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Potent potables, Superstar Developer, and finally Parts of a spoon...

Potent potables, Superstar Developer, and finally Parts of a spoon...

"I'll take Superstar Developer for 800 Alex !" Hmm rather than some imagined Jeopardy session, how about I pose the theory that not enough developers are raiding financiers coffers..

Dave Nixon, Blogger

February 26, 2011

7 Min Read

"Potent potables, Superstar Developer, and finally Parts of a spoon..."

"I'll take Superstar Developer for 800 Alex !"

A Jeopardy reference instead of a title ? Why have a 83 word title when 2 keywords might sell it ? Ok next time I will pick the keywords carefully, some other subject matter? (Maybe just a better title...)

Imagine if you will, James Cameron standing on a street corner megaphone in hand announcing that he wanted to film a new science fiction epic. Then crying out all he "needs" are few investors - at that precise moment there would be a line around the block of people with arms outstreched, holding checkbooks.

I suppose the first concept I am selling here is creative professionals can leverage the body of their past work into investment dollars. I know what you are thinking: "Wow ! no SH*T Sherlock !" But wait dear Watson, I want to add at least two more ingredients. (Peanut butter and Trout ?) The aggregrate of serveral resumes (awesome or no) of many altogether nice people and a shared vision that trumps the status quo is nigh impossible for financiers to resist. (I am being rather high concept here, ignoring quite a few details. Please only take exception to the things I type, not the parts that are missing !) Perhaps it is simpler in industries other than electronic entertainment... Someone smack me around right here.

For the last five years or so, I have had an almost daily reminder on how a having an superstar executive on your companies roster can equate to nearly "endless" cash reserves and agility beyond mere mortals for dodging fiscal ruin. (can't dodge run on sentences it seems.) I would be simplifying if I said "having more money than brains" is fantastic.

I will share a recent tale from another industry here: Imagine if you will, a far away land with bright blue skies and summer heat that will kill an normal person in minutes. Imagine further two teams coming together to toil as a combined entity to accomplish something wonderful. THEN suddenly one of the teams (called the "other guys", for legal reasons) hire a duo of impressive executives and raise money based on the new superstars, filling their bank account with a hundred million dollars. (give or take...)I will leave out the part where the other team (called the "nice guys", for obvious reasons) stand around all the while pondering the wisdom of having this other company join the dream while summarily being bought out of the project.

Ok I left bits out and kept it a little less detailed than normal, (changed names to protect the innocent) but the ink is still wet on the agreements for the above tale and apparently lawyers will bite if overworked. The "nice guys" got to revisit a pair of my favorite lessons, being a scum-sucker makes getting christmas cards way less likely and MORE importantly industry veterans with a track record can pull investment dollars out of a hat under the right conditions.

Perhaps a made-up industry example might be more fun. Let's pretend for a moment that there is no such thing as a law suit and Vince Zampella, Jason West and 38 other former Infinity Ward employees wanted to make a "modern warfare 2 killer" game. But if only they could find some money for such an undertaking, who would dare lend them a nickel ? Gentle reader, can you imagine a better example of that "The world is now yours but it has turned into an oyster" thingie?

Certainly the relationship that Respawn Entertainment has with EA is positive for the moment, obviously everything will get back to business once the smoke clears. I am surmising that the dynamic duo and their tiny legion of loyal till almost death (unemployment?) followers could have written their own ticket, and perhaps they did... Without being privy to the fine print, at minimum: every night is pizza-night, every friday is casual friday, and all tuesdays are no-pants tuesdays!

That last example of 2 industry players and their team I have no actual data on, making up broad brushstroke examples from media observation for illustration. Switching gears a bit, a companion concept I would like to add in here: while you are pursuring the accolades needed to become a Jason or Vince equivalent, you should consider the STYLE in how you get there. The best example I can pitch is someone I have met.

There was this young kid I bumped into at E3 in 1995, pretty sure he was wearing a ballcap, and probally shoes as well. The ballcap sticks out in my failing memory for certain, it was later replaced by 4 or 7 different hair shapes with alternating colors. Kid's last name was something-or-other-ski.

The few times I have bumped into Cliff at tradeshows he has always carried himself flawlessly, not just as an ambassador for EPIC, but also as a deadly serious professional who wants games to just BE better. He tries to keep the audience engaged and is interested in feedback. Walking out of the booth presentation for the then unseen Unreal Engine 3 (it will never work...) he found time to turn away from his team members and ask my baby brother what he thought of the demo. I wonder how many times Cliff has heard that 1 word answer...

I had always thought of EPIC as a technology company, the engine ahead of all things, until they gave us the Gears. I know he has been attached to a many projects, and for awhile EPIC was toting Unreal tournament as the corollary of the engine, but during those first years he could have been involved with another IP or 3. I mean to say early incarnations of Unreal probally did not stretch Cliff's game design organ(or his team) to the limit. I would pay big money to see which other concepts are rattling around in that skull of his, full-on "franchises" lost in time during the period where engine sales were front & center.

I surmise he is lucky to have the team at EPIC, but inversely they are quite lucky to have him - certainly after seeing all his shenanigans on camera over the years. Big bonus getting a frenetic promotional dude with a forward thinking designer in the same body, sort of a two for one deal. A few more parts per million of brown-nosing here and I going to start feeling like a guest on Conan O'brien...

I am not suggesting developers should be just like Cliff ! (spend the money on a new car, not hair dye!) But to tirelessly promote your team/product/genre and the community that is connected WHILE working hard on your attached projects seems like a solid way to build a resume. It also helps in finding co-workers after you aquire that "This bastard can work with anyone" label that is so hard to live down. (the "This guy pretends to be cocky!" label is optional.)

So I suppose after much gnashing of teeth, my last borrowed idea is: Build the best version of your professional self. And now you accidently aquired a body of work while chasing that "version", you will be much closer to a fledgling "superstar". So now you are bankable and stylish, but you don't want a studio all by your lonesome! Quick! Find a couple or six like minded creative pros that just happen to have a dream that is *almost* the same as yours.

As GDC 2011 is a few hours away as I write this, I am reminded of how many 'compatible matches' will be within a few hundred yards of each other next week. What a shame that out of the thousands of attendees, only a handful will make the connection that will lead to the next big thing. Someone should make an APP that senses non-arsehole brains closeby, based on "29 points of compatability"...

All joking aside, the stellar work history of one person alone likely won't make it come together. I suspect a design team with a mixed bag of credits and a combined vision is what the financiers will be unable to resist. For the sake of discussion leave out the part where they ask: "You want HOW much ?" I saw up close a veteran design team in 2002 NOT find the few dollars they might have otherwise. (However ignored, the roster was filled with 20+ years of dev experience.) I have seen it work MIRACLES in other industries.

Get a few people together with impressive history, and as a team you can MAKE history.

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