The Four Swords by Paul Tozour
What’s it About?
As a “leadership fable,” The Four Swords illustrates valuable lessons and perspectives on leadership, management, culture, values, and team-building through an entertaining fictional narrative.
“Game design is not rocket science.”
At least not to one fictional video game developer in Paul Tozour’s The Four Swords: A Parable of Leadership, Video Games and Dead Dragons. Yet anyone reading this most unusual study into the world of game building and the lessons garnered from the process might beg to differ.
The market for video games is slated to hit about $217 billion in 2023. That’s a lot of muscle-bound barbarians, magical lands, sound effects and, of course, dead dragons. It’s also a mass of conversations and strategies, different design approaches, creativity, technology, intricate coding, values and objectives, and delicate decision-making.
Some — just ask Tozour’s characters — put it on a higher plane: “Video games are art … the art form of the twenty-first century. This is the first and only art form that’s interactive, that can talk back to you, that has a mind of its own … presenting the player with endless challenges and puzzles.”
Later on, another character takes it even further: “We are not here just to give people another me-too video game sequel. We’re going to give our player tools for emancipation.”
A Parable of Leadership
In elevating the state of video games to some kind of religious, life-altering mechanism (hey, based on what I’ve read from Tozour about their development, I’m buying in), what is the author really giving us?
On the surface, he has created a fascinating parable, a fictional story based on experiences, of the game industry, its inner workings, personalities, obstacles and objectives. He takes readers into the business with such succinctness they will feel like they are actually sipping cold coffee at the end of the conference room sweating on every executive’s outbursts. It’s that good.
But Tozour has bigger fish to fry. After all, The Four Swords, as the subtitle implies, is “A Parable of Leadership.”
Tozour tells a story of four game developers, a story full of difficult conversations, team conflicts, challenging decisions and the harsh realities of video game development. “Nearly every chapter,” Tozour says, “is a case study that shows a difficult situation and gives you the opportunity to ask yourself whether or not you agree with the way the characters handled that challenge.”
While the book goes in-depth in the video game industry, Tozour notes that “the fundamentals of leadership and team dynamics are universal” and can apply to any industry or organization.
For example, without having to get into individual characters or situations, consider some of the topics addressed by the anecdotes: hiring decisions and who to include and exclude; the political balance and influencing the playing field; the culture code; situational awareness; generational differences; technology reviews and safeguards; backstabbing; inappropriate sarcasm; getting people to speak out; the art of negotiating; taking risks; understanding the big picture; showing professionalism; respecting customers; self-awareness; and more.
A Captivating Story
While many of the situations in the book may seem over-the-top, Tozour assures us that they are “actually quite tame compared to the reality of the events that inspired them.”
For a very entertaining read, a captivating story, and a business primer on leadership and management science, The Four Swords delivers on all counts. Lessons are not beaten over the head but conveyed by way of real-life-influenced examples, letting readers in on a fascinating and fast-paced industry.
“This is the book that I wish I had been able to read when I started my journey in the game industry in 1994, and the book that I personally would give to new game developers on their first day on the job, whether they are artists, programmers, designers, producers, or anything else.”
About Paul Tozour:
Paul Tozour is a former game developer of 28 years and was the founder of Mothership Entertainment and design lead for sci-fi strategy game Aven Colony. Paul previously was a developer on Nintendo’s Metroid Prime series, Microsoft’s MechWarrior series, and Dungeon Siege by Gas Powered Games.
He received his Master’s in Technology Management degree from the University of Pennsylvania in 2013, where he studied organizational behavior and design under Adam Grant.
Paul was also the founder and leader of the Game Outcomes Project in 2015, a highly acclaimed study that investigated the correlations between game studio culture and project outcomes.
Author: Paul Tozour
Page Count: 277 pages