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Big Orange Slide

Saturday, November 22nd, 2014

How StarCraft made me a better producer

June 16, 2010 by Jacob Karsemeyer

Illustration by Brian Ross

When I was invited into the StarCraft 2 Beta two months ago, I accepted with mixed feelings. I’ve played the original StarCraft obsessively for a decade, and it has eaten up more than its fair share of time that could have been put towards something more . . . productive.

To compound the issue, I had just embarked on the daunting task of hunting for a job.

While I was excited to take part in the Beta of a game I was looking forward to, I knew that all the Zerglings in the world wouldn’t get me a job. But after a few weeks of carefully balancing the two, I landed myself an internship here at Grip Limited as a Producer.

With no experience in project management of the scale that goes on at Grip, I found myself looking to past experiences to try to find some insight into the daily tasks I would be taking on. It was a surprise when I realized that it was StarCraft, the very thing I thought would impede my job hunt, that ended up being my most coveted tool.

Let me just state that again for impact.

StarCraft 2 – a video game – has helped me be a better producer.

How, you ask? If you scratch a little bit beneath the surface, you’ll see the two actually have a lot in common. The most important aspect of either is the effective management of time and resources – replace marines and zealots with designers and programmers and StarCraft becomes a training exercise in the fundamentals of production.

A StarCraft player starts out a game with a standard opening. They allocate their resources to the most imminent task, gathering minerals, a necessity that precedes all other tasks. Once those resources have been gathered, it’s the job of the player to determine the most effective allocation of those resources.

Bad StarCraft players, like bad producers, operate in a stasis, making the same decisions every game without considering external factors. A good player continuously observes his opponent so that they have as much time as possible to react to their strategies. Whether you’re on B.Net playing StarCraft, or in your office, you never want to be caught off-guard by some unexpected problem knocking at your door. The more aware you are of the nature of the potential problems you might face, the better you’ll be at mitigating the frustration they cause you.

The composition of your team is also an important consideration. StarCraft is designed around the “paper-scissors-rock” mechanic, where each unit is strong against some things, but weak against others. Units that can win you the game in some situations will get eaten up in others. Conversely, some team members in a creative agency will knock certain types of projects out of the park, and then fall apart trying to complete others. Understanding the capabilities of your resources and what situations they perform best in can save you a lot of time and energy.

World of Warcraft (WoW) players have long trumpeted the professional benefits of high-end group play and managing a guild, but I think it’s time we turn our sights to StarCraft. By avoiding the monotony of WoW, StarCraft allows players to focus on an important workplace skill: tactical deployment of resources to maximize efficiency and minimize the negative effects of the variety of inevitable problems that come up.

15 Comments on "How StarCraft made me a better producer"

  • Dave Hamilton
    June 16, 2010 @ 11:02 am

    I love your insight here Jacob!

    I think one of the big lessons for every agency discipline is that our outside influences are what truly give a great agency its edge.

    Fundamentally, what we are charged with doing is uncovering new and unorthodox solutions to recurring business problems and cyclical events in the marketing calendar, year after year after year.

    Now, can you think of any games that will make me a better writer? I’ve got a lunch hour to kill.

  • Jacob
    June 16, 2010 @ 11:20 am

    @dave Hamilton – I hear Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing is particularly good for that

  • Jacob
    June 16, 2010 @ 11:25 am

    @Dave Hamilton – After some thought… I actually think this game here would really help someones writing – http://www.sleepisdeath.net/ – it’s exclusively a 2 player game so if you ever want to give it a try I’d be happy to play with you! Its a storytelling game where one player controls a character in standard gaming style… and the other player controls the game world.

    Some pretty interesting experiences have been born through this game… but it really requires some thought on both players behalf.

    Let me know what you think!

  • Dan Snitman
    June 16, 2010 @ 11:34 am

    Great article!

    It’s nice to find bridges between things you love and things that make you money.

    I should really put down the laptop and pick up the Xbox controller. Could learn a thing or two.

  • Curtis Westman
    June 16, 2010 @ 11:59 am

    But did it improve your APM (approvals per minute)?

  • Jason Schmidt
    June 16, 2010 @ 12:08 pm

    You must construct additional pylons.

  • Tweets that mention How StarCraft made me a better producer « Big Orange Slide -- Topsy.com
    June 16, 2010 @ 2:57 pm

    [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Kyle Gallant and Joe Williams, Grip Limited. Grip Limited said: Today on the Slide: How StarCraft Made me a Better Producer http://bit.ly/afL1HY #thisisnotajoke [...]

  • c jones
    June 18, 2010 @ 11:47 am

    Now if only Halo had a similar effect.

    Maybe it has made people better trash talkers?

  • Bijoux
    June 19, 2010 @ 10:22 am

    surprisingly very well written article mr. jacob! first time to this blog and definitely not the last! lookin forward to more post from ya man.

  • Corey Dilley
    June 19, 2010 @ 10:29 am

    That’s hilarious! I came to the same conclusion about Warcraft 3 helping with advertising strategy. I’m struggling with whether or not I should get Starcraft 2… I know that there are intangible benefits and fun to be had, but I’m not sure if turning into a hermit will for the rest of my life will be worth it.

    Great post.

  • Jeff
    June 21, 2010 @ 11:35 pm

    Wow thanks, I should show this to my boss to prove why I get my job done so fast … cause I know how to multi task and allocate resources properly… lol

  • Jay
    July 23, 2010 @ 3:56 pm

    @Dave Hamilton

    Any well-made Multi-User Dungeon (MUD) would likely make you a better writer. Being one of the oldest genres and the games consisting only of text, it mostly attracts those who are good with words and can make descriptions with great imagery.

  • Jay
    July 23, 2010 @ 3:57 pm

    As for choice of MUD, I’ve played http://www.t2tmud.org for 10 years. Perhaps you’ll enjoy it if you’re a Tolkien fan :)

  • Mike
    July 26, 2010 @ 12:42 pm

    An interesting article, but it’s true that an rts has a lot in common with managing people/resources in real life as well.

  • Gaming Reality » Blog Archive » The Importance of Mastery
    September 19, 2010 @ 12:33 pm

    [...] are very useful in the real world. By day a Producer and by night avid Starcraft II fan – Jacob Karsemeyer certainly seems to think so [...]

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