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Beaker's Bent - On Vision

By Rich "Beaker" Wyckoff
Vol. 2, Issue 3 
November 24, 1999 

Finally, even games companies that have company-wide ideologies and the strong indoctrination processes to create the cult-like atmosphere Collins and Porras describe still need to set themselves big hairy audacious goals. Audacious goals of visionary companies described in Built to Last include Boeing's project to make a commercial jet even though the airlines had gone so far as to say they wouldn't be interested. Boeing did anyway at great financial risk, and within a few short years all the airlines were phasing out their prop planes almost entirely.

It is possible that id's decision to make Wolfenstein 3D when action games were entirely 2D counts as a BHAG, and likewise the invention of deathmatch for Doom, but it is unclear from an outsider's perspective whether these were treated as BHAGs or just naturally evolved. In recent years, id's decision to postpone the indoor/outdoor Trinity project and make another indoor, deathmatch game could be seen as somewhat less than visionary. Indoor/outdoor in itself may not actually be that audacious of a goal anyway, as the 3D engines which were popularized largely by Wolf 3D are slowly evolving into it as hardware and software technology develops.

The previous examples of applying the ideas in Built to Last to the games industry are largely conjecture on my part. The important point, as noted by the authors themselves, is that this book pretty readily disproves most conventional business thinking, and our developing industry is in real need of thinking that goes far beyond the conventional. It is unlikely that more than a handful of companies in our industry could ever become true visionaries – one piece of information the book does not provide is how many other companies they would consider visionary beyond the 18 they studied. My guess is there would not be very many, and this book sampled from many industries. However, even if no games companies managed a full transition to visionary status, the very attempt to analyze their internal practices could be helpful.

The games company is not going to go away at this point, and companies which hope to last need to do more than just follow trends and acquire licenses in an attempt to maximize profits. The fact that the book's title is Built to Last is not coincidence: these are companies that have found formulas that enable them to survive and in the long run to prosper. Game developers come and go so quickly that some don't even publish a game before their principals find themselves looking for a new job. Any ideas to reverse this trend should be studied closely.

- Richard “Beaker” Wyckoff is a game designer, not a level designer, damnit!

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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.