of you, consuming you. If you invest your time and energy in something constructive, it will come back to you in one way or another. This is not easy by any means. It’s super difficult. I try to think about the human brain as a laser. It works best when you focus on one thing for a longer time. If you constantly shift your focus, jumping between ideas and task you won’t get into flow or actually have the time to reflect and refine upon your process and work. Some people are better at concentrating at one thing at a time, shutting out everything else.

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Here’s some stuff I’ve done lately to help me focus on getting things done here and now:

– Investing in a great calender. Writing down important times and notes saves me from so much stress. I can look at my calender and get an overview of my week in seconds. Stress kills your focus and creativity. I try to eliminate stress whenever I can.

– Using time-tracking software like Toggl to track my time when I’m working.

– Treat my mail inbox like a to-do list more than an actual inbox.

– Print out the articles I want to read, turn off my computer while I’m reading.

– Leaving my phone at home whenever I can, unless I expect a very important call.

– Keeping a very clean desk, both IRL and on my computer. Crap and dirt distracts me from working.

– Get rid of unnecessary material items.  If I don’t need it I give it away or throw it out. I only buy things I really need or want. I try to own as few things as possible and rent stuff if it’s a viable option. Right now I don’t have any single material item I could not afford to lose. I have backups of all my digital stuff and insurances for other important things. I don’t have to think about stuff, I can focus on other things in life.

– I’m always trying to make conscious and informed decisions about my priorities. What should I really be spending time on right now?

– Some years ago I began to think about people roughly as drainers or sources. Some people make you feel good, they give you energy and let you invest energy in them in a constructive way. Others to nothing but drain you of energy, no matter what you do you always feel bad after meeting them. I try to avoid people who do not give me energy or that only are negative. I hide them on Facebook. I don’t start following them on Twitter. If spend all your time on the wrong people, you won’t be open to the opportunities and adventures positive people bring into your life.

– I don’t bring my iPhone to the bedroom. I sleep way much better! When I go to the gym I put my phone in flight mode. The time I spend at the gym is sacred to me, it’s one of the core pillars of my health, both physically and mentally.

– I have removed all bookmarks in my browser showing me pointless blogs or hateful web pages I used to visit just to argue with stupid people. I rarely read articles about topics that makes me angry anymore. I don’t have the time or the energy to. If I pick a fight it should be worth it.

– I try to eat clean and healthy. And when I chose to eat junk it’s a conscious decision. Just like you become what you think, you become what you eat. A healthy body helps me concentrate on what’s good in life.

This may sound harsh, but it’s just my way of focusing on what’s important on life. Doing these things helps me see what’s important, and to live here and now. I want to create more things than I consume, I want to invest energy ,not spend it mindlessly. I want to add value to my own life and to the life of whose I care about for real (and indulge in a Game of Thrones marathon every now and then – it’s not about being “perfect”, it’s about choices, what you choose to do with your time).

I’m Starting My Own Business!

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Finally I can let the cat out of the bag! After working as an employee for different game companies the past 4 years I’m starting my own thing! It’s public now since it looks like all paper work is approved and the Swedish government has agreed to let me pay taxes and run my own business! I’m celebrating this with a photo of my new X-Men shirt! I won’t quite yet tell you what it is that I’m doing, but I’ll be sure to let you know when I feel like the time has come to reveal what kind of company I’m creating. I already have some super exciting clients and I make enough to pay my rent and put food on the table!

Part of growing up is finding out what you want to do with your life, and this is definitely something I want to do right now. Funny thing is, if you would have asked me just 5 months ago I would never ever had started my own thing. But perspectives change and too many great coincident just lined up for me to ignore all the possibilities. I’m a big fan of taking advantage of opportunities. Early next week I’ll probably sign a contract to rent some office space as well. I accept that most of the things in life that happens to us are pure random, but it’s how you choose to deal with them that really matters!

Letter From The Past

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Hey look at that! I got a reply on my message in a bottle that I threw in the sea outside Finland almost 10 years ago! How amazing! The old man who found the letter lives not too far away from where I threw it in the ocean, and he was kind enough to send me his own letter and address, and also included a map pointing out where exactly he discovered the bottle!

The letter I put in my bottle was written the same summer I was done with primary school and about to start studying at a gymnasium in Finland. I had kinda lost my two best friends and was a bit uncertain and worried about starting a new school with no friends. What I din’t know 10 years ago was that I would soon meet the most awesome gang of girls this very summer in 2004, and I would make plenty of new friends in my new school. Ten years ago I had three super nice years at this gymnasium ahead of me, but I just did not know it yet…!

The letter is written using pretty poor English. Ten years ago if you had asked me, I would never ever in my wildest dreams believe that I would be able to stand in-front of a live stream at the Sony HQ in Sweden and hold a lecture in English about game development (which I did two weeks ago). The letter also contains a proud drawing of my dog, Nicki. Ten years ago I would not know that Nicki would die a tragic death in five years.

