AAA-Action Game Studio CEO Jerry Hook Shares Industry Insights

Jerry Hook

Jerry Hook is the Founder and CEO of Jar of Sparks, a new studio committed to creating AAA action-adventure games. He has over 20 years in the industry and was a founding member of Xbox Live during his Microsoft tenure. Jerry also led the Destiny franchise at Bungie and headed the Design team for Halo Infinite at 343 Industries. While at 343 Industries, Jerry was the visionary behind progression, e-sports, and integration with the company’s business model and partners.

Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn: 

  • Jerry Hook discusses Jar of Sparks, a game studio dedicated to action and adventure
  • What inspired Jerry to start his gaming studio?
  • Jerry shares tips for cultivating a positive team-building culture
  • The challenges leaders face in the gaming industry
  • Jerry reflects on his career trajectory
  • The state of the industry and how to overcome the COVID impact
  • Jerry’s career advice for aspiring developers

In this episode…

A commonality in the video game industry is developers who aspire to start a studio. Regardless of the industry’s ebbs and flows, there is no better time to be a video game innovator. What does it take to own and operate a successful gaming studio?

Throughout Jerry Hook’s 20 years in the industry, he’s learned the one constant is change.  Therefore, embracing it is imperative. However, as with any business endeavor, starting your own company is daunting, so embracing fear is also advisable. Leverage all the experiences you’ve survived — positive or negative — because they will serve as a guide. Jerry also suggests establishing cultural values the entire team can apply to their work ethic. Additionally, he advocates hiring and partnering with people smarter than you so they’ll continue challenging you. And while you’re sure to have fun as a video game studio owner, it’s vital to remember that you’re competing with other studios. Jerry recommends playing plenty of video games and studying market trends.

In this episode of the Here’s Waldo Podcast with Lizzie Mintus, Jerry Hook, Founder and CEO of Jar of Sparks, joins the show. Jerry discusses his emerging studio and the inspiration behind its founding, offers tips for cultivating a healthy team-building culture, examines the challenges industry leaders face, and provides advice for aspiring developers.

Resources Mentioned in this episode

Sponsor for this episode...

This episode is brought to you by Here’s Waldo Recruiting, a boutique recruitment firm specializing in the video game industry that prioritizes quality over quantity and values transparency, communication, and diversity. We partner with companies, creatives, and programmers to understand the why behind their needs and provide a white-glove experience that ensures a win-win outcome.

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Episode Transcript

Welcome to the Here's Waldo podcast, where we sit down with top visionaries and creatives in the video game industry. Together, we'll unravel their journeys and learn more about the path they're forging ahead. Now, let's get started with the show.

Lizzie Mintus: I'm Lizzie Mintus, founder and CEO of Here's Waldo Recruiting, a boutique video game recruitment firm. This is the Here's Waldo Podcast and every episode we dive deep into conversations with creatives, founders, and executives about what it takes to be successful. You can expect to hear valuable lessons from their journey and get a glimpse into the future of the industry.

This episode is brought to you by Here's Waldo Recruiting, a boutique recruitment firm for the game industry. We value quality over quantity, transparency, communication, and diversity. We partner with companies, creatives, and programmers to understand the why behind their needs. We provide a white glove experience that ensures a win outcome.

Before introducing today's guest, I want to give a big thank you to for introducing us. Chad was a reference of someone I hired a long time ago and is now my personal friend. So thank you, Chad.

Today we have Jerry Hook with us. Jerry has been in the video game industry for over 20 years. He was a founding member of Xbox Live and worked in various roles bringing Halo and Destiny to life.

And now he's at Jar of Sparks. Thanks for being here, Jerry. Before we dive in, can you tell everybody a bit about what Jar of Sparks is?

Jerry Hook: Yeah, I'm Jerry Hook, CEO of Jar of Sparks. We recently founded the studio with a group of friends of mine- Paul Crocker, Greg Stone, Steve Dick. We're a brand new studio. We really want to get back to what makes games fun. A narrative driven action game is really what we want to go after. So it's a little bit different from my roots from what I've done over the last 20 some odd years, but it's where I think all of our passions are as a team. So that's what we want to go after.

Lizzie Mintus: Congrats. What is the story behind picking a business name?

Jerry Hook: Yeah. It's so funny. For those of you who have never been through trademark law globally, trying to get a name that passes North American, European, Asian trademarks, very difficult. You quickly realize that it's basically, almost like a gamer tags back in the day. Two name, one name gamer tags. You used to not be rare. Now they're super rare. Then it was two names and now it's three names. Basically the gist of it was, I wanted to have a name that really represented capturing innovation and passion. There's a lot of stuff that you go through when you're researching, basically a lot of quotes that we really love. 1 of the main ones is, the best way to predict the future is to invent it. That really captures lightning in a bottle.

 When you take a look at a team- the teams, the sparks, and the studio is really the jar that contains all of their ideas and all of their energy that they're trying to bring to passion and bring to bear. So the name Jar of Sparks or as some of my partner team say, isn't that just a light bulb?

