Maintaining the Hexagon of Quality

June 27th, 2011
Written By: Richard Wyckoff

Hi, I’m Reverge Labs CEO Richard Wyckoff.

You may remember me from such hits as the Hexagon of Quality and floating tree simulator, Jurassic Park: Trespasser.

Before I became the CEO of Reverge Labs, I often wondered what the heck a CEO actually did all day. Apparently some Revergians even wonder what I do – so this one’s for you, Ian, and for myself when I was new in the industry and idly pondered what it would be like to run my own company, and for everyone else who thinks that being a CEO is all golf and cocktails. Maybe the golf and cocktails come in down the line, but right now my full time job is making sure Reverge actually works.

I’m a game designer by experience, but keeping a company running is more akin to a production task than a design task. So let’s start with what game producers even do: organize stuff.

Have you ever looked at the credits in any of your favorite games? You’ll see dozens, if not hundreds of names in there. Even if many of those people only worked for a few months on the game, which is often the case, someone has to let them know what to do and then keep track of the work they produce on the game.

Here’s a production example: Skullgirls has more than 1000 frames of animation for each character in the game, and every frame is made up of several layers.  Ten or more people may wind up working on different animations from a single character, and in the end everything has to come together in a form that the game engine can read, and free of bugs. All this work needs to be divided up, assigned out, received, checked over, and finally added to the game, and this is just one example of the hundreds or thousands of details that are necessary to make a game like Skullgirls. Lead artists and designers and programmers play a big role in this tracking, but they also have the even more important task of leading the creative part of the process and it can be difficult for them to consider the overall schedule of the game. This is where producers come in.

A great producer is invaluable – they make a game better by giving the people who make the game more time to actually make the game. Even on a small team like Skullgirls, we quickly found we needed dedicated production. But all this only takes care of the game itself.

For the company itself, there’s another layer of details. You’ve got to find and pay for an office, which brings with it a slew of new issues – utilities, cleaning, supplies, and caffeinated beverages are but a few of them.  Each of these, no matter how seemingly small, can have an effect on the game’s production.

Then there are the even more important business matters – contracts, communications with our publisher, setting and tracking budgets, finding great people to join the company, and pitching new games. Bigger companies can afford to have people dedicated to these tasks, but they don’t go away even if there’s no one to take care of them. This behind-the-scenes stuff doesn’t seem directly linked to the things we do to build the game, but if people don’t have a place to sit, if there’s no water to drink, if they’re not getting paid regularly then they won’t be able to work on the game as well, or at all. It’s my job as CEO to make sure these things get done and allow everyone to concentrate on making the game. The better I can do my job, the smoother work goes, and that leads to a better game.

If it sounds like being a CEO is a whole bunch of really obnoxious drudgery, then I think I’m doing a good job describing it! It also kind of sucks to be a producer, but I’ve been lucky enough to work with a great producer or two in my career and I’ve seen how much better – and thefore more fun – they make game development. So, drawing inspiration from these producers, my goal is to make Reverge work better as a company by taking care of everything that people making our games shouldn’t ever have to worry about.

I don’t want to make it sound bad, either, because ultimately strings of annoying tasks add up to major results. While being the guy to deal with some of the most annoying tasks I also get to take our wildest dreams and turn them into reality, like signing Skullgirls with Autumn Games.

As another example, as we’ve written elsewhere, our apparently-unprecedented signing of Michiru Yamane to make the music for Skullgirls started with a random comment in a meeting we were having. Between that meeting and the time we received the first amazing song from Yamane-san, I spent weeks working out a deal, fitting it in our budget, writing contracts, and communicating the team’s musical intentions to Yamane-san. This may not be as immediately fun as putting together a really good game level, but the end result of realizing a crazy thought turned out to be almost as rewarding than getting Skullgirls signed in the first place.

As a CEO, I’ve had to learn how to read and understand every word of hundred page long contracts. I’ve figured out how much it really costs to operate an office. I’ve battled and won against Quickbooks, quite possibly the worst piece of “professional” software in the entire western world. I’ve also painted 30 feet of wall in whiteboard paint, nearly lost a finger to an upright floor sander, and emptied the trash on a regular basis. I didn’t imagine or even hope to do any of these things when I wistfully pictured running a company, and I’d be hard pressed to call any of them “game development.” But as soon as we created Reverge, I realized how much more there was to running a game developer than just making a game, and that what a CEO does is take on responsibility for everything else. I want Reverge to make great games. To make great games, Reverge has to keep running smoothly. That’s what I do and despite how it may sound, I’m having the time of my life doing it.

Thanks for reading and I hope this gives you a better idea of what a CEO actually does. Stay tuned after we ship Skullgirls for the golf and cocktails report.