Episode #5 - Sid Meier - Tips For Software Entrepreneurs


Ron Gula and show guest Deb Tillett, interview video game design legend Sid Meier. We asked Sid about his history starting Microprose, business decisions made along the way and why there aren't any really good cybersecurity themed computer games. 

Audio Transcript

Ron Gula: [00:00:00] Hi there. This is Ron Gula with episode five of the Gula Tech Cyber Fiction show. Today we're joined by Sid Meier and Deb Tillett. Sid is famous for a huge number of things, but I'm just going to say that he's one of the reasons I got into computer programming. We're going to talk about his journey, creating some of the best video games that are out there.
And Deb Tillett also joins us. Jeb. Debra runs the etc. That was at a foundation.
Deb Tillett: [00:00:27] Is it a two? A non-profit it's a five Oh one C3 and it's a venture, the Baltimore development corporation. So they set us up in the mid nineties. I wasn't working there yet. I was still working with Sid and I'm pretty precious as they saw the tech, growing here in town.
Ron Gula: [00:00:47] Excellent. Excellent. Said, how's it going?
Sid Meier: [00:00:49] How are you doing. I'm doing very well. Thank you. You're enjoying these interesting times and making the best
Ron Gula: [00:00:56] of it every day is better than the next day. Sid, can you tell us a little bit about your origin story? How did you get involved with writing some of the most iconic game video games that are out there?
How'd you get started? Just as an entrepreneur. And
Deb Tillett: [00:01:10] said the one thing I told Ron earlier, I said, I wasn't going to weigh in, but I really think you need to tell the you and bill Staley was at Vegas story. When you beat him at the at the game, he couldn't, he didn't like it. He couldn't figure it out.
Sure. Sure.
Sid Meier: [00:01:27] So I've always been interested in games. Even as a kid, I would play games when I went to college and we just in the very early days of computers and I, I was a math and science. Guy and computer just seemed like a natural thing to to learn about. So I studied computers and in college, these were the huge mainframes and we would submit our decks of punch cards and hope that they worked.
And there was nothing gave me about it, but Shortly after college, I got one of the first personal computers the Atari 800 and was able to combine two things that I really enjoyed computers and games in the very, very early days of computer gaming. Pac-Man space invaders, those kinds of things.
I made my own copy of. It's basically invaders made my own car back, man in the tradition of being inspired by other games. Then shortly after that I met bill Staley bill and I ended up founding micro pros. And we met in Las Vegas at a, we both worked for the same company. I was doing systems analysis and he was doing business development.
And we were in a boring meeting about. Future strategy or something. And we happened to start talking and, he said what do you do? I like to play games and working on some games and asked him what he did. And he was a fighter pilot. And I basically said, Hey, we should start a company.
And I said okay, why not? Went and we wandered around Las Vegas for awhile after the session was over, we ended up. I think at the end, Jim Gran, they had a basement full of different archives games. And one of them was a red Baron, which was a world war one flying game. And he sat down, and Lou, young man.
And let me show you how this is done here. Grab the joystick, put in his quarter and flew around and shut down a couple of airplanes. And then. He asked me if I wanted to give it a try, it was like, Oh all right, I'll give it a try. So I sat down and put in my quarter and my score was like five times his score.
And he said I'm a fighter pilot. I know how to do this stuff. There's flying stuff. How could you beat me? I said bill, I'm a programmer. And I could tell by watching the game, what the algorithms were how to win the game. And so I did. And he said Hey, you're a pretty smart guy.
Maybe, this company is going to go somewhere. And I said, bill, you're a pretty outgoing guy. And maybe maybe we will do something with it. And that became the Genesis of micro pros.
Deb Tillett: [00:03:55] And, see it and you can, again, another story, but in the beginning, weren't you just using baggies and shoving discs in to the baggies and trying to get them sold and a long way.