Yeah, that works too, right? It's an idea. It's about innovation. It's about coming up with that cool idea that you look at and you go, that would be amazing. We wanted to bring together people and have their passion, really strive for excellence and not do the same thing over and over again.

We really wanted to invent, and so I think the name Jar of Sparks really captures that essence of innovation.

Lizzie Mintus: Yeah. Trademark Law is such a treat. .

Jerry Hook: It was Wow. I started off with 250 names. As soon as you go through your first pass of 250 names, it was down to seven.

Lizzie Mintus: I was lucky. My friend helped me with mine. She's much more creative than I am. And it's trademarked. It's done for now.

Jerry Hook: Awesome.

Lizzie Mintus: Tell me about founding the studio. Where were you? How did the idea come about? How did you decide to go with a net used partnership?

Jerry Hook: Yeah, sure. I think there's always a point in your career. And this is at any age, truthfully, where you're just like, you know what, I need to ultimately challenge myself by jumping off a cliff and seeing if I can build something on the way down.

So we were getting ready to launch Halo Infinite, and it was a familiar cycle that I've been through in the game industry so many times where it's very painful. It's really hard. Decisions, frankly, that were made way before you're on a team and things you can't control because they were made that long ago, right?

 I just started looking around just saying, Hey, look, what do I really want to do? I think what everybody else does is you just start looking around and start seeing what's out there. One of the main things that I learned pretty early on in my career, basically before I joined Xbox was, the worst thing you can do for yourself is you undervalue how valuable you are in the marketplace.

 When you undervalue yourself, it really prevents you from going after stuff that you would even think is crazy and so much of what life is. The connective tissue between luck, your own passion and your confidence to go after it. And so many of us hamper ourselves by holding ourselves back.

And the other big thing is that I'm a person who does not care about the word, no. That is a skill that you definitely have to learn. Especially if you're going to go after something that scares you. And for me, I started the journey the same way that I frankly started the journey I did for Xbox, which was, what if?

So I started going to the same thing, right? What's my next executive job? What would that look like? But then what's that going to look like 5 to 10 years? I literally will be in the same cycle again.

It was about three years, three years ago where I just started then started looking at investment, started looking to see what would it take to get series A funding? I hadn't done this before. This is all new. I had nothing to lose, nothing to gain.

I just started reaching out, just saying, Hey, here's my background, this is what I'm interested in doing. At the time I was really just searching and got a ton of offers that frankly scared me because I didn't think I was good enough. I think a lot of people do that.

But then I just started learning. It forced me to ask myself harder questions of, what was I looking for? What was I going to go do? What's it going to go build something complete from the ground up by myself and go do that. Was I going to go do it alone?

The cool thing is, a lot of us in the game industry, we talk about doing our own things. It's like a common conversation that we have around tables and whatnot. I just talked to a bunch of friends who had done this in the past and they were interested as well, but they also had more fear. They had more interpretation.

And so then I wanted to start looking at, are there other things I can do besides pure investment, which holds the most risk. Our market today is very similar to the way it was in the nineties back then. So I knew that all of this free money was just going to evaporate pretty quickly, like we're seeing right now. Because that's what market corrections do, right?

 What I wanted to be able to do was, I do believe that I'd be better off with the team around me than starting completely from scratch. I always feel that there are a lot more smarter people than I am. I'd like to have them around me to challenge me. And so I try to do that.

Then it became trying to find partners and if I can try finding a joint venture? Who could support me on some pieces of building your own company or do I do a full partnership?

We ended up with a partner of NetEase and NetEase was fantastic primarily because they really didn't push on the business side.

They pushed more on the creative side, which was unique. I love people who are audacious they're really ambitious to go after stuff that you just look at and you're going, that's scary. Trying to do that is scary. And Simon definitely embodied that. And he had with him, in particular, some amazing talent that I really made me respect what they were trying to do.

We just had a talk. We had to talk about investment. If they just wanted to invest in us or he offered me to go, first party and what would that do for us? And they didn't really push on one or the other heavily. They were just really looking for what are you looking for? What do you really want to do? How do you want to do it?

It's one of those things where you meet a large corporation and you're either like, Oh, I'm swimming in the water with sharks or you feel like there's actual partnership, especially from an approach on how you want to do things. How do you want to build things? That made me step back again and start asking the harder questions.

Let's say I get a deal for a studio. What's important to me? It's important to me that one, the publisher recognizes how hard the game business is. Trying to be profitable right out of the gate is very difficult. And I wanted to make sure that I could do things like protect the team from that and try to do the best I could to help make sure that as we built things, we planned for failure.

We didn't just plan for heroic success. And I was very conservative because to me, being conservative and saying, I'm just going to go climb Mount Everest day one and not planning for no, it takes hills, right?

You have to remember there is a journey. It wasn't day 1, right? And so I just tried to plan very cautiously to help make sure worst case scenarios, the team still taken care of and to build that very methodically and Neddy was on board.

That's how it happened. The rest is history.

Lizzie Mintus: You said the team is one of the most important aspects of the company. They're sparks in the jar. How have you thought about team building in the early days?

