Unicorns and Assholes

I was at the Agile UX NYC 2012 conference on Saturday, and Phineas Barnes gave a talk entitled “4 keys to success in a design driven company“.

The slide that caught my eye was this one:

The argument of the slide: don’t build a team with unicorns or assholes.

His definition for a “unicorn” was the person who has the strict unwavering vision, and claims to understand better than anyone else – including your customers – what your customers need. (I don’t think there’s any confusion as to what he meant by “asshole”.) [1. He did note the caveat to this rule is when you have a unicorn who is also an asshole, i.e. Steve Jobs. He said to hire that particular unicorn.]

It boiled down to three points:

  • You need a team who can listen and pivot, so they can respond over time.
  • You need a team that can value options.
  • You need a team who’s able to admit that they’re wrong.

Yesterday, the “fighting game community” blew up in a massive drama bomb.

The story is a bit complicated, but it boils down to an incident that happened on a web reality show put on by Capcom to promote one of their new fighting games. One of the team captains, Aris Bakhtanians, made a series of sexually harassing comments at a female player on the show, allegedly as a way to play mind games. When Twitch TV community manager Jared Rea asked “Can I get my Street Fighter without sexual harassment?”, Aris responded:

> You can’t. You can’t because they’re one and the same thing. This is a community that’s, you know, 15 or 20 years old, and the sexual harassment is part of a culture, and if you remove that from the fighting game community, it’s not the fighting game community–it’s StarCraft.

And soon after, press coverage came, and things degenerated rapidly (see Boing Boing’s incendiary headline or the NeoGAF thread). The constant across most discussion over the last 24 hours is a repeated defense from some in the FGC that they like things just the way they are, sexual harassment and all, and anyone suggesting change is a traitor or infringing on their first amendment rights.

This isn’t really about the fighting game community, and it’s not really about building a lean startup. But it is about the company you keep, and the communities we build.

It’s in our nature to find like-minded people. We all want that acceptance and understanding and connection that comes from people who understand how we think and act. We like talking to people with the same hobbies, and we like working with people who have the same passions. That’s how we build our social circles, our teams, and our worlds.

It’s not so hard to keep the assholes and unicorns out, but you need to be vigilant to ensure the people already inside don’t morph into either type. The longer you’ve been wrapped in a cocoon of like-minded people, the harder it is to stomach someone saying you’re doing it wrong.

If you attack someone for suggesting change, you’ve become an asshole.

If you go deaf to suggestions of change, or pull rank over a newcomer, or use the phrase “this is just how we do things”, you’ve become a unicorn.

Building a vision is important. So is having a backbone and defining your culture. Not all feedback is actionable or even necessarily worthwhile. But if you can’t listen, can’t value options, and can’t admit when you’re wrong, you’ve gone blind to change. You won’t be able to adapt, and someone is going to come in and eat your lunch.


Anil Dash on Community Moderation

Anil has penned the wonderfully named and 100% correct [“If Your Website’s Full Of Assholes, It’s Your Fault”](

> When people are saying ruinously cruel things about each other, and you’re the person who made it possible, it’s 100% your fault. If you aren’t willing to be a grown-up about that, then that’s okay, but you’re not ready to have a web business. Businesses that run cruise ships have to buy life preservers. Companies that sell alcohol have to keep it away from kids. And people who make communities on the web have to moderate them.

Really, go read it now if you have anything to do with online community building or moderation.

> So, I beseech you: Fix your communities. Stop allowing and excusing destructive and pointless conversations to be the fuel for your business. Advertisers, hold sites accountable if your advertising appears next to this hateful stuff. Take accountability for this medium so we can save it from the vilification that it still faces in our culture.


Don’t Let It Go

This post is going to be somewhat cryptic and bizarre, and I apologize for those of you who end up scratching your heads. I promise, this will be the only one for now.

A little over four years ago, I first stepped into the Bemani community. As with most passionate online communities, it has never been a friendly world. Know-it-alls, shit-talkers, preachers and perverts, gangsters and thugs. Even a few people who just wanted to enjoy their video games.

My love/hate relationship with DDR provided cover as I buried myself in Beatmania IIDX. IIDX, you see, has historically been a game for isolationists. It is not exciting to watch at parties. It does not make you look excessively idiotic. Two-player modes are more of a distraction than an enjoyable mode of play. It is the sort of game that requires heavy concentration and discipline. It begs for the sort of perfection that can only come from someone playing the same song over and over again, much like modern day Japanese [shmups](

While I was playing IIDX for that first year, I began slapping down a small score tool in PHP to provide me with the ability to track my scores from game to game. And somewhere in there, as I closed flamewar threads on [DDRFreak]( and thumbed through the junk on [Bemanistyle](, some thoughts popped into my head.

> What if there was a way to move the community in a positive direction?
> What if all these people could come together and be civilized?
> Is it worth pouring time and energy into something – purely out of my love for a game – in the hopes that people will enjoy it?
> Can this be done without causing more drama?

I took a chance and leapt at the project. I will spare you the cataloging of sacrifices I’ve made for the project, because the truth is, I enjoyed challenging myself with some of the work.

The site has been, to a large extent, a success. It’s popular, the code is not entirely broken, and the community is mostly harmonious. But it’s that “mostly” is what gets to me.

I’ve always said that it’s far more easy to remember the bad times than the good – you’re going to remember stress over pleasure. Happiness doesn’t leave scars. Thus, I know that I’m overreacting to the drama that has arisen in the last few hours. I know that steps I have taken to smother the flames were overly broad.

But when I realize that the amount of time I’m pouring into the site is dominating the time I actually spend playing the game that inspired it by a ratio of at least 4:1, and that a sizable chunk of that time is spent babysitting the community, it’s hard not to have your faith shaken.