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I was looking at your history, and it just kind of struck me. Not very many people stay at one company for so many years. just looking at your Mobygames page, it very much looks like the mailroom to head of company kind of situation, because you started as a programmer and you wound up as an executive vice president, right?
How did that all come to pass? It's quite a tenure at one company.
JMH: Wwhen I started there, they found me because I was doing language design, and they happened to be doing a new language to create computer games with -- adventure games -- called SCI. And they were developing this new object-oriented development language, and there were very few people actually back then that were doing object-oriented [programming].
I had been doing work on the Amiga with a group at Chalmers University in Sweden to develop a language for the Amiga. And so, they wanted language development people. So, they got me there to start working on this new object-oriented system.
Well, it turned out that SCI was very good at making games really fast, and so I started becoming just in charge of running the object-oriented toolset and building up the class library. And in doing so, I ended up being the programming manager back before we had individual teams. I had 45 programmers, and then the art director had like 45 artists, and we sort of just managed it that way as one big sort of game house that worked on four or five games at a time.
And then we split up into teams. They put me on Phantasmagoria, and just one thing led to another. I ended up running up a studio in Oakhurst and got us up to about 250 people, I think, before I left. And then it was the best studio at the time, it was doing the most. We made the bulk of the revenue for Sierra at that time.
And as Sierra started growing, they just decided to pull me up to Seattle and start running the core games group. And so I had Papyrus and Impressions on the East Coast, and Dynamix and Sierra on the West Coast, and then 13 external developers who we had publishing relationships with, including Valve, Relic, and... Oh boy, I'm going to miss a few of them, I'm sure. Stainless Steel Studios, Gearbox, Troika Games -- lots of really good developers. And we found that in a normal way looking for good titles, looking for kick-ass titles.
So, yeah, I've worked with Ken and Roberta... I was [employee] number 87 at Sierra. We thought a lot alike about a lot of things. We always believed in swinging for the fence and that you would have some misses, buy you had to try. You had to try to do something really good and innovative and cool. Sometimes you fall on your face, but sometimes you get a really cool hit out there.
I don't know; I just kind of naturally moved up. I didn't really intend to ever do it. I've been a gamer at heart and a developer. So, getting back into small companies is kind of a lot of fun, too, because I get to actually do development work then, making videos and doing a little bit of programming here and there, just having fun.
Were you there for the end as well?
JMH: I was there through Cendant and Vivendi, a little bit through Vivendi. So, I wasn't there to the very end of Sierra. I think they went two or three years after I left. I basically left at the point when I realized that I was never going to have another Half-Life. It just wouldn't happen.
I mean, I started thinking about the process we had to go through it at Vivendi in order to get a new game approved, and it basically became sitting down a panel with eight people, probably three of whom were from the game industry, and the other five were either from a cosmetics company or hair color or water and power company, and they would be approving our games.
It was like the same questions would come up every time. "Well, how is this like Diablo? Tell me how this is like Diablo." "Well, it's not like Diablo. It's not at all like Diablo. It's completely different." "Oh, well, no. You need to give us a game like Diablo," for instance, or Half-Life.
And I started thinking about it and, you know what? When Valve came and said they wanted to do a game, a first-person shooter. In the world that came with Vivendi, it would have been absolutely impossible to get a game like that done because at that point, there was id... There were some great first-person shooters out, and to think that anybody was going to create a new game to compete with them just never would have flown.
So, I just started realizing that it's going to be like just running a big giant factory and trying to squeak out little bits of profit margin and marketshare. Like I said, I'm not a marketing person. I'm not a business guy. I'm mostly just a game developer who wants to figure out cool ways to make games.
It's funny how a lot of people don't seem to realize that non-game oriented bureaucracy winds up killing a company. It feels like that environment is impossible to have a hit in, except by complete freak accident.
JMH: Yeah, it is. It really is. It's a complete freak accident. It really became the line I used, and it's so true -- it became more important to not fail than it became to win. And everybody was trying to not fail. It became this political quagmire of people who were just all trying to one-up each other to get up the ladder and not have something that people could point at them for being a failure.
I was like, "In that environment, you can't win because you're going to have some failures." Ken used to say something to me that was awesome. I still remember it. I don't even remember what game it was, but I was so depressed because we had a game that we had thought was going to do really well, and the initial numbers were bad.
And I walked in, and my head was low, and Ken just looked at me and goes, "What's wrong with you?" And I said, "Oh, you know, it's just not doing what we expected." And he goes, "Dude, you had two hits this year out of four. That's 50 percent. Look at your profit margins. You need one out of four to make it. You did two out of four." [laughs] And it sort of put it in perspective. It's like, try it -- just try it. Try to do something cool. Try to do something new. You've got to otherwise it's just a job.
That's true. I guess that's why you decided to strike out on your own more.
JMH: Yeah, that's really it. That's what we tried to do at CEG. I had some great guys. I loved working with Seamus and Kevin and Gene. It was just a lot of fun. Just working with some really cool talented people and getting to meet all the game developers. I've met a lot of them through developers but boy, I had no idea all the developers in the world until I went around on world tours with Seamus and Kevin, who know just about everybody everywhere.