Gamers At Work: Stories Behind the Games People Play
“The worldwide video-game industry is in a state of enormous flux.” This Peter Molyneux quote, wonderfully encapsulating the field of play in video games today, opens the book Gamers at Work, and is a perfect way of starting your journey through the world of the gaming industry. Gamers presents us with a collection of interviews with some of the most influential entrepreneurs in the industry, and gives us the opportunity to look at the world behind the curtain in their companies.
The book begins with an interview from Trip Hawkins, the founder of Electronic Arts, in which he discusses how he recognised the value of video game entertainment at the dawn of the information ages. The interview follows his path through the history of EA, and moves on to talk about his ill-fated 3DO project and the reasons it failed. Somewhat surprisingly, Hawkins is quite open with accepting where the 3DO went wrong, and actually expresses regret for having left the company he founded. Hawkins finishes by talking about the company he founded and remains in today, Digital Chocolate, who mainly produce social and mobile games. The entire interview charts Hawkins’ initial love of board games in his youth through to being one of the most influential video game entrepreneurs of all time, and it provides a real insight into the ups and downs of video game start-ups.
Other interviewees include luminaries of classic companies, such as Jason Rubin of Naughty Dog, and Nolan Busheel of Atari, as well as founders of more modern companies, like Warren Spector of Junction Point Studios and Feargus Urquhart of Obsidian Entertainment. There’s a wide mix of creative voices, and they don’t fail to impart both advice and warnings in equal quantities. Warren Spector goes as far as to include the mission statement of Junction Point, which encourages an environment of creative collaboration and sharing.
One detail that became quite clear as I read through the bios of the individual business people involved was the level of accomplishment these people have. Christopher Weaver, the founder of Bethesda Soft works, and later ZeniMax Media, is an MIT-trained scientist (who, bizarrely, was the inspiration behind Jeff Goldblum’s character in Independence Day). Nolan Bushnell, the co-founder of Atari, went on to create the first in car navigation system. Even Lorne Lanning, the cofounder of cult, and now defunct, developer Oddworld Inhabitants worked for one of the biggest visual effects companies in the world before heading off into the interactive entertainment market. I might seem obvious, but games aren’t just created by nerds. They’re created by ubernerds. Geniuses even.
Morgan Ramsay, the interviewer and author of the book, doesn’t refrain from asking tough questions, and yet there’s still a feeling that sometimes the interviewee is the one directing the flow of the conversation. Don’t get me wrong – the interviews are certainly interesting, and there’s some fantastic stories to be told, yet sometimes it feels as through more needed to be said on a certain topic. Another point to consider is that this is not a video game book. This is a business book about video games. Please don’t take this a direct criticism against the book because it’s still a fascinating read, but it will not cater to your average games hobbyist. Those of us who consider video games our passion will enjoy it more, but even then there’s section on venture capital and investors that only the business-minded will truly comprehend. Again, this is not a criticism: Gamers At Work announces its business orientation on the cover. It’s just good to know before diving in.
What the book really shows though is what gaming has become. This book puts a spotlight onto some of the most intelligent and creative people in our industry, and why not? In this age of connectivity, it seems weird that we still believe video games are pumped out by giant faceless corporations (which in some cases, is true). We need to create an air of celebrity around these individuals. They are our rockstars. I want to hear about how Jason Rubin and the Naughty Dog team were forced to finish Crash Team Racing in the hot, cramped corridors of their office. I want to read about how Ensemble Studios risked their entire future on Microsoft picking up Age of Empires. I want to know of the humble beginnings of Sierra Online, when Ken Williams and his wife assembled box art from magazine cuttings.
And Gamers at Work is a step in that direction. It recognises the value of people, and asks them to share their stories. It makes us realise that the video game industry, like many others, is incredibly perilous, but also incredibly rewarding, especially today. As Mister Molyneux says, “Video games are in the most exciting place they have ever been right now.”