And wasn't the famous bill story where he got everybody to call up like radio shack and say do you have. F 15 fighter pilot and they'd be like, no. And then a couple of days later he would go in and say, Hey, I've got this game called, efforts, fighter pilot. And they buy it.
Sid Meier: [00:04:29] That was bill.
That was him calling for he, he would be the call or he would call one of these mom and pop. Computer game shops and say, Hey, you got a, this game. And then a couple of days later, he'd show up a game that everybody was asking about. But yeah, it was a very, it was a very different time.
Our first games, I would duplicate the disks on my own. Just drive printout. The manuals on my absent printer, maybe five pages or something, put them in baggies. And bill would take them on the road and sell them, 10 here, 20 here. That was how things started. So when
Ron Gula: [00:05:04] you started out, how
Sid Meier: [00:05:05] old were you.
I was in my mid twenties, a couple of years out of college.
Ron Gula: [00:05:10] Did you raise any venture capital? Did you go to an incubator school? Let me tell you what all of it.
Sid Meier: [00:05:17] No, we don't need no stinking venture capital. No, it was we bought our own baggies and our own floppy disks and we bank with the games we would sell, we buy some more supplies and neither one of us were salaried.
I was still working at no, we were both working at general and some, I was still working my regular job and bill was still working his regular job. So we had very low expenses. Bill's wife. Was our human resources person. And it was a very much a seat of the pants operation,
Deb Tillett: [00:05:47] but, Sid forward just a couple of years because I joined in 1989.
I joined micro pros in 1989. Wow. It was, you guys were kicking it, to be able to bring in a director of marketing and the office space there in hunt Valley and just, it was amazing, really
Sid Meier: [00:06:10] amazing. It was a very incremental process. First. I went part time. So I could spend more time making games and bill was doing a lot of stuff in evenings and weekends or when he wants to be working.
And eventually, we a lot of my friends from work were doing conversions to different systems. Bill eventually came full time. Like I said, there's, his wife was part of the company. One at a time we found folks to work with us, but it was. It was just one step at a time.
We were making it up basically as we went along as the entire industry was. And, I think of it as like the wild west days that we had no idea what what the future held and storing there. If you had told me at that time that, 20 years later we'd have this huge industry, I would just have.
That's possible, but it's also possible that this is just a, a fad and it'll go away. Just took it one step at a time, and this is where we ended up.
Ron Gula: [00:07:08] So your first few games were all flight simulators. And when I think of flight simulators, there's all sorts of.
Calculations and 3d physics you have to render. What were some of the limitations you had to struggle with the hardware at that time
Sid Meier: [00:07:21] period? Just about everything. We had our sounds or three channels of beeps and boops. We started off with a 24 K memory to put our games in and Basically a lot of our early games were based on kind of hardware tricks that we discovered little tricks that we discovered to make the computer appear to be more powerful than it actually was.
And then we would build a game of rounded at 15. I learned how to do 3d geometry and draw lines in 3d. There's certain set of lines with an airplane. There's certain set of lines was an airport. There's certain set of lines with this and by moving them. And, in a way that felt authentic and making the right sounds at the right time.
We discovered the secret, which was to to make the game happen in the player's imagination. We couldn't put enough information, graphic fidelity S sound authenticity on the screen to make the game real. But if we gave the player enough to believe it was real, and it happened in their imagination, then.
The magic started to happen. So I think we we realized from an area a very early time that it was the gameplay. It was the decisions. The player was making, the way that the player was imagining what was happening that really made the game, come to life. And
Ron Gula: [00:08:42] how much help did you have? And I'm going to say help in quotes, maybe from area 51 for the design of the F 19 stealth game.
Sid Meier: [00:08:52] It an interesting example because there had been rumors about a stealth fighter. There had been, talk in the press and bill being plugged into air force sources, suspected something was coming along, but we wanted to we were going to jump the gun.