Ten years ago I had no idea that I would move to Sweden and study video games at University, three years after this letter was thrown into the sea. I had no idea I would meet super inspiring developers, start working in the video game industry and fly to Monaco in private jets with Mojang.

Ten years ago I wrote a letter, put it in a bottle and threw it out to sea. That letter contained some U2 lyrics that I felt really fitted how I felt about life back then; a bit scared, excited and no idea what the future would bring. Interesting enough those lyrics still feel relevant to me now:

And I have no compass
And I have no map
And I have no reasons
No reasons to get back

And I have no religion
And I don’t know what’s what
And I don’t know the limit
The limit of what we’ve got

How Hay Day Helps My Friend Look After Her Sick Mother

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A typical farm displayed in Zynga’s Farmville.

Let’s talk about games and the value they add to people’s life in unexpected ways.

In the beginning there was “Farmville“. Farmville is a game where you play as a farmer (wow really?!) taking care of your own virtual farm. You plow land, harvest crops and raise animals. If you feel like it you can start your own bakery or collect rare farm-themed items or trees. Farmville was a huge hit on Facebook back in 2010. When the game peaked it had over 80 million monthly active users, and almost everyone on Facebook had at least one friend posting those annoying notices asking you to help them out with their farm. Farmville opened up a new opportunity, and suddenly everyone in the gaming business talked about how gaming on Facebook was the new, brave future! If you attended any game conference during this time almost all the talks were about Facebook, Farmville and social gaming boom. Game developers seemed to be both inspired by Farmville’s success, but also mocked Zynga (the company behind the game) for not making “real games”. Many saw them as evil business suits just trying to trick their players into spending as much money as possible, only delivering a very poor gaming experiencing as return. Many “real gamers” hated Farmville and the kind of games Zynga produced. They deemed them as “soulless” and sneeringly said that only people who did not know any better would choose to play a game like Farmville, only because those poor players did not know about “real” games like the Zelda-games or Final Fantasy or something else a bit more sophisticated. How could a “simple” game like “Farmvill” bring something good or interesting into the life of its players?

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Players are free to arrange and re-arrange the objects and crops on their farms. Inviting your friends to play the game may make your farm bigger and better. That’s one explanation to how Farmville became so popular; the players were doing the marketing for the game.

Last week I had dinner with my two friends Anna and Emma when suddenly Anna pulled out her phone and showed me a game she was playing. It’s called “Hay Day“. She had been playing it for a couple of weeks, and was totally addicted (her own words). My other friend at out table pulled out her phone and she too was totally into this game! They wanted to talk with me about the game, because they know I make games for a living, and I was very happy to talk games with my friends! These two women are not what you would consider “gamers” and they both express worries when their boyfriends spend too much time playing World of Warcraft or Magic instead of hanging out with them.

So as the conversation started to take off I noticed something very interesting. Lately a lot of my hardcore gamer friends have been playing this game called “Clash of Clans“, a mobile game from the very same creators that made “Hay Day”; Supercell. This small Finnish company sure knows something about how to catch the attention and retention of players who are used to play very complex and time consuming titles like League of Legends or online MMOs. But making a “casual” game that reaches people who never play (mobile) games or who may think that games in general is a waste of time, this is something that’s extremely hard to do (in my experience). How do you teach a game to someone who’s not even familiar with words like “loot” or “tutorial”? And how do you get millions of them to play your game? Supercell recently sold 51% of its shares worth 1,1 billion € and “Hay Day” is one of the most downloaded and played games for mobiles!

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Can you tell the difference? A player’s farm in “Hay Day”. It looks and plays very much like “Farmville”, but this time around the main platform is not FB, but mobiles and touch pads.

As I sat there in the kitchen with Emma and Anna, showing off their farms Anna suddenly became serious. “You know, my cousin is a teenager now and she thinks everything and everyone is sooo embarrassing. It’s almost impossible to talk to her about anything. So I asked her this summer if maybe she played some kind of games or followed some series on TV. Only to find some kind of common topic to talk about. I don’t want to grow apart from her.” It turned bout Anna’s cousin played “Hay Day” on her iPhone, so Anna downloaded the game (it’s free) and started playing, hoping to better stay in touch with her cousin. It didn’t took her long before she was hooked, and to her surprise she enjoyed the game! “Today I play a couple of sessions every day, and I almost feel like I’m addicted to it! I’ve restricted myself to not bring the phone into the bathroom”, she laughs. Emma nods and smiles. My two friends start talking about if one should or shouldn’t connect your “Hay Day” account to Facebook. So my two very non-gamer friends discuss tactics, what crops to invest in, how to harvest your pigs, animations of goats, and they become  super excited when they learn that they both could sell and exchange items like carrot cake with each other. Both of my friends invest many hours a week on taking care of their farms. They proudly show them off and wants to know secret tips and tricks. Is this still “a poor gaming experience” like Farmville’s critics claimed? Is this still not “real gaming”?

