Kevin Saff is not what many would consider “the ideal candidate.” He started his career as a C++ coder for a major manufacturer, but then quit to pursue a mathematics degree in Canada. That didn’t quite do it for him either, as he then dropped out to pursue something far more interesting: canoe from Calgary to New Orleans. But after 1,200+ miles of rowing, his journey ended in Minneapolis with a cracked boat and a frozen river. Temporarily, of course, as he plans to pick up and continue south someday soon.
All that said, Kevin was pretty excited when he received his first response to all the resumes he’d been sending out to various Minneapolis-based companies. He immediately called back to schedule an interview and was pleasantly surprised at how flexible the interviewer was: Kevin could “stop by any time.”
After putting on his interview clothes, Kevin hopped on a bus, transferred to a few other busses, and, after almost two hours, finally reached his destination. It was a residential apartment complex.
When he knocked on the door of “Suite 318,” Kevin was greeted by Jeff, a man in his 50’s with glasses precariously perched on his conical head and a face a few days past shaved. Upon entering the apartment, the first thing Kevin noticed was a blue tarp hung over the south-facing window, blocking the sun and a view of the Mississippi river. The second was Jeff sitting down on a computer, firing up a popular MMO.
“You see this,” Jeff said, avatar running towards the closed city gate, “when you get to the door you have to wait while the game loads the next area. You should just be able to see out through it.”
Taking this as the technical portion of the interview, Kevin started to explain about how he would implement dynamically loading regions. Kevin was very clear that, while he had never written something like that before, he was certainly aware of the basic concepts involved.
“Now, look. He just runs right through the tree. Right through it! You see that?” He harrumphed and turned toward Kevin with a look like someone died.
“Mmm, horrible,” was all Kevin could get out while he tried to think about what could be done to detect that kind of collision.
Jeff pulled up a website with a few 3D models on it and asked, “what does 100,000 polygons mean? Hey, could we just have the program write whatever text we wanted over these signs so we could sell ads in-game?”
Kevin felt at a disadvantage since he hadn’t done any 3D programming since toying around with POV-Ray work a decade ago. He struggled through an explanation about how models are essentially a web of triangles with a flat texture projected onto them, and that in-game ads should not, in fact, be difficult.
“Really?” Jeff said. “Okay, they tell me we can finish this in six months if we work part-time, so we can probably finish it in three if we work full-time.”
He had been describing a game as complex as Spore.
“I'm outsourcing most of the work to the Philippines. They’re willing to work on a royalty basis. You can transmit the technical requirements to them, change my words into code they can understand.”
“Change... your words... into code... they’ll understand...” Kevin gibbered.
“Really, you can do that?” Jeff peered through his glasses.
At that point, Kevin had given up all hope that a decent game could be made. But he still wanted to know how much money he could get out of this guy. “So... how much would I be getting for this?”
“$75,000 per month,” Jeff said, with no hesitation.
Kevin blinked. “That’s, um, after the game’s done, right?”
Jeff pulled up a spreadsheet. “A popular game gets about 250,000 players. At $15 a month, that means they pull in... $3,750,000. They tell me to pay about 10% of that to the developers. I’d give you 2%. That’s... $75,000.” He smiled at the screen.
“But, ah, nothing until we’re pulling in that kind of money?”
“We’ll offer advertising in the game,” he said. “Don’t you think companies like Google would like to get in on this, advertise in our game?”
He blinked again. “I’m not sure Google really needs that kind of exposure.” Deciding to go on the offensive, Kevin said “Okay, a friend of mine, Calvin, worked for five years on his game, Venture the Void. Go ahead and pull it up at venturethevoid.com.”
He started typing in the address bar: “venture of the void”. Kevin corrected him and soon colorful planets and spaceships swirled on the monitor.
“Okay, see he’s generating all these planets automatically. No two are the same, they’ve got times of day, automatically generated weather, plants... You see that spaceship? No two of them in the game are identical, even over multiple plays. All that and guess how many paying players he got?” Kevin paused. “Twenty-five.”
“Oh,” Jeff said, “but did he advertise on this site?” He navigated to the third or fourth hit on Google for “MMO”. It was some portal for MMO games with reviews, news, and all sorts of things.
“I’m not sure,” Kevin hesitated, “Calvin submitted it lots of places.”
He just shook his head. “All that work and he didn’t even advertise in the right places. If he just would have advertised here, he could have been rolling in the money.”
It was pretty clear that Kevin wasn’t going to get any money out of this engagement, so he decided to cut his losses and make the long journey back to his own apartment. As he stood up to end the interview, Jeff casually blurted out “I never leave the apartment.”
Kevin raised an eyebrow.
“I’ve got an idea every day,” he said. “I’ll just be doing something then, POW! An idea! That’s why you need me. Now, look at this.”
Jeff walked over to his closet and took out one of those massive wargames from the 70’s. He told him about a “compare and contrast” essay he had in college, “comparing tic-tac-toe to checkers to chess to games like this with thousands of pieces.” Ten years ago, he presented investors the idea of developing a series of games like this on the computer. “‘It’s just like printing money!’ they told me.”
Not one game chit had been popped from its original cardboard. Kevin couldn’t help but wonder if any investors had sprung for this free money.
“Have you ever played the computer game Civilization?” Jeff asked. Before Kevin could even nod affirmatively, he continued “One time I was playing and a chariot parked in the mountains defeated a howitzer! That’s just never going to happen. One time I just sat down and started writing down things that were wrong with the game. POW! I had a list of ninety things, just like that.”
It was time for him to go. Kevin wished Jeff luck, but told him frankly what he thought of his enterprise. After his two-hour ride home, the first thing he did when was email his friend Calvin the link to the magical money-making MMO forum, asking for only 2% of his proceeds. He expects to be rolling in money any time now.