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Blake Harris Talk – How "The History of the Future" Almost Hasn't Happened



Blake Harris is a historian of the video game warriors. His first book – Console Wars: Sega, Nintendo and the Battle That Defined a Generation – came out in 2014 and it chronished the fight between Sega and Nintendo in the 1990s when Sega stole a march on Nintendo with the launch of Sega Genesis . The book was written in a dramatic way, and it was licensed for a film adaptation by Hollywood directors Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg.

The success of the book allows Harris to finish his day job as a Wall Street trader and it enabled him to investigate his newest book, The History of the Future: Oculus, Facebook and the Revolution that Swept the Virtual Reality . Harris spent more than four years on the book, with close access to Palmer Luckey, who founded Oculus as a 1

9-year-old resident in a trailer in front of his parents' house.

After Facebook acquired Oculus 2014 for nearly $ 3 billion, Harris was able to gain exclusive access to the executive team to chronicle the experience of virtual reality. But after Luckey was released in March 2017 and Facebook learned the inner story that Harris picked up, he lost access. It did its job harder, but Harris endured and published a 500-page tome on the story.

In the book we see the role that CEO Mark Zuckerberg played in Luckey's departure, as well as deioning the relationship between top managers. We asked Facebook for a comment on some of the stories in the book, but got no answer. I participated in a book reading that Harris gave in Mountain View, California, and this is a transcript of that session. In that I asked some questions, as well as the audience members. I also did an interview with Harris who will run on another day. I found Harris's talk, interview, and book to be very enlightening on the story I covered on a daily basis as a writer at GamesBeat.

Here is an edited preview of our interview.

Above: Blake Harris is a writer of consensus and future history.

Image Credit: Dean Takahashi

Blake Harris: Ten years ago, or seven years ago, I had a day job merchandise for a financial broker in New York. I worked for Brazilian customers, dealing in coffee and soybeans and corn and all these things. When I first started college, it was fun. It was much like the movie Trading Places, with all that chaos. Then everything went electronically and it wasn't that fun, but it gave me more time to daydream about writing.

During my 1920s, I was on the side, very successfully. I stopped spending all the money I had saved from this job making movies, also very failed. One of the major turning points for me, a disappointing turning point was that my writer partner and I wrote a script called The Evil Tyrannical Ex-Dictator. It was about a dictator who was overthrown from his country in Europe, came to the United States and worked at a DMV in the witness protection program. This was the script we were assured of, would eventually break us and make us millions of dollars and start our career and let me wear shorts every day. Since a week after we finished it and sent it to our manager, Sacha Baron-Cohen announced that he was making a movie called The Dictator. Everything we had put together was immediately worthless.

I understood that. If I was a studio, I'd rather bet on Sacha Baron-Cohen, who has a good track record and is very funny than me and my friend Jonah. Around that time – I was probably 27 years old – I had always hoped to do it as a writer, I began to think it might not happen. I guess I had always imagined somewhere – it was probably inspired by Dave Coulier at Full House – if I didn't do that when I was 30 or 35, I'd give it up, it never happened.

But I would always write, and because I would do that, I wanted to write things I really love, because there is always a possibility that Sacha Baron-Cohen might work on a similar project, and what I do can stop being, not worthless, but commercially not viable.

As is often the case, I am the case when I have interviewed people who found success, the project that I decided to do without any monetary goal in mind was the one who stopped being successful. It doesn't always work that way, but it usually is in the ballpark. This was what I did out of passion and didn't try to fit any template of an action comedy about a dictator.

Above: The Oculus Rift.

Image Credit: Oculus

Before I even decided to write Console Wars, I really just wanted to read it. I grew up in the 80s and 90s. I, as an adult, love the behind-the-scenes business stories. I remember going to a Barnes and Noble on 86th Street in Manhattan – I live in New York – and ask where the video game story section thought it would be close to music history or movie history. Then I learned that there was no such section in the store, and there was not even a single book in the video game store, the video game's history, the video game's business. The only slightly related thing they had was walkthrough guides.

It just seemed very strange to me. At that time, I hadn't played games for many years, but I knew it was a big industry. I liked watching other people play. I'm very bad at computer games, which is partly why I don't play that much. But I love the industry and I love what is out there. And so, before I even imagined there was a project here, I just started to get in touch with Sega and Nintendo employees from the early 90's.