Jerry Hook: Yeah, so our first thing really was, and again, I think this happens with any type of team building where everybody brings their PTSD. Some people like to hold their PTSD, pet it, keep it around them, and use it as a security blanket. Then there are those who just want to throw it and just make sure we never do that. The early days were a lot of fun. After I spent about three months going through trademark stuff and a bunch of other legal things, getting the company founded, and then finally had the team around me, we spent a lot of time just playing games, learning what we liked ,and what we like to play.

 A bunch part of that three months was just taking a look at market strategy and market thoughts of where the industry was going to be in five years.

 We were also creating a list of our PTSD of things we did not want to have repeated. How do we prevent ourselves from doing this? And we failed at some of that because some of the PTSD is caused by us and just the way we function. And so some of it is how do we prevent that? How do we keep that top of mind to always improve?

And so one of our core values is expand when proven. It's probably the most used one because you use it in everything. You use it in your business. You're like, look don't get over your skis. I don't care if you're an optimist. For example, I'll do sports because that's easy. If you win the Super Bowl, doesn't mean you're going to win every single year. It means you have the experience to have done it once. But next year, you're probably going to have a different team.

You've probably replaced team members with other people. When I look at a team or building a studio, I really view it as a sports team. I know some people think of family, and I'm just like, no way. I would never have my family work for me and work 30 hours, if necessary, a day right next to them. They would kill me and we'd be fighting each other all the time.

No, but if you're a sports team, you're trying to hire the best people who know their roles, who can focus on what they have to do under a role to be at to hit that level of excellence, to build and be successful. And that's what we started.

We said, what are those cultural values? How do we prove ourselves? I'm somebody who really believes that you have to have lanes for everybody. All of us, especially in small companies, we have to do a lot of things. I load the water in the fridge. I pick up the packages. It doesn't matter that I'm the CEO. That's irrelevant. You're a small business. Everybody does everything.

But you have to have lanes. Otherwise you don't allow the people who are coming on board. You're stepping on their toes all the time. We at least have a culture that says, Hey, look, we want to be ambitious. We want to go invent. We want to make sure that we're proving ourselves before we commit to it and don't overcommit. Or don't rely on hopes and dreams and rainbows to make something happen, that you're not lying to yourself for what the capability of the team is. And so a lot of that went into those early days of outlining what's the culture we're going to build, that sort of thing.

Lizzie Mintus: I like the sports team analogy much better than the family. The family actually creeps me out. You have to love people even when they mess up or even when they don't give it their all. Not to say you can't love your employees when they mess up or don't give it their all, but on a sports team.

Here's what you need to do. And we need to talk about how you're going to do it.

Jerry Hook: Correct. The other thing about a sports team is you're usually trying to compete. Business in games, you are competing, whether you want to or not, you are right.

Let's say we're trying to go double A, triple A. We want to make a high quality game that we believe is going to have market impact. That means you're competing, no matter what you're doing. And so when you build a team, it's not about the team always being happy because doing something that is great doesn't always create happiness.

It creates pain because all of us, myself included, are having to learn new skills to go after something better than what we've done in the past. What you want to know is, we're on the journey together. We're in the fight together. Just because you sprained an ankle doesn't mean that you're off the team.

You're still on the team. You may have to shift what you have to do, but you're on the team because we're all in here in the fight to go make it happen. And that's the biggest thing that people should know is that, they're here to go after something that is going to have an impact in their lives and their family's lives and hopefully in the marketplace as well. That's the hope. That's what we're trying to go for.

Lizzie Mintus: People even tell me, Oh, you're a business owner. You must take vacation all the time. You have so much flexibility. And I'm like, I work all the time.

Jerry Hook: Here's the funny thing. It was interesting. Here's something I think is common that everybody does, right?

When you work for someone else, you're always trying to impress those individuals, make sure that you're viewed as you're doing good. You're reliant. Hopefully you're one of the players that they really rely on to go be successful.

When you're the CEO, your entire company is that. I put more stress on myself, helping make sure that I am meeting everybody's needs than I ever would have.

The other interesting thing is hours are almost invisible to you. I have to put alarms up on when to stop working because otherwise I will just work. I don't have kids anymore. Usually parents have windows where Oh no, if we don't have dinner at five, the kid's going to be cranky. They're going to be yelling. There's a schedule there. We don't have that anymore.

Now I'm like, oh, I can just work until I fall asleep or until Gretchen throws something at me. It is a very big difference when you're a CEO, cause everything's on you. It is not restful at all. It is the opposite.

Lizzie Mintus: It's a lot of mental load for sure. And I think when you're an employee too, it can be, I worked, I put in my hours. If you have this thing you need to get done, and it;s not done, maybe someone else can help you.

Jerry Hook: Yeah. That is an interesting thing about the game industry. One of the things that, why I wanted to stay in the industry instead of go back to tech was just the passion. There's just so many instances where you have incredible people whose talent just as a player, as well as somebody who creates games, just puts you in awe, right?

