In his D.I.C.E. session entitled "Studio Survival, One Level at a Time," id Software's director of business development talked about the keys to id's success despite its relatively small staff, saying leadership and company culture were the most important aspects of longterm studio health.
"Fast, cheap, or good, pick two," Nix opened, explaining, "This is an old business model model that has been effective for a long time. The reason people tend to use it is that it works really well for most industries." But, Nix said, the games industry is in effect, "more constrained."
"I think we're at 'fast, cheap or good, pick one. You can say you're going to do a 12-month title, maybe it ties with a movie, but the thing is, don't plan on being cheap and don't plan on being good also. Pick one," he said, adding, "At id, we always pick 'good.' If we turn out a game that's not very good in one of our brands, it ultimately hurts the value of the studio. So we always focus on good. Quality is always number one."
Nix went on to elaborate on the amount that id as a company does per year while maintaining a relatively small staff -- no more than 25 people during Doom 3 development, and now at 34 people. With that small team, id manages its outside developers working on Quake Territory, Wolfenstein and its mobile properties, as well as runs its technology licensing business and QuakeCon.
So what are the secrets to id's success? Nix pointed not toward 'process,' which he described as valuable, but still able to put out a bad product through perfect process, and instead turned to Formula One.
"It has the highest technology standards in the world," explained Nix. "You have to have the best team, best technology, if you're not the very best you won't even get close to winning the race."
He then asked, "How can we get our dev teams to have these standards? It really comes down to company culture. It turns out when a new employee starts at your company, they're usually fired up, and they really want to come in and do a great job for you. If they're in a really great organization, they look around, and if they see someone focused next to them working on the game, they tend to work on that. They mimic what they see around them."
So, he added company culture was one of the most important aspects of running a developer, saying that culture was all bred through the studio's leaders.
"Your leaders are your most valuable resource," said Nix. "At id, the people who had been there the longest are the hardest working people I've ever seen in my life. There's zero burnout, there's 100% dedication. They're there the longest hours, they're going to push you constantly. That brings the entire organization up, and everyone knows they're going to be held to an example. The leadership is the only way to build the games you want."
Nix brought the session to a close with a quote from Ralph Nader, who said, "I start with the premise that the function of leadership is to produce more leaders, not more followers."
"If you're in an organization and it doesn't have the right leadership, do what you can to fix that," he said. "If you don't see it changing, there's no business model that's going to get around it, and I recommend moving on to greener pastures."
"And then pick one!" he concluded. "Say you're going to be fast, say you're going to be cheap. Make your decision and stick with it."