My biggest concern was that when children grew up I imagined that the job at Sega or Nintendo was like working at Willy Wonka's chocolate factory. Although I guess the working conditions were not so good there. Like going to his factory, maybe. I would talk to these people and they would say "No, working at Sega and Nintendo was just like any job and punching a time card." But almost everyone I spoke to, especially in the beginning, they described it as the greatest experience of their lives. It was inspiring to me.

I got together with more and more contacts and started to compile a sketch and a story. Console Wars is essentially a story, a case study on how Sega went from five percent of the market to 55 percent of the market and topped Nintendo's monopoly and then shot straight down. The rising part of that track, there are many business lessons I learned. One of them was that Sega did a really good job of identifying that they were unknown, like me, and they adapted to younger celebrities who would help their brand.

I literally googled for celebrity players and Seth Rogens name came up. He was definitely out of my league. I didn't expect to hear from him. But I knew that this guy liked Nintendo, probably also liked Sega, so I got my boss send him a copy of a treatment I put together. Miraculously, he was interested in meeting. I met him and his partner Evan Goldberg in January 2012, seven years ago now, and I remember meeting them on a Thursday. It was not only surreal and unusual to be bumpy with someone I knew from the movies, but I remember thinking, "Wow, this is the first time I've ever had a meeting with a real decision maker." I would always meet with creative managers who would end up telling us that our people would call each other and nothing would happen.

At the end of that meeting, we spoke for a couple of hours, and then later that day I received a conversation that Seth wanted to produce a movie based on the book I had not written yet. But I had interviewed about 100 people, so I had a good sense of history. He also wanted to produce a documentary. It was amazing and life-changing. I remember going back to my goods job four days later on Monday and thinking: "Wait, my life would change, but I'm back to work at 6:30."

Eventually Scott Rudin went into the project and We stopped going out with the book proposal. Blix forward here, but the last note here was that I remember when we went out with the book proposal that even with this large package of people who were very successful than I was, who made movies and documentaries on this, we went to 25 publishers, and 22 of them passed because they said video game books are not selling. I remember that it was strange to say. It is a way of saying that if someone out there is interested in writing a video game book, I always try to make myself available to give advice, because I thought it was a pretty crazy thing for them to say. I'm happy that Console Wars sold well and I like to read video game books, so if you have an idea, get in touch.

It came out in May 2014. It was a very big, change experience for me. I ended my day job. I remember telling my boss that it was a little sad that I would never write a book as good as Console Wars, and he said "No, you will continue to improve with each book." I said, "Well, I hope so, but I never find a subject that has such a convergence of pop culture, technology, entertainment, greater than life personalities and billions of dollars."

It remains to be seen whether VR and the legacy of Oculus come came somewhere near Sega and Nintendo, but I stopped sinking my teeth in this story and spent three and a half years on it. I think the first memory I have of it was because it was so big that I had a book that came out, it was also a big deal when someone wanted to write an article about me. I think the first publication to contact me was Popular Mechanics. They made a profile on me. It was so much that my dad came to the photo shoot. Everyone in my family was very happy about it. The question came out on Mother's Day 2014, so I forgot about Mother's Day Brunch to get a question about Popular Mechanics. I was so excited to finally see myself.

Before I even got there, I was so interested in what was on the cover, which was Palmer Luckey, the founder of Oculus and this cover story of how his company had sold to Facebook for a few billion dollars. I was a little familiar with Oculus, but I never stopped paying much attention to it. I thought it was a good sign when I went back to the restaurant and didn't give my mother the problem with her son in it because I was fascinated by the story of Oculus.

Then I knew I wanted to write a book about Oculus, or in the near future I suspected it would be something I would like to do. But to tell the stories the way I liked to tell them, it really requires credible access to those concerned. I want to be able to place readers in the room with them on the shoulders of the head. It took me about 14 months from my first visit to Oculus to get permission from Oculus and Facebook to be introduced to someone at the company and set up interviews. It finally happened in February 2016. It was a month before Oculus launched the Rift product, CB1. I felt like I was there, on the precipitation of something good.

My last book was a rise and fall story, and I thought this one would just be up to the top of the world. So it didn't show up. I would not say that this has been a rise and fall story, but I believe that everyone who is interested in VR has been a little surprised at how it played out in recent years. The fact that the protagonist, one who performed on Popular Mechanics cover and inspired my interest, was no longer with the company in less than a year. It was the book upside down. But as an author we go where the story takes us. I tried to follow that story when it came to places I never imagined writing about, especially politics and crazy sub-reddits.

