by Justin Beck
StarCraft II (SC2) is Blizzard’s futuristic military strategy game for the PC. It was released in 2010 and is still arguably the best real-time strategy game ever created. The original Starcraft was amazing, but SC2 enhanced the UI, improved core game play balance, and added great skill based Battle.net matchmaking. With $60 approximate lifetime value per customer, Blizzard is going to rake in even more cash with this game.
Video games are fun — they just are. I have found in recent years that I get a lot more satisfaction from the games I play. I don’t know if running a game company has any influence on that satisfaction, but I’ve become so dedicated that I plan time for SC2 like some people plan their vacations. I set aside focused time to play with friends.
The scary thing is, I think SC2 is teaching me how to be a better entrepreneur. Here’s why:
- Your attention is your scarcest resource. In StarCraft, players are clicking madly, and many of them have extremely high actions per minute (APM). These people can perform and execute tons of commands and can just get more done. But even if your APM is high, you still have to choose what you are focusing on. When you are micromanaging those Mutalisks vs building more units, it’s all about scheduling your time and choosing when to make the tradeoffs of your time. Too much attention to micro, and you’ll let your infrastructure die. The same is true in a startup. As the CEO, you only have so much attention time, and you have to spend it very wisely and the best practice is actually to balance it. You have to decide when to work on high level stuff and when to micromanage the details of a product design or tech decision.
- You have to work within a budget. SC2 is really about cash management and cash flow. Ideally, you want to spend all your money as it comes in, but sometimes you need to save up and manage cash flow between parties of your team so you can have stronger pivots (Yes, 30 Mutalisks or Void Rays are a pretty devastating force). Good cash management enables these in-game decisions to happen smoothly. The same is true in startups — good cash management can make moderate strategies amazing. My advice is to stay lean as long as possible and have capital on hand for emergencies or for when you are ready to ramp up quickly.
- You need to pivot. Pivoting is one of the most amazing concepts I’ve realized (and executed) within the last year. It means adjusting your strategy and adapting to your competitors, teammates, or opportunities. In SC2, if the other team organizes an air unit, you have to counter it as a ground unit to survive. But in a startup, you may realize your product doesn’t sell like you thought it would or that a technology doesn’t work as well as you thought it should. Throwing away everything could lead to failure, so how do you shift your weight and direction to make your company grow and be amazing? Startups that can pivot and remain agile are the ones that will stay alive.
- You have to move quickly. Neither SC2 or startups are for those who like leisurely or relaxing rides. The bleeding pace of both creatures can be daunting to many. You have to move, think, and act at blistering speed. The amount of work required is insane. Many people enjoy a slower paced life. No skin off any backs — it’s not made for everyone.
- You must focus on positioning and continual improvement. How you use your SC army (positioning, tactics) can be just as important as having the army. In SC2, this is called micro, such as being sure to keepZealots in front of your Marines. In a startup, this includes details of how your product works, ensuring the user experience is good, and having friendly customer support. It’s good to magnify the significance of having these parts. Many entrepreneurs think that just because they’ve built the product, they’ve done enough. In reality, product launch is just the beginning.
- You have to get past the learning curve. Not everyone is a great SC2 player right out of the gate. Some people have more innate talent for the game, but it’s a skill that requires practice, and you are bound to make many mistakes. The most important this is not letting your mistakes get you down. Reflect, pivot, and move on. I really think being a great CEO is the same. It’s more about skills than anything. Learning, adapting, reflecting, and not dwelling on failure. No one is born a Steve Jobs.
- Delegation and communication keep the team unified and successful. In SC2, delegation is essential. Players must decide who manages the army, who is builds units, who is collecting resources, and much more. Watching a team of four SC2 players is almost just as entertaining as actually playing the game. You’ll see good team dynamics in action. The biggest lesson is that no one can conquer the world by themselves. Being a team player and being able to communicate, perform and help makes both startups and SC2 great experiences.
SC2 has mirrored my entrepreneurial life: You need to be strategic, think ahead, move fast, stay focused, but most importantly have fun. Not every round will be an easy victory, and sometimes you will have an embarrassing failure. But that shouldn’t stop you from playing the game, and it shouldn’t stop you from following your dreams and creating your own startup either. Plan ahead, work hard, and win.
Justin Beck is the Co-Founder and CEO of PerBlue, a mobile and social gaming company in Madison, WI. PerBlue is best known for its flagship product, Parallel Kingdom. The popular location-based massively multiplayer role playing game for mobile and web platforms has over one million players worldwide. Founded in 2008, PerBlue is now home to 40 full-time software developers, artists, and business specialists.