17 episodes

Gamecraft is a limited series about the modern history of the video game business.

Beginning in the early 1990's, the video game business began a radical transformation from a console and PC packaged goods business into the highly complex, online, multi-platform business it is today. Game industry legend Mitch Lasky and game investor Blake Robbins go on a thematic tour of the last 30 years of gaming, exploring the origins of free-to-play, platform-based publishing, casual & mobile gaming, forever games, user-generated content, consoles, virtual reality, and in-game economies across the eight episodes of Season 1.

In Season 2, Mitch and Blake are back with a new series analyzing the state of the video game business in 2024. They start with a macro view of the current business, before looking at some hot topics in gaming: the rise of powerful independent game studios, emerging markets for games around the world, how innovations in artificial intelligence will change game creation, and the renewed importance of intellectual property in the game business.

Gamecraft Mitch Lasky / Blake Robbins

    • Leisure
    • 4.9 • 77 Ratings

Gamecraft is a limited series about the modern history of the video game business.

Beginning in the early 1990's, the video game business began a radical transformation from a console and PC packaged goods business into the highly complex, online, multi-platform business it is today. Game industry legend Mitch Lasky and game investor Blake Robbins go on a thematic tour of the last 30 years of gaming, exploring the origins of free-to-play, platform-based publishing, casual & mobile gaming, forever games, user-generated content, consoles, virtual reality, and in-game economies across the eight episodes of Season 1.

In Season 2, Mitch and Blake are back with a new series analyzing the state of the video game business in 2024. They start with a macro view of the current business, before looking at some hot topics in gaming: the rise of powerful independent game studios, emerging markets for games around the world, how innovations in artificial intelligence will change game creation, and the renewed importance of intellectual property in the game business.

    Artificial Intelligence (Ep. 16)

    Artificial Intelligence (Ep. 16)

    In their final episode of Season 2, Mitch and Blake take on the complex and highly speculative topic of the impact of recent improvements in artificial intelligence on the games business. Your hosts acknowledge that the sector is moving so quickly that this episode could be obsolete by the time it airs, and warn that it's difficult at this early moment to look too far into the future.
    Mitch offers a loose framework for thinking about AI in game production, mapping this framework to specific areas of game creation and publishing that could be effected by AI. They discuss in particular the disruption that could be caused by massively increased efficiencies in the creative pipeline, the impact on the game labor force, and how the incumbents may be more vulnerable in games than in other software spaces. Mitch tells the story of his first meeting with then-game developer Demis Hassabis (today the CEO of Google DeepMind). Mitch and Blake look at the unpleasant prospect of what behavioral analysis, population clustering, and dynamic ad personalization may mean for the dark arts of paid customer acquisition.
    After a look at what AI-enabled game creation might augur for distribution platforms already choked with content, they look at the bull and bear cases for game AI, and its implications for the future of the games business.

    • 1 hr 13 min
    Intellectual Property (Ep. 15)

    Intellectual Property (Ep. 15)

    Mitch and Blake look at the ins and outs of intellectual property licensing in games. After discussing the checkered history of the practice, they look at the creative and business reasons why licensed IP continues to be valuable to game creators. 
    After a quick look at how IP licenses actually function and what to expect from licensors, Mitch and Blake discuss IP arbitrages -- finding gems in the rough that can be licensed at lower cost but with considerable customer acquisition lift, using the examples of Tony Hawk, Kim Kardashian, and Sponge Bob. They draw an important distinction between celebrity endorsement and IP licensing.
    The move on to a deep dive on EA Sports, one of the great IP licensing-based businesses ever created in video games. They talk about the EA "house style" of realism based on actual teams and players, and what that meant from an IP acquisition standpoint. Mitch explains their high-priced exclusive licenses with the NFL as well as their complex clockwork licensing regime for the product formerly known as FIFA, which was so resilient it allowed them to cease licensing the master IP itself. They also talk about the sports where EA lost -- like baseball and basketball.
    Your hosts turn to the topic of the recently-announced Epic/Disney deal. They present their outsiders' view of Epic's IP partnership strategy, and how Epic has tried to weave media IP, celebrities/influencers, and music licensing into a massive re-engagement scheme of on-going eventfulness for their "forever game" Fortnite. This leads to a discussion of Disney's struggles in gaming and comparisons to the game strategies of their studio competitors Universal and Warner Bros.
    They conclude the episode with a look at outbound licensing from game IP -- so-called "transmedia." They look at some early examples, then turn to the recent break-out hits like Super Mario Brothers, Five Nights At Freddy's, The Last of Us, and Arcane. With dozens of new game projects in development in Hollywood after the success of these properties, Mitch and Blake wonder whether outbound licensing will add a new revenue stream for developers who take the risk to develop original IP.
     

