It's been a few days since GDC 2010 wrapped, and between the thoughts reeling in my head and the work that piled up at the office, I haven't had time to post much on what I learned.
Friday, March 19, 2010
Having thought about it though, I've decided what my favorite session was this year: the rant session. It's among my favorites every year, but this year's rant, "Fired and Fired Up: Jobless Developers Rant" had a couple of rants that I thought were worth calling out.
I had to dash out of the session halfway through in order to make my flight, so I missed a couple of the rants. However, the first half-hour had two sessions that shared a commn thread:
Justin Hall, former CEO of Gamelayers, now at NGMoco (disclosure: he's also a friend), presented on the rise and fall and eventual crash & burn, of Gamelayers. He talked about everything that happens when a graduate student takes on 1.5M in VC money and ramps a company rapidly up to a dozen-plus employees to build an innovative browser-based MMO. Raph koster has a detailed write-up of Justin's rant.
Paul Bettner, formerly of Ensemble Studios, spoke about the decline and eventual closure of Ensemble. Pretty different than Justin's case, where this was the decline of a well-funded studio with a long history of doing AAA titles. The rant centered on how the grind of crunch in trying to chase the high of hitting the top 10, over time wore away at quality, morale, and execution. At the end, Microsoft was shutting down a studio that was a shadow of its former self. Joystiq has a detailed write-up here.
So, given these very different stories, what did they have in common? Both Justin and Paul had one identical phrase in their presentations:
"It was my fault. I failed."
Justin could easily have blamed the gamers for not 'getting it', the VCs for not throwing more money at it, browser companies for lack of interoperability, or any number of things. Instead he blamed himself. He was at the helm and it was up to him to watch the bottom line. Raph's writeup has the details.
Paul could have blamed Microsoft for mis-management, the team for not crunching hard enough, HR for not hiring the right people, console vendors for their complex platforms, etc. Instead he pointed out that he failed by ignoring the wear of crunch on people and families and he apologized to the people who's years he stole.
Both talks were passionate and brutally honest.
I watched them and noted that we came out of 2008/2009 watching news coverage of a cavalcade of Wall street and Detroit CEOs shirking any responsibility for their companies tanking and taking out people's life savings and jobs in the process.
I think in an age where "The Buck Stops Here" has disappeared from the leadership vernacular, I think these guys deserve kudos for displaying leadership and, quite frankly, class.