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While we’re on this topic (and I need to stop writing, or no work will ever get done!): Here’s something interesting I did to create ‘entrepreneurs’ within Sierra:

I had a rule of 4 to 1. Each product had to carry a revenue projection that was four times its development cost. This concept was used both at the product, and the R&D division level.

We were broken into product development subsidiaries, each consisting of 25 to 150 people. This were independent development groups, geographically dispersed, who felt like they were running their own businesses. Each one of these groups had their own general manager – Dynamix, Sierra, BrightStar, Coktel, Impressions, Headgate, Papyrus, etc.

Each of the divisions were further broken down into project teams. Our teams were lead by two people; a designer and a producer. The producer was the ‘bureaucrat’. It was the producers job to manage the artists, programmers, sound people, etc. All the paper shuffling. The designer was charged with the soul of the game. They came up with the plot, approved the characters, approved the game play, etc.

There was always a war between the designer and the persons on the team, in particular the producer. The producer wanted the project to come in on time and on budget. The designer wanted the game to be fun to play, and look great. No one is perfect. There are times when the designer approved something, only to decide later that it wasn’t working. This meant schedule slippage and cost overruns.

I used my 4-to-1 rule to govern this. Designers were always thinking about their next game. Exceeding the revenue forecast on a game meant a bigger budget on the next game. Missing the forecast meant a smaller forecast. In other words, if someone turns in a 3 to 1 revenue to cost ratio, they may not get a next game, and if they do, they won’t like the development budget. Career-wise, the monkey was on the designers back to turn in a game that exceeded the 4 to 1 ratio, so that they could get a dream budget for their next project. Turn in a 5 to 1, and both your forecast and budget (for your next game) get bigger. Turn in a 3 to 1, and start writing resumes. A simple rule.

Because all of the creative control was given to the designer, the producer wasn’t judged on the ratio. They were judged on their ability to manage as best they could, in a situation where an out-of-control designer could easily throw the project grossly over budget. I made the ultimate call on raising budgets, but generally tried to side with the designer. I would look them in the eye, and say ‘Are you sure this will get us to the 4 to 1 ratio. If not, your next game will be for someone else’ Not all designers made it to a second game, and some stepped down from front line titles to doing card games. Others went on to great success.

Divisions grew or shrunk by their ability to hit the 4 to 1 ratio. Each division had anywhere from 1 to 20 products in development at a time. At my staff meetings, the ability to ‘get budget’ and the entire pecking order derived from the revenue to cost ratio. If you didn’t want your studio (division) to ‘go out of business’, you had to hit your numbers. I forgave almost anything except missing the numbers.

In short – I gave creative freedom, along with creating entrepreneurs. There was certainly money that went with success (for the designers) but many creative people, especially the good ones, focus on building great product first, and then the money. The #1 thing they always wanted was more budget. This game them a way to get it, and pushed down to them the critical budget decisions. They knew their career was on the line with every dollar spent.

-Ken W