Michael Buffington

Doing What I Love

Monday, April 02 2007

A few weeks ago at SXSW I got to see one of my heros give what was unarguably the best talk I’ve ever seen. I feasted on Will Wright’s every word, and if you watch the video (1 2 3) of his talk, I think you might be able to understand why I rank it so high. Of course, I’ve always ranked Will’s work highly.

I can thank Will Wright for sparking my interest in computers more so than any other individual. We had some sort of Apple II clone in my house as a kid, and Zork and the like were fun, but I really didn’t get into computers until the original Sim City came out.

I spent a month during the summer between junior high and high school working for my dad so I could earn the money to buy the game, and spent the rest of the summer begging my mom for some computing time. My mom was writing a book at the time, so play time was sparse.

The next summer I worked hard manual labor for the entire summer break so that I could earn enough money to buy my own computer. My dedication was impressive, and I kept myself going by reading reviews about the RPGs Ultima 6 and Ultima 7. Ultima 7 had me especially drooling because it had simulated weather patterns. I was thrilled with the idea that at any moment while exploring this land that it could start snowing. At the end of the summer I had $2400 saved up (amazing what $5 an hour will get you as a teen).

My dad and I went to a computer show underneath the Anaheim stadium, bought a 386-33 with 2MB of RAM and a 85MB hard drive. I’m pretty sure he had to match my dollars, because at the time this was a top of the line machine.

I savored Ultima 6 and 7 for a few months until I discovered the modem. Within a year of buying my first computer, I had set up a BBS in my bedroom, and had hooked into Fidonet, effectively putting me on the Internet in 1991. I had several hundred local BBS members. We traded files, swapped stories, and played games like TradeWars 2002 and BRE along with a multitude of other BBS door games. It was a sublime period in my life, and when I look back on it, it’s nearly shocking to think that some of the player to player interaction and community building aspects were stronger then, even with the limitations, than a lot of multiplayer games have now.

Within those first few years of owning a computer I knew, without question, that I wanted to do two things as a career and two things only: build communities, and build games. I’ve spent time doing both of those things in the past 12 years, but rarely both at the same time – I was most recently the community manager for Values of N, and before that built and ran llor.nu.

And now that Values of N has announced its second product, I intend to reorient myself with the original path I set out for so long ago. I’ve left Values of N – no bridges were burned and I wish Rael and crew the best the of luck. I learned an incredible amount about true entrepreneurism and how everything you do matters in a small startup and will use the lessons liberally moving forward.

I need to do some housekeeping first, but within a few months I’ll be putting my focus back on building clever games on the web and building real communities around them. Will’s talk didn’t make the decision for me, but the seed he planted certainly helped remind me of what I enjoy doing: uniting and enabling people to have fun.