“My mother is sometimes very ill”, Anna tells me. “She has this condition where she needs to stay silent and can’t speak because of her throat. I worry very much about her, and she doesn’t live close to me, so if I call her when she’s ill she can’t even talk in the phone, due to her illness”. Anna is obliviously very concerned about her mother.  Anna’s family is very precious to her, and it breaks her heart to worry about her mother when she’s ill. “I don’t want to call her all the time when she’s ill just to check up on her”, Anna explains, “But I constantly think of her when she’s sick or I worry that something has happened if I don’t get a text or a call in a few days. I just want to know if she is OK or needs my help. But without making her feel like invade her life all the time”.

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People who only see video games like a waste of time or even a threat to children or society usually claim that games doesn’t add any kind of value to people’s life, or even may be removing value (and morals). They claim games make people violent, lazy or less social. But playing “Hay Day” together, exchanging crops and seeds had brought Anna and her cousin closer, and thanks to the game they now had a neutral topic to talk about each time they hung out!

So Anna suggested her mother downloaded “Hay Day” to her phone. Not only did her mother like the game, she loved it! It didn’t take her long to be as into it as Anna was, and not before long mother and daughter found themselves trading items, exchanging virtual carrot cake in cyber space. I’m a game developer and I’ve never played a video game with my mother!

“The best thing”, says Anna, “is that when I worry  a lot about my mum, and can always log on to Hay Day and visit her farm. Every morning I check if her cows are milked. If they are, it calms me down, because then I know she is doing well and made it out of bed this morning. One night I logged on late and saw that her cows were milked in the middle of the night. So I gave her a call and asked if she was having trouble sleeping. She was surprised and asked how I knew, and so we talked on the phone for a while, which calmed us both down.” Anna smiles. I ask her about the pigs on her farm and Emma and Anna laughs about how you harvest bacon from your pigs and they just become thin versions of themselves that you then need to fatten up again. Anna’s farm is very well organized and she is obliviously proud of the work behind it.

This “simple” game is bringing Anna closer to women from three generations in her family. It connects her with friends and gives her something fun to do many times a day. It helps her to check on her sick mother without making her feel like she is “babysitting” her own mother. It helps her stay in contact with her cousin. How could this not be meaningful? I’m sure there are plenty of stories like these out there. Games that work as a tool that build social bridges into real life. Games that ties together generations and help us get closer to each other.

To Be Honest

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I know that I myself like to read other people’s blogs and stories when they are honest. When someone has the guts to tell you what’s really going on, or what’s actually on their minds. I guess we are all afraid of being too honest, when we are out in the open, when everyone can read what we write. We are afraid that what we say or type may or may not be used against us at some point. When we look for a new job, when we do business, when we meet with our friends. Why do we expect the worst? At the same time when someone says “OMG I can’t believe how he/she can spill her life’s story on a public blog”, we eagerly read what they are writing. We are hungry for honest, brave writers who dare to share personal stuff. Maybe stuff about broken hearts, about depression, about feeling lost or alone. Because bad and difficult things happen to all of us, it’s part of being a human, part of being alive. We all go trough rough times every now and then. I guess the thing that makes us differ is how much we share about it. Do we tell our families? Our friends? Or Twitter followers or our blog readers? Or do we hide it, behind a smile, behind a photo of a perfect lunch at a fancy hipster restaurant (Instagram, I’m looking at you!). Some people despise weaknesses and would never ever share anything personal online or with even the closest of friends. Other are so scared of ruining a potential career in the distant future they just lock their problems away and try to deal with them when no-ones watching.

Those who talk openly about their problems, who dare to be honest, to admit they are not perfect, they are important. They prove to us that even the most happy person, or the most beautiful one, or that one you thought had the perfect life, even they have their own problems and daemons. In a way it makes you feel less alone, it makes your own burden easier to carry. I think messy, broken and torn are way more interesting and beautiful than perfect or whole. You know that maybe everyone else are just trying to get by, just like you? Sometimes life is awesome, and sometimes it’s truly not.

I’ve always struggled with how personal I want to be, both here and also on social media. I have realized that I’m not too afraid of what other people think about the stuff I post. If someone read stuff I post here, and decided to judge me, then fine. I would say that people who are quick to judge others often have plenty of problems and their own mess they really should spend time cleaning up. Really. I’m totally fine with not everyone being comfortable sharing every personal detail about themselves online. I’m honestly a bit creeped out about these blogs where people share absolutely everything about their life, or shows like “Keeping Up With The Kardashians”. I don’t wanna add to that noise. I don’t wanna come across like an attention junkie. I want to craft posts that actually has e deeper meaning expect “buy this dress or look at my new breakfast”.

