Today’s class blogger is Marissa A. Abston.
Below, Marissa tells the captivating tale of Paul Schuytema and his more often than not chaotic up-and-down experience in the video gaming industry. This wild ride began with Paul first working for a number of different companies and culminated with him—reluctantly—at the helm of his own entrepreneurial venture; Magic Lantern Playware Incorporated (a now defunct but once highly successful video game development firm based right here in Monmouth, IL).
The class learned several valuable lessons Tuesday. One was something we had not heard before in such detail; the importance of learning from failure. Most specifically: In fast-paced, dynamic high tech industries, failure can occur when even successful firms do not see major change coming soon enough to adapt.
This leads to another important lesson learned: the need to continually scan the market environment looking for changes which may represent opportunities (to take advantage of) or threats (to guard against). With both, adaptation is necessary.
In the case of Magic Lantern, as you will read more about below, a threat was not taken seriously enough and adaptation was too little and too late to save the firm.
Enjoy!… And thank you Paul Schuytema!!
Paul Schuytema spoke about his experiences that led him through his first entrepreneurial adventure during his visit to Midwest Entrepreneurs on Tuesday. He never set out to become an entrepreneur, it found him.
Growing up in the 1970s entertainment was dominated by board games. His family was fond of bonding through playing them. At the same time the evolution of computer technology was occurring. As a child Paul grew interested in the concept of rule sets as he played more board games, to him it made playing more interesting. “Cosmic Impounder” was one of his favorite games along with “Boot Hill,” “Panzer Blitz,” “Squad Leader,” and “Airfix.” Eventually he got into table top board games and from there acquired a special interest in “ancients” which were Greek and Roman figurine themed games.
In the 4th grade he made his own games with rule sets which was the first step towards turning his explorative gears. During that period technology was becoming more accessible to the public, and was capturing the interests of his age group. The king of tech gaming was originally the PC.
Unfortunately Paul’s father passed away when he was 13 years old, and his mom saw his interest in technology so she bought a computer to distract him and give her some mobility since she had more to take care of. His mom provided him the super tech at the time which was an hp41c computer that looked like a scientific calculator around 1975 or 1976. It was the first computer targeted to the homes of the general public. That kicked off his interest in coding as he tinkered with the HP41C trying to program games the moment he had it. Shortly after the HP41C came the Atari 800. That revolutionized not only the tech of the era, but propelled Paul’s interest in coding further. He went into detail about Atari being the first to come up with the scrollable map for the digital world. He was fascinated and excited to see the new innovation with 250+ colors and more than 1K of bytes to examine. To further his knowledge about programming Paul acquired the book by Chris Crawford: “How to Program the Atari.” One day Paul wrote him and wound up being mentored by Crawford through exchanging messages. Crawford was teaching him the secret keys to the kingdom of coding.
When he applied for Knox College his intent was to major in game programming, but since they didn’t offer it as a major he chose to forego formal education in programming and take up writing. Even though he didn’t get to go down the path he envisioned he went to graduate school. There was a chapter in his life that he worked in Monmouth before catching his first break in the field that he desired to pursue.
The first gig he attained out of college was working on the game “Mind Drive” by Atari during the time shortly after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The “Mind Flight” system was used to operate the “Mind Drive” game by channeling human thought. An entire fleet of games was proposed to be directed by the axis of the left side and right side of the mind to complete certain functions. Paul’s experience with this project taught him that just because it is a good idea, it may not be doable; either with the current technology or it just might not take the interest of audiences.
That company went under fast and he had to adjust so he applied for the game designer position at FASA Interactive in Chicago for the epic game “Mechwarrior3”, which had a new impact on the gaming industry. He genuinely enjoyed working on this project with the FASA Interactive group. Paul was in his first marriage and also had his 1st child at the time of these developments. He was also getting paid twice as much than he had made at his previous job in Monmouth. At this point in time he still hadn’t wanted to build his own company.
