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#21 Masters of Doom: How Two Guys Created an Empire and Transformed Pop Culture
March 1st, 2018 | E21

What I learned from reading Masters of Doom: How Two Guys Created an Empire and Transformed Pop Culture by David Kushner.


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[0:35] For a new generation, Carmack and Romero personified an American dream: they were self-made individuals who had transformed their personal passions into a big business, a new art form, and a cultural phenomenon.

[1:19] His (John Carmack) game and life aspired to the elegant discipline of computer code.

[1:40] Romero wants an empire. I just want to create good programs.

[3:07] No matter what Romero suffered he could always escape back into games.

[4:55] Romero’s stepdad smashed Romero’s face into the machine as punishment for playing video games.

[5:24] He beat Romero until the boy had a fat lip and a black eye. Romero was grounded for two weeks. The next day he snuck back to the arcade.

[7:40] One afternoon his father left to pick up groceries. Romero wouldn't see him again for two years.

[8:53] Alibaba: The House That Jack Ma Built by Duncan Clark. (Founders #32)

[10:20] Arcade games were bringing in $5 billion a year. Home systems were earning $1 billion. His stepfather did not believe game development to be a proper vocation. You'll never make any money making games he often said.

[11:28] A business is just an idea or service that makes somebody's life better. —Richard Branson

[12:58] Richard Garriott came to fame in the early eighties through his own initiative + Explore/Create: My Life in Pursuit of New Frontiers, Hidden Worlds, and the Creative Spark by Richard Garriott.

[13:20] Ken and Roberta Williams also pioneered the Ziploc distribution method, turning their homemade graphical role-playing games into a $10 million–a–year company.

[14:19] Carmack quickly distinguished himself when he was only seven years old. He scored nearly perfect on every standardized test placing himself at a ninth grade comprehension level.

[15:03] The Cook and The Chef by Tim Urban

[16:05] Carmack had never worked on a computer before but took to the device as if it were an extension of his own body.

[16:39] All they desired is be able to create their own world.

[17:08] The Accidental Billionaires: The Founding of Facebook: A Tale of Sex, Money, Genius, and Betrayal by Ben Mezrich.  (Founders #14)

[17:44] He read the passage about computers in the encyclopedia a dozen times.

[18:36] He relished this ability to create things out of thin air. As a programmer he didn't have to rely on anyone else.

[18:54] A book that inspired John Carmack: Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution by Stephen Levy

[20:35] When Carmack finished the book he had one thought: I'm supposed to be in there.

[21:09] If you want to understand the entrepreneur, study the juvenile delinquent. The delinquent is saying with his actions, “This sucks. I’m going to do my own thing.” —Let My People Go Surfing (Founders #18)

[22:48] Carmack was sentenced to one year in juvenile detention. Most of the kids were in for drugs. Carmack was in for an Apple II.

[24:24] Carmack knows what he wants to do with his life and then he eliminates everything else that’s not that.

[24:32] Carmack relished the freelance lifestyle. He was in control of his time, slept as late as he wanted, and, even better, answered to no one.

[27:16] How id Software was born.

[31:26] Super Mario Brothers 3 sold 17 million copies. The equivalent of 17 platinum records —something only artists like Michael Jackson had pulled off.

[33:20] Carmack was of the moment. His ruling force was focus. Time existed for him not in some promising future or sentimental past but in the present condition. He kept nothing from the past—no pictures, no records, no games, no computer disks. He kept nothing but what he needed at the time. His bedroom consisted of a lamp, a pillow, a blanket, and a stack of books. There was no mattress.

[35:58] Shareware dated back to a guy named Andrew Fluegelman. In 1980, Fluegelman wrote a program called PC-Talk and released it online with a note saying that anyone who liked the wares should feel free to send him some “appreciation” money. Soon enough he had to hire a staff to count all the checks. Fluegelman called the practice “shareware,” “an experiment in economics.”

