“The World of Warcraft Miniatures Game is getting scrapped.” The words of our head executive echoed in my ears. Unlike the rest of us, who were sitting around in t-shirts and hoodies, he was wearing a button-up shirt and acting as though he were the only adult in the room. “I know you’ve all been working hard, but after dealing with multiple project managers on this game, it’s just costing us too much.” The meeting ended with my whole team in stunned silence.
My heart was crushed. The World of Warcraft Miniatures game was my first project as a design lead and it had been reduced from a dream-come-true to a fading memory.
After 18 months of work, I wasn’t willing to let the game die. I convinced the higher-ups to give me a shot at being a project manager for the game to see if I could make it work.
I spent the next six months living at the office. I learned everything I could about producing miniatures games. I contacted the best people in the industry to learn about their successes and failures regarding similar games.
I enlisted with one of the best art directors in the world, Jeremy Cranford, to figure out how to create amazing sculptures that could be cost-effective when mass-produced. I was mentored by Chris Toepker, who had created the Dungeons and Dragons miniatures line for Wizards of the Coast, on the business of making miniatures.
After all the painstaking preparation, it was finally time to present my case to the executives. I sat waiting in the lobby, repeatedly staring at the carpet, looking up at the clock, then glancing at the receptionist. The receptionist had graying hair, a monotonous tone to her voice, and a practiced precision to her movement that made it feel as though she had been sitting at that same desk for 30 years.
This was my first time in a corporate environment, so when she called my name, I was suddenly overwhelmed by anxiety. I still remember how the sickness in my stomach felt as I walked the long green-carpeted hallway toward the boardroom. I expected to see a placard of “Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter Here” nailed to the doors.
Our billionaire owner sat behind a predictably ornate desk. He was leaning back, talking on the phone, in his cushioned leather throne. The walls of this massive room were covered with expensive memorabilia including a signed Michael Jordan jersey, a Babe Ruth bat, and a Tiger Woods golf club. The mahogany conference table was so big you could have landed aircraft on it. The room was billionaire’s boardroom cliché, yet it still got the message across: If you’re looking for money, this is where you’ll find it. The COO and CFO were sitting opposite sides of the table, not smiling, not frowning, just coldly staring at me as I set up my presentation.
With sweaty palms and feeling feverishly hot despite the air conditioning, I presented my case. I kept thinking, this is not where I’m supposed to be. I’m just a kid who just wants to make some awesome games. What am I doing here?
When it was over, I waited in uncomfortable silence for them to react. After what seemed to be both an instant and an eternity, a conversation finally started. To my surprise, these titans of industry were actually discussing my idea.
Overall, they liked the project but had a lot of specific concerns. Soon, they started to pontificate, tossing out ideas with the blind confidence of an executive who’s been “in the business a long time.”
It took me a few minutes to come to my senses, but when I finally did, a realization hit me: Oh my god, they have no idea what they are talking about.
How could they? This company had never made a miniatures game before, and I had spent months tirelessly researching every aspect of the project. I had answers to questions that I assumed they’d ask, and questions for people who I assumed knew more than me.
My whole life, I had lived with a belief that successful people had it all figured out. I was sure that I didn’t know what I was doing, but took comfort in the fact that the adults in the room could show me the way.
Being hit smack in the face with the realization that nobody really knows what they are doing was terrifying! How could we know if we were doing the right thing? What if we make mistakes? What if we fail? My uncertainty quickly bloomed into an intense fear.
I walked out of the board room, sweating, on the verge of panic, but about halfway down the hall, it hit me: nobody knows what they are doing.
The feeling was like a splash of cold water on my face—a cooling, liberating feeling.
Leadership isn’t knowing what to do, it’s being willing to act boldly in the face of uncertainty and to own the consequences. Leadership isn’t about success or position. It is about making assertions and enrolling others in your vision.
If we are all making things up as we go along, why not make up the things we want to see in the world? I resolved at that moment to take ownership of my future.
Within a year, I successfully launched the game, then quit to start my own company. I’ll never forget the perplexed look on my boss’s face when I gave my two weeks’ notice.
“Did you get another job?”
“Do you know what you are going to do next?”
“Are you sure you want to risk quitting during an uncertain economy?”
“I’m pretty sure, we can’t escape uncertainty.”
Twelve years have passed since that day. Since then I started my own company, Stone Blade Entertainment. I work with an enthusiastic team that creates incredible projects that delight, connect and inspire millions around the world.
To be clear, it is not easy. Mistakes were made along the way, including facing near bankruptcy multiple times, but that’s all part of the journey. When bad things happen, I pick myself up and forge ahead.
I’m currently building our organized play and global launch strategy for our newest project, SolForge Fusion, which is a game, unlike anything that has ever existed. I’m working with some of the best minds in the industry (not the least of which is my co-designer, Richard Garfield) about how best to launch this game and make it a huge success. I take time every day to convert my uncertainty into excitement and do my best to make it clear to everyone that after twenty-five years in the game industry, I still don’t know what I’m doing.
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