During his own career in the game industry, InstantAction’s CEO and co-founder of Westwood Studios Louis Castle has had his fare share of having reinventing himself. From the time he had to pick his future livelihood as a teenager, to founding and setting up Westwood from his own garage. Here are some tips he shared with his audience during his GDC Europe talk.
“You can do whatever you want,” Castle told his audience. ”Don’t let anyone tell you you can’t do it.” Back in 1980, Castle was certain he would become and architect, but his growing interest in computers took him into another direction. “I wanted to use this computer to do art. But back then, there were no art programs. Computer’s didn’t have mice. I learned to write basic programming and did digital artwork.”
Once Castle started programming as a job, his perspective changed again. “I had to be an entrepreneur,” The environment in Las Vegas, Louis explained, had a bad reputation. Game studios had apparently taken a lot of publisher for a ride. “They had rented office space and had a couple of empty rooms with a sign saying Top Secret,” Castle said. “We had to form our own company that had certain values and was concerned with the products. We forcefully had to build Westwood. If you really feel like you had to do something and you can’t find any way to do it, do it yourself but only as a last resort.”
When Virgin’s Richard Branson and later Ken Williams from Sierra offered to buy the Westwood studio, Castle once again faced a difficult decision. Even though Sierra was offering 6 million dollars to Castle and his partners out, they had chosen the Virgin deal instead. “They gave us a piece of the business,” Castle explained.” Always bet on yourself. You can either go with the short run, or take the longer view and try to get a piece of the action. We thought we could build a business and it turns out we were right.”
Closing the Virgin deal, Castle suddenly found himself becoming the company’s CFO. He found himself mostly working out of a check. Still, it required him to reinvent himself once more. “I was CFO with 250 people,” Castle said. “I grew in that position and we never lost the value of the fidelity of the systems. I stopped counting how many times I had to reinvent myself.”
Working a lot with other people’s intellectual properties, the final reinvention Castle faced in this time at Westwood was that of a licensor. “If you have a studio, it’s rare that you’re really good at one thing,” Castle said. “It’s nice to have projects to work with more junior people on it.” Castle and his team would later ship Virgin’s most successful platform game, The Lion King. “We built that with 13 people in seven months,” Castle admitted. “The one thing I have to boil it down to. We were the biggest fans and dorkiest people who loved these properties. It comes down to being the number one fan. If you’re not the biggest fan of a property, you need to be. If you don’t get it right, they will crucify you.”
Vlad Micu is managing editor of Gamesauce.org. He previously has been a freelance game industry professional for over five years and traveled around the world while running his company VGVisionary. Starting VGVisionary during college, Vlad was able to work independently as a pr & marketing consultant, event manager, industry journalist, speaker and game developer. He just returned from Bangkok, Thailand, where he pursued his dream of making video games as the game producer at arkavis, an up and coming casual game studio.