  Oculus Quest fine print:

Above: Oculus Quest fine print: "Neon circles are not included."

Image credits: Oculus

This book took three and a half years. It was three and a half years of me working full time on it. Console Wars took three years, but I had a day job for two of them. It was not the emotional investment this was. Because this one came into politics, and many times the policy I disagree with, it was quite exhausting. I can't believe it's clear. It was a joke between me and my wife – or not a joke, because she did not think it was fun at all – that I would do with the book in the next few weeks, because I said every week or so in two and a half year. She deserves a great award. I wish she was here. She got the engagement in this book. My mother was pretty upset about that, but Katie really deserved it.

Nor did the publisher write on this three and a half year project. They expected the book to be done in 18 months. For the most part, they were supportive. There were some up and downs. Because I didn't do it at the right time – I stopped turning it two years later – it was two years I didn't get paid. My wife was wonderful enough to financially support me during that time. I'm glad she did. I'm glad I didn't take the easy way to just finish the book to fulfill a contract. I was sure to get to the bottom of the topics I investigated.

Question: There was a post that went on your Reddit AMA where you mentioned that Facebook at some time pulled access because of something they saw in one of the advance copies you sent them. Could you talk about it?

Harris: Oh yes. It was not an advance copy. In general, I have always tried to be very open and open and semi-collaborative with the people whose stories I write, because I feel they owe so much. Of course, this does not mean that they get editorial approval over what I write, but I think to share with them – in the worst case they can give me feedback I disagree with. But often it traces other ideas.

Early on, or I suppose I have had a pretty good relationship during the two years in my relationship with Facebook. I shared material with them and the people involved. As for the issue of Palmer Luckey, the founder of Oculus, and his who is no longer with the company – for those unfamiliar with him and his resignation from Facebook, the short version is that in September 2016 he made a $ 10,000 donation to a pro-trump organization. That organization's goal was to post signs all over the country, meme-like signs, a very internet-inspired organization. Their goals had nothing to do with the internet, but the way the story was reported was that essentially Palmer and this group had been responsible for all the crazy shit that you would see on the internet, all the hateful, misogynistic, anti-Semitic things from the past legislature. It was not true, but it certainly knew if you were on social media, because it continued to be reported and referenced in articles that report the same thing.

From that time, Palmer was basically sideways at Oculus for six months, and then he left the company. There were not too many details when it happened, in March 2017. I had read Palmer quite well through where I was at this point in the project. I knew it was not his choice to leave. But in the beginning, Facebook banned the commentary on what happened. Then, after I continued to share the material, I told them, frankly, my biggest concern with the book was Palmer's exit and how to handle it. I couldn't have any of the main characters in the book just disappear and say, "Guess, it was the end." I needed to explain.

Eventually I got an explanation from a handful of people at a fairly high level, people who could speak on behalf of the company. I came to believe that that explanation was fictitious. They went so far as to say that he chose to leave the company, which I would bet my life is not true. Some other details did not seem to add up. I began to think about why they told me this and not just say "No comment" or present a more credible story. I thought that because of my narrative non-fiction style, which intentionally does not belong to specific information to sources, I felt as if they were essentially trying to wash misinformation through this style.

I heard the same story from several people, it has confirmed. Palmer couldn't talk to me, or didn't talk to me, I guess, because he was legally gagged from doing so. I felt I was used to putting this information out there. I ended up sending a chapter that was just a straight question and answering transcripts with one of the people there to see how they would react when their names were put on this material.

The conversation was on the disc. The irony of the conversation that I sent was that in the conversation I had asked this person if they thought Palmer had been treated badly by journalists who broke the news about him, because the conversation with the journalists had become out of the record and then said this person: "No , no it is not by the record, unless you get a journalist to agree that it is of the record. " I thought if there was any doubt about it, it really wasn't one of the record call.

After I shared it with them, the situation escalated to a completely different mass of people I did not relate to. They asked me not to publish it. They gave me another story of why Palmer was fired, which had to do with poor performance judgments, which I also knew were not true. Also around that time, the head of the AR and VR told Oculus that all employees would not talk to me anymore. It was pretty much the end of that relationship. I felt like I was lying, and I could no longer talk to the employees. Many of them continued to speak to me of course, because they were not happy with the situation.


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