    • 1 hr 10 min
    Distribution (Ep. 14)

    Distribution (Ep. 14)

    In perhaps their most important episode of the series, Mitch and Blake explain what they mean when they use the term "distribution" and why it is so important to their understanding of how the video games business functions.
    Like they did with the term "publishing" last season, they try to recontextualize distribution as a much larger and more important concept than simply moving atoms or bits into commerce. Your hosts define distribution as the myriad of systems that exist in between the developer of a game and the ultimate end-user of that game, all intended to enable access to the game. They explain how every choice of system extracts a cost, how the sum of these costs -- both monetary and non-monetary -- effects enterprise value creation, and how the colloquial notion that "distribution is a commodity" is incredibly naive.
    They provide many examples of how this concept actually functions in the real world of the games business, including how packaged goods distribution worked, why customer acquisition is almost always an arbitrage, and what happens when a distribution system breaks.

    • 1 hr 10 min
    Going Global (Ep. 13)

    Going Global (Ep. 13)

    Mitch and Blake discuss the massive expansion of gaming in emerging markets around the world. The begin with a discussion of the big-picture factors driving this expansion -- primarily mobile technology, but also new business models, payment systems, and demographics. 
    They then take a closer look at the Middle East and North Africa, and how the different approaches that companies are taking in Turkey, Israel, and Saudi Arabia are making that region one of the fastest growing in the world. They contrast it with the Latin American market, which has had a longer history but which operates quite differently. 
    They turn to Southeast Asia, why it's so interesting as a gaming market, and then discuss the explosive growth of Sea Ltd. They discuss the imporance of Singapore as a trade and banking hub, and how it's attracted investors and operators to the region.
    After a quick look at the Sub-Saharan African market, they discuss India, the sleeping giant of gaming markets, and why it has failed to deliver on its promise for the last several decades. Mitch shares some personal anecdotes about doing business in India, and traveling to a remote area that has become the flash point in a geo-political rivalry.
    They conclude with a discussion of developments in the Chinese game market since 2020, and consider why the market has stalled. They look at the impacts on economic issues and intervention by the Chinese Communist Party, and the toll that the latter has taken on China's largest domestic publishers and on the perception of the market in the West.

    • 1 hr 7 min
    Independent Intervention (Ep. 12)

    Independent Intervention (Ep. 12)

    Mitch and Blake explore the idea of independent game development. They attempt to define "indie" in the video game context -- something that proves more difficult that it might seem on the surface. They discuss the early successful indie developers in the 90s, and examine how the technology and business innovations that revolutionized the industry in the 20th century (online distribution, new platforms, new business models) catapulted indie developers into positions of power and influence that rivaled, and even surpassed, their incumbent competitors. They discuss the new publishers like Annapurna who are curating indie games under a brand that functions as an important aspect of the go-to-market for the games they are publishing. They conclude with a look a the modern "incubation" environments where new indie developers are cutting their teeth, such as Roblox and UEFN/Fortnite Creative.

