Blake Harris is a historian of video game wars. His first book – Console Wars: Sega, Nintendo, and the Battle That Changed One Generation – appeared in 2014 and broke the fight between Sega and Nintendo in the 1990s when Sega launched a march on Nintendo stole the Sega Genesis. The book was dramatically written and licensed for a film adaptation by Hollywood directors Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg.
The success of this book made Harris abandon his day job as a Wall Street dealer, and enabled him to research his latest book, The Story of the Future: Oculus, Facebook, and the Revolution, the virtual reality dominated . Harris spent more than four years with the book and had close access to Palmer Luckey, who founded Oculus as a 1
Oculus acquired Facebook for almost $ 3 billion in 2014, allowing Harris exclusive access to the executive team to record the revival of virtual reality. But after Luckey was released in March 2017 and Facebook learned the insider story Harris recorded, he lost access. This made his work more difficult, but Harris persisted and published a 500-page volume about the story.
In the book, we see the role that CEO Mark Zuckerberg played at Luckey's farewell, and also the fraying of the relationship between the two top leaders. We asked Facebook for a comment on some of the stories in the book, but did not get an answer. I participated in a reading given by Harris in Mountain View, California. This is a transcript of this session. In it I have asked a few questions, as well as the audience. I also interviewed Harris, who will be running on another day. I found Harris & # 39; s lecture, interview, and book very revealing of the story I described daily as an author at GamesBeat.
Here is a edited preview of our interview.
Blake Harris: Ten years ago, or even seven years ago, I had a commodities trading day in New York. I worked for Brazilian customers and traded in coffee, soybeans and corn and all that stuff. It was fun when I started college. It was very similar to the movie Trading Places, with all the chaos. Then everything became electronic and it was not very funny, but that gave me more time to dream about writing.
In my 20s I worked as a scriptwriter, very unsuccessful. In the end I spent all the money I had saved with this job, and very unsuccessfully. One of the big turning points for me, a disappointing turning point, was that my screenwriter and I wrote a script titled "The Sordid Tales of an Evil, Tyrannical Ex-dictator." It was about a dictator who was overthrown from his country in Europe, comes to the United States and works for a DMV in the Witness Protection Program. This was the script we were sure would finally break us and bring in millions of dollars to make a career and get shorts every day. Then, a week after we finished it and sent it to our manager, Sacha Baron-Cohen announced that he was making a movie called The Dictator. Everything we put together was worthless at once.
I understood that. If I was a studio, I would have preferred to sit on Sacha Baron-Cohen, who has a great track record and is very funny when I and my buddy Jonah. At that time – I was probably 27 years old – I had always hoped to make it as a writer, and I began to believe that maybe that would not happen. I think I had always imagined somewhere in my head – that was probably inspired by Dave Coulier of Full House – if I could not make it, if I was 30 or 35, I'd give that up, it never went
But me always wanted to write, and since I wanted to do that, I desperately wanted to write things that I really love, because there is always the possibility that Sacha Baron-Cohen is working on a similar project, and what I am doing could be at the end – not worthless, but not commercially viable.
As is often the case when I've interviewed people who have had success, the one project I set for myself With no monetary goal in mind, the one who was successful in the end. It does not always work that way, but it's more in the stadium. This was the one I did out of passion and did not try to find a template for an action comedy about a dictator.
Before I even set out to write Console Wars, I just wanted to read it. I grew up in the 80s and 90s. As an adult, today I love business stories behind the scenes. I remember going to a Barnes and Noble on 86th Street in Manhattan – I live in New York – and asking where the video game story was, thinking it was close to music history or movie history. Then I learned that there was no such area in the store, and there was not even a single book about video games, the history of video games, and the video game business. The only thing akin to what they had were walkthroughs.
That seemed very strange to me. At the time, I had not played for many years, but I knew it was a big industry. I enjoyed watching other people play. I'm very bad at video games, so I do not play that much either. But I love the industry and I love what's going on out there. So, before I really imagined there was a project here, I was just trying to get in touch with the Sega and Nintendo employees in the early 1990s.
