Monday, April 7, 2014

Dear John Carmack

Full disclosure.  I never really liked (or was good at) playing video games – a tough admission from one who has lived the digital entertainment life, watching it crest and wave, strategizing and brainstorming its course.  But what you created so many years ago fascinated me and opened my eyes to a genius I had merely glimpsed in my years at Cornell University, surrounded by friends with nicknames like, “The Bug Finder.”

And then, there I was, back in 1994 with my own geeky nickname, “The DOOM girl.”

So, why I am writing you years later, and almost 20 years since the momentous launch of DOOM II (“Doomsday,” October 10, 1994)?  

Well, through my work and play, I am both a communicator and active observer of the studied, and at times astonishing, changes in consumer technology, digital and social entertainment. I am always hungry for the next big thing.  Our press invitation for the DOOM II launch presaged, “Prepare Yourself for the Second Coming.” I am wondering, is your new venture the “Third Coming"?

John, you have inspired me to look forward – and back…  

My father wanted me to be a corporate lawyer because I was argumentative, opinionated and good on stage. He had me pegged, but I went in an entirely different direction.

In 1992, I was the 16th hire at Technology Solutions, the first NYC tech PR firm in “Silicon Alley.”  It was the start of the tech boom, and my career as a PR flack representing the new nerds-come-rock stars of tech.

Although I worked with IBM on its Internet initiative, SONY on its multimedia products (CD-ROM, MMCD), and Warner Home Video on the launch of DVD, my real passion was taking on the entrepreneurial companies with a great idea, creative –and at times, brilliant – minds and a bit of money.  My first client that fit that bill was Sierra Games, and with them I got to launch its many lines of software, the most dramatic play being its online service, The Sierra Network – the first time you could play checkers, chess or just chat or flirt with someone online across the office or across country.  

It was the days of this famous New Yorker cartoon, "On the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog.":

One fateful day, my CEO asked me to accompany him to a pitch in mid-town for a company called Good Times Entertainment and its new software division, GT Interactive. And this is how I found myself, a 20-something, wide-smiled, wide-eyed veritable PR virgin at a corporate boardroom table with two grey-hair executives sitting at either end and the rest of the chairs filled with their underlings, my boss and our agency staff.  They were grumpy, impeccably suited, bedazzled with gold jewelry and intimidating.

The boss man said something like this…

“We have three new software products that we would like for you to promote: The Fabio Screensaver, Richard Simmons Deal-a-Meal Interactive, and a game called DOOM,” (an unlikely ménage a trois).  He continued, “DOOM only exists as something called shareware, but we are told that it is incredibly addictive. We are going to put it in a box and on the shelves at Walmart and call it DOOM II.”

He looked around the table, and shook his gold bracelets in my direction.

“And, we would like you to promote it.”  (Really?)

Next thing I knew, I was on a plane to Mesquite, Texas, anxious but excited about meeting you, and the rest of id's team of twenty-something geniuses.

The first person I met was a smiley round-faced receptionist with pink circles of cream blush drawn on her cheeks.  It was Donna, but I think you called her Mom? She gave me a quick tour – the main attraction being the lounge area, which as I’m sure you recall, had been retrofitted to look like a 7/11 with freezer cases filled with every kind of soda imaginable and piles of junk food.

Donna brought me into the “biz guy’s” office and I was immediately charmed by Jay Wilber, an awesome dude, super smart and with a bright smile and floppy blonde hair.  Good thing, because we would be spending a lot of time together.

Next stop was John Romero’s desk where your very own videogame rock star was whooping it up at his computer, probably creating some badass monster or a hellish weapon that could destroy the world. 

And then, I was taken in to meet you.

I’m not sure if you looked up from your computer, so focused on the job at hand.  We talked about your new bright red Testarossa and of course, the graphics engine for of DOOM II.  You told me about how with technology you could make a competition in the virtual realm more exciting than in the real world.   You had a notion that the freedom to explore should not constrained by physical reality. And, your inner calm turned to excitement when you talked about the upcoming 3-D gaming engine you were building for a game called Quake that would deliver a truly immersive experience.  You had a unique banter, ending every sentence with an “mmm” that made you sound like a computer yourself.

I visited id many times, a Jewish city girl out of her element in the sprawling Texas cemented landscape. You all took such good care of me and my own super sidekick, Lori Mezoff.  We were always picked up at the airport by a stretch limo with a driver who made us feel like a princesses. 

Together with your massively talented colleagues, we went to conferences and on press tours to the country’s media hubs, and to London, offering hungry reporters first looks at the latest game, wowing them and leaving a lasting impression (maybe from Tom Hall’s origami;-)?).  And, when asked when the game would be ready, we always gave the standard line, "As soon as it is finished."

But you always stayed back, not interested in the spotlight, and with better things to do.

The story of id and your breakthrough technology and video games including DOOM and QUAKE – cult phenomena in all of their iterations – were the fodder for so many headlines and cover stories. I had the good fortune to work with the reporters placing stories in many of the nation’s top outlets.  I still have some of them:

Over these incredibly stimulating years, I was ultimately promoted to SVP, and together with an amazing team, we became the leaders in digital entertainment.  The ride lasted for 10 years and through Technology Solutions’ merger with Golin-Harris.  In 2001, with two babies at home, I left.  Two years later, I hung up my own shingle as Mann Cronin PR|Comm. 

You couldn’t pay for the education I receive as I continue to grow along with my clients, strategizing and taking risks, reinventing messaging and holding tight as their technologies break through and sometimes, break down.  From, a host of leading video game developers and publishers, to online movie ticketing (AOL/, to wireless gaming (JAMDAT Mobile) to the earliest Internet service providers (Juno) to your own personal QR Codes (Skanz) to connecting educators online and via social media (American Institutes for Research), to crowdfunding for videogames (Gambitious) to social marketing and mobile apps (House Party), there is no doubt that people will continue to embrace technology and want to live in a world that delivers it with simplicity and a personal punch, putting them in (perceived) control.

And then this weekend, I was reading the latest issue of TIME magazine and the story about Oculus VR, the virtual reality company that inspired you to leave id and become its CTO; the company that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg bought for $2 billion. 

Reporter Lev Grossman starts out, “To understand why Oculus Rift matters, its helps to know who John Carmack is.”  Well, I do, and I’m excited. Grossman’s story leaves you hanging with the holy-grail app of VR still an unknown. But, I want to know more.

Twenty years ago you had a notion that the freedom to explore should not be constrained by physical reality and I bet you have a good idea of how VR will manifest itself…and what the future will bring.  And, if you could give me a hint at what you are thinking, “The DOOM girl” would be much obliged.

Sincerely yours,


Reach me here:
Mann Cronin PR|Comm


Unknown said...

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Stephanica said...

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