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That phenomenon got repeated several times actually, when I worked on Bard's Tale and Starflight and on Madden Football and on all the projects that I worked on. I could tell whether or not my product was going to really go, just by the number of people that were waiting around to get builds. It was pretty entertaining and exciting, too, and very nerve racking by the way.
TE: Can you ever say the opposite is true? Is it possible to detect a flop in the same way?
JY: Oh God yeah. Flops are easy to spot, because if I boot it and I don't even like it, then I know we're in big trouble. Yeah, I've worked on a few of those. I remember one that - I'm not going to mention any names - but I remember this product was so bad that nobody on my team wanted to have anything to do with it, including me. And so I told the team, Look, there's really only three ways to [finish] a project: you can ship it, you can kill it or you can give it away.
Well, EA is not going to let us kill this game, and there isn't anyone crazy enough in this company to take it away from us, so I guess the only way for us to get rid of it is to ship it. So we did. That was not the wisest of decisions, but it did get it out of our faces. ... So somehow we overcame it that time, but I can tell you there's nothing worse than when you're working on something and you know that it's awful.
TE: What's interesting in talking to you about this, Joe, is that talking to a number of other developers or producers, you hear things like, "capture this genie" or "put this lightning in this bottle," but talking to you, taking the context of your words away, it's like you're describing making any other kind of product. Do you think that's really the key, approaching it from that point of view?
JY: Absolutely, where the secret sauce is going to come in is by parsing the talent of the team and giving them the freedom to really do cool and clever stuff. Because I can't dictate at the beginning all the characteristics that are going to make my product an amazing product, what's going to end up happening is during the course of construction, opportunities will arise while I'm building the product that will transform it from being a product into being an amazing thing. I mean, that's where the secret sauce kicks in, right? And the thing that's really hard to do is trying to figure out what the secret sauce is going to be from the very beginning.
Where the secret sauce is going to come in is the passion of the folks that are working on the game. They will find a way to get it in there. And I've seen some products with some nice last minute finishing touches, maybe not so much last minute, but nice touches get put in or somebody raises their hand and says, Hey, I've got this idea about this feature, and you kind of look at it and say, Wow, why didn't we think of that? And [you] stick it in there, and by George, you have something pretty astonishing.
You know, one of the things that I believe in is if you don't have any rules, you don't know when you're breaking them, so we have lots of rules for how our project works. So if you have to break one of these rules, raise your hand and let's talk about it, and if it makes sense that we should break this rule, then let's go break it. But at least we knew consciously what we were doing when we did it. So rather than let this stuff fumble its way to the finish line, I like attacking the finish line.