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The wild, formative years of the game industry are over, but that doesn’t mean up-and-coming hardware and software developers can’t carve out their niche in the market.
The trick is learning not only how to get started but how to survive when success isn’t immediate. The best way to gain that insight is to learn from the sometimes-tumultuous careers of successful entrepreneurs. Gamers at Work: Stories Behind the Games People Play, a collection of interviews with iconic executives like Electronic Arts’ founder Trip Hawkins and Atari’s Nolan Bushnell, is an often historical and surprisingly personal look into how some of gaming’s largest companies started.
Morgan Ramsay, serial entrepreneur and founder of the Entertainment Media Council, set out to create a guide for business leaders wanting to venture into new markets when he started gathering interviews for Gamers at Work, but the book soon took on a life of its own. Now, Gamers at Work is an inspiring look at how to start, leave, and rebuild companies, and the publication provides a first-hand account of many important moments in gaming history.
GamesBeat sat down with Ramsay to discuss how he conducted his interviews for Gamers at Work, the emotional consequences of entrepreneurship, and his upcoming project, Online Gamers at Work.
Telling a story through conversation
Ramsay: There are several reasons why I ask straightforward questions in my interviews. First, business leaders appreciate brevity, candor, and directness. This was true before PowerPoint. Second, as the interviewer, I’m not the subject. I’m the director. I’m obligated to budget my time and respect the schedules of all involved. Finally, I follow this simple rule of investigation: When you’re looking for answers, don’t tell them what you want to hear.
In order to tell a story through a conversation, you need to know the subject matter, you need to have a plan, and you need time to execute your plan. I’ve started three companies, and using that experience, I have prepared up to 150 questions that I can ask founders about their lives, careers, and ventures at every stage of the corporate life cycle.
Of course, the time required for each interview averages two hours across three calls, but there have been outliers. The longest interview that I’ve done was with Lorne Lanning, creator of the Oddworld series. We spoke for six hours across three calls, generating 60 pages of transcripts.
The emotional consequences of entrepreneurship
Ramsay: Entrepreneurship is the engine for job creation, but there’s a hidden cost that’s rarely talked about. When I asked Sony Online Entertainment president John Smedley about how starting Verant Interactive affected his family, he told me, “I don’t remember much of my first two kids’ early lives. I really greatly regret that. It’s a mental toll that is hard to explain to people who haven’t done it. You’re constantly thinking about work. You’re never home from work because it’s your company, and the well-being of every single person in that company is your responsibility.” For anyone to shoulder what feels like the weight of the world, sacrifices are often made at home.
How Gamers at Work can benefit students
Ramsay: Gamers at Work is first and foremost a business book. The Entrepreneurial Management Center at San Diego State University has a copy in their library. Wagner College, one of the top private business schools in New York, has a copy in their library, too. I think the book would be perfect as a teaching tool for founders, a reference that bridges the gap between professional managers and founders, and a resource for game developers who should understand the how and why of the decisions that might one day affect their employment.
Online Gamers at Work, Ramsay’s new project
Ramsay: Online Gamers at Work focuses on the challenges of starting and building companies that develop or publish games in the online multiplayer, massively multiplayer, social, and mobile categories, as well as companies that are responsible for on-demand and digital-distribution businesses.
So, while Gamers at Work focused on how the video game industry became what we know today, Online Gamers at Work looks at where we’re going through the perspectives of the founders who are shaping the industry’s connected future.
I’m often asked, “How hard was scoring the interviews for Gamers at Work?” Not hard at all. The video game industry is full of generous people who want to share their stories, their expertise, and the lessons they’ve learned. My experience with the second book, Online Gamers at Work, has not been statistically much different. There has been a greater incidence of founders declining to participate due to insufficient time though.
With that said, Online Gamers at Work already has a fantastic lineup that includes BioWare cofounders Ray Muzyka and Greg Zeschuk, Gaikai cofounder David Perry, Kongregate cofounder Emily Greer, PopCap Games cofounder Jason Kapalka, Funcom cofounder Gaute Godager, and many others.
Gamers at Work is an installment in Apress’ At Work series, a collection of books focusing on interviews with business leaders around the world. It is available through Amazon and Barnes & Noble for $29.