We were going to bring out a product. That before the air force finished their plane, we were going to have our game out there and we speculated that it wouldn't be called F 19 because I think that was the next one in order or something like that. And it brought that kind of had this new dimension of game play, which was which was stoned.
A lot of games in those days were very blow as much up as. As you can and as quickly as quickly as you can. And sStealth kind of gave us an opportunity to try some different kinds of game play, worrying about your radar signature and things like that. So we brought out the game.
It was actually a really well received. But very shortly after that the the air force brought up the real stealth fighter, which was not called F 19. It was called . And it was not as much fun as the plane that we had created for our game. It didn't have any guns on it. It basically took stealth to heart and just.
Snuck around and try not to be seen and not to do anything or not to bother anybody until it blew something up and then just snuck away again. That, that would've made a pretty boring game. So our game, our game, our, if 19 was a much more fun,
Ron Gula: [00:10:19] your design was very similar to design to Tom Clancy had in red storm rising much more of a smooth.
Fun to fly combat aircraft versus the wobbly goblins. So that's a that's fun stuff.
Sid Meier: [00:10:30] Yeah, that was a lesson we learned early is that we had actually been approached by the military to do something in a simulation and align or could this, could these games be used for training and things like that?
And our answer was basically not really because we are trying to make these games fun, make them exciting. Not. Necessarily realistic and their goals would have been different from ours. That synergy really didn't materialize.
Ron Gula: [00:10:55] Let's talk about that a little bit more. So whether you're writing software for finding Russian hackers who are doing solar wind stuff or making a better spreadsheet or making a game that's fun.
And you've said that, the game, the thing you're doing should focus on the fun, what do you mean by that?
Sid Meier: [00:11:13] A fun kind of solves every other problem that a game might have. Once the player is having fun, again, their imagination is engaged. They're making those decisions.
They're thinking into the future. If I do This is going to happen. If I th this is my work they're not going to be complaining about how many pixels do you have on the screen, or that sound doesn't sound exactly right. Or that they're going to forgive a lot of potential failings.
If they're having fun, if they're not having fun, they're going to be very upset. They're going to blame it on where the graphics are. They're going to start looking for reasons to, to not like your game. So I think that's. That's the basis of it that the fund is the uniqueness and unique thing that games can bring is that engagement of the player
Deb Tillett: [00:12:01] was just the mantra of micro pros.
It's what everybody knew. It's how we operated. If it wasn't fun, forget it. And so that was really ingrained in all of us at every level. It was about the fund.
Sid Meier: [00:12:17] Yeah. When w we were not going to be as visually awesome as a movie, or we didn't have the fidelity of a CD or we didn't have the star power of a TV show, but the one thing that we did have that was unique versus all these other forms of entertainment, was this engagement with the player that's making the player, the stars, the way we refer to it.
It's about making the player, the star letting them. Make the important decisions and feel that they control the way the story unfolds.
Ron Gula: [00:12:46] So around this time, how large was your development and testing
Sid Meier: [00:12:50] team? Laughably small prop money, the early games, probably the first five or six games that I did.
I was it, I was the artist. I was the sound designer. I was the programmer. I was eventually we got an actual artist. I remember for silence service and lo and behold, he did better than I did. So he was hired Testing was done by our friends. So it started at one now over time like I said, we hired out folks to do art, eventually sound testing, things like that, but it was and then
Deb Tillett: [00:13:27] a marketing department,
Sid Meier: [00:13:31] I was against it, I was totally against it but bill convinced me that it was a good idea.
And this was
Ron Gula: [00:13:37] well before. I don't want to make it sound like it was that far in the past, but before, the cloud before waterfall development, before agile and retrospective, as you just did it all, I'm gonna say by
Sid Meier: [00:13:48] love and brute force. Yes. Yeah. To be honest with you, the producer was the last person added to the team as we evolved.