My biggest concern was growing up as a child, imagining that working at Sega or Nintendo was akin to working at Willy Wonka's chocolate factory. Although I think the working conditions were not that good there. Maybe go to his factory. I talked to these people and they said, "No, working with Sega and Nintendo was like beating a time card like any job." But almost everyone I've talked to, especially at the beginning, called it the biggest Experience of her life. That inspired me.
I gathered more and more contacts and started putting together a survey and a story. In essence, Console Wars is a narrative, a case study of how Sega has gone from five percent of the market to 55 percent of the market and has toppled Nintendo's monopoly. The rising part of this trajectory has many business lessons that I have learned. One of them was that Sega recognized very well that they were an unknown, just like me, and they allied with younger celebrities who would help their brand.
I literally googled for celebrities and the name of Seth Rogen came up. He was definitely out of my league. I did not expect to hear from him. But I knew this guy liked Nintendo, probably Sega too, so my manager sent him a copy of a treatment I'd put together. Miraculously he was interested in a meeting. I met with him and his partner Evan Goldberg seven years ago in January 2012, and I remember meeting them on a Thursday. Not only was it unreal and unusual to limp with someone I knew from the movies, but I remember thinking, "Wow, this is the first time I've had a meeting with a real decision maker." Me I always met with creative executives who in the end told us that our people would call each other and nothing would happen.
At the end of the meeting, we talked for a few hours, and later that day, I got a call that Seth wanted to make on the basis of the book I had not written before, a film. But I had interviewed about 100 people, so I had a good feel for the story. He also wanted to produce a documentary. That was incredible and life changed. I remember returning to my raw materials job four days later on Monday and thinking, "Wait, my life should change, but I'll be back at 6:30."
Eventually, Scott Rudin joined the project at and in the end we went out with the book suggestion. Flash from here a bit forward, but the last clue here was that I remember when we went out with the book suggestion that even with this great package of people who were far more successful than me, they produced the films and documentary films gone to 25 publishers, 22 of which existed because they said video game books are not sold. I remember thinking that this was a strange thing. That's another way of saying that if someone out there is interested in writing a video game book, I always try to give advice because I thought that would be a pretty crazy thing for them. I'm glad that Console Wars has done well, and I like to read video books. So if you have an idea, get in touch.
That appeared in May 2014. It was a very big life. Change experience for me. I quit my day job. I remember telling my manager that it was somehow sad that I would never write a book as good as Console Wars. He said, "No, you're getting better with each book." I said, "Well, I hope so, but I'll never find a topic that has such a convergence of pop culture, technology, entertainment, larger-than-life personalities and billions of dollars Has. "
It remains to be seen if VR and the legacy of Oculus will do this nowhere near Sega and Nintendo, but I've built myself into this story and spent three and a half years working on it. I think my earliest memory of it was – because it was such a big deal that I was going to bring out a book – it was also a very big deal for someone to write an article about me. I think the first publication that contacted me was Popular Mechanics. You have made a profile of me. It was such a big deal that my father came to the photo shoot. Everyone in my family was so excited about it. The issue was released on Mother's Day of 2014, so I pulled out of Mother's Day brunch to get an issue of Popular Mechanics. I was so excited to finally see myself.
Before I even reached that point, I was so interested in what was on the cover, namely Palmer Luckey, the founder of Oculus, and this cover story about it. The company had sold to Facebook for billions of dollars. I was a little familiar with Oculus, but I've never stopped paying much attention. I thought it would be a good sign to go back to the restaurant and not expose my mother to the problem with her son, because I was fascinated by the story of Oculus.
After that I knew that I wanted to write a book about Oculus or in the near future I guessed that this would be something I would like to do. To tell the stories as I like to tell them requires credible access to the people involved. I want to be able to put the reader on the shoulders with them, in the head in the room. After my first visit to Oculus, it took me about 14 months to get permission from Oculus and Facebook to introduce everyone to the company and set up interviews. This finally happened in February 2016. This was a month before Oculus launched the Rift CB1 product. I felt like I was right there, at the bottom of something great.
My last book was a rise and fall story, and I thought this book would only be high up. It was not like that. I would not say this was a rise and fall story, but I think anyone who is interested in VR is a little surprised how it has developed in recent years. Also, the fact that the main character, who appeared on the cover of Popular Mechanics and aroused my interest, was not in the company in less than a year. It turned the book upside down. But as a writer we go where history leads us. I tried to follow that story as I thought of places I would never write about, especially politics and crazy reddits.
