Introduction

Embracing asynchronous work can be a game-changer for distributed teams, enabling increased productivity and efficiency. What truly brings this concept to life are real-world examples. In this article, I’ll briefly describe one of our Smart Box Games projects to demonstrate the power of asynchronous collaboration using the simplest of tools, email.

Background

Our most popular game, Farkle Dice for Android, enjoys a global player base. Over the past two years, Google has progressively limited Android device backward compatibility for apps that use Google AdMob and other SDKs. Initially, they used the carrot approach and encouraged updates for better device performance, but then switched to the stick to enforce compliance by threatening app removal from the Google Play store.

Our team is spread across the globe: our Art Director, Jim, resides in Tokyo, our lead Android Engineer, John, is in Bozeman, Montana, and I serve as the Product Manager and QAE and I live in Bellingham, Washington. We embrace asynchronous work due to our experience and confidence in this approach.

Tools We Utilized on the Project for Asynchronous Collaboration:

  1. Email
  2. Google Docs and Sheets
  3. Bitbucket
  4. Firebase for app testing distribution
  5. Google Play Console

Our Project Goals

Our journey began with a high-level email outlining the basic requirements:

1. Update the code linking in the newest SDKs

2. Convert all HTTP links to HTTPS across all app languages

3. Allow players to opt out of Google Play login (we use Google Play for high-score sharing)

4. Modernize launcher icon

5. Integrate Firebase Crash Analytics

6. Address all issues found during testing

Progression of the Project

John took the lead by updating all relevant SDKs and then addressing all errors and warnings until he successfully built the project. He also updated the copyright information, URLs, and menus. 

During this process, John discovered Google had made significant design changes in how Google Play integrates with app, which he communicated via email, seeking input from the team. We installed the latest build from John and collectively examined the design changes to better understand the user experience. After exchanging a few emails with images we arrived at a design that John swiftly implemented.

As the day ended for John and me, it began for Jim in Japan. He researched how to create full-size launcher icons and by the time we started our day, provided us with educational YouTube links to get us up to speed. Jim then handed off new art to John. After a few iterations, the new launcher icon was integrated into Farkle Dice, and wow, it looks great.

The majority of testing was regression, validation and verification. Testing occurred on each build, with any issues found sent to John, with images and steps to repeat.

Once all issues were addressed the final chapter was distribution and user communication. Wearing both my Project Manager and Quality Assurance hats I wanted to limit risk and decided to do a gradual rollout release, starting at 10% and ramping up daily to 100%. Release notes were added to Google Play and a push notification is scheduled for next week.

Key Takeaways for Successful Asynchronous Work

Clear Communication: Effective asynchronous communication hinges on accurate descriptions with images and links to videos. I avoid abbreviations or acronyms. For example I always wrote “Firebase” and never “FB”, because in my brain “FB” = Facebook. 

Visual Aids: Enhance issue reporting by incorporating screenshots with prominent annotations (I’m a fan of using large red arrows), making it easier and faster for team members to understand and address problems.

Organization: Keep conversations focused by retiring resolved email threads and initiating new ones for fresh topics.

Encourage all team members to collaboratively edit documents for clarity within Google Docs. (I am thinking of switching to Notion or Confluence to take advantage of their comprehensive editing tools).

Time Zone Advantage: Leverage time zone differences to your advantage, if possible, by scheduling overlapping working hours for quick responses. For instance, 4:00 PM Pacific Time is 8:00 AM in Tokyo.

Trust Your Team: There were times I was tempted to send John a Slack message on an issue I found because it felt urgent. In reality, it was important but not urgent. Not dm’ing John and sending him an email instead prevented interruptions to his coding flow and allowed him to manage his time to its fullest efficiency. 

Conclusion

Our project progressed quickly without the need for any meetings. The entire software development life cycle was efficiently navigated through asynchronous collaboration. Now, we’re ready to replicate this success with our remaining five apps, with Farkle Halloween and Farkle Solo already underway. 

We have used asynchronous tools in the past and we are always reviewing new and interesting solutions but no matter the tool it is people who make great software. 

I encourage all teams, especially dispersed ones to embrace asynchronous processes to unlock your team’s full potential.