    • 1 hr 3 min
    A Changing of the Guard (Ep. 11)

    A Changing of the Guard (Ep. 11)

    Mitch and Blake expand on last season's discussion of platform-based publishers by introducing a new kind of company: the game-enabling software platform. The five companies they discuss (Epic, Unity, AppLovin, Discord, and Roblox) are all pursuing customer aggregation strategies similar to the platform-based publishers, but -- with the exception of Epic, which has attributes of both a publisher and software platform -- they are doing so with enabling technologies (game engines, advertising tech, and communications software) rather than by producing content. 
    Your hosts talk about the evolution of what had previously been considered "tools" businesses into bona fide platforms. They discuss the differences in strategy of these five companies, why they have become so valuable (a combined $80 billion in market value), and how Wall Street has responded to the three that have gone public. They discuss how these companies have established themselves as key players in the marketing and distribution of games, and what that means for the industry.

    • 1 hr 19 min

Customer Reviews

4.9 out of 5
77 Ratings

77 Ratings

Cpl. Mushroom ,

Hands-down favorite

As a software exec and passionate gamer, I am annoyed by how much I love this podcast. Mitch’s fascinating perspective and Blake’s organic back-and-forth is fantastic. Now I’ve listened through Season 2 and have no more episodes to look forward to, so minus 1 star for that. For that reason I can only give it 5 stars.

Chad Timblin ,

Heads up: one of Gamecraft’s episodes perpetuates false info about Satoru Iwata

In Season 1, Episode 06 of Gamecraft ("Console Castles”, around minute 29:36-30:30), Mitch Lasky talks about a false story of Satoru Iwata punching someone at an investor meeting as if it actually happened.

(More info about this is shared in a Medium article titled “Satoru Iwata NEVER Punched a Man at an Investor Meeting.”)

I emailed Mitch and Blake to politely point out this inaccuracy and to ask them to please consider uploading a new audio file for Season 1, Episode 06 that does not include the false Iwata story. I also asked them to please consider removing the "Iwata chooses violence" link from the episode's show notes.

Mitch sent me two email replies. In one of them, he wrote: "I am a busy man and I am not going to honor your request. I have my own issues with Iwata whom I dealt with personally and I don’t share your belief in his sainthood. I have disavowed this story publicly and that’s the end of it.”

One's opinion of Iwata is not relevant to the fact that a false story about him was propagated on the Gamecraft Podcast. Also, I never claimed that Iwata was a saint and I have not found any evidence of Mitch publicly disavowing the false Iwata story. It's possible that Mitch did publicly disavow the false Iwata story in the joint Acquired/Gamecraft podcast episode, but that portion of the conversation was cut from the public version of the podcast (this is just speculation).

Since Gamecraft presents itself as an authoritative source of information on the video game industry, it should be held to a high standard of accuracy. Gamecraft cannot be trusted as a reliable source of information because the co-hosts have demonstrated an unwillingness to take a few minutes to remove an egregious factual error from one of their episodes.

Out of respect for the late Satoru Iwata (and accuracy), I hope that one of the co-hosts of Gamecraft chooses to upload a new audio file of Season 1, Episode 06 that does not include the false Iwata story. I also hope that they remove the misleading "Iwata chooses violence" link from the episode's show notes.

These corrections would help prevent future Gamecraft listeners from being misled to believe a false and defamatory story about Satoru Iwata.

If these corrections are made, I will gladly update my review and change my rating to 5 stars.

JDart ,

Like a video game MBA (lite)

As a casual gamer who grew up in the N64 and game boy era, have very much enjoyed getting a peak behind the curtain of the business of video games.

Mitch’s stories of the industry + key moments in its history (John Carmack, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, Madden) are enjoyable and fun to listen to.

Not to mention learning about games I’ve never heard of or some of the unique innovations they’ve fostered.

Definitely sent this podcast to a friend running an Indie game publisher out of Colorado.

Have binged both seasons as soon as they came out + am already hoping to see a third.

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