Gamers at Work: Stories Behind the Games People Play Copyright © 2012 by Morgan Ramsay All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage or retrieval system, without the prior written permission of the copy- right owner and the publisher. ISBN-13 (pbk): 978-1-4302-3351-0 ISBN 978-1-4302-3352-7 (eBook) Printed and bound in the United States of America 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 Trademarked names may appear in this book. Rather than use a trademark symbol with every occurrence of a trademarked name, we use the names only in an editorial fashion and to the benefit of the trademark owner, with no intention of infringement of the trademark. President and Publisher: Paul Manning Acquisitions Editor: Michelle Lowman Lead Editor: Jeffrey Pepper Editorial Board: Steve Anglin, Mark Beckner, Ewan Buckingham, Gary Cornell, Morgan Ertel, Jonathan Gennick, Jonathan Hassell, Robert Hutchinson, Michelle Lowman, James Markham, Matthew Moodie, Jeff Olson, Jeffrey Pepper, Douglas Pundick, Ben Renow-Clarke, Dominic Shakeshaft, Gwenan Spearing, Matt Wade, Tom Welsh Coordinating Editor: Rita Fernando Copy Editor: Marilyn Smith Compositor: Mary Sudul Indexer: BIM Indexing & Proofreading Services Cover Designer: Anna Ishchenko Distributed to the book trade worldwide by Springer-Verlag New York, Inc., 233 Spring Street, 6th Floor, New York, NY 10013. Phone 1-800-SPRINGER, fax 201-348-4505, e-mail [email protected], or visit http://www.springeronline.com. For information on translations, please contact us by e-mail at [email protected], or visit http://www.apress.com. Apress and friends of ED books may be purchased in bulk for academic, corporate, or promotional use. eBook versions and licenses are also available for most titles. For more information, reference our Special Bulk Sales–eBook Licensing web page at http://www.apress.com/info/bulksales. The information in this book is distributed on an “as is” basis, without warranty. Although every precaution has been taken in the preparation of this work, neither the author(s) nor Apress shall have any liability to any person or entity with respect to any loss or damage caused or alleged to be caused directly or indirectly by the information contained in this work.
Contents Foreword .vii About the Author.viii Acknowledgments.ix Preface .xi Chapter 1: Trip Hawkins, Founder, Electronic Arts.1 Chapter 2: Nolan Bushnell, Cofounder, Atari.17 Chapter 3: Wild Bill Stealey, Cofounder, MicroProse Software.37 Chapter 4: Tony Goodman, Cofounder, Ensemble Studios.59 Chapter 5: Feargus Urquhart, Cofounder, Obsidian Entertainment.79 Chapter 6: Tim Cain, Cofounder, Troika Games.93 Chapter 7: Warren Spector, Founder, Junction Point Studios.107 Chapter 8: Doug and Gary Carlston, Cofounders, Brøderbund Software.121 Chapter 9: Don Daglow, Founder, Stormfront Studios.133 Chapter 10: John Smedley, Cofounder, Verant Interactive.169 Chapter 11: Ken Williams, Cofounder, Sierra On-Line.193 Chapter 12: Lorne Lanning, Cofounder, Oddworld Inhabitants.209 Chapter 13: Chris Ulm, Cofounder, Appy Entertainment.251 Chapter 14: Tobi Saulnier, Founder, 1st Playable Productions.261 Chapter 15: Christopher Weaver, Founder, Bethesda Softworks.281 Chapter 16: Jason Rubin, Cofounder, Naughty Dog.297 Chapter 17: Ted Price, Founder, Insomniac Games.315 Index .329 v.
Foreword The worldwide video-game industry is in a state of enormous flux. Vast budget opuses, such as Activision’s Call of Duty, sit alongside mobile phone games created by tiny two-man teams. We work in an industry that is more diverse than ever—an industry that is appealing to an ever-broadening and growing mass market. Could we see a day when people interact with com- puter games as much as they do with television? Could we see a day when the framework of a game helps us cross a cultural divide? These thoughts would have seemed crazy five years ago, but they now appear certain to be- come realities. Video games are in the most exciting place they have ever been right now. I have been lucky enough to see this industry go through many, many changes, starting with those early days at Bullfrog Productions, when two of us created a game called Populous on a shoestring, through to setting up Lionhead Studios and selling the company to Microsoft. Along the way, there have been many good times and a few bad ones, too. Therefore, I could really empathize on a personal level with the experiences and stories docu- mented in this book. As I read this book, I realised that this is the first time that a history of the video-game industry has been told through the personal stories of the en- trepreneurs who pushed the business forward. Many of the people featured came from humble beginnings with only passion to drive them. Most experi- enced highs and lows, while all had their shares of good and bad luck. What incredible journeys we all have had! No mountain is too high to climb. Every challenge can be overcome. Gamers at Work is a critical resource for new and experienced business leaders—for anyone who feels unprepared for the demanding and seemingly insurmountable trials ahead of them. —Peter Molyneux Creative Director Microsoft Studios Europe vii.