And you're trying to help them balance their load so that they don't let their passions take over everything. But you also have the challenge from a studio perspective of how do I help that person? How do I have the person not worry about anything else except for how they can create and how they can create? How do they can continue to do that without any other concerns? That's hard because usually you don't see a lot of the clock watching or the "I've worked so many hours" type of mentality in the game industry. And it can be problematic.

You got to watch out for it, but it's definitely something that helps because if you can get out of their way and let them go do amazing things they will.

Lizzie Mintus: There's a ton of passion. It's also so much collaboration, which I think is unique and collaboration between people with very different brains.

Like artists and engineers, it's almost like living in Texas. You just have so many different categories, but they all work in harmony somehow.

Jerry Hook: Yeah, it's interesting. One of the things I observed that I've always found frustrating is, the industry doesn't give creators and artists enough credit for what it actually takes, right?

You'll have the MBAs and the publishers and all the business side go, just copy these guys and you'll get the same results. Really, because you've not been able to do that. Ever. That's not how this works. And that's why it's such a unique talent because it's one part schooling and three parts talent. You're not going to quantify it, right? It's like you're trying to write down the taste of a strawberry. It's people's skill set in the industry, both from an art side and from the creative side is mind blowing. And you have to respect that. That's Paul Crocker, our creative director.

The biggest thing that I wanted him to be very comfortable with was, he owns the creative. As much as it's the studio's game, obviously. But I want him to always know that I'm never getting in his way. He is better at this than I am. And so for me to get him in his way is truthfully disrespectful. And it's disrespectful to him.

It's probably the number one thing that we spent so much time on it's also something that I see that studios struggle with is when they have power dynamics in the executive area where you're not really clear of who makes decisions. My whole team knows that the creative decisions are made by Paul and not me.

If I have opinions that are different than Paul's, I usually just talk to Paul. I'm just like, I hate this. And then we have a conversation about it. It's the same thing with, art directors like Martin DeChambeau. He was an art director and he's worked on the art from Assassin's Creed and all these other things.

What value am I adding to him looking over his shoulder going, do that green? What? He should pat me on the head and send me on my way. You got Dan Chose, which Dan is an incredible talent. He's done everything for movies and films, TVs, video games it's just unbelievable. Incredible. And what am I going to tell him that's going to improve anything?

 If studios work more in a high respect fashion for the roles and the expectations of their people, it would allow the leadership to get out of the way more and allow the team to produce more.

Lizzie Mintus: Hire smart people and get out of the way.

Jerry Hook: Yeah, absolutely.

Lizzie Mintus: I want to talk about your career path and your days at Microsoft. You were in tech and then you switched to games. And you were a microsoft high performer, which is clearly this Microsoft term. Tell me about all that.

Jerry Hook: Where to put ego. There's so many things from hiring that is so fascinating. I started off in tech, in the startup scene in the nineties. So for those listening, I'm ancient.

I started my career before there was a thing called the internet. And I started off actually on the tech side, helping build a lot of internet infrastructure, internet tech.

 I did automatic publishing and did first clients that use basically web style interfaces as a front end for native clients. And when I joined the Xbox, I'd been a startup previously that I helped get Microsoft to purchase. And after that purchase, Microsoft would put groups at that time in this group called emerging technologies.

I found out that I had been working on a lot of automated publishing stuff. And the first project I actually worked on at Microsoft was called ClearType, which nobody knows about or cares about, but it's basically the font technology that Apple used in Microsoft, created its own version and they called it ClearType. Boring, and no one cares about it, because they just want it to work. But anyways, it's technology and it was a lot of fun.

And I went to an interview for this group called Xbox. They were doing gaming. I was a huge gamer and would love to get in that. And at this time I'm like 29. Went to the interview and Lit Wong sitting there said, we're sorry, but we already filled the role. And I said you know what, I've never interviewed at Microsoft before. I've only been purchased. And so all I hear is terror and concern about the Microsoft interview process. So could you take me through the interview if it's still set up, if that's okay, so I could learn how to do an interview?

This is where, like, where I would teach my kids don't accept a no. Always approach something not as a failure point, but as what can you learn from it? And so for me, I was like my next step here, if I can't get an interview is to learn how the interviews would go. So I did the interview. I get done with the interview and they go, we'd like you better than the guy we just hired.

Could your first job be, tell the guy we just hired that we made a mistake? And I was like, let me get this right. So my first job was to correct the mistake. Okay, fine. I'll make it work.

It was one of the most memorable teams. I ended up working with Tristan Jackson who went to Bungie for a while and worked with him at Bungie as well when he left the Xbox.

The high performer thing for Xbox is, how much impact you're having, right? For Xbox I started in test. That job was a test job and you're basically an engineer plus a tester, but you have to do pretty much what you can. And Xbox was a startup.

So I was able to do production work engineering work, and test work and had just a large impact. It was mostly because I cared about the product. I wanted to help make sure that Xbox Live was a phenomenal gaming product. Then working on 360 and helping build the Xbox Live and continue to grow. All those people who were with us, you're in the trenches together. You've built something that not a lot of people in their careers have been able to do, and it's phenomenal, right?