And that was really a side effect of the size of the teams growing the complexity of projects, growing, things like that. It was very. We did games in, in months. We completed them in an, in a few months, whereas today it takes years. The scale of things is incredibly different, from where it was back then, not, in terms of the power of computers, obviously, but also in terms of the size of teams and the complexity of games.
Although a lot of the fundamentals still that we learned back then still apply, which is the good news. When you
Ron Gula: [00:14:27] were coming up with your next series of games I believe it was Robin Williams who suggested that you put your name on them and this is something I think, no matter what kind of software you're working on, if you're working with a team, people are sometimes afraid to put their names on things today.
What was that story like? How do you think that helped you?
Sid Meier: [00:14:47] There are a number of Cool variations on that story. The Robin Williams story is is Bill's take on it. And I have no reason to doubt anything bill would ever say. But yeah his his story is that he was at a function with Robin Williams.
And I think it was asked, why. Why don't you put the other designer's name on a game, it's an art form, like any other and and bill said, yeah, that sounds great. As I remember it I was working on a game called pirates and It was very different. We had, as you had mentioned earlier, we had done a number of flight simulation games.
We were known for our military games silent service as well and F 19. And I got this idea that I wanted to do a a game about pirates because pirates are cool. And bill, we had a talk and bill said, said, don't do that silly pirates game. We need more airplane games. And I said, no. Bill No, I want to do this pirates game.
I think it's going to be cool. And he said, okay. But we're going to put your name on it. So that if it tanks now it's on you. But if they liked your other games maybe even though it's not a flight simulator or a military game, they'll give it a try because it is has your name on it.
And then pirates actually did pretty well. Once something works. We keep doing it.
Deb Tillett: [00:16:05] The next one that came along with civilization and it was Sid Meyer's civilization,
Sid Meier: [00:16:11] right? Yeah. Okay, good. Good. So that did really well. It's still doing
Ron Gula: [00:16:18] well, but my youngest son has a poster of it in his room, so that one's really last.
Deb Tillett: [00:16:25] I will, Jonathan, I'll take credit for his, I'll take credit for the cover artwork, because when you were coming up with civilization, it was my job to what was the box going to look like? What was the art going to look like? And I, and I just, I was online and I was searching for stuff and that picture came up and I was like, that's it?
And so I don't even think it was $500. To use that and it's it was great.
Sid Meier: [00:16:54] Probably double the sales of the game. I'm I'm pretty sure.
Ron Gula: [00:16:58] So I really appreciate it sharing these stories because there's so many people who are entrepreneurs and starting, and they think that they have to have all the answers.
They can't be opportunistic, but the reality is great companies all start by these small moves that have big effects.
Sid Meier: [00:17:15] Yeah, we're actually at a time in the kind of video game world where there's a place for some, all for startups, for indie games, there, there are markets the Apple store, places like that that didn't exist before.
You don't need to have a cast of thousands to create a game these days in and get it into the marketplace and their tools. You're
Deb Tillett: [00:17:35] absolutely right, because as you said, and I say this about a lot of our technology companies, but back in the day you needed that big computer. You had to be hard wired.
You had to have a landline in order to do business, and now you really just need your iPhone, and so it does give the opportunity for some folks to think through indie games and getting them out there very different times. Yep.
Sid Meier: [00:18:01] So
Ron Gula: [00:18:02] With civilization, you had all this experience with flight simulators and you had done pirates and a couple other different genres, but civilization was such a brand new type of user experience and very engagement.
W were you worried about people understanding would it be fun? What was your inspiration behind all that?
Sid Meier: [00:18:21] Basically we wrote games just that we wanted to play. I think we didn't have market research and focus groups and things like that to tell us what kind of games we should be making.
So it was it was a game, it was a game we wanted to play. There are quite a few. People at that time at micro pros that had come from the board gaming industry Avalon Hill was a Baltimore company, et cetera. So we had some that was where some of the game design talent was coming from.
