Assessing the Cost/Benefits of a Rockstar

June 22, 2008

Like Las Vegas, the tech sector is known for its bright lights, those geniuses whose inspirations change our lives. Easier to recognize than describe, these entrepreneurs and technological innovators see things, solve things, and do things that most of us struggle to even comprehend.

But in what can only be described as some sort of cosmic balancing, great strengths in one area have a tendency to be offset by stunning weaknesses in another. And in many instances these deficiencies or idiosyncrasies levy costs of accommodation. For companies weighing the net benefits of some of these special people, the task can be daunting.

The Wall Street Journal recently described the dilemma facing games giant Electronic Arts and its attempts to acquire a firm called Take-Two Interactive Software. For Electronic Arts, the prize in this acquisition is an independent business unit called Rockstar which just happens to produce the most successful video game of all time, Grand Theft Auto (GTA).

Rockstar’s biggest asset is founder Sam Houser, the creative genius behind GTA and the whole genre it dominates. In fact, it is generally acknowledged that the prodigious Mr. Houser and his long list of innovations have very few industry peers. Unfortunately, Mr. Houser is also described in the article as a ‘lunatic’. Thirty-six years old, with a scruffy beard that goes down to his chest, he is said to be mercurial, prone to screaming, insistent on marathon work hours and rarely one to dispense praise. He is also quirky, immersing himself for periods of time in back-alley street culture to ensure the authenticity of his extremely violent urban games. The work environment at Rockstar is described as both intense and tense though Mr. Houser draws the line on reports that he once yielded a baseball bat in the office. And last year, when two employees died he hired a spiritual healer to exorcise the firm of the bad vibes. It goes on and on and on…

So to summarize, you have the most successful game franchise in history and you have a company that one person described as the kids on the island in Lord on the Flies lead by Col. Kurtz in Apocalypse Now. If you are buttoned-down Electronic Arts how do you accurately analyze the cost/benefits on the acquisition, integration and the management of that organization?