You end up creating a band of brothers. In fact, I actually just went to lunch with a gal who used to be on my team. And it was instantly like, yep, we're bonded. There's no awkward greeting moments. You're just like right into it.

You move on your career. The high performance stuff is just how you're having an impact on your businesses. For Microsoft, it was back in the day where you were doing stack ranking and you're one, two, three type of stack ranking. You're always in the top three, at least I think that's what it was. But, and then you're getting top rewards and that kind of stuff. That's all that means.

The real recognition truthfully is getting out there. The original Xbox didn't compete very well, but Xbox 360, we finally competed with Sony. And that's really what mattered most, more than anything else.

But yes, I like the Microsoft model back in the day when Xbox, I'd still say wasn't really part of Microsoft because we're really a startup. We're scrappy. We created multiple billions of businesses so it was really good for us. And it was really good for the industry as well to have competition and help drive live gaming which was the big thing that we were going for Xbox live.

Lizzie Mintus: Yeah. You created Xbox live marketplace. Tell me about creating that.

Jerry Hook: Yeah, that was a crazy times. Mark Whitten, who is now an executive at Unity. He came to me, Litwan told me, he comes into my office, this is literally how it went. Litwan comes to my office and says, Jerry, we love what you've done. You have about 5 minutes. Mark's going to walk through this door and ask you to be a producer. You have to decide, do you want to go, stay on the engineering side, or do you want to go be a program manager? And I was like, 5 minutes. Okay. Thanks. That's a lot for a warning.

Then Mark came in and we went through basically what he was looking for, what he wanted and why he thought it would be great at it. I said, great. Let's go do that.

Literally the next day, we were planning, putting up the boards for Xbox 360, what are the features we were going after? What did we need to have? All this stuff. And I chose the two hardest things to go after. One was marketplace and the other one was the security and identification stuff. And I don't remember if it's Ben Kilgore or somebody else. They just looked at me and they go. No, you're not that stupid. You don't get to have 2 of the hardest things. You can choose 1 fun thing and one hard thing that was like, okay, fine.

So I went for marketplace. Truthfully it was because I didn't see Microsoft as a whole, as putting a lot of thought into how the future of again, folks, this is, you're literally talking like eight years into the internet. There weren't a lot of companies who are pushing digital commerce and digital downloads and all of those pieces. I really felt that from a future perspective, this is something that pretty much anything that you could distribute digitally should be distributed digitally and it would be the way for the future.

The other big thing is I had spent a bunch of time with Korean game developers. And just listen to how they thought about a lot of the challenges that game developers have of helping smaller companies go be successful. And I know everyone hates microtransactions, but really for small developers to get over the hump of trying to get people to come in.

Remember, there weren't a lot of apps at that point in time because smartphones hadn't come out yet. So smartphones would come out around the same time as specifically the Apple iPhone come out about the same time that we launched Xbox 360. And so you had all this technology, literally on the cusp of just starting, that would just change everybody's lives and we would all take it for granted, right?

But all of that required an economic system that would enable developers to do it seamlessly without them having to worry about it. For me, that was an incredible challenge to go after, both because you have to try to help set the business models that will be effective.

And then two, you're having to tackle truthfully bank's way of doing work. Because banks at the time, everyone takes for granted, for example, when you go purchase something on the iPhone, you don't worry about it. It doesn't get charged. What Apple built was a stored value system that wouldn't charge until after you hit specific price points.

Those price points are because then banks won't charging more and therefore it could be profitable for you as a business. In the early days I think the small ticket price would have to be 5 or more. And when you're trying to sell a digital avatar, anything, you're like, no one's going to pay 5.

Now we look at that kind of stuff and people are charging 60 in Valorant for something or 100. Back then we couldn't, we didn't even imagine costs like that. I was just like, no, you need the game developers. Let's just take cart racing from Korea, for example. You just want to change the color of the car and they want to charge 5 cents for it. How do I enable that?

You had to put together partnerships across Microsoft for the teams that did have the capabilities. You had to help banks and processing places specifically in Europe, right? Cause Europe does things differently than us. And Asia was already ahead of the game.

So remember, I'm a 30 year old kid and I know if anyone's listening to this, who's not 30, I was a child going into VPs of finance at Microsoft and debating with them to try to win Xbox Live's priority for the regions we launch into with and arguing with them about how they're looking at the future versus how I look at the future.

And then getting back to my office and having Jay Allard and Ben Kilgore pull me into an office and go, Jerry, we're going to have to think about your title and your level because you're a low level person coming into their offices and telling them off. I didn't think I did that, but clearly it's how it was interpreted.

But it was, those are the interesting things about large corporations that you just have to learn. I came from startups, which is why you just go after everything, right? You just don't let anything stop you. Microsoft had rules, and I didn't like rules.

Lizzie Mintus: You sound like me. I like when people follow the rules, but, to some degree. But I don't, really, myself.

