Dealing with Regulators and compromise

I presently work in an environment ripe with regulation.  The gaming industry (and by that, I do not mean video games for WoW players, or XBOX) is the most regulated market in the world.  More so than even health care, in fact.  As such, one of our largest points of contention revolves around regulators.  These regulators are not one cohesive body, but rather, different entities in every different jurisdiction around the world.  This poses some interesting problems with respect to how engineers and managers design products for release.

All too often I hear ideas for different features of games that everyone loves, only to have someone come in and inform the team that the feature won’t fly with one regulatory agency or another.  How can your organization push forward and lead the industry with amazing content when your hands are bound by laws that are designed to maximize uniformity and cross-compatibility?

There are some ways to deal with this, but unfortunately, the main goal still remains to be in accordance with the established rules and expectations that come with them.

  1. Open discussion with your regulators.  Designing in a vacuum is never conducive to making the best product out there, and opening discussion about new features is the first step.  With a worldwide organization, the plethora of jurisdictions opens the possibility for a particular feature to be allowed in one or another of those jurisdictions.  Send a feature request out to each one and see who responds.  Follow up with those that don’t respond, and see if possibly, one jurisdiction would be willing to open discussions with you.  Often, laws are overseen by the gaming control boards in those states, but any regulated industry has its own board of standards, and those standards can change based upon new information and ideas.
  2. Ensure you can overcome objections.  If your idea is novel, you need to be able to determine the objections that will need to be overcome.  It’s very much like debate club in that you should prepare yourself for not only your own sales pitch, but also, ponder every question someone against it would ask.  Your job is to have these questions, and the answers to these questions ready before you contact your agency.
  3. If your feature could be controversial, find compromises that will enable you to accomplish at least the essence of your goal.  Perhaps your whole feature cannot be implemented, but perhaps it can be broken down into smaller pieces for easier acceptance.  Remember, small steps can lead to great outcomes.  One step at a time.
  4. Once you gain some acceptance of your idea, clearly define, in writing, exactly the scope of the project.  This scope should not only include things that the feature is supposed to do, but also the things it cannot do.  Send this document to your regulator and get their sign-off (and keep it once they do).  Last thing you want is for something that is being tested to be determined to have gone beyond the scope of acceptable limits.  If someone feels like you’re trying to pull one over on them when they went out on a limb for you, the whole dialog can shut down.
  5. Ensure that your engineers are capable of completing the project in a timely fashion to specifications.  Once you go through all of the work to gain some approval, you cannot leave the project to be completed in a year or two.  People have short memories, and the longer the time frame between acceptance and implementation, the less excited they will remain to see the outcomes.  If it does need to take longer, bring the regulators in to check on your progress in regular intervals.  This will help maintain interest and enthusiasm, being as the product is just around the corner.

I hope these help you in some way for your next foray into the regulatory process.  Remember, regulators are there to ensure that acceptable and mutually agreed upon 0standards are created and met.  They are NOT the enemy, no matter how they sometimes may irk you with their denial of your ideas.  They provide a critical function to prevent harm created by overzealous businesses.  Instead of being overzealous, be proactive, be kind and facilitative to information exchange.  The more information they have, the higher the likelihood of you actually getting your goal accomplished.

Have you had any issues with regulators?  How did you resolve them?