We had done railroad tycoon, which was our first God game. And it had done pretty well. So we wanted to look for. That's something even godlier to tackle and the history of civilization, like it could make a good, it could be an interesting challenge, I think the games have to be fun to make and challenging and new to keep that, the interest and enthusiasm going. So it it fit a number of those criteria that it seemed like a cool challenge building on something that we had done before, but also breaking some new ground. My dad and, every game was was a gamble.
Basically. We did not just make the same game over and over again. We had no assurance that, that civilization was going to be was going to be successful. In fact strategy was a dirty word in those days that strategy games were like boring and only for nerds and things like that.
I believe that we made the world safe for our strategy games, because after that everything was turn-based strategy. Real-time strategy. Everything turned into a strategy game
Deb Tillett: [00:19:49] and bill was very initially not into it. He was still into, the military and the flight Sims and hunt for red October.
We actually had an opportunity to do hunt for red October.
Sid Meier: [00:20:02] Fortunately at that time we had a number of development groups and teams within the company. So he could he could talk to Scott van Berg and say, let's make this a military game or I wasn't the only designer developer in the company.
So he could go talk to somebody else while I was making
Deb Tillett: [00:20:20] doing the things you wanted to do.
Ron Gula: [00:20:22] So if I would say something like F 15 strike Eagle made being fighter bomber, pilot, fun, would civilization make a historian being be fun? What's the fun part of civilization do you think?
Sid Meier: [00:20:34] I think it's one is the fantasy of controlling this sandbox world. I think that's the fun that the first thing as you go into the game, There's a little group of sellers looking for a place, looking for a home. And you found a city and then they start to grow and you decide what to build there.
What sort of buildings to build, what sort of units to build, where to explore. And so it's a world that you control. And it's a world that makes sense that world responds to your good choices or your bad choices, and, intuitively that no one has ever played this specific game in this specific way again.
So the story that you create as you traverse 6,000 years of history is unique to you. And you can look back and, at the end of the game here, you've got the sprawling world that you've created and there's the little city that started at all. And there's that continent that you discovered halfway through.
And there's that guy, again, just gave you a hard time. But you overcame that. So you've created this story that is uniquely yours, and then you can go back and do it again. And that's
Deb Tillett: [00:21:41] it, Ron? I think it's very much don't know. You grew up, but movies and television actually were pretty informative.
In some history they really were, you learned a lot. Now it might not have been a hundred percent true and it might've been a
Sid Meier: [00:21:57] little,
Ron Gula: [00:21:58] you learned a lot, it might not been true,
Sid Meier: [00:22:00] but you learn a
Deb Tillett: [00:22:00] lot. Yeah. But think it through the first time you saw Ben her, did you actually really know all that stuff happened?
Not really. So I think that the games serve the same purpose in many ways, in order to get through civilization, you have to have some sense of history.
Sid Meier: [00:22:18] Yeah, the game rewarded you for knowing things like, gunpowder, you, Hey, that could come in handy. I'm going to, I'm going to research that or electricity or there's the public and I've heard of him, there's, Gangas Kahn.
I've had them watch out for it. So it May, rewarded you for what you knew. Now, it didn't ask you to learn a bunch of new stuff. It traded in what, the knowledge that you already had and rewarded you for having that knowledge. One of the things we said around the company was that we do our research in the children's section of the library.
When there used to be libraries. And because we want to build upon that common knowledge that everybody feels at home because these are concepts that they already know there. They don't need to read the manual to decide how to play. They don't need to learn how things work in the farthest and future.
They can use concepts, ideas that they're already familiar with. And again, that allows their imagination to take place. Take hold. And project how the game is going to go into the future. So that was one of the secrets I think, of the many of our games is they're based on things.
People already know whether it's pirates, they're based on Errol Flynn movies and the fantasy about pirates Airplanes, if you just stepped into an and pressed the wrong button, you probably explode, but our F fifteens are very easy to fly. So it's making the player. The star, empowering them to create stories that they can look back upon and enjoy.