Jerry Hook: Yeah, another thing I learned, so many people learn the wrong lessons. I'm the type of person, if we're walking through our goal together and we're in complete agreement, it's like we're holding hands on the same path and going to whatever your goal is.

Alignment is much more healthy. Alignment is both of us know we want to go, let's say, to that hilltop, but we don't have to walk the same path to get there. And that will allow us to potentially get there in different ways that provide different results. Now, sometimes you have to walk the same path because you're like no, we need things done in a month. And then we need it delivered it this way and whatnot. In which case you do need full agreement.

But most things, as long as you have alignment. You can move forward effectively, and you can at least trust each other that you're in alignment of what you're going after. And then you just have to be get comfortable with the fact that your team can find better ways of doing things than you can.

You aren't as smart as you think you are. Then you rely on your team, and you become inquisitive and curious about how your team is trying to head the same goal that you're aligned on.

Lizzie Mintus: Yeah, it's pretty magical. You have your big picture goal and then your team comes to you with something amazing that you've done.

Yeah. You've done that you could have never, ever done. Yeah. Business owner joy.

Jerry Hook: Yes, exactly.

Lizzie Mintus: Dream. I want to talk about Bungie too and the days of Destiny and what you learned. You were project lead for monetization. I'm sure you have tons of takeaways from that.

Jerry Hook: Yeah, I was project lead for Forsaken, Rise of Iron The Live, I helped found the live team with , who is really the, creative owner of that piece.

I learned a lot of this from Harold Ryan and the budget executive team on how do you win with publishers? How do you get the way that you're looking for? And a lot of the business side approaches of how to go after things and how to make them successful.

It was a small time, almost four years, which is a blip of time. I learned more in that four years. It was very similar to learning from Xbox, right? It was so much trying to get Destiny to be a solid game and make it successful and do what the studio needed to do so that people like Luke and Mark can go off and go do bigger things with Destiny 2. It was a lot of fun.

 Part of my favorite moments was, Destiny 2 had to slip a year and a half, and myself, Barry Scott Taylor we came up with a pretty audacious plan to help do an expansion pack at a smaller price point and help Destiny get the revenue it needed to slip.

And it was phenomenal. It was everything. I had to go negotiate with Sony. I had to had to work with the team in a definitely a new way. And I wasn't perfect. I had bad points where I've made a lot of mistakes and was told that I made a lot of mistakes, which was great.

But at the end of the day, it was probably one of the most influential things for how I created Jar of Sparks. One of the coolest things that we did was, you could pair somebody, let's say your environment artist, but you've never been given the opportunity to go do level design or level art. Or you're a level designer, you've never been got to go do environment art. But you have those shared passions when you compare those two people together, and they can mentor each other and help each other raise their excellence bars, they do amazing things at a very fast rate of speed.

The other thing is that you learn to challenge yourself from a decision making perspective where you have all this production data and the production data. Let's say it takes three months to do a level. When you have to compress time and you have to, literally hand it to your team, say, we need this done in a month or two months. What would it look like? What do we need to do? And you fight past all the, it's impossible. And you just say, let's just take that first step. Stop thinking it's impossible. Let's just do the first step. What does it look like? And then you start realizing where really your quality is impacting.

You can balance it better because you're forcing yourself to be very deliberate about where investments going versus other areas. In the game industry, you literally could be on the same thing. It's never ready to ship because as an artist or as a creative you're always wanting it to be better. Cause you always see the flaws, right? So your job is to try to balance that and do it iteratively. So that you can build a thing, take a look at it in its most basic form, see where you think you need to improve and the other stuff you can probably lock down and then move it to that next stage. And can you do that faster? And then when you want to get to the quality, great. Then let's push on where quality needs to be effective.

It was a magical time at Bungie. I understand the challenges that teams going through right now that I'm seeing from the outside is heartbreaking.

But back in those early Destiny days, we're creating something new. And again, creating something new where you own the reins of what it's going to look like and how it's going to feel, and what a player is going to go and see. It's really fun. That's why I think the industries just a great industry to be in.

Lizzie Mintus: It is. Like you said before, people love what they do, too. And it's contagious when you're with so many people that are thrilled to come to work every day and thrilled about what they're creating. It rubs off on you.

I want to talk a little bit about the state of the industry right now because you've seen a couple cycles throughout your career.

What do you have to say about that?

Jerry Hook: Yeah, we're in one of the cycles. As much as we had a great, COVID run. You're just correcting for that.

That was literally a drunk moment for the industry. It was not normal. It's really something we're correcting for that.

Now we're going to get back into what I consider a more sustainable piece. And I also just think, a lot of industries, even if you go back to cars, a lot of this is also the players have grown up. The players know this stuff now. You have kids who about micro transactions.

When I was a child, that word didn't even exist. So it's also their sophistication. As someone who's creating games, you've got to recognize that, because I actually don't think that players want their entertainment handed to them a penny at a time.

