MVP, or feature?

MVP will change the way that you think about every project you approach.

Why is this the first I’m hearing of this?

I was first introduced to the idea of MVP, or Minimum Viable Product two weeks ago at gSchool. This is a pretty important concept in my opinion, not just in the scope programming. In my years at college as a business major you’d think that this would have been brought up, but for the life of me I can’t seem to recall a single instance of it being mentioned.

The app that never was…

User Interface

A few years back my wife, a friend and I attempted to create a card game app. The game play was similar to magic the gathering, shadow era or countless others that now exist. However back when we started, there were no CCG (Collectable Card Games) on mobile devices. It was a virgin frontier. As avid board game designers we felt that the game play aspect hosted very little difficulty in the project. At least from a ‘rules-of-the-game’ view of things, the coding of the rules would be a whole another matter. We prototyped and came up with the idea for 300-500 cards for the base set and 100 cards for early adopters and 250 more for the first expansion. We decided that it would be good to have something in the pipeline to keep the momentum up.

Schedule and Various Notes

The revenue stream was simple. At the time micro-transactions had just become a thing for millions of people with the advent of the competitive app markets of google’s android market and apple’s app store. People were starting to loosen their wallets to spend money on games that were free-to-play. It is important to note that, the F2P (free to play) model had existed as early as the 1990's with games like Runescape. (While writing this I found out that apparently Runescape actually still exists.)

One of our biggest selling points was that we with most F2Ps at the time there were things that you just couldn’t do without ponying up some cash. Our app would have no such restrictions anything could be bought with gold and gold would be earned by playing (win or lose). Of course you could buy gold for cash. Players could by booster packs of random cards, or bid on the auction house within the app. There were a lot of important ideas that we felt this game needed at launch.

So..?

With my 20/20 hindsight I can confidently say that we suffered from an unclear definition of product scope. We didn’t know what the concept of MVP was. We thought we had a good idea that we wanted to bring to the people in all its glory. The concept of MVP was not something that any of use had been introduced to. So in our minds, it was not playable without all of the additional features.

Give me a practical example.

Ok… Lets break down our game into the core (MVP) and features.

MVP — Cards, Decks Building, Match Making and Playability.

Features — Gold, Booster Packs, More Cards, and Auction House.

There is a clear distinction between a core product and features. In this case we have a game. Our game has cards and you can play against another player. Note we didn’t say that this was fun, in fact, we didn’t even say that our game will know when a player wins. This is the core of the game.

Basically we created a way for players to play ‘cards’ over the internet. There is no feature that describes winning, no feature that describes card interaction, no feature that prevents a player from cheating. That’s because you can still play the game.

Now that our ‘game’ is up and running, perhaps we should add some features. Lets knock one off the list, winning. We create a feature that declares the game over when one player has no health remaining, and the other player is the winner.

To succeed we really do need to break it down to that level, and then keep drilling down until we truly understand what our MVP is, and not just what we think it is.

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