What I’m trying to say whit all this rambling is that ever since I lost my job two weeks ago I have had some time to think and address stuff that’s been on my mind for some time. I also moved into a new apartment, gotten some change of surroundings. Of course I’m still sad about the job, I loved working with my team, and I miss them so much. But I try to view this as an opportunity to maybe find something new and even better. When you remove one part of your life another one will eventually take it’s place. I wonder what it will be.

Do You Want To Hire Me?

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So once again I’m looking for a new gig. I’m sad to announce that the awesome crew at Tarsier Studios were unable to offer me any more work after my contract ended last week. Yeah, it sucks. I feel sad about it, but at least I had five nice months there before my time at the studio was over. If you know anyone looking for an associate producer or a community manager, be sure to send them my CV, or send me an email to contact@saracasen.com. I figured I wanted to write something about myself here, just to get my thoughts out of my head, and to maybe give you a short presentation of who I am and what I’ve done. This blog usually focuses on my art hobby, so here’s something about what I actually do for a living! So here’s a few lines bout me, nothing planned or too fancy.

To start things off, I feel like I learned plenty, that my XP and skill tree is now bigger than ever, and hopefully that will show in my work from here on. At Tarsier I got a good insight in what it’s like to work closely with a big producer like Sony, and also I was part of developing secret stuff from scratch. It feels valuable to have been able to broaden my horizons over the past years, working for three different studios. Before I got paid to do games I went to game development University in Sweden, Skövde. I got a bachelor’s degree in game design, and during my time there I completed several game projects and worked as an QA intern at small game companies. My time at Uni was totally badass and I just got blown away by all the talented students and bubbling creativity!

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My first (paid)job in the game industry was at at a start-up named Junebud, working my ass off to get things of the ground, learning everything the hard way. The thrill and excitement to take something from early idea to a launched game! We put together an MMO named MilMo, and I’m still very proud to have it on my CV, to have built a helping and friendly community for a free to play game (!).  I have been employed at Sweden’s biggest publisher of games; Paradox, where I was part of a new in-house studio developing a Magicka MOBA: Wizard Wars. I worked with setting up the company-wide data telemetry system and lay the foundations for metrics guided game design over there. Working at Paradox in Stockholm was great, but eventually I decided to move back to Malmö in Sweden because I never truly felt Stockholm was the city for me. Hard choices, but sometimes you gotta follow your heart.

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After my time at Paradox I got hired by Tarsier. Looking back at my time at Tarsier, I’m happy to have the experience of working with mega publishers and also develop something small and unique inside a mid-sized game company. During my time in the industry so far I’ve mainly worked with community management, setting up events in-game, hosting competitions, writing blog posts and helped players, but I’ve also worked with game data and as an associate producer. At my time at Junebud I concluded reports about revenue, retention and looked to the telemetry to find pesky bugs and ways to improve the mmo MilMo. Collecting data about your users and using it to help make business and design decisions bout the game was kinda new back then, and at Junebud we tried to embrace this opportunity. Since math is not my strongest skill I’ve used the insights hands on community management has given me, to combine it with data, to do game analytics.

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I’ve noticed that I thrive and deliver the best results when I get to work with people or the user experience at heart. Sometimes as a bridge between users and developers, like in the case of MilMo, and sometimes I have been providing structure to a team of skilled developers, like I did at Tarsier. I like to keep track of tasks, do planning and make sure things get done on time.

I can honestly say that my morals and production rate goes downhill if you lock me up in a closet and only let me do number crushing. I’m a bit of an extrovert, and I really need a brain storm session now and then, or a casual meeting to help my ideas reach its full potential. I try to be very respectful and want to make sure all members of my team feel that they contribute, that their input is valuable, and I try to include everyone on their own terms. I’ve learned that the development team almost always has what it takes, but sometimes you just need to inspire them or gently push them in the right direction. I’ve more than once gone out of my way to arrange company parties or beer nights. I think that what keeps me in the games industry is the awesome people you meet and get to know. Together you craft things that capture other people’s imagination. Sharing your knowledge is a big passion for me, so when game development schools ask me to come and give a lecture about game design or community management I’m never late to book some train tickets and put together a power point presentation.

I’m not sure where I will go from here, what my next adventure will be, but I’m sure I will be OK. Today is also exactly four years since I moved to Malmö for my first job in the industry, at Junebud as an intern, doing my exam project about viral marketing and community management. When I look back I realize I’ve come a long way, and that I have been lucky enough for some key persons to believe in me and give me a chance to prove myself. I’m thankful for that.

Onward, to new adventures!