There's meaningful DLC, there's meaningful content that they want to be able to go after. One of the things we did for Halo, I wanted to change the battle pass model to just have the battle pass model be a DLC purchase. Now it breaks some of the financials because a bunch of the financials are based off of psychology of people fearing of missing out could you break that and just have it basically be a DLC track where you're trying to track time for the player? And it's not something that they have to worry about because they're just saying, no, I'm just buying content. I just have to earn it.

I think that's the kind of stuff where the industry has to get, as far as I'm concerned, back to something more sane. As far as me even being a player, I'm done with it. I don't want to buy things every five seconds. I just want to play my game and get value out of it.

And I know it's specifically hard because as soon as you go free to play, you don't have consistency. From a business perspective to be successful and say, yes, I can invest 30 million and I'll get 30 million back. That's no longer true.

The players are speaking right now and everyone's sick of it. And they just want games that are fun and they can spend their 60, 70 bucks and have a blast. I just think we have to challenge ourselves to say what do we really want it to be like?

Lizzie Mintus: So many games that have come out this year too. I read the amount of games is at an all time high and just an interesting time in the industry. Dean had a good article on Dean Beat Today about how many great games have come out and how many layoffs there are all at the same time. It is a cycle though.

Jerry Hook: Yeah. Some of that I think is because, one, you've seen a bunch of consolidation and that happens with every industry as it grows and contracts. If you look at where the great games came from, they didn't all come from these big conglomerate organizations. Some did. It's just interesting when you take a look at the NBA's making the decisions, for example, who said, no, Apex Legends wasn't going to do good.

So we're not going to deal with it. But if the team did it on their own, fantastic. And now it's a cornerstone, right? There's so much that comes from what you would consider a traditional market research that tells you, this is only worth X. And then as creators, truthfully, I take a lot of that as challenge and say, screw that. I can do a lot better than that. And I don't think I have to screw players for it either. And I think what you're seeing is you're seeing the quality actually matters. It actually matters to players. And quality from the jump is what matters the most.

If you can't pull that together and you believe you're just going to make up for your mistakes in a service driven game, truthfully, you deserve everything that's coming to you because I believe your players will destroy you.

You have to be at a quality bar that players find acceptable. I also think, to me, it's an opportunity because so many of the big publishers are like, no, we're not creating anything new anymore. We're just going to stick on the franchises we have. That's all we're going to go and do. That's an opportunity to go after something and it's the riskiest opportunity you can make.

But you don't have to do it by going after budgets that require you to destroy your player base to make it work. That's what you shouldn't be doing. And truthfully, this is something that NetEase has been really good with us on, which is thinking about the player, get the player experience first, and let's build a good business around that. Not think about, insane things, and then fail, and then, then you're laying off your entire team. We don't want to do that.

Lizzie Mintus: You can look at what Amazon does. Amazon's one of the most successful companies of all. Love them or hate them, but day one and they always talk about making sure people are happy. That's the cornerstone of Amazon and that informs all their decisions.

Jerry Hook: Yeah, I look less to what people talk about and more about what they actually do.

It's interesting seeing specifically when you're talking about Amazon, I think is so many different companies. Their warehouse and their delivery truck drivers, I wonder if they would agree if they are treated well. I don't know. My son did a paper on Amazon that was not pleasant to read through but it was well researched, so I could look up all of his details.

Lizzie Mintus: I think Amazon puts the customer first, not their employees. I'm not saying it's a great place to work. Talk to anybody that's working there.

But I do think they really think, what do I want, right? I want something delivered to my door in two hours. That is what I want. And then they've shaped the way that everybody does things.

I have one last question before I ask it. I want to point people to your website, jarofsparks. com.

The last question is what advice would you give to somebody who is looking to start a venture in games, immersive, creative tech

Jerry Hook: As your own company or just start a venture?

Lizzie Mintus: Your own company via VC,

Jerry Hook: Mitch Gitelman, who is another dear friend of mine, when I talked to him about me doing my own thing, the 1st words out of his mouth were, how's your health?

I would agree that is your number 1 thing because the amount of stress that you're taking on is huge, but I would tell you it's worth it.

I don't know who said this quote, but here's another one. We look to colleges to solve some of these things and the best way to earn your MBA is creating a business. It's not going to college. Go create a business. Go through all the hard problems and learn how to do it. College can probably help you, but you probably save a lot of money by not doing that.

The other big thing I would just tell you to do is, it's not about you. Unless you're developing anything that only takes you, fine, then it is you. But in general, as soon as you start bringing on people, it's about your team.

Be really clear with yourself. How do you want to run things? Be okay that your team might have different ideas and different approaches. You spend more of your time thinking about what am I trying to achieve? How am I trying to do it? One of the big things we always do at Jar of Sparks is, what's your goal?

Greg Stone, my CEO, is a master of this. He says, Jerry you're spouting a bunch of things. What is your goal? What are you trying to achieve? It just reminds me to slow down and think more deliberately about what you're trying to do. The more you can do things deliberately where you're not just stating a thing, but you as the owner, you're understanding what's behind it. What are you trying to do? Why are you trying to do it? Why do you believe that's the solution?

