SM: Electronic Arts sold your program and you were getting royalties at fifteen. Did you continue with your studies, or did you become a developer and start writing games and programs?
WH: Both. I did continue my studies. I went to Stanford for my undergrad and stayed there through the time I was able to get my PhD in computer science. While doing that, I continued writing video games as a high school student as well as worked in a team building bigger video games.
After finishing my degree, the little video game company that I started was acquired by another company. While I was in college we wrote a number of computer games, a number of which were published by Electronic Arts. We did a miniature golf as well as some popular adventure games. We also wrote the computerized version of Marble Madness. I did that while I was in college.
SM: Was there every a temptation to quit your graduate school and do that full time?
WH: There was certainly the temptation. The popular video games I had written had paid more than $1 million. To a college student, that is a lot of money. I stuck with school thinking that in the long run that would be important. As it was, I was very eager to finish graduate school because I wanted to continue in the area I was working. I was motivated to get through school faster.
SM: What happened when you sold the video game company?
WH: The video game company was sold just after I finished my PhD. I sold it because the company that I created was an outgrowth of the efforts I put into video games when I was a high school student. In the early 1980s a single person could write a video game. A single person could do the music, write code, and do the artwork.
As the video game industry grew, it was no longer possible for one person to write an entire video game. You needed a team of people to do art, a few programmers to code the logic, and a team for music. Consequently, in college the company that I had started was just growing naturally due to the requirements of the industry. During graduate school I realized that I did not know how to grow the company beyond that size. I was self taught and had never gone to business school. All I understood was how to be a developer. Recognizing that I was at a plateau with my abilities, I decided to sell my company to another company. Then I could learn from other people.
SM: How much did you sell the company for?
WH: It was not a lot. That company was sold for less than $1 million.
SM: It still gave you some cash at a very early stage. Did you work for them?
WH: I did. I quickly became the VP of engineering for Rocket Science Games. It was a San Francisco company that was a high profile, VC-backed, startup. Working at that company, I learned about VC, financing a startup, and building a company that could become a big company rather than building a small company that was stuck with no growth options.
I ran the engineering department for about a year before I left to start a company myself, this time with venture backing. That was in 1996.