A Short History of Dark Unicorn Games
By John O’Neill, Chief Juggling Officer, Dark Unicorn Games
Treadmills are funny things, and I’m not shy to say how much I hate them. You can spend so much time running on those mechanized beasts, and never move from a stationary position. Sometimes it’s hard to see what progress you’re making if you don’t look up at that glaring screen and wince at how far you have gone, and how slow a pace you have done it. I (obviously) like to whine about running on them almost every day, but I still do it for a couple of reasons. First, it’s good for you, as my lower resting heart rate and shrinking waistline will attest to. Second, it lets you get inspired through sweat-induced, mind juggling pace setting and reflection. It’s during one of these sessions that I think back to, about 12 years ago. I was running on a treadmill at a small gym in Durham, North Carolina alongside a colleague who I already greatly respected as a talented game developer and friend. Later I would have the great fortune of calling him a business partner.
Ben and I were working for a large game studio in the area, and had been talking about pie-in-the-sky dreams of starting our own development shop. Part of the inspiration was the unknown, another the accidental confidence in our experience, and probably most was the blind idiocy of going out on your own (right before a fantastic financial recession in 2008) to control our own destinies. After a number of subsequent treadmill jaunts, we built up the confidence to cut ties from our stability and security, and start our first game development studio together. We also convinced Adam that it was a great idea taking control of our own path and building the types of games we wanted to do, in the ways we wanted to do them. I think he thought we were crazy. I’m pretty sure his exact words were “cool, but you guys are insane.” He was so right.
Fortunately for all three of us, that first company managed to teach us a number of valuable lessons. Most of them were failures. But like running on that daily treadmill, we kept on spinning our wheels (and thoughts) and picking up a little traction each time. And then more recently, something fantastic happened, and this time not so accidental. Dark Unicorn Games was born. This time, we weren’t noob business wannabe entrepreneurs with those same pie-sky ideas. We weren’t the same team who blindly chased the projects in order to make the bills, payroll, insurance, loan payments, and so on and so forth. We didn’t start the company in the same stakes of holding our destiny in the hands of a work-for-hire deluge of agreements. This time, we started with a simple plan, clear vision, and with more knowledge and experience of how to make that ineffable business success a possibility. We struck a balance between gifted art, brilliant design, and solid business mindsets. These first few years of our new business have been calculated and careful, but with our creativity unbridled and finances secure, we approach the upcoming first physical product launch for the company.
I think for me, the treadmill is that never-ending wheel of challenging, learning, refining, and becoming better at what we do and how we do it. I still hate running on it, but I can’t argue with the results that it provides. I look to challenge myself with more respect for that unknown and try to become better at what I can to support the health and success of our young business. And with that, I’m off for my daily learning journey. And a whole lot of sweat.