Because for me, your number 1 strength as any senior leader is to be curious. In particular, you're trying to be curious to be wrong. And you have to be okay with that. The biggest thing I love that I've always surrounded myself with is a council of adversaries. It's a council of rivals. It's council of people who constantly make me think harder about things. That they are not there just to say yes to me. They are there to ensure that excellence is being delivered and that pressure to do better on a regular basis with your core group of people. And for me, it's my directors. That's critical.

The other big thing is. I will always go more cautious. I always assume failure is this first thing that's going to happen. And then how do you survive from that failure? How do you succeed past that failure? Your resilience in any type of business, your resilience is your critical trait. No matter what you do in any business, something's going to happen that there is no way you could have foreseen and it's how you respond to it.

How do you respond to it with rigor? How do you respond to it with passion to turn it around? That is going to matter the most. Because for example, these market corrections, I guarantee you a bunch of people were not planning for it, even though they should have, I believe the indicators were pretty clear but it's something you don't always control, right?

You have to train your team. How do you think through things? How do you respond when something doesn't go right? And how are you okay with it?

So often your team can live in fear because you can say the words. Don't worry about it. It's all good. But at the end of the day, if there's layoffs or there's other things that are going on, that's why anxiety persists, right?

It's because it's not all good. And instead, if you're to say, look, here's the risk we're taking. Stop trying to make everybody feel comfortable. They're adults. Most people who are working in your company are adults. They're not children. Now, some may be children as in they're adults in mental, smaller bodies.

But you have to be able to walk them through what we're trying to do. This is how I'm trying to do it. This is why we're trying to do it. These are the risks that we're taking. Don't be afraid of that. I think if your team understands that they also can better plan because the other big thing is that not everybody wants to be in a startup.

They may think they do. In fact, my conversation this afternoon was with somebody, do you really want to be in a startup? Because most people view a startup is like, Oh, we can go do anything we want to do. It's free and we can just go explore everything. No, you actually have a budget.

You can't hide in some corner of a corporation stack that someone else is literally paying your bills. You actually are the ones who have to pay your bills. It's a different rigor. Like I said, a lot of people have a dreamy view of what it really is versus what it actually is.

And building trust is something that you're doing every single day and you're going to screw up. You're going to do something that you don't think people are going to look at and go, that was bad. You're going to have to go, oh, I didn't realize that. Let me go and correct that. And again, teaching your team resilience and teaching your team through your actions how you recover is something that you have to just always be thoughtful about.

Lizzie Mintus: Yeah, absolutely. And I think also, if you hire people who are really into what they're doing, then there are bad days and it is a challenge, but on the way to something really good.

Jerry Hook: Absolutely. And that's the other thing. I always get a lot of college kids who are in various degrees asking how do we get in the game industry?

And I think, why would you want to do this to yourself? It's hard. It is not easy. Anything where you have a whole group of people who are all passionate I guarantee you they're not all passionate about the same thing.

And the hardest part of building any game is the fact that everybody wants to build their version of that game and trying to keep everybody focused to go after one singular thing, and here are the rules, and here are the philosophies on why we're going after it this way. It is a never ending battle.

At the end of the day, again, like I said, I still love it. I don't think I do anything else.

Lizzie Mintus: Same. It's the best. We've been talking to Jerry Hook, the CEO of Jar of Sparks, which is a new NetEase studio. Jerry, where can people go to connect with you or learn more or work for your company?

Jerry Hook: Right now, LinkedIn is probably your best bet. Our website, hopefully, will be up soon. You can go to I have it all reserved and protected so that we don't get any domain people squatting on it, but the website's not there yet. Otherwise just hit me up on LinkedIn. We have jobs posted as well at on or Jar Of Sparks at LinkedIn.

We are small. We're not growing really fast. I'm not planning on growing really fast. So it will be hard to come and join the studio, but I have a bunch of people have reached out to me that I follow up with as well. Because I know how it would have been great for me if I were starting out. When I started, there wasn't a game industry really.

I know how difficult it is and I would love to just help some people if I can. Obviously my time is limited, so I can't do a lot, but I definitely have the heart to do it for sure, especially if you're here in Washington State.

Lizzie Mintus: I'm going to add to that. If you do reach out to someone and ask for help, it's good to be really specific about what exactly they can help you with and how, and maybe even suggest some time because on the other side, it can be quite busy.

Jerry Hook: Yeah. The other thing is, I always tell people is don't get offended if you're not being responded back to. Too often, I think 1 of the biggest things we trained our society to do is instant gratification with your phones. 1 of the 1st things I teach my kids with the phones is text is asynchronous for a reason.

The only time you need to respond to it is when you can. It's about your priorities. It's not about the person texting you as priorities. So the same thing if you're messaging anybody on LinkedIn is be patient. Like it's not a judgment on you at all. It's just a recognition of their time and their space that they're in.

Lizzie Mintus: Thanks, Jerry.

Jerry Hook: Yeah, thank you.

Thanks so much for listening to the show this week. To catch all the latest from Here's Waldo, you can follow us on LinkedIn. Be sure to click subscribe to get future episodes. We'll see you next time.

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