Gamers at Work

Book Review

We’ve not covered much in the way of gaming-related literature previously here on 7outof10, but that’s about to change. After all, we consume enough of this stuff to warrant its own section, and so to kick us off we’ve gotten a hold of Morgan Ramsay’s Gamers at Work: Stories Behind The Games People Play.

Ramsay (entrepreneur and founder of the Entertainment Media Council) has pulled out some big names from his contact list to compile a series of seventeen interviews in Gamers at Work, featuring the likes of Nolan Bushnell, Trip Hawkins, and with a foreword from former Lionhead and Microsoft guru Peter Molyneux. Spanning almost the entire history of the videogame industry, luminaries such as Lorne Lanning and “Wild” Bill Stealey (Microprose) are complemented by legends in the making such as Insomniac’s Ted Price and Naughty Dog’s Jason Rubin.

Besides being marquee names attached to beloved videogames, the theme amongst all of the interviewees is one of entrepreneurial spirit and taking startup companies from rags to riches. It’s no surprise then that Gamers at Work focuses primarily on business decisions and stories of the enterprising ingenuity that got those studios and manufacturers off the ground, along with a good amount of detail surrounding some of the great inter-company rivalries within the industry.

Indeed if there’s one flaw to level at Gamers at Work, it’s that the straight-up interview format may well lend itself to embellishment and misrepresentation. This is not an analytical book by any means, and it’s difficult to tell exactly what the truth is around the significant events detailed by some of the interviewees (particularly those involved in the 70s and 80s). We have to take their stories at face value, and without cross-referencing any of the facts, it’s probably wise to take a few of the shadier tales with a grain of salt.

It’s never less than entertaining though, and for the most part the business angle is an interesting slant to take. We’ve heard the likes of Bushnell and Hawkins tell stories of their achievements before, but detail of machinations of their success are frequently fascinating. You’ve probably heard enough about Atari by now, but you might not know exactly how they manufactured their way to success in the early years, or how the economics of an arcade business were hastily cobbled together from threads of inspiration to simply grow at any cost. Likewise with Hawkins, his single-minded determination to found EA and change the developer-publisher paradigm comes across as equal parts inspiring and absolutely terrifying.

In contrast, the interviews with founders of modern startups are a little tamer in terms of shady or ground-breaking deals and ideas, but they’re altogether just as fascinating to read (Ted Price particularly so). After all, we live in an age in which indie startup companies are undergoing somewhat of an amazing revival, so to hear stories of exactly how those driven, creative individuals managed to get their projects onto screens is eye-opening and inspiring in equal measure.

Although some of the interviews will be a little dry for some, Gamers at Work is nevertheless a unique take on an industry that’s already covered by a million copycat retrospective tomes. If you’ve ever wondered about videogame entrepreneurs, their business decisions and exactly how those companies that you love were founded and built, then it’s definitely worth a read.

About Emmanuel Brown

Professional enthusiast, videogame "journalist" and all-round spectacular sofa dweller.