2, Issue 3
November 24, 1999
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.