Atari Co-Founder’s Key Advice for Tech Pros

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If you’re interested in programming or video games, you probably know about Nolan Bushnell. The Atari co-founder is remembered as a “founding father” or “godfather” of the gaming industry, as well as the person who infamously turned down a one-third stake in a little startup called Apple back in 1976.

Although he helped pioneer an industry forty years ago—ancient times, in a technology context—Bushnell still has some good advice for developers trying to build the next generation of great games. In his view, today’s smartphone games are analogous in their design and simplicity to the software he oversaw during the Atari’s heyday—with one crucial difference.

“There’s the network effect, that I always wanted to use in the early days of Atari, but we never really had those tools,” he told The Guardian in a recent interview. “I think there’s a virality to player-v-player, particularly if you do it asynchronously, and that’s powerful.” Hear that, game designers? The godfather of gaming thinks your next big release needs a social component.

Even for those tech pros who aren’t interested in social gaming on smartphones, Bushnell has some key advice. “I feel like I’ve made all the mistakes in the world, and I feel that sharing your mistakes is probably the biggest gift you can give someone,” he told the newspaper.

That doesn’t just apply to programming, but the business of tech, as well. For example, Bushnell regrets selling Atari to Warner: “But I was faced with a situation where I needed a tremendous amount of capital to launch the Atari VCS. It was a big project; in fact, it was probably a bit of an overreach.”

So what’s the takeaway? Pay attention to others’ mistakes—they can help you avoid pitfalls in your own projects and initiatives. The Silicon Valley advice to “fail fast” only works if you use the lessons from failures to refine your own evolution.

Image Credit: Martin Cloutier/Shutterstock.com

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