Bing Gordon: On Being A Contrarian
June 1, 2009 Page 1 of 5
"I guess I like being a contrarian," says Bing Gordon, who was the chief creative officer at Electronic Arts -- having started with the company in 1982 -- but left over a year ago for leading venture capital firm Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield & Byers (KPCB.)
That's the company behind the $100 million iFund, which seeds third-party iPhone development, established last year in partnership with Apple. He's also member of the boards of Zynga and and the iFund-backed ngmoco, two companies that concentrate on the newer outgrowth of the games business, in casual, social networking, and iPhone.
You'll find some of Gordon's contrary ideas below -- suggestions for taking the spiraling costs of game development and wringing consummate profits out of them; concepts for changing the way companies are run, and why every company "needs a Will Wright" on their executive team.
Gordon has stepped aside from the gaming space, to an extent -- as he admits -- but he still has experience and perspectives on the business, business in general, and culture that are relevant to studios creating the games of today, and striving to create the games of tomorrow.
Why did you decide to join a venture capital firm? Is that rewarding for you so far?
Bing Gordon: Yeah, for me, I like mentoring high energy, high potential people, and I like hanging out with smart peers. And I kind of knew of Kleiner Perkins, some of the principals there for 25 years, I've always admired them.
Has it been working out for you?
BG: Yeah, I like it. I like it. Better than I hoped.
Well, that's good.
BG: I like the value systems at this particular firm, and it's kind of interesting, the entrepreneurs who we get to meet. And the conversations about the partners are brilliant. I had this "Aha" a while ago on the Amazon board. You only want be on board, and you only want to work in an organization, where you'd pay to be in the meetings.
BG: Or you'd pay to have dinner or lunch with the people. So, that's working out.
Talking specifically of the game world, what makes sense to invest in now, in your opinion?
BG: Well, let's see. Well, you know, more broadly, I'm a believer in the game-ification of the world. I think video game design is the new MBA. Video game design is valuable in education, in internet portals, in advertising, in product design, in entertainment media design as well. Video games are so compelling that people who grow up playing video games will have their habits and world views shaped forever.
I could see that being true. I think at GDC, you said something about there being more game designers out there than we need for once. And I think you said something like, "We don't need a bailout for the game industry. We need the game industry to bail out the culture." How would you envision that happening?
BG: Let's see. Specifically, in education and entertainment, I think education is in dire straits right now. The whole education business. Educators in public schools find that today's kids are more interested in the real-time self-paced interactive online, where everything is clickable, world of gaming, than they are in the boring ass world of text books and prescribed curriculum with memorization and multiple choice tests.
I actually think that game-like systems with simulations are the new manipulatives for learning by doing. I still think there are a lot of learning habits peer-to-peer, a lot learning habits solo, and self-learning habits of mentors. But great teachers are not very scalable, and I think new media is going to bail out the public education system.
In entertainment, I think every Fortune 500 should have somebody in their exec staff who grew up playing Nintendo. The NES first became popular in 1987. I think anyone that was born after 1971 got their driver's license when Nintendo was popular. Anybody younger than 38 grew up with a Nintendo or video game culture. I think that any company that's trying to sell to people under 38 needs to be video game smart.
Then you look at cool web companies like Facebook or like LinkedIn, even like Etsy, they would all benefit from video game design thinking in their product design or a sense of how scoring and points and lifetime career personalization and customization and community and guilds and parties can increase engagement of consumers under the age 38. Every one of those companies could use a Will Wright or a Will Wright equivalent kind of on their executive team.
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