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let’s just do it ourselves August 21, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Big Boss, Did I Hear That Right?, Management, Technology Trouble.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

This was going to be a post about cargo cults and social networking, but a friend of mine recently told me about something her company did that put the average company’s cargo culting to shame.

Celia is a graphic designer for a web marketing company. You’ve probably seen her work in some of those silly Flash games showing up in banner ads when you check your e-mail or visit popular websites. Anyway, Celia was part of a series of meetings where various companies pitched their services in building iPhone apps out of their more-popular games. It would have been Celia’s job to make sure the art was available to these third-party vendors.

Celia told me her boss went back and forth with their Big Boss several times over the cost of doing business with the vendors — not that it would’ve cost a ton of money, but in this economic climate no one wants to spend cash if they don’t have to. Celia’s boss got to the point where a contract was drawn up and vetted by both legal departments… and then her Big Boss said “let’s just do it ourselves.”

One of Celia’s co-workers is named Larry. Larry is a Flash developer; he takes the art Celia makes and puts it into the games. Larry knows Flash and ActionScript, and a little PHP, but he’s not an expert with the iPhone SDK or the programming language that the iPhone is built upon. Still, the Big Boss said Larry could do it, so Larry had to teach himself the SDK (of course there was no training budget). Celia helped as much as she could, but she’s an artist, not a programmer. And none of the web guys at Celia’s office knew how to do it either. Larry seriously considered hiring an iPhone developer to do it for him, but he couldn’t afford it.

Two weeks later, Larry had his first iPhone app ready to go. It was a very simple side-scrolling shooter based upon a Flash game he’d coded for the company. Celia sent me a copy.

CC-licensed photo by William Hook, remixed by That Guy

CC-licensed photo by William Hook, remixed by That Guy

It was awful. The controls weren’t good, the graphics weren’t good, the game was slow to load and clunky to play, and it didn’t have the slick look that the iPhone is so capable of presenting to users. I can’t see how anyone would pay $1.99 for this app — that’s what the Big Boss wanted to charge for it, so that’s how much the company was going to charge.

I feel really bad for Celia, Larry, and their company. Celia, because she has to work at a company that will cut corners this way; Larry, because his first iPhone app is so bad — I’ve seen Larry’s Flash work and it’s frankly amazing; and the company, because they’re going to have their name attached to an absolutely atrocious piece of software.

Let this be a lesson that no company will heed: there are some things you just have to pay for because doing it yourself will make it look like ass. You don’t necessarily have to spend a ton of money, but sometimes you do have to spend it to make it. Given the size of the iPhone’s user footprint and the sheer visibility of everything iPhone, that’s one place where you should pay someone else to make sure you do it right.

Hopefully Celia’s Big Boss learned his lesson. Doubt it, though; Big Bosses never do.

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