Farkle Solo

Earning today’s top score is just a tap away in the new Farkle Solo for Android release. We updated the app to run great on all new Android phones, including the new Nexus 6. We rewrote How to Play and we integrated Farkle Solo with Firebase from Google which allows us to improve the game through error reports.  Thank you to our players for the great suggestions and bug reports. Our goal is for you to have the best gaming experience and we couldn’t do it without you. Let us know what you think by sending us an email.

We recommend you update as soon as possible.

We rely on word-of-mouth, please let your friends and family know about Farkle Solo.

Release Details

  • How to Play – It now includes several images to clarify game play and you can now printable.  The latest version of Farkle Solo links to the improved How to Play. Scroll down to access the Print button.
  • Notifications – We want to make sure you know when new versions are available. This is an optional setting that you can turn on or off at any time.
  • Error Checking – Google’s Firebase sends us a report on how our code is doing. This report will tell us where our code is not running as efficiently as it could or if Farkle Solo had problems executing on a new CPU. Since there are thousands of different Android phones and tablets worldwide we appreciate the report. Now when you purchase a new phone Farkle Solo will still run correctly.
  • Android Studio – This is an entirely new set of tools released by Google to develop Android apps. Switching to it was a significant amount of rework of the code. But the change resulted faster and smoother game play

 

WordPop!

WordPop! for Android has been updated and includes great new features and smoother game play. Thank you to our players for the suggestions and bug reports. Our goal is for you to have the best gaming experience and we couldn’t do it without you.

  • How to Play – It now includes several images to clarify the rules and you can now print out the rules. The latest version of WordPop! now links to the improved How to Play.
  • Notifications – We want to make sure you know when new versions are available. This is an optional setting that you can turn on or off at any time.

Making sure you have a great gaming experience also means having WordPop! play well on the latest phones and tablets while simultaneously supporting older phones.

  • Error Checking – Google’s Firebase now sends us a report on how our code is doing. This report will tell us where our code is not running as efficiently as it could or if WordPop! had problems executing on a new CPU. Since there are thousands of different Android phones and tablets worldwide we appreciate the report. Now when you purchase a new phone WordPop! will still run correctly.
  • Android Studio – This is an entirely new set of tools released by Google to develop Android apps. Switching to it was a significant amount of rework of the code. But the change resulted in WordPop! running faster and smoother.

We recommend you update as soon as possible.

We rely on word-of-mouth, please let your friends and family know about WordPop!

Farkle Dice Rolling

Farkle DiceUpdate Today

What you see


Our goal is for you, our players, to have a great gaming experience. Our games should be fun, beautiful, intuitive to play and engaging. To accomplish this, we spend quality time on features you see.

  • How to Play – It now includes several images to clarify the default rules and rules customization and you can now print out the rules. A printout is helpful when teaching your friends how to play. How to Play was also reformatted to be easy to read on phones. The latest version of Farkle Dice now links to the improved How to Play.
  • Selecting Players – I received a few support emails asking how to select human or computer players. In response, I changed the headings within the Players setup screen making them more descriptive, Play Against the Computer vs. Play Computer, Number of Players: Two vs. Players: Two. Although these changes are subtle it clarifies the action.
  • Notifications – We want to make sure you know when new versions are available. This is an optional setting that you can turn on or off at any time.

What you don’t see


Making sure you have a great gaming experience also means having Farkle Dice play well on the latest phones and tablets while simultaneously supporting older phones.

  • Error Checking – Google’s Firebase now sends us a report on how our code is doing. This report will tell us where our code is not running as efficiently as it could or Farkle Dice had problems executing on a new CPU. Since there are thousands of different Android phones and tablets worldwide we appreciate the report. Now when you purchase a new phone Farkle Dice will still run correctly.
  • Android Studio – This is an entirely new set of tools released by Google to develop Android apps. Switching to it was a significant amount of rework of the code. But the change resulted in Farkle Dice running faster and smoother and I’ve noticed the dice rolls are very fluid on my Nexus 5x.

To get the maximum Farkle Dice gaming experience, we recommend you update as soon as possible.

We rely on word-of-mouth, please let your friends and family know about Farkle Dice.

 

Threeze Game Play

Threeze is our popular ice blocks number pairing puzzle game.

It was due for a tune-up:
– Lots of code tweaks to keep the app working great on new and older phones
– Brand new “How to Play” section
– Brand new “Vote for New Features” section
– Faster and smoother play throughout
Our goal is for our players to have a great gaming experience.
Let us know what you think of the latest build and any suggestions on how we can improve it.  You can use the form on our support page.