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Vol. 2, Issue 3
November 24, 1999

Beaker's Bent:

On Vision

by Rich "Beaker" Wyckoff




ver the summer I finally started to read some nonfiction that was related to my job. Frankly, I've had trouble finding any non-fiction that could hold my interest for long enough to finish them, and there just are no worthwhile serious books about the business of game design and publishing. There are the industry histories out there and there are some "learn to make games books," but compared to the work which has been written about the general software industry, the games-specific books are lightweight.

I finally decided to sample the more general software books in the hopes that I'd find information that would be relevant, and I'm glad I did. As it happens there are eye-opening books about both design and general business out there which are as fascinating as the best novels. In my reading so far, I've had beliefs I've held with little justification confirmed and I've been introduced to ideas I previously had never considered – pretty much the point of reading, I guess.

One of these rather startling ideas is that there is such a thing as a large, visionary company. As many of my personal bad experiences in the industry have come directly from the management bungling which seems endemic to any organization larger than a single team, I had formed the opinion that big corporations are by their nature bad. This was until I read Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies by James Collins and Jerry Porras.

Honestly, I didn't even want to read this book at first though it was given to me by perhaps the best boss I've ever had. I was sure that no company could actually be anything I would consider visionary, and I thought that it was going to be some sort of "how to" book founded on principles I wouldn't accept. Instead, Built to Last is a scientific study of around twenty companies that have lasted for over 100 years and are the most well regarded and usually best performing in their fields. The point of the study was to determine what elements were common in all these companies: thus, what constitutes a visionary company. They make an argument that is compelling enough and founded in enough evidence to completely change my mind, at least.

Each of the visionary companies is paired with a comparison company which has existed for a similar amount of time and is in as similar a line of work to the visionary company as possible. As an example, some of these pairs were Sony (visionary) and Zenith, Hewlett Packard (visionary) and Texas Instruments, and Boeing (visionary) and McDonnell-Douglas. Many of the visionary companies had wild differences in their histories and organization, but despite these differences, the authors make a convincing argument that there is an underlying similarity between them all.

This column isn't intended to be a book review, but rather an explanation of the applicability of this book to the computer game industry. The book can be boiled down into an assertion that it is a myth that great companies are distinguished by the specific individuals who run them and are purely profit-driven. Instead, it turns out, the companies which are widely regarded as visionary do not rely on the presence of any specific CEOs nor do they focus on money-making above all else. Yet despite this, these visionary companies in the long term have often outperformed their comparison counterparts.

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Credits: Illustration © 1999 Dan Zalkus. Beaker's Bent is © 1999 Rich Wyckoff. All other content is © 1999 loonyboi productions. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited, so don't do it or we'll sick our lawyers on you. Muhahahahahahahah. ph3ar our [email protected] l3gal sk1lz y0.