[37:42] Then he got an idea. Instead of giving away the entire game, why not give out only the first portion, then make the player buy the rest of the game directly from him? No one had tried it before, but there was no reason it couldn’t work.

[38:26] There was no advertising, no marketing and virtually no overhead except for the low cost of floppy discs and Ziploc bags, because there were no other people to pay off. Scott could price his games much lower than most retail title. $15 to $20 as opposed to 30 to 40 for every dollar he brought in Scott was pocketing 90 cents. By the time he contacted Romero, he had earned $150,000 by word of mouth alone.

[38:54] I just love the fact that he could do it on his own. By himself. He doesn't have to ask permission. He doesn't have to deal with publishing. He just makes something people like and then they can pay him directly.

[39:50] They didn’t need any help getting motivated. Carmack seemed almost inhumanly immune to distraction.

[40:45] All of science and technology and culture and learning and academics is built upon using the work that others have done before.

[41:23] They start spending nights and weekends developing their own games. They still have day jobs.

[42:19] The first Keen trilogy was now bringing in fifteen to twenty thousand dollars per month. It wasn’t just pizza money anymore, it was computer money. Carmack was only twenty years old, Romero, twenty-three, and they were in business.

[43:31] Carmack’s maxim on problem solving: Try the obvious approach first; if that fails, think outside the box.

[44:45] They didn’t seem to have a business bone in their bodies. When they told Williams how much they were making he blurted out “You’re telling me you’re making fifty thousand dollars a month just from shareware?”

[50:30] I think it takes a certain level of discipline to have a company that's making millions of dollars a year and yet not expand out and try to add all these unnecessarily expenses. (A mistake made a lot in the history of entrepreneurship)

[53:39] The more business responsibilities they had, things like order fulfillment and marketing, the more they would lose their focus —making great games.

[53:55] The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon by Brad Stone. (Founders #179)

[55:28]  Innovate, optimize, then jettison anything that gets in the way.

[58:49] The more shareware was distributed, the more potential customers ID would be able to collect. We don't care if you make money off the shareware demo they told the retailers. Move it in mass quantities. The retailers couldn't believe their ears. No one had ever told them not to pay royalties.

[59:23] Take the money that you might have given me in royalties and use it to advertise the fact you're selling Doom.

[1:02:19] Even though only an estimated 1% of people who downloaded shareware bought the remaining game, $100,000 worth of orders were rolling in every day.

[1:05:56] Why, they wanted to know, did they need GTI? Ron didn’t relent. “Look,” he said, “maybe you’ll sell a hundred thousand copies of Doom in shareware, but I believe if you give me a retail version of Doom and, let’s call it for lack of a better term, Doom II, I think I could sell five hundred thousand or more units.”

[1:08:16] For Carmack it wasn't the cash that was intriguing. It was the opportunity to get back into the trenches.

[1:10:53] Romero spelled out his new life code: It was time to enjoy ID’s accomplishments, no more crunch mode, no more bloodshot nights, no more death schedules. Carmack remained quiet.

[1:14:06] Carmack said Romero was pushed out of ID because he wasn't working hard enough.

[1:14:21] The main point of conflict between Carmack and Romero: Romero wants an empire. Carmack just wants to create good programs.

[1:24:15] He's just making colossal mistake after colossal mistake. Not adhering to anything that had previously made him successful.

[1:25:50] All those things Carmack had berated him about: The hyperbole, the lack of focus, the dangers of a large team— had come back with vengeance.

[1:27:56] My favorite paragraph in the book: “In the information age, the barriers just aren’t there. The barriers are self-imposed. If you want to set off and go develop some grand new thing, you don’t need millions of dollars of capitalization. You need enough pizza and Diet Coke to stick in your refrigerator, a cheap PC to work on, and the dedication to go through with it. We slept on floors. We waded across rivers.”

I have listened to every episode released and look forward to every episode that comes out. The only criticism I would have is that after each podcast I usually want to buy the book because I am interested so my poor wallet suffers. ”

— Gareth

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