In his 2017 book, Blood, Sweat, and Pixels, Jason Schreier outlines the stories of 10 video games and how they were made. Some were astounding successes by solo guys in their bedrooms, and some were colossal failures by huge studios that, despite tens (if not hundreds) of millions of dollars of investment, were never released.
Hi, my name is Kat Bair, and for the most part, I write these blogs. I am also married to a man who makes video games for a living. My husband bought me Schreier’s book, and I, like the author, was caught off-guard by just how chaotic, unpredictable, and messy the story of making a video game often was.
We are a meaning-making, story-telling species. We like there to be a plot and a purpose behind the way things happen. When we hear stories of how hard work and not giving up created success, that makes sense to us, it fits with our understanding of how the world works. Even stories of lucky breaks, lone geniuses, and teams of underdogs all fit within our understanding of what success can look like in our world.
When the Game goes Wrong
In the video game world, the path to success is much more chaotic and less narratively clear than we might imagine. Projects go through dozens of iterations, abandon whole concepts, get defunded, refunded, delayed, released, and re-released. The path is messy, and success is unpredictable and mitigated. In Schreier’s book, he tells the story of the making of Diablo III. This is a studio that had everything going for it – all the money and talent it could buy, an established title, and, perhaps most importantly, they had done this before. Twice. By all conceivable measures, this should have been the one project whose production wasn’t such a disaster. They knew what they were making, they knew how to make it, and they knew how much time and money it would take. They even knew how many copies it would sell. What they somehow didn’t factor in was that all the copies would sell almost simultaneously. The game wouldn’t load. It crashed every time someone tried to log on because the servers couldn’t handle the traffic. For days.
Even when players could get on, the game wasn’t well-received. Legitimate complaints, amplified by the frustration of not being able to play, meant that the studio had to spend years, and hundreds of millions of more dollars to get Diablo III back on track. By 2016, four years after its release, it had sold 30 million copies and is now considered a great game that has influenced a whole generation of games after it. But first, it failed. Publicly. For four years. Not exactly the kind of success story we like to write for ourselves.
My husband worked on a game that was hotly anticipated, 5 years in the making with a budget in the hundreds of millions of dollars, and by the time it was all said and done, whether or not all the late nights and stress were worth it was much more ambiguous than our narratives of success would allow for.
What we Can Learn
I thought of these stories as I met with a Ministry Incubators client on a coaching call a few weeks ago. Their project was stalled by forces outside their control, and they found themselves far behind where they imagined they would be at this point in the process. As I spoke to them, they told me what they had imagined, the narrative of success they had written for themselves, and how they felt they weren’t successful because that didn’t wind up being their story.
I asked them to imagine a different story. In this story, passionate innovators began work on an idea placed deep in their souls, only to be blown off track. In this story, they nurtured the dream, fed it, continued to imagine and iterate and pray over this spark inside them, and when the moment was ready, they were ready to burst into flame in a way they never could have been if they had been successful on their first try.
The stories we hold on to can limit us, but they can also empower us. Our scriptures are filled with complex stories of promises long sat quiet before they were fulfilled, of failure alongside success, of brokenness and hope, and second, third, and fourth chances to figure it out.
It is well within our faith tradition to have a non-linear, non-obvious path to winding up precisely at the place we were called to.
So if your story seems messy, if you feel like you aren’t on track to success, remember that the story of success is allowed to be winding. According to my husband, a level with lots of twists and turns and unexpected challenges makes the game more fun anyway.