Later on Paul got offered a job by 3D Realms in Texas to be the designer of the game ‘Prey’ as he was finishing up his work with the “Mechwarrior3” project. To him this was the most awesome game he ever had developed to date. 3D Realms required him to develop a game with the title being “Prey”, starring a Native American, whose last name would be “Brave”, and it had to be the most violent game ever. This game design caused him to stretch his mental parameters further than he’d ever experienced. It thrilled him to test how far he could go with it. The fruits of his team’s work was great because this game elevated the scene of digital programing dynamically with reflective surfaces and full color radiosity lighting features which transcended the then top notch graphic designs. His team designed the game backwards by writing a novel of the game first and then wrote the game to mirror the story. The audiences for 3D Realms were 18-35 year old men. He moved to Texas with his 1st wife for the duration of his job with 3D Realms. Paul was dedicated to the improvement and continual exploration of the possibilities for software development of “Prey” setting up opportunities for new levels. 3D Realms paid low salaries with potentially huge bonuses, so the only reason to stay on was out of a passion for developing the games and hoping that they do well enough to get hefty royalties from.
Awkwardly, 3D Realms had 2 games competing with each other; targeting the exact same audience, and using the exact same tech within the company. One game was led by the company president and the other one was ran by Paul which put him in a tight situation. Through this experience he learned how not to run a company which would serve him later. Paul went into work one day and right before sending off the “Prey” game to Japan for a test the President told him the game had been killed effective immediately – no warning. He was forced into making a decision between losing his stocks but stay in the company or taking the next game offer and walking away from the company. Paul decided to leave the company responsible for the Duke Nukem franchise. This was the moment when Paul Schuytema decided to create his own company.
Thankfully Paul’s wife wouldn’t allow him to sell their house here in Monmouth, IL because they returned after the “Prey” project concluded. He came back to Monmouth in 1999 with no real internet present yet, just dial up to work with. “Magic Lantern Playware Incorporated” is the business which Paul created without any money and rented office space.
The first venture he made was writing up to a dozen strategy guide books for playing through popular games in order to make money. Paul emphasized to us that not everything you try works! Sometimes it’s just going to suck.
The first game he made was “Second Genesis”, his first failure. It was a PC game covering the common plot of crashing on an alien planet and finding a way to repair your ship using the planet’s resources. He moved on to teach us that publishers want to make contracts with designers that are making something that’ll catch the market audience’s attention. If it wasn’t a big franchise like Star Wars, they weren’t taking it.
The second game was “Gene-Fusion AD 2310”, which was also a failure. So he sold the rights to a German company and moved on to the next project. Another token Paul gave was that you should constantly try to overlap contracts so that you are left hanging after you finish one. Have them lined up back to back in a capacity which you can handle.
The third game: “Forts- A Magic Lantern Game” was also a failure. Failures prepare you to get better at what you do. Paul met Ed Fries – head [at the time] of all games in Microsoft – and managed to present his Forts to him at a tradeshow. Fries disrespectfully dismissed Paul’s game out of confusion.
After that horrible experience he was able to do pitch documenting to Red Storm Entertainment who’s responsible for the Rainbow Six franchise. When Paul acquired the okay to present an idea to them, he made a demo to try to captivate their interests to invest in him to work on or even create their next project. He had to create the technology from scratch, designing new facets to the graphics. Once he presented it to them they sent a team to Monmouth to check out the validity of Paul’s ‘company’. So Paul went through some extravagant means to make his company seem that it was more than it really was so that Red Storm Entertainment would hire him so that he could have his breakthrough. They arrived, believed the ruse, 8 months later called him, told him yes, and gave him the big advance check to do the project.
“Rainbow Six Covert Ops Essential Game” was his first success under Magic Lantern Playware. As he developed this game, Magic Lantern Playware wrote the largest, most comprehensive existing encyclopedia on counter-terrorism to date. It was so accurate that an interviewee they’d taken a detailed account from to include in the encyclopedia predicted 9/11 exactly as it would happen. Because of its detail their show tech engine was used to provide tactical police training programs.
Paul’s second great success was a game called “Combat.” For it, he got $40,000 for the Rainbow Six Game with biannual development report before receiving the next payment.
Success 3 was the “Survivor” game from Infrogrames, which rose to be his favorite game. At this time Paul had a formal office location in Monmouth, IL; but even with that they couldn’t get everything they were tasked with done. They had 8 weeks of work to complete within 5 days’ time due to their lack or resources and helping hands. They [Paul & his business partner] slept when they could which was rare but it was worth it because they attained huge royalties awhile after the game was put out and selling well. However it turned out to be a terrible game.
