My goal of posting at least one entry per week is proving tough this week, so here's one that doesn't take much effort on my part, spurred by an email from Geoff, posted here with his permission...
I'm fairly new to the industry and am loving it so far. I've become fond of the business side (producer/project management) of things as well as the design. (I am a level designer). Your Game Matters site has peaked my interest a lot more recently.
I was wondering if you had any books you could recommend on game matters or in here that deal with that part of the business. Any other industry related books that you think are worth reading as well would be great. I plan on building a good library.
Thanks a lot,
Perhaps, counter-intuitively, learning is a double-edged sword. Learning about a subject often closes a person's mind to newer ideas that don't confirm what was already learned. We naturally build up a "confirmation bias," as it's known, as we grow in knowledge over a topic, leading us to reject new information that disagrees with what we already know to be true. Often, then, we establish a rock solid belief that can lead to a closed mind.
Three different studies that I cannot point to right now due laziness, have confirmed this about our species. Fresh minds are open minds. This is perhaps why most science breakthroughs come from young thinkers, such as Einstein. An open mind is freer to accept unconventional or new ideas.
A person can overcome this hardening of the mind by thoughtfully practicing objectivity, by reevaluating beliefs in the face of compelling evidence, and by maintaining an open mind throughout life. And so with this speck of feeble psychobabble out of the way, I submit my first of many book recommendation lists, this one with a business and marketing focus:
Positioning, by Jack Trout and Al Ries (1982)
This is the bedrock, the place to start. Ground zero. Game designers who are interested in successful game concepts and design must read this book. The authors take the simple concept of the unique selling point (USP) and expand it into positioning, the most important facet of marketing, above advertising, PR, and research. "Positioning" is a phrase they coined for a series of articles first appearing in Ad Age magazine in the early 70's. Their concept is based on how the consumer mind naturally thinks and perceives the world, rather than trying to force our minds' to change with new beliefs. I like to think of positioning as applied psychology or the science of consumer behavior. The basic premise is that in today's advertisement deluged society (a recent study by the 3M company showed that we are slammed by 3000 advertisements per day) it's feeble to sell products to consumers. Instead, we must create products that people want to buy -- a subtle, but pivotal difference. Positioning shows us how to do this.
The same authors team up for several other highly recommended books, such as Bottom-up Marketing, Marketing Warfare, and The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing.
Focus, by Al Ries (1997)
The first book written by Ries after splitting from Trout, and another foundational book for any developer starting or running a game studio. Use this as a business bible. How is it that companies that didn't exist when the mighty worldwide powerhouse IBM introduced their PC, such as Dell, now completely dominate the PC market, while IBM is no where to be seen? Did IBM just concede this multi-billion dollar market without a fight? Or is there another force at work? And, similarly, how do new developers stand a chance making it in this hyper-competitive industry? Read this book, apply its teachings, and your chances of success skyrocket.
Soon after GT Interactive Software (GTIS) became 3D Realm's publisher in 1997, they began an expansion spree that I knew was leading them over the cliff. Crazily, GTIS even bought an established Internet entertainment portal. I couldn't resist sending Ron Chaimowitz, CEO of GTIS, a new copy of this book along with a fresh highlighter. I bet, looking back, he wished he would have followed this book's guidance.
Buzz, by Marian Salzman, Ira Matathia, & Ann O'Reilly (2003) and
The Anatomy of Buzz, Emanuel Rosen (2000)
Two books, both great, and each covers the topic from a different angle. Buzz is the next new wave in marketing, and the purposeful harnessing of buzz can lift a product from obscurity to sensational success. For game designers, it's a mistake not to understand how to make your game buzz-worthy, which can be done from within the game's design to the game's advertising. Most game designers have little to do with their project's marketing and advertising, but building something buzz-worthy into the design itself is still within their grasp, and can make a giant impact on sales. Buzz is the fancy term for word-of-mouth advertising, and for entertainment focused businesses, like restaurants, movies, and video games, buzz means everything. Especially with how gamers talk to each online. It's up to developers to make sure gamers are saying something positive, otherwise, your game is sunk, regardless of the quality and quantity of traditional advertising.
Big Brands Big Trouble, by Jack Trout (2002)
Here's one of Jack Trout's better solo efforts, after splitting from his partner, Al Ries. This book is jammed with great advice that's useful to game developers, and especially publishers who are managing multiple brands, like Take-Two and EA, both of which could definitely learn from this book -- especially EA, whose brands have been horribly mishandled. This book is also available on tape, which I listened to recently as a refresher. The tape covers all the material in the book, and for those who like to listen to books-on-tape in their cars or wherever, I recommend it.
Patton on Leadership, Alan Axelrod & George, III Steinbrenner (2001)
Patton is one of my heroes. He's easily one of the great field commanders in the history of warfare, and his innate leadership skills are unmatched. This book has 183 leadership lessons, each with its own one- to three-page easily chewed chapter. One of the book's best parts is the author's dissection of the Patton's famous speech, given to new troops under his command (portrayed fairly accurately in the opening of the movie with him standing in front of the American flag). Every line of that speech shows a level of brilliance that cannot be appreciated until you've read this author's explanation. I've read a dozen plus books on leadership, and this is the Tiger Woods of the group.
The Power of Logical Thinking, by Marilyn Vos Savant (1996)
Nothing to do with the game industry, but useful nonetheless for exposing flaws in our thinking and reasoning skills. Easily one of my most recommended books, especially to those trying to be more objective about the world and information flow around them. Written by one of the planet's certifiably smartest people, IQ rated at 228 (super genius level), this book is an eye-opener to the ways we're constantly misled into beliefs that seem intuitively correct on the surface. Advertisers and politicians take advantage of us everyday by spinning the truth, deceptions and misleading statistics. The more interesting parts of this book reveal how most people can be easily fooled into beliefs that seem correct, but are factually wrong. (For example, the better game wins the category.) One of the best parts of the books is when the author presents a series of puzzles that have counter-intuitive answers that are often hard to believe even when fully explained. Here's my favorite:
The Monty Hall 3-door puzzle: In the popular 60's - 70's game show, Let's Make A Deal, host Monty Hall would give the final contestant a chance to pick one of three showcase doors. He tells the contestant that behind one door is the big prize (maybe a car), behind another door is a runner-up prize (maybe a TV set), and behind the final door is a booby prize (often a farm animal, like a donkey). So, the contestant picks a door, let's say door #1. Monty doesn't open that door right away -- instead he builds excitement by first opening one of the two un-picked doors. (It's important to know that Monty knows what's behind each of the three doors. And he'll never open the door with the big prize during this stage.) Let's say Monty opens the door with the runner-up prize, revealing a TV set. That leaves two unopened doors, one with the big prize and one with the booby prize.
Now comes the fun part: Monty turns to the contestant, and says, "Well, there are two doors left, and so far so good -- you know the car is either behind the door you picked, or the door you didn't pick. Tell ya what...do you still feel like you made the right choice? If not, I'll give you a chance to switch your pick to the other unopened showcase door. Whachya wanna do?"
So, if you're that contestant, do you stick with the door you originally picked, or do you switch? (At some point I'll post the answer in the comments section.)
Okay, where are the game design books, I hear you screaming!? The truth is, I've read most of them (over 20) and there are only a few I'd recommend. I'll include them on my next book recommendation list.