Doug Mealy has worked with the CEOs of 110 game developer studios in the past fifteen years and managed over 300 game launches. He shares with WarCry his entertaining and informative perspective on the mistakes CEOs have made in the past, and how gamers who want to have their own studios someday can avoid making those same mistakes. Today he warns CEOs to watch their mouths. Check out his sound advice.

Want to be a Successful Indie Studio CEO Someday? Then watch your mouth!

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My first WarCry column on four real-life, studio-closing mistakes made by CEOs, and my second column on what mistakes to avoid in these messy economic times, have had over 20,000 hits which is far more than I expected!

In this third column, I’ll give you some real life examples of really dumb things indie studio CEOs have actually said out loud, and what damage they caused for themselves. The lesson here is when you’re talking to anybody – staff, vendors, media, peers – watch your mouth…people listen and they actually remember what you say, especially the stupid stuff.

Example One. “I’ll take their money anyway.” A studio CEO, about to launch a new title, decided to offer a standard, pre-launch discount offer of “Buy now and get a 20% discount off the launch price when we release the game two months from now” type of thing. So far, no problem. One day the CEO attended a cocktail party with a bunch on non-gaming locals in his home town. He opened his mouth and inserted five things – three drinks and both feet. His comment about the pre-launch offer was, “[The game title] is way behind schedule so the launch date will be a few months late, but so what? I’ll take their money anyway and if we don’t launch on time that’s their problem.” Well, it turned out to be his problem because there was a local reporter standing right behind him, and she printed the announcement in the local paper. It was immediately picked up by games journalists who widely reported the launch delay “news” over the next 24 hours. Over 300 irate customers who had already paid for the pre-launch special emailed their complaints and/or demands for a refund. Under U.S. law, such a statement is an “intent to defraud” and staff quit to avoid legal liabilities, the project unraveled, and the game never launched in the U.S.

Example Two. “Who’s that jerk?” Several years ago, the CEO of a then-fledgling but now-known studio was in his booth at a trade show. Just by accident I happened to be standing there at the right moment. In walks a tall, thin, 30-something fellow with spiked hair who I knew, but the CEO didn’t. The CEO took one look at this guy with spiked hair and said – too loudly – to the staffers around him, “Who’s that jerk?” It was the then-GM of Disney Europe who was looking for game themes around which to build a new ride/adventure at Euro Disney. You can figure out what didn’t happen next… The CEO doesn’t know to this day who the guy was or the damage he caused with his big mouth.

Example Three. “I’m really busy.” A smart and talented fellow created a new game, formed a small dev studio, and previewed his not-yet-at-Beta game at a trade show. It was a hit. A week later a Newsweek reporter called to ask for a few words about the game and maybe get a quote or two. Remember that is was Newsweek and the game was still a prototype, so this was an almost unheard of media opportunity. The CEO’s message to the Newsweek reporter: “I’m really busy this week, so can we do this next week?” No kidding. No coverage. Duh.

Example Four. “I never said that!” Oh, what a dumb thing to offer as a first line of defense, especially in our electronic world. But, it happened. A CEO, unfamiliar with the interviewing process, agreed to answer an editor’s questions about his title, knowing (and promptly forgetting) that the exchange was being recorded. The CEO threw in some rude and really dumb comments about a few of his competitors. When the editor very respectfully submitted a final version for the CEO to fact-approve, the CEO saw his words in print, went nuts, and yelled at the editor, “I never said that!” Well, the tape clearly proved he did, and the editor was 100% accurate. Lawyers got involved and it was a mess. The editor rightly never covered the game again, even when the project went down in flames a few months later.

Summary

These four examples demonstrate the damage that can be caused by inappropriate comments, even if they weren’t meant to be overheard. Remember that being a studio CEO is not just a job title – it requires you to act and speak as a responsible and well-spoken CEO. The best advice I can give is to “Watch your mouth!” If you are an aspiring studio CEO, or are one now, and have any questions, please email them to me at [email protected].

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