Reply To: Some Questions for Ken?


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-Ken W


nico, r., 2007-07-17 16:52:19

Hey Ken! I have some questions.

1) What was a typical day at Sierra like?

*** I tried to stay out of all the corporate bureaucracy and spend my time with developers. Our development group was almost 700 people scattered all over the world. I flew from place to place, and tried to sprinkle cool ideas from one place to another place. I also tried to spot projects that were in trouble and get them help.

2) Who was the CEO or President of Sierra before you? I know you founded the company, but I’ve heard about this guy named Dick Sutherland. What was his role?

*** I founded the company and was the Chairman/CEO/President. Dick was brought in sometime around 1975, reporting to me. He was a senior R&D manager at a company I had previously worked at. It didn’t work out, and I feel bad about it. Dick was a great guy, but it was in the early days of Sierra and we weren’t ready yet for professional management. We were a company comprised of smart kids, with an emphasis on kids. We needed adult supervision, and it was Dick’s job to provide it. However, in any creative business, it is ultimately the talent (meaning the creators of product) who call the shots. Dick wanted us to grow up, and we wanted to have fun and make cool games. It didn’t work, and at the time I thought he was wrong, but now I can see it from both sides.

3) How did you make the various studios and companies that Sierra acquired feel like they were all part of the same ”family”? Why did Sierra begin acquiring companies in the first place?

*** Each studio had its own culture. I split the world into stuff a customer sees in a game, and all the behind the scenes bureaucracy. My job was to give each studio the freedom to have whatever culture they wanted, while centralizing and cost reducing all of the non-creative ends of the company. We were all part of the same family, but I wanted Dynamix to feel very different from Impressions or Sierra. My goal was to get everything good about being a big company, with worldwide distribution, and a world class sales force, and manufacturing team, but with games that weren’t built by a “big company”. I felt game studios should be small independent units with no other focus except building great games.

4) How were the companies Sierra acquired chosen? Why weren’t others (Such as Blizzard, Cyan and others) acquired?

*** Cyan? OK .. I’ve forgotten. Did we own a Cyan? It sounds familiar .. so, it’s very possible. Mostly I chose companies based on thinking of the market as a series of vertical niches. I used music as an analogy. Music can be split into lots of categories: rock, country, gospel, classic, etc. Some people listen to more than one category, but generally, each person has what they like. To be a major company, we needed to be a player in each category. I sought to buy the company which dominated each niche, and then raise their revenues through giving them wider distribution, while simplifying their lives by handling all the other crap associated with peddling games for them – so that they could focus on building great product.

5) What’s the one thing you miss most from your days as the Chairman and CEO of Sierra?

*** Pioneering. I miss being able to literally change the world. Sierra was a very influential company… now, I’m just a nice retired guy who used to do some cool things. That’s probably better than just being a nice retired guy …