Let's talk a little bit
Ron Gula: [00:23:50] about computer security. So without me leading you down any different roles or roads here, why are there no, really good computer security games out there?
Sid Meier: [00:24:01] Actually there's a game net runner. I think that is fairly decent. I know it's a card game. It might, I might also be a computer game.
The risk of stepping on some toes. It's not something a lot of people aspire to, for example. When I say pirates or fighter pilot or despotic ruler of the world, a lot of people say, yeah, sign me up for that. It's a computer security expert. Not as exciting. But it's also my contention that anything can be turned into a game.
So I, I think that POS the possibility we have to
Ron Gula: [00:24:38] make it fun. I definitely agree. Folks who are in cybersecurity tend to think it's like another dimension and this amazingly complex and very rewarding career protecting people's data. But as soon as you step out of that, you realize that the general public has very little understanding of what the difference between an incident response, a compliance officer, or a penetration tester, malware engineer, all these different kind of things.
And Hollywood's really done us a disservice, right? There's always scenes where the hacker is got 12 screens and there's stars flying everywhere and they're wearing a hoodie and drinking red bull some of the best hackers in the world. I know before COVID, wore suits and it couldn't be further from the truth.
Sid Meier: [00:25:18] It
Deb Tillett: [00:25:18] said, if you could make a game of it by saying, you're looking for the bad guy, looking for the hacker and looking for the bad guy, I think that would be really interesting, to have a a sense of, this is what it takes to be the bad guy and play it as the good guy,
Sid Meier: [00:25:38] Yeah, I think, you, again, going back to that idea of trying to build upon what people already know or their assumptions about, this field, I think you mentioned how Hollywood has a certain vision and the reality has a different vision. And how do you bridge that bridge, that gap that would be, that would be interesting.
Ron Gula: [00:25:58] glad you mentioned net runner though, because a lot of people will associate computer security. And how you hack them. I'm going to use a buffer overflow attack to, to break into the the system. And maybe the system has a, some sort of intrusion prevention, end point, a host protection system.
And we have all sorts of fancy names for these different things, but it's really not much difference than Harry Potter and magic. And it's no coincidence that net runner was based on magic. So I think it's a really good analogy. The other thing that's kinda tough is that if you go to something like a capture, the flag where you literally set up target computers and you have competing schools and we're trying to get more women and minorities into these things and say, okay, we're going to hack, we're going to do this.
And there's faces stuff. It's really boring. If you just visually look at it, it's people touching on the keyboard. It's hushed voices, very every now and then you'll see a high five, but it's not like a football game. It's not like a a debate where you can see interaction and stuff. So we're, I think the industry is always at a hard time projecting itself into something interesting, like a video game.
Sid Meier: [00:27:06] I would agree.
Ron Gula: [00:27:09] So with the games
Sid Meier: [00:27:10] that you've, but if
Deb Tillett: [00:27:12] we go back to, I didn't mean to cut you off from, but if we look back to where you started the story today you hacked those games, right? So you wanted to make a game and you figured it out. You hacked that game in order to make your own.
Sid Meier: [00:27:31] Yeah. What are the, we did a game called covert action back in the day, which was probably the closest to the type of thing that we're talking about.
Trying to identify a game mobile aspect of it. And we had puzzles come to mind, a game that's puzzle based. Could could fit in this space. We had a code breaking section and a circuit that you had to figure out how to apply the hand in the words to get the right output from the circuit.
And so there are but that was wrapped into a internationally international intrigue mystery and things like that. Finding even though we try to be innovative, there are Zamoras, there are conventions that whether it's puzzle or, you know platform or what do you know that if people see something like that, they say, okay, I know I'm going to be comfortable in that world.
And then, the puzzle supply to the world of cyber security or something like that. But, that could be one Avenue to break the the different tasks, the different objectives into puzzle type mini games, and then tie them together, with your kind of capture the flag or your some.
