Author: Peter Molyneux and Morgan Ramsay
Aimed at: Game developers
Pros: Some insights into marketing
Cons: Lacks passion and verve
Reviewed by: Lucy Black
This promises to be an insider look at the creation of games - but is it?
The subtitle "Stories Behind the Games People Play" might suggest that we are going to find something out about development of games, but this is not the meaning intended. If you read the back jacket blurb you will discover that its supposed to be about "VCs, startups, distributors, publishers and market trends". It also says ".. you will see why games have - for decades - led technical innovations, spawning amazing successes and heartbreaking failures"
which leads you to believe that there will be some technology and some passion.
This is a collection of interviews with people involved in the creation of games. Some of them are well known, some slightly known, and some lesser known. There's a total of 17 in all and most likely the best known to a general audience is Nolan Bushnell. All of them, however, are founders or co-founders of some games company or other and many of these you will know better than the person concerned - Electronic Arts, MicroProse, Broderbund, Sierra On-line and so on.
The interviews all more or less start out in the same way with a look at what got the person into the subject. Then we get to the meat of the interview - the development of the company. Any software development or technology that comes up in the conversation is there only as a sort of irritation standing in the way of making the company successful. I don't know if any of the interviewees ever got passionate about software, game design or even some aspect of technology, but if so it doesn't come across in the interviews.This is all "if you get the money let's do a startup" and "we hired some guys to make something".
I started out trying my best to read every word in each interview, but I have to admit that the quality of what was being said was so tedious that I rebelled. I eventually found myself skipping sentences and then paragraphs. It was tedious at the level of shopping lists. Not only is there no sign of passion for technology, there is very little sign of any emotion. The interviewees never get excited and they are never asked any challenging or probing questions. They got up on a morning, formed a company, did some stuff with money and people and then went broke or sold up.
To be fair, along the way they do occasionally say things that are enlightening - doing deals with other companies, doing deals with retailers, what is it like to sell in a particular way, marketing, branding and so on. However, there is no analysis of what is going on, so really it isn't a good business book either.
You could probably get a more interesting, but much shorter, book (or more likely magazine article out of it) with heavy editing, but the real problem is that the questions are just too matter-of-fact.
What the book succeeds in is showing that interviewing is a rare talent - my guess is that you have to understand what is going on to know what the probing questions are and you have to have the courage to ask them:
- "were you in it just for the money?"
- "did you understand anything that was technical about your company?",
- "do you think you were a sucker to take that deal?"
These are the questions that make a good interviews but probably not good friends.
If you want to have a written record of what some of the founders of important games companies did, and a little of what they thought about it, then you might want to buy this book. Don't buy it if you want a lively read or if you want a glimpse behind the scenes of the technology or the business. No secrets and few personal opinions are revealed.