About the Author Morgan Ramsay is a serial entrepreneur and author whose companies have served the defense and entertainment industries. Currently, he is the founder, president, and chief executive officer at Entertainment Media Council, the first and only association for entrepreneurs, C-level executives, and senior managers in the video-game industry. For seven years, Ramsay was the founder, president, and chief executive of- ficer at Heretic, where he led initiatives that recognized men and women of the armed forces on behalf of the President of the United States of America, and launched technologies and services for clients ranging from the non- profit and small business to the Fortune Global 500. As the author of Gamers at Work, Ramsay has interviewed the world’s most successful entrepreneurs in the video-game industry, including Atari co- founder Nolan Bushnell, Electronic Arts founder Trip Hawkins, and Sierra On-Line cofounder Ken Williams. Gamers at Work was introduced by Lion- head Studios founder Peter Molyneux OBE. Ramsay serves as a member of the Business Council at the Poway Center for the Performing Arts Foundation, and as a strategy, marketing, and tech- nology advisor to the boards of directors at Coronado Promenade Con- certs and San Diego Filmmakers. He has also served as vice chairman at the International Game Developers Association of San Diego. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Communication from University of Phoenix, and also received education in nonprofit management; event planning; ad- vertising, marketing, and merchandising; and retailing from Chapman Uni- versity, San Diego State University, and Palomar College. viii .
Acknowledgments I would first like to thank my father, an inveterate and pioneering hardware engineer, for putting up with my enthusiasm for the entertainment software business. Of course, I would like to thank my mother, a former professional athlete and coach, for teaching me the importance of discipline, persistence, and restraint; and my sister for showing me that compassion and idealism are traits one should never lose. A tip of the hat to the busy entrepreneurs who volunteered their time to this project and shared their wonderful and often humorous stories with me. I was privileged to investigate their ventures, as well as their personal and family lives. I also want to specially thank Peter Molyneux for graciously writing the foreword. In grand tradition, I wish them luck as they boldly continue to break new ground. Without their support and commitment, this anthology would have never been possible. Thank you, Jeffrey Pepper, for going above and beyond the call of duty; Steve Anglin, for giving a first-timer a chance; Michelle Lowman and Kelly Moritz, and Rita Fernando, for keeping the project on track within its par- ticular constraints; and the entire Apress team for the opportunity to ad- dress the challenges of entrepreneurship in this time-honored format. I would recognize many people for their time, insight, and/or willingness to make introductions: Al Lowe, Alan Wasserman, Andy Schatz, Brenda Brath- waite, Casey Wardynski, Cathy Campos, Cory Ondrejka, David Edery, David Perry, Doug Whatley, Erin Hoffman, Gabe Newell, Genevieve Waldman, Greg Zeschuk, Greta Melinchuk, Guy Kawasaki, Hal Halpin, Ian Bogost, Jane Cavanagh, Jason Della Rocca, Jason Kay, Jeff Braun, Jim Buck, John Romero, Joseph Olin, Justin Berenbaum, Kellee Santiago, Ken Dopher, Kristina Kirk, Mark Friedler, Matt Shores, Megan Tiernan, Mike Capps, Mike Morhaime, Nancy Carlston, Pam Pearlman, Randy Pitchford, Raph Koster, Ray Muzyka, Richard Bartle, Rodolfo Rosini, Sam Ford, Shon Damron, Sue Coldwell, Suzanne Goodman, Tawnya Barrett, and Tim Schafer. I would also recognize the current and former members of the Board of Directors and Advisory Group at Entertainment Media Council for their support over the years: Adam McClard, Alexander Macris, Alyssa Walles, ix .
Brandon Sheffield, Christian Svensson, Cindy Armstrong, David Cole, Geof- frey Zatkin, Greg Boyd, Matt Esber, Mia Consalvo, Michael Arzt, Robert Stevenson, Steve Crane, Steve Fowler, and Terri Perkins. Finally, I thank Laureen Minnich of Southern California Transcription Serv- ices for the wonderful work she has done for me; photographer Brandon Colbert for bearing through our session; and Jessica Livingston, for writing Founders at Work, which was my inspiration. x .
Preface Like many projects, Gamers at Work began life as something else. Like many startups, as a first-time author, I made many mistakes. And like most people in business, I had no idea what I was doing, but I lucked out. When I started the project that became this book, I had founded a trade as- sociation, Entertainment Media Council, for business leaders in the video- game industry two years before. We had completed the initial recruiting and planning cycles, and I was anxious to execute our plans. We needed capital to proceed, but prospective investors, from the world’s largest studios to leading universities, wanted to see that our little nonprofit organization had actually done something meaningful. Entertainment Media Council exists to advance the video-game business by leveraging the collective wisdom and influence of business leaders, in order to address the systemic, market-level, and corporate problems that make video games such a volatile industry in which to do business. I wanted to get people thinking about solutions, and get them involved with us at any level. Most importantly, I wanted to learn more about the struggles with which startups must contend. So, I had an idea: let’s profile the chal- lenges of entrepreneurship by blogging interviews with successful founders that explore major video-game companies at every stage. Feargus Urquhart, cofounder of Obsidian Entertainment, and Chris Ulm, co- founder of Appy Entertainment, were the first two to sign on. While plan- ning their interviews, I realized that posting interviews with such prominent entrepreneurs on a blog that had zero visibility would not do their stories justice. I would be wasting their time and mine. On my desk, I saw a copy of Founders at Work. I thought, “It’s a long shot, but I could write a book. Who’s the publisher?” I reached out to Apress, and pitched them on a series of At Work books, with my book as the second in the series. They were interested, of course, because they were already xi .