Meta structure that ties them all together. How about
Ron Gula: [00:28:50] cybersecurity and the games you develop? Did you ever have anybody attack your copy protection or actually steal source code or any, anything like that?
Sid Meier: [00:29:00] Raking copy protection is a time honored tradition in the theater gaming industry.
We've gone through a number of generations of copy protection. Bad sector's written on the disk. We came up with what we thought was a very clever system in in the micro pros days of putting information in the manual that the player would have to input to be able to play the game.
So that would require them having a manual, at least. And then we softened that a bit by making it information that once you played a number of times, you would already know, so you wouldn't have to always go to the manual, but if you were just playing it for the first time you, you would, you couldn't play it unless you had the manual or a copy of the manual or something similar.
It, there was a arms race between copy production technology and copy cracking technology that has existed since the the beginning of computer games now with the now, with the internet. And things like that it's that has become the the magic bullet as far as copy protection.

Ron Gula: [00:30:05] My game is stored in the cloud somewhere, then it's pretty hard for me to hack that versus trying to control software I've got access to. So it's. I've spoken to a number of people who are doing licensing in the cloud, and I'm like you have no idea what it was like when we tried to sell something on prem and that's what we call for stuff that's deployed on servers and whatnot.
So I think that's a really interesting interesting point. How about just actual, like theft of intellectual property, very had any other countries just blatantly copy your game, whether it was actual stealing of source code or just stealing of ideas and reimplementing it in their own systems.
Sid Meier: [00:30:39] That is killed inspiration.
A fair amount of civilization was inspired by SIM city, for example. We think we added a little more to it. I mean there was an actual board game called civilization. So in terms of building upon the ideas, that are, that have already been implemented, that's one of the reasons that this industry has grown is that we've.
We've established conventions about the left joystick always moves your guy and the right joystick makes you turn and, makes you look by stealing that you've made the game more accessible to the players. So there are many conventions that if you. Take a very broad definition of stealing are stolen, but they are done in the interest of the player.
On the other hand exactly copying a game or a that's not and, stealing sources, nobody could read my source code anyway. So nobody's going to steal my source code that kind of stuff related, industrial espionage, that kind of stuff. We haven't haven't really experienced a lot of that.
I think for two reasons, one is the kind of half-life of a game is pretty short. These are not, this isn't a game that it'd be worth. Copying, other than in the first month or two of its existence, because that's when it's popular, that's when it sells. The, games come and go.
There's so many games out there that there's not I think all that much of an incentive to to steal things. And I think
Deb Tillett: [00:32:02] there's a way to, because it happened with me in a couple of the game companies, I didn't mean to cut you off, but like Tropico it goes out there on the open market and a game company can agree to do.
Tropical three, the third version of it, or another game company will come along and say no, I'll do tropical four. They put them out there in the space, hoping to get, the next generation.
Sid Meier: [00:32:28] Yeah, I think it's also inherent in video game people that they don't want to make the same game.
They want to make a better game. Every video game player is also a designer. They're playing the game, but in the back of their mind, it's this is how I want to do that. I would have done that better. There should change. They should fix this. Copying another game is not really that exciting.
It's making a better one, taking maybe an inspiration or some ideas, but making your game even better than something that's already out there. So let's close
Ron Gula: [00:32:56] out with some advice to anybody who's starting a business where they're going to do software programming, whether it's medical industry, video games, cybersecurity what kind of advice do you have for people who might be in college right now, or just, get starting at some sort of software program company?
Sid Meier: [00:33:14] Specifically, as far as games, there's a couple of pieces of advice that we we've been asked this question before that we think is important. One is To bring something fresh, something new. A lot of people want to combine their tube, favorite games. Want to combine Minecraft and halo into a new game, it's not really a new game.
W what is your passion? What is your interest? Is it, is it history? Is it medicine? Is it space, bring something from outside of. The set of games that have already been made, bring, bring something unique to, to what we have, because we don't need, we don't need Minecraft to parallel necessarily combined together.
