What You Can Learn About Business From These Wildly Successful Video Game Developers

“two people playing Sony PS4 game console” by JESHOOTS.COM on Unsplash

Like many gamers in their thirties today, I spent much of the 90s and early 2000s playing popular video games like Wolfenstein 3D, Doom, and Quake.

id software, led by John Romero and John Carmack, developed these wildly successful video games and earned millions of dollars and the adoration of customers around the world.

In Masters of Doom, author David Kushner profiles Carmack and Romero and explains how they experienced such massive success in a growing industry.

Use What You Have

Carmack and Romero founded their video game company in Dallas, Texas, in 1991.

Reflecting several years ago on his career, Carmack said video game and software developers have all they need to create something great.

Unlike other industries, aspiring developers don’t need millions of dollars of capitalization. He told Kushner,

“The barriers are self-imposed. If you want to set off and go develop some grand new thing, you don’t need millions of dollars of capitalization. You need enough pizza and Diet Coke to stick in your refrigerator, a cheap PC to work on and the dedication to go through with it. We slept on floors. We waded across rivers.”

Learning to code video games or acquire other business skills is more accessible than in the 1990s or early 2000s.

Thanks to the proliferation of YouTube tutorials and online learning sites like Lynda.com, Codecademy, and Treehouse, entrepreneurs can improve their skills without almost no financial investment.

Borrow and Remix Old Ideas

Carmack and Romero looked to other popular video games, music, films, and pop culture phenomena when creating their wildly successful Doom and Quake franchises.

Their games contain many pop culture references, and they borrowed the name Doom from the 1986 Martin Scorsese film, The Color of Money.

In that film, Tom Cruise’s character walked into a billiards hall carrying his favorite pool cue in a black case.

“What you got in there?” another player asked.

“In here?” asked Cruise as he opened the case. “Doom.”

Leaders of other successful companies aren’t afraid to borrow ideas and remix them.

In 1962, car rental company Avis wanted to compete against Hertz, which enjoyed a larger market share. So it launched an advertising campaign with the tagline, “When you’re number two, you try harder. Or else.”

Over the course of the year, Avis went from losing $2.2 million to earning $1.2 million and enjoyed profits for the first time in more than a decade.

Arguably, Apple and Pepsi borrowed this idea of turning a weakness into a strength with their “Think Different” and “The Choice of a New Generation” campaigns in the 1980s and 1990s.

Back Away from Your Mistakes

The team at id Software overcame many mistakes while developing their popular video games.

Because of the nature of software, they fixed these mistakes via patches and updates for Doom, Doom II, and Heretic.

However, they were overzealous about release dates only to miss them and let down their audience.

The gaming community criticised Romero, in particular, for over-hyping upcoming titles and announcing moveable release dates.

After Romero left id Software to set up up his own video game company, Carmack backed away from over-hyping titles. He told his eager audience the Quake sequel would be ready “when it’s ready.”

Carmack said,

“You have to give yourself the freedom to back away from something when you make a mistake. If you pretend you’re infallible and bully ahead on something, even when there are many danger signs that it’s not the right thing, well, that’s a sure way to leave a crater in the ground.”

Meanwhile, Romero adopted the following motto

It’s done when it’s done

Successful leaders aren’t afraid to back away from their mistakes in other industries either. Coca-Cola is among the most memorable examples, famously withdrawing New Coke in 2002.

A Lifelong Pursuit

Success in business continues to be about more than money for John Carmack and Romero. Despite earning millions of dollars from excelling at their professions, they’re both pursuing new, more challenging business goals.

Today Carmack is chief technology officer for the virtual reality company Oculus Rift. Romero is developing video games for the next generation of gamers from Galway, Ireland.

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