A story from Yahoo Finance about a 16 year-old kid named David Eisman has been making the rounds on social media today, inspiring a mixture of eye-rolling and anger. The headline kind of jumps out at you.
The answer, it turns out, is because his father is rich and famous and helped him find people who would take orders from a child with no experience in exchange for no pay.
"Eisman also has a famous dad: money-man hedge fund manager Steve Eisman, the guy played by Steve Carell in the movie The Big Short," the story states. "Having a wealthy dad gave Eisman access to a lot of free advice on how to work with and manage people, but alas, no cash. His dad hasn't invested in his startup."
What his dad did do, on the other hand, was to help him find people around the world who would work for no pay.
"I hired two programmers, artists, a writer, a marketing team from Poland and two music composers. The youngest person is 18 and the oldest is 30, from Pakistan. It's an international team. My dad helped me with the contracts," he says. "You’d be surprised at how many people are willing to work on video game projects for free," he says.
He also claims no one has ever made a "walking simulator" with a female hero which is, to put it incredibly nicely, a naïve statement. If nothing else about this situation caused alarm bells to go off, let that one be the nuclear warning: He doesn't take his business venture seriously enough to do a single Google search about the market into which he hopes to enter.
Yes, this is all ridiculous
Many children dream of making games, and the concept of the "idea person" who can come up with designs and thoughts and have other people actually do the work of making a game is often mocked in the industry. Every developer has stories about the person who sends unsolicited ideas for games that are sure to be hits from people who have no clue about how games are created nor the market into which they're hoping to sell their products.
The Yahoo story is just the byproduct of a clueless kid who happens to have access to a wealthy parent, which of course leads to media coverage.
A teenager with family money and who knows how to get a story or two printed in the tech press brings exactly that amount of value
This isn't about poking fun at a teenager who doesn't know how silly he sounds taking advantage of other people who are working for free, at least not entirely. It's about kids growing up knowing how to exploit people, and knowing how to manage risk as a developer who actually knows how to do things outside of pretending to have invented the concept of Gone Home.
Eisman is getting people to work for him by promising a portion of the sales of the game, should it ever be completed. The people he's hiring, the people who will actually make the game itself, are likely bringing at least a bit of value to the enterprise. A teenager with family money and who knows how to get a story or two printed in the tech press brings exactly that amount of value. It's not nothing, but those things don't lead to finished games.
Heck, games are cancelled all the time. Games with teams led by qualified individuals and being created by teams with decades of experience. Some of these games you hear about. Others never existed in the public eye at all; buried before they were even announced at events like E3.
Making games is hard in the best circumstances, and these are not the best circumstances. What's likely is that if the game is finished, and that's a large if, it will be forgotten in an incredibly crowded market. Which means no sales. Which means that the revenue there is to share will be minimal.
The value is already only flowing in one direction. The kid will get to say he launched a game, but the people who made that game for him will be out a significant portion of their time with almost no money to show for it. They're taking all the risk, while Eisman gets to have fun with his hobby. This is one of those situations where people are working to create value for one person while that person is offering nothing in return except an unreasonable risk on the part of his workforces.
Eisman says he's a businessman instead of a developer, and that's undoubtedly true. He's already exploiting the people under him which, at age 16, makes him a precocious American business person indeed.