The Guts of Gearbox
July 23, 2012 Page 3 of 4
You definitely see studios get gradually ground down. They start with something high concept and it either goes well or doesn't, but somehow they end up taking lamer and lamer work and sort of grinding themselves out of existence. You know?
RP: Yeah. That's weird. I don't know. I don't know who you're thinking of, but there's a whole lot of examples of any particular outcome in this industry. [laughs] There's a spectrum of positions everyone's in, and some people are going up, and some people are going down, and some people are staying the same. Some people are coming back from a downswing, and some people are going down from an upswing. Some people are going away, and some people are appearing out of nowhere. It's kind of an interesting ecosystem.
I think, in general, what you want to do is make good decisions and you want to judge yourself on the quality of your decisions, not necessarily the quality of your results, because you want to learn how to always make good decisions. Sometimes the results are variable. You can make great decisions and have a poor result, or you can make a very bad decision and get lucky.
So you want to really get good at making decisions and then you want to make sure that, to whatever extent your decisions have risk involved in them, you've thought about all the failure cases and you've anticipated them and you've accounted for your recovery plan if you do bump into some of those scenarios. You should always be looking to mitigate your failures while betting on your successes.
What do you call a good decision in this context -- especially one that could potentially lead to a bad outcome?
RP: Well, there's decisions at every scale. In general, it's about alignment with the bet you're placing. If you think about what your limiting factors are in the context of either your vision or that scope, quality, whatever, or your schedule, and that's the marketplace and your own time or the budget. If you think about to what extent each of those are limiting factors and how much flexibility you have with each of those limiting factors, and it's making decisions with those constraints in mind towards your goal.
We're creating entertainment, right? So you have to really think about if something were to exist that doesn't exist before, and you can visualize something, what's the value of that thing? And then, okay, if this is going to be the value of that thing that doesn't exist, that I have to create, what can I responsibly spend to build it? And if I responsibly spend that much to build it, and I'm talking in terms of time and money, will I reach that outcome that I'm looking for, or do I have room for error there? Or do I have no room for error there?
If I responsibly spend this much to build what it needs to be, can it never achieve the result that makes it worth putting that into the beginning? I don't know if our English language is sufficient to articulate the kinds of things that we learn when we're in the seat where we make these kinds of decisions over and over again, but we get pretty good at it, and it's really about being able to visualize that end state, and knowing what it takes to get there, and having both of those thoughts be accurate to some reasonable degree.
Aliens: Colonial Marines
What's the end state?
RP: The game. The pitch. What're you going to promise the customer? If you were to promise the customer X, does the customer care about it? How many customers care about it? And if you deliver that, can you meet or exceed expectations? And when you do, what's the upside? And if it costs you more to get there than you can get out of it, or you could reasonably expect, then it's a bad decision.
And if the opportunity, if you do succeed there, is much larger than you put into it -- when we make a bet on development of a game, the most we can stand to gain is not just the peak of what we've ever seen in the market tested before, but even beyond that, because no one's reached everyone. So, it's near infinite potential. On the downside, the most we can lose is whatever we put in. So, we have a limited risk with infinite potential. The key is making those decisions that have as much or more potential than the risk we're putting in.
And, by the way, you can scale that. You can scale that decision. It goes from the guy who's deciding at a publisher what IP to build, down to the dude who's painting the material that's going to be the texture on a character's ear. How much time is he going to put into painting that character's ear, and how much is that going to affect the end result? There is an artist that will happily spend six months painting an ear. [laughs]
Now, that's probably not a good decision. And when you can get a team full of people where everyone's self-regulating their own ambition for the craft against the value of their output, then you get a really interesting efficiency in the creation of what is fundamentally artistic content.
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