There and the other thing that we talked about is if you're a game designer, then you should make games. It's not about conceptualizing what the game should be. Or, describing how the cinematics are going to work. What is the game plan? What are the decisions? What is, what does the player do and why is that fun?
Not only describe that, but programming there are there's there's unity, there's unreal. There are tools out there these days that allow. You to make games. It probably is not going to look as good as everything as a triple a title, but there's no excuse for not actually making a game and playing it and seeing whether your eye, your idea is fun.
Deb Tillett: [00:34:32] One thing that I would say, I didn't mean to cut you off, but you have to follow the path of Sid and realize that he knew what he was good at, but his partner bill knew what he was good at and together. That allowed Sid to concentrate on what he was good at, which is the game design, creating the games, the programming, and it gave him the opportunity with the partner to run the operations and to do the sales and the business development.
And so as you think about that, Understand that there's going to come a point in time. When, if you start this game company, you’re passionate about the design and the development, who's actually going to be out there finding new customers and running your operations.
Sid Meier: [00:35:24] Yeah, that's a good point. Without bill Staley, nothing would have happened.
You understand your. Talent, but also understand your limitations and find a wine. Somebody who can go can cover for it.
Ron Gula: [00:35:37] So specifically for the video game, entrepreneurs out there, how do you feel about being an independent software distributor or getting on platforms like steam.
Sid Meier: [00:35:48] Steam is definitely the place to be these days in the PC world. A lot of things have gotten much easier than they used to be distribution getting your game out there. Between the plateau, the development platforms and places like steam and the different stores There's a lot of places for your game too, to get exposure pretty much seamlessly.
You don't have to drive to every mom and pop store or, buy an ad and Compute magazine. However, the downside is that everybody else can do that as well. So you are you're competing in a much a more competitive market of games. It becomes even more important to find that uniqueness.
What makes your game different from what else is out there? And, finding that right. Viral thing that, however, it happens getting gets that get through game notice. So it's a different set of challenges honestly, then than we faced when we started
Ron Gula: [00:36:46] Deb, do you have a final question for said,
Deb Tillett: [00:36:50] Oh gosh, I think it would just be would you have done anything different?
Sid Meier: [00:36:59] I have absolutely no complaints and I've been able to do what I love doing for a very long time. To nitpick about one of this little thing or that little thing along the way would be very ungrateful. No, I've been so fortunate to be able to make games and work with some, extremely talented people.
In an industry that's pretty volatile. We've been able to continue to do what we love to do for many years. Don't, I don't think I would do anything different.
Deb Tillett: [00:37:26] You need to really Pat yourself on the back and give yourself credit for growing the gaming industry right here in Baltimore.
At one point we was the third largest gaming cluster in the country. And all as a result of you.
Ron Gula: [00:37:44] You're welcome. Said I want to thank you for for not only coming on the Google tech cyber fiction show, but also I played all the fighter pilot games and I went into the air force to fly and I think playing civilization really allowed me to think abstractly and plan down the road. And then finally, when I started a couple of cybersecurity companies, I, kinda knowing your story and how small of a team that you had to do that kind of really inspired me to that. I could probably do something similar. So I hope everybody is watching today.
Really enjoyed this and learned a lot said where can people go to learn more about what you're doing today?
Sid Meier: [00:38:20] FIRAXIS has a website that covers what we're doing today. What we're thinking about doing in the future. I just happened to have a book Published, my memoir kind of goes tells a lot of the behind the scenes stories of games like civilization and pirates and silent service, et cetera and play, play the games.
That's really the best way to get an insight into what we're doing is to give those games a try. That's excellent.
Ron Gula: [00:38:50] All right. Deb and said, thank you very much for coming on the Gula Tech Cyber Fiction show. And I hope everybody enjoys this and we'll put this in the show notes. Thank you very much for watching.