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(re: re: If it were me…) Here’s a link to an interview with me that answers many of your questions:
There is “zero” chance I’ll ever again be Sierra’s, or any other large company’s CEO. Been there, done that.
If someone asked my advice about how to run any consumer product company, I’d say things like:
Focus on happy customers Focus on great product Focus on building product that is unique in the market. (some people run surveys to see what sells to decide what to build – I ran surveys to see what people wanted, that wasn’t already in the market) Focus on long-term results. If you always focus on a 10-100 year plan, the 3 month plan usually takes care of itself
With respect to games specifically, it’s not easy to say what I would do. Somewhere on this site there’s a powerpoint presentation I did a few years ago about how to build great games. I’ve been out of the games business for nearly seven years. I’ve played exactly zero games during that time. I’ve visited a computer store maybe five times (to see what new games Sierra has shipped). I’ve visited Sierra’s offices only one time. In other words, I am a horrible person to ask about running a game company in today’s market.
Things I do know:
Outside development is a sucker trap. Sierra shut down the internal development group and went outside. Don’t ask me why. There ARE times to publish products developed outside, such as Half-Life, but that should be the exception, not the rule. Even with a Half-Life, there are traps you can fall into. The big money in games today is not on the PC – it’s on the video game systems. I’m not saying that no one should produce games for computers – but, my sense is that the industry for PC software today, is like the old days when I had to make a decision about how much to spend on building games for the Mac – you need to match spending to projected revenue- and, if the market isn’t big enough to justify the investment, you make tough decisions. Multi-player gaming would still be an area I’d be interested in, but with caution. Lots of money has been lost chasing multi-player games. Sierra’s success came from my support of creative talent, and by focusing talent on products that made sense for them, and, on my strong belief that one strong author makes or breaks a project. Even when our products weren’t perfect (which they never were), the designers personality still came through in the product – and, if you like the designer, you’ll overlook flaws in the game. If you don’t like the subject matter, or the designer, a “perfect” game won’t entertain. Marketing is everything. Sierra was a well-oiled marketing machine. I’m a huge believer in supporting developers, but only after marketing has confirmed that the target market exists, and that the sales forecast justifies the investment. Focus on people, not product. Good people tend to build great product. Look at a persons track record. If their last game sold well, there next one is likely to. Don’t get fooled into supporting losers. I’ve watched lots of people who were clever talkers, and who spend days explaining why their game would have been a hit – if marketing had pushed it harder, or if the packaging had been better, or this or that. I’ve seen whole companies ship dozens of products in a row, all of which failed, each of which had a “good excuse”. I was known in the company for having zero tolerance for failure, and extreme support for winners. If your last product sold, you get a bigger budget for the next one. If it didn’t, I’ll still help you, but only to write a resume. If you study the entertainment business you will see that companies that are brutal about only hiring people who have “commercial success” tend to fair better than those that have a reputation as “nice guys”.
As I said earlier, I haven’t the vaguest idea how Sierra is doing, or how the industry is doing, or even what kind of games sell these days. If I were running a software company today, my first six months would be spent researching, and only then I would have meaningful opinions.
When I called Sierra last year to see if I could help, there was a specific thing I thought I could do for them. My hope was that they would have me visit with the developers every 3-6 months during product development, to look at two things; 1) is it on track to ship, and 2) does it look like it will be fun? Neither of these things require any “current” industry knowledge, nor any major time investment on my part – yet, are both skills that I definitely have.
Does that answer the question?