This book lasted three and a half years. This was three and a half years working full-time. Console Wars took three years, but for two of them I had a day job. It was not the emotional investment that existed here. Because this came into politics and often with the policy that I disagree with, it was quite exhausting. I can not believe it's done. It was a joke between me and my wife – or no joke because she did not think it was funny at all – that I would finish the book in the next few weeks because I said that every week or more for two and a half years. She deserves a huge award. I wish she was here. She has received the dedication in this book. My mother was pretty upset about that, but Katie really deserved it.
The publisher has also not signed up for this three-and-a-half-year project. They expected the book to be ready in 18 months. They were mostly supportive. There were some ups and downs. Because I did not file it in time – I hired it two years later – it was two years I was not paid. My wife was wonderful enough to support me financially during this time. I'm glad she did it. I am glad that I did not make it easy to finish the book to fulfill a contract. I made sure to get to the bottom of the issues I was examining.
Question: There was a post on your Reddit AMA mentioning that at some point Facebook was accessing something that you saw in one of the pre-copies you sent. Could you talk about it?
Harris: Oh yes. It was not a preview version. In general, I have always tried to be very open and transparent and semi-collaborative with the people whose stories I write, because I think they owe so much. Of course that does not mean that they will have editorial content about what I write, but I think they will be shared with them – in the worst case they can give me feedback that I disagree with. But often it also spurs on other ideas.
In the two years of my relationship with Facebook, we had a pretty good relationship early on. I shared materials with them and the people involved. When it came to the question of Oculus founder Palmer Luckey and he was no longer in the company – for those who are unfamiliar with him and leaving Facebook, the short version is that he will be $ 10,000 in September 2016 has earned a donation to a pro-Trump organization. The goal of this organization was to create billboards across the country, meme-style billboards, a very Internet-inspired organization. Their destination had nothing to do with the Internet, but the story was told that Palmer and this group were responsible for all the crazy shit they'd seen on the internet for all the hateful, misogynist, misogynist, Semitic stuff from the last election season. That was not true, but it was certainly true if you were in social media because it has been reported time and again in articles reporting the same thing.
From that point on, Palmer was basically incapacitated with Oculus for six months. and then he left the company. There were not too many details when this happened in March 2017. I got to know Palmer pretty well when I was at this point in the project. I knew it was not his decision to leave. At first, however, Facebook did not want to comment on what happened. After sharing material with them, I told them, frankly, my biggest concern about the book was Palmer's exit and how to deal with it. I just could not make one of the main characters in the book disappear and say, "Whoops, that was the end." I had to provide some explanations.
Eventually, a handful of people gave me a statement about high-ranking people who could speak on behalf of the company. I became convinced that this explanation was fictitious. They went so far as to say that he decided to leave the company, which I believe is not my life. Some other details did not seem to add up. I thought about why they told me that, and did not just say "no comment" or a more plausible story. I thought that because of my narrative non-fiction writing style, which purposely does not attribute specific information to sources, I felt they were essentially trying to wash the misinformation through that style.
I heard the same story from several persons confirming it. Palmer could not talk to me or talk to me, I suppose, because he was legally gagged. I felt I was being used to give this information. In the end, I sent a chapter with one of the people there, which was just a direct question and answer log to see how they would react if their names were put on this material.
The conversation was recorded. The irony of the conversation I sent was that I had asked this person if Palmer was badly treated by journalists who broke the news about him because the conversation with the journalists was not on the list. Then this person said, "No. 'No, that's not forbidden, unless you specifically authorize a journalist to be unaware.' I thought if there was any doubt about that, it would not be a straightforward conversation
after sharing that with them The situation escalated into a whole bunch of people I had no relationship with. You asked me not to publish that. They told me another story about why Palmer was fired, with poor performance ratings that I knew were also wrong. At that time, the head of Oculus AR and Board of Directors called on all employees to stop talking to me. That was pretty much the end of this relationship. I felt I was being lied to and I could not talk to the staff anymore. Of course, many continued to talk to me because they were not satisfied with the situation.