The Story of Gamer Zone: Book Excerpt (Chapter 1, Section 2)

“Jack… tell me a story.”

“Fuck you.”

“That’s my favorite!”

– Eddy Murphy & Nick Nolte, 48 Hours


I’ve given just a bit of background on the local Wichita LAN Gaming Center business field before jumping into the beginning of Gamer Zone.  It is somewhat important to the Story of Gamer Zone.  Also important is some background on the storyteller.   That would be me, of course.

I’m a gamer, a geek, and a business guy.  These days, it’s in the opposite order – business comes before any of the rest.

I started programming when I was… dear god, like 12 years old.  Wrote some video games on my own back then on the Commodore 64, but never released anything.  I was always passionate about games and technology, and someday wanted to write my own as a real programmer.

Out of High School I took a year off from school, and programmed a credit card system for a local computer company.  I taught computer science to kids at a computer camp in the summers.  Eventually I did go back to school, majoring in Archaeology (or at I tried to – part of the payment of the camp was in college credits.  Which meant that WSU insisted that I was a Computer Science major for some reason, the exact degree I was trying to avoid.  I wanted a more well rounded approach to life.)

While in college I got a job working for an electrical company doing CAD work, computer programming, and industrial automation.  It gave me some unique opportunities, and I dropped out of college without a degree (dumb ass I am, I never even considered the idea that I should have gotten my associates degree in something so I could put my credits on hold when I quit.)  I walked the Great Wall of China.  I saw Hong Kong.  I survived 40 below in an Ontario winter (40 below F or C?  Doesn’t matter, it’s the same damned thing.)  I deciphered an obscure American English dialect while trying to work in North Carolina.  In all fairness, the job let me see a lot of the United States and parts of the world.

But, slowly, the company started to crumble.  Somewhere before it’s collapse (or at least, the death of the Engineering department – the rest of the company went on), I started writing video games as a side line.  Just small puzzle games, but, I was making money doing it.  I got married (to a wonderful gal who loved video games too, and supported my work on developing them) and traveling the US and abroad was a lot less interesting.

When I was laid off, I started doing contract work for various Industrial Automation customers, and continued doing video game development.  Industrial Automation paid the bills sporadically, and the video games was a slow trickle of income.  The Red Head (my wife) worked too, so between the two of us, was made out OK.  There were struggles, but, the game development was slowly looking up.

I self published 7 games online, and did contract work on another 3 or 4 (only two of which managed to get published.)  Three of my own games were supposed to see real world publication, but never did (the contracts were signed, and a month before they were supposed to hit the shelves.  And of course there was nothing in the contract about them owing me money if they backed out :-)

My biggest accomplishment in the video game development field was being a speaker at Indie Games Con ’02 with David “RM” Michael (a fun, sarcastic guy).  Then a speaker again in ’03, and ’04.  I spoke not on writing video games, but on the business of being an independent game developer and surviving (IE, guys who write games using the money out of their own budgets, rather than having a publisher pay for the game up front.)  It opened some interesting doors, was a hell of a lot of fun, and I got to deal with press and marketing.

At that point I’m by no means a major success.   But I see how business works, where my own shortcomings are, what I need to improve upon, etc., etc., etc.  Enough that I’ve got a damned good grasp of business, and a deep love of business – one that rivals my love of video games.

Oh, and for the record… if the idea of writing video games sounds like a hell of a lot of fun… well, it is.  But just like a LAN Gaming Center is fun, but a lot of work, writing video games is fun, but a lot of work.  I’d love to recommend independent game development to everyone, but the reality is it’s kind of a sucky field to try and live in – it’s not impossible to be a self employed independent game developer, but it’s hard.  (That’s a whole different set of stories ;-)

Never mistake me for an expert in business.  I’m not.  For every thing I’ve learned, there’s 20 things I haven’t learned.  On the other hand, that’s also usually one of the hallmarks of someone who knows quite a bit – people who know nothing can’t imagine the amount they don’t know.  Those who know a lot can point out the boundaries of the vast territories they don’t know.  The subject is no longer and undiscovered country, it’s just not a completely explored country.  Any advice you see in here is free advice.  Take it as free advice from someone who did it for two years, and continues to be a Business Geek to this day.  If you want me to analyze your business plan, tell you if it improves on what we did, etc., sure – you can hire me as an contractor.  Otherwise, just the read the damned story and glean what you can from it ;-)

And you’ll discover two things things that aren’t a common mix personality wise while reading this story.  I’ve got a big ego, but at the same time, I’ve got no issues saying “I fucked up” and accepting responsibility for my failings.  Trust me – you’ll see more than one fuck up on my part during the course of this story ;-)

Now that I’ve kind of set the stage, it’s time to start telling the story of Gamer Zone it’s self.  This, my friends, is where the real fun begins ;-)

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