They Didn't Care About Making Money - All They Wanted To Do Was Make Great Games
The story of Doom (that sounds like a cheesy comic book title) is an unexpected place to find an important business lesson that can be applied to any industry.
This is one of the main reasons why we created this website - to provide important nuggets of information, no matter how obscure they may be, that can potentially help and inspire you in your journey of success.
For those who may not know what Doom is and how popular it was, it may be useful to give a quick overview of why it was so significant for its time.
What Is Doom?
Doom was one of the early mainstream 3-D First-Person Shooter (FPS) video games created by id Software, that came out in the early nineties and took the gaming world by storm. Even today it is still regarded to be one of the greatest games of all time.
Back in the early 90s the gaming industry was dominated by Japanese giant Nintendo. Doom's release was the first time that a cutting-edge, well designed FPS came on to the market that didn't belong to the producers of Super Mario and Zelda.
With an innovative multiplayer mode and its silky smooth player movement, Doom set the benchmark for modern FPS games.
It wasn't all praise and adulation for the Doom team as it also courted controversy for its gory and violent nature. The idea of gunning down psychotic monsters with blood spraying everywhere didn't go down well with too many parents who had been used to the sunshine and rainbows from Super Mario. The issue became so prevalent that the day before the game was due to be released the US Congress was debating whether they should take action on violent video games.
The company largely disregarded Congress' concerns and the game went on to sell by the millions over the next decade. Many have surmised that the game was a huge success because Doom was a game made by gamers and its target audience was the new generation of hard-core gamers, typically teenage boys rather than the family friendly titles aimed at children.
It wasn't a social pastime that Mom and Dad could enjoy together with their family. From its gory animation to the heavy metal inspired soundtrack the game would go on to spawn a new breed of competitive gamers that would take the industry to a new level. They are undoubtedly responsibly for helping to create organisations today like eGames who have made gaming a profession.
In a Competitive Industry How To Stand Out
Even though the gruesome gameplay appealed to a different audience than Nintendo, this was not the first time id Software had released a graphically violent, blood soaked FPS.
Wolfenstein was the predecessor to Doom and whilst it suffered from the inevitable drawbacks of poor graphics and slower gameplay the layout was very similar to Doom, yet it achieved mediocre results in comparison.
Then what was the difference? Why did one achieve so much more than the other?
The answer lies in the ethos of the company and the attitude they had to making their products. The company was primarily made up of 6-7 developers who were all working on the bleeding edge of their respective technology.
Lead programmer John Romero explained that all of the developers loved what they were doing and they didn't care about money coming through the door. Any changes they would make to the game would be purely from a creative point of view and not to maximise revenue from potential customers.
It was this attitude that lead to him creating nearly 30 games in 5 years during the 90s.
He loved every minute of it because it was his passion. As long as he was creating games he was happy.
It was this attitude that led the company to make a decision that none of their revenue orientated competitors would never have made.
At first Doom was available as freeware where fans were able to download the game from the University of Winsconsin servers for free. The demand for the game was so large that it overwhelmed the college's servers causing them to crash multiple times just hours after uploading. It was at this point the company decided to get it in as many gaming stores as possible.
This is where the secret to the success came. Romero and his colleagues had been working on this project intensely for over 9 months, yet their strategy when it came to marketing the game was nothing short of crazy as none of their competitors were doing it.
They said to retailers that if they "box it up and put it on the shelf" they could keep all the money from the sales.
All that hard work and building things on cutting edge computer systems for them just to say at the end of it - just let the retailers keep the money.
It was a massive risk and one that could potentially backfire but the team of plucky developers didn't care so long as they were pursuing their passion...creating games.
The move could not have worked out any better than it did.
Retailers not only started boxing up the game and selling it, but because it was the only game where they kept all the profits they started promoting it and pushing it more than any of their other titles.
Doom's popularity skyrocketed overnight and Romero spoke of that time as one of the craziest periods of his life and the point where he felt "invincible".
You might be thinking at this point - okay that's all well and good but they haven't made much money for something that has swept the nation. In fact you may even call it a failure all things considered.
That's where you would be wrong. Why? Enter Doom II.
With all the hype and controversy from the first game it set it up the next title from the company, Doom II to be a huge success. The marketing for Doom II had already been done from the previous game and now the company were able reap the huge rewards that may not have come about had they not been so bold in their strategy.
Was this an intentional marketing strategy from Romero and his crewe? To get everyone hooked to the Doom franchise then to start charging them? The answer to that question is irrelevant as the strategy worked beautifully and demonstrates a number of important principles.
Provide your audience with value and do it for free - this will separate you from your competitors and you potential customers will grow quickly. It's easier to do this when you genuinely enjoy what you do. When you have built up a loyal following over time you can begin to sell them products and services that you think they would enjoy.