We have all heard stories about the company IDEO, and how innovative it is (if you haven’t heard of IDEO, give this article a quick read). IDEO first came to fame back in 1983 when it created the first mouse for Apple: the Lisa Mouse.  By creating countless prototypes and conducting hundreds of focus groups, it created a product whose technology has remained unchanged for almost 20 years!

During my MBA, IDEO has been used over and over again as a great case study to explore innovation. The business is created and designed solely to be an innovation center, to help businesses solve unique problems and to create wildly new products that have not existed before. IDEO is continuously ranked as one of the most unique and exciting places to work, with a decentralized management structure, diverse project teams and a wide array of clients across many markets and product categories. Employees have wildly varied professional and personal experiences and it has proved over and over again that having the right stuff isn’t necessarily about hiring the best of the best academically, or attracting people from the most profitable companies. To show that the proof is in the pudding, recently IDEO hired a 91 year old who applied there after sending in a letter with her resume and cover letter. IDEO understands that to create products across industries and markets, the work force must reflect that diversity in those needs.

But one business that has largely been under the radar for innovation is LucasArts (or in the beginning Lucasfilm Games). Since Disney’s acquisition of LucasArts, part of the larger acquisition of LucasFilms in 2012 and the subsequent halt in operations and layoff of its employees in 2013, a lot has come to surface in more detail about the inside workings of the studio. A recent article by PC Gamer, has explored a lot of the lost lore, development and history that made LucasArts the most successful game studio in the world between the early 1980s to late-1990s. One unexpected benefit in PC Gamer's article is how the business was run, the culture and the people who were at the center of each of the 66 games that were published, and the hundreds of games that never made it past development, storyboard or just concept.

Just as IDEO emphasizes a culture of optimism, collaboration, ownership and experimentation, the same occurred at LucasArts. In 1984, when George Lucas started the game division he set out a mandate to his team, which was to strive to make experimental, innovative and technologically superior games[1].

One thing can be said for sure, if you are a game designer or game developer in 2015, chances are you played a LucasArts game growing up. And this knowledge is used interchangeably today to quickly articulate specific story arches or character types. You want a scallywag type of character who is our hero? Then you want a Guybrush Threepwood. You want a story that’s dark, yet funny, but unique? Then you want a Grim Fandango.

The team at LucasArts were doing novel and experimental things during their time, for example at the end of Monkey Island II: Le Chuck’s Revenge, after completing the game and the credits rolled, their appeared a strange message encouraging whoever played the game to turn off your computer, including references to playing racquetball, wash your car, cook dinner, to swimming among many, many others[2].

By September 1995, LucasArts held four of the top twenty games titles of the year (Dark Forces, X-Wing Collector’s Edition, TIE Fighter and Full Throttle)[3]. By years end though, LucasArts arguably had 5 of the 20 spots, including the late release of The Dig which has since become a cult classic.

Today, the emphasis on smaller more application based games is prevalent like Angry Birds, Candy Crush, and Farmville. Whole organizations like Zynga have come to focus their whole business strategy on creating these types of games. But the first company to venture into this realm was LucasArts. In 1996, they were known as “Desktop Adventures” and they used to come on a single floppy disk and were considered miniature games, offering between 30 minutes and 1 hour of gameplay. There was minimal usage of music and sound effects were looped to be used repeatedly. The first game of one of these Desktop Adventures was with the Indiana Jones franchise[4].

In 1993, when LucasArts appointed a new CEO Randy Komisar he knew that LucasArts was more than the number of game titles produced but the people that made them. “There is really a rare blend of talent and relationships at Lucas. The company really pushes the technology to provide more of a cinematic experience; it’s a different view of where the market’s going”[5].

Just like IDEO, where innovation starts internally with the people who are at the heart of the process, the same was evident at LucasArts. The strategic direction set out from its inception allowed them to look at opportunities without prejudice. By experimenting with interesting and unique stories, to different types of games, allowed them to enjoy being one of the best game development companies for the past 3 decades. LucasArts is one example that can be extracted from a plethora of industries, being innovative and successful starts first internally.

 

 

[1] Smith, Rob. Rogue Leaders: The Story of LucasArts. Published 2008 by Chronicle Books. p. 38

[2] Cifaldi, Frank. Game Developers 20.5:Farewell LucasArts. (May 2013). Copyright 2013, United Business Media

[3] Interactive Daily: LucasArts In The Lead (September 21, 1995): 1.

[4] Bray, Jim. Edmonton Journal, LucasArts leads players on ‘Indy’ quests. August 8, 1996: H.5.

[5] Fisher, M. Lawrence. New York Times. Chief Executive Named at Lucas’s Software Unit. ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times pg. D5

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