Entrepreneurial Spirit Award of 2008

I know, the economy sucks buckets. Everyone is losing money or hoarding money or struggling to survive, looking over their shoulder and counting change to buy groceries, or cutting back to make payroll, or running for the nearest exit. Meanwhile our politicians are debating which way to throw hundreds of billions of dollars at a problem that nobody knows whether they can solve, or should.

It’s been a long time since I wrote a post about entrepreneurship or my own business for that matter, which I’ll be talking about in an upcoming series of posts. What follows here is the story of something I found almost spiritually satisfying, an uplifting story that shows there are at least a few people in the world who still get it, and who are finding a way to succeed even in tough times. I simply couldn’t play this game and not write something about it here.

I’m talking, dear friends, about a little video game called World of Goo. In addition to being one of the most original and delightful PC games I’ve played in a long time, it will hopefully inspire anyone who is doubting whether they can emerge from of this fiscal tsunami still treading water, or at least give them a little more reason to keep swimming.

WoG is a deceptively simple puzzle game for the Nintendo Wii and the PC/Mac that shows what can happen when two guys take an idea and infuse it with a sugary overdose of originality and creativity. You play WoG by sticking together “extremely delicious” blobs of, well…goo. These appear in various colors and consistencies throughout the game, and basically the gameplay consists of you glomming them together to build structures like towers and bridges in pursuit of your main objective: to “rescue” a minimum number of Goo Balls in each level who “…live in the beautiful World of Goo [and] don’t know that they are in a game, or that they are extremely delicious.” All of it is set in a delightful fantasy universe and accompanied by a surprisingly rich and intriguing, original soundtrack. It’s hilarious, it’s challenging, it’s addictive, and it’s cheap: the game only costs $20, but that’s not the most amazing thing, or even one of the most amazing things:

The whole shebang was put together by two guys (apparently with the occasional help of a third, and quite a bit of “community buzz”) on a shoestring budget of $10,000. Watch the trailer, and then read the Wikipedia entry for more, because as the game unfolds, the story becomes much richer than the simple outline above.

World of Goo was imagined by two ex-Electronic Arts developers, Kyle Gabler and Ron Carmel, who had very little money at the time. Their game studio, 2D Boy, was essentially based out of whatever Wi-Fi enabled coffee shop they could find. World of Goo had a budget of $10,000, which consisted of their combined personal savings. The two developers attribute the game’s success to their blog and early web presence, as well as the awards it won at the Independent Game Festival at the Game Developers Conference in 2007, causing publishers who did not respond to their requests now wanting to publish the title.[14]

My hat is off to these two guys — the game is a smash success in terms of critical review, industry awareness and sales, even though some reports have said that as many as 90% of the extant copies are pirated. At a time when the larger economy is going through its worst paroxysms, these two guys found a sticky, savory glob of success by keeping it simple and original and crafting something that appeals to a very wide audience. The game is suitable for almost all ages, and I can personally attest to how much fun it is to play. It’s far and away the best $20 I’ve ever spent on a (current) game for the PC, and as someone starting a business himself, it’s enjoyable on a lot more levels than just diversion.

Download the demo and if you like it, buy the game, and when you’re furious or worried or otherwise sullen, fire it up and sling some goo. It’ll make you feel better.