The final success Paul had was “Survivor Ultimate” which had been signed prior to the release of the first “Survivor” results came back. During this design they essentially faked the entire game just to put out a product because the target audience they had was actually totally different.
Through all of these experiences, Paul was a self-taught game programmer that explored due to a passion and learned due to genuine intrigue of how far the limits could be pushed.
Then, at the worst time conceivable, an unthinkable event occurred: all the company’s stuff got stolen in one night by a crazy man who lied with an agenda about his computer skills in order to get hired. Then the person fulfilling CFO duties stole off one day, getting Magic Lantern Playware in trouble with the IRS for having $50,000+ in payroll debt. Paul said that the lesson in this is “everyone hires at least one crazy person, eventually.”
After that catastrophe, Paul did several other games: “Foosball”, “Mahjong”, “Front Runner”, and “Video Game Tycoon” that had their ups and downs of successes. Even with the incoming businesses here and there he couldn’t enjoy the moment to the fullest because the publisher ran out of money due to poor management. This publisher told Paul that they had to kill the game and in actuality they stole his design for “prison tycoon”, went bankrupt and now he will get his money back from them.
The last three games he made were “Health and Fitness Club Tycoon”, “Texas Hold ‘Em”, and “Mahjongg Tiles of Time’.
Paul’s entrepreneurial journey in the video gaming industry came to an abrupt end in 2005. It was also the year that the industry began to vastly change because of the newer game consoles like Xbox. Paul reminisced about the website “I love bees,” which was a set up for the public because it creatively gave out coordinates of latitude and longitude that lead to real life phone booth locations with dates to go to them and that phone would ring at the given time which was how the game “Halo” was introduced to the public. He said he won’t ever forget that because this was the same weekend that “Spiderman 2” the movie dropped the weekend preceding that Tuesday that Halo was released and phenomenally broke records making a new standard in the gaming universe.
Huge blockbusters on consoles were the new wave setting the industry anew. Programming teams went from 5-10 people to 150-200 people swiftly. Quarter million dollar advances per game went down to $10,000 advances. Certified developers were the only group that made games on that platform of Xbox and PlayStation.
He then shifted into telling us a few details about his business. The main team that Paul worked with consisted of approximately 10-11 people in his company over time. They didn’t always make payroll on time however they only missed paying it once throughout the years. His mom bailed him out many times when he couldn’t make payroll so he never took loans from a bank. Paul didn’t really have the option to take out loans, because they couldn’t get a bank to be interested at the time in Monmouth or in the Midwestern areas because they had no concept of digital assets. Their mode of income mostly relied on living on advances, not royalties because of the gaming market’s structure. To be more cost efficient they outsourced the art aspect of their games and focused on the main designs. He mentioned that he had a partner running Magic Lantern Playware. This person was supposed to be the one in charge of furthering the company. However they weren’t the best organized person, and it showed in their sloppy conduct of business.
As far as a competitive shift, Paul didn’t see the console as a threat to his company because he didn’t think that Microsoft could achieve success with it. They thought it was the “Microsoft apocalypse,” not the beginning of the “PC & Atari apocalypse.”
In the end of his business during 2005 Paul was just broke. No debt, no profit. Fortunately he didn’t have to declare bankruptcy despite how often he got gipped in business deals. Prior to ending this journey he had bought a building in Monmouth with his own money envisioning that Magic Lantern Playware would be able to expand and move their offices in making it a tech center sometime in the near future. In a sense, it was a smart move not purchasing the building using company money because that allowed him to close it down without being in debt. But in reality Paul still owes money to pay for it.
To close out, Paul told us that even though he failed in this venture as an entrepreneur, his journey as an entrepreneur hasn’t ended yet. While he is currently the Director of Economic Development for the City of Monmouth, IL., he also does web development work for his wife Susan’s entrepreneurial business Market Alley Wines.
Paul’s story is one of perseverance which hopefully will carry him further with his gained experience as he works on his next entrepreneurial adventure.
Marissa A. Abston