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From American Laser Games to Sirenia Software

The end of my time at American Laser Games was probably one of the more painful and physically taxing on me of all the places I’ve been.

It was the last few months of my time there. The New CEO was making noises about wanting me to move to Seattle, but the company had very little money.  He asked me to get an estimate of what it would cost me to move up there. I contacted some moving companies and got some estimates. When I sent them to him, one of the costs I put in there was the price of boarding my dogs for the weekend that we were going to be on the road driving up from New Mexico. We had intended to ship the dogs ahead of us and drive up, rather than try to ship the cars.

His response was, “You have friends up here, correct?”

I said, “Well, I have some people that I’m acquainted with. I wouldn’t necessarily call them friends.”

He said, “Well, perhaps you can leverage them to keep your dogs for you.”

The idea that he would use the word “leverage” with “friends” was just one of the small details that should have tipped me off, but by this time I was completely blind to the whole situation and mostly wanted to preserve the concept of a game company for girls.

Then, I got asked to come up to Seattle to discuss “business plans” for what would become probably one of the worst personal experiences I have ever been through to date.

I flew up to Seattle and was picked up by the New CEO. He took me to my hotel, a Holiday Inn level place that was on a busy road with no sidewalks and no businesses or shopping centers within walking distance. It was approximately 3PM. He left me there with the instructions that “someone” would come for me in the morning.

So I was left alone in this B level hotel, with no way to get to food other than the hotel restaurant, which was only open between 5-9pm. I had not eaten since early that morning. I was starving. I did manage to get a couple of candy bars from the machine and a coke. That held me over until dinner, which was poor even for a Holiday Inn.

The next morning arrived and one of the new people picked me up and took me to the office. I was given a very brief tour and then taken to the “conference room” – a room that was shared with all the tenants in the building. I knew something was up because you could cut the tension with a knife.

The room itself was unpleasant. It had no outside windows, four white walls, a white conference table and white chairs. There was a small wood table in the corner that had a phone on it, however the phone wasn’t working. I was directed to sit in the chair in the corner, furthest from the door.

The rest of the people arrived – the new CEO, one of the Board of Director members, the accountant and one of the two people who had been brought in by the New CEO.

For the next four hours, I was subjected to what can only be described as hell.  The New CEO shouted, pounded the table, make accusations, and called me names. He did everything he could to make me look as stupid, naive and backwards as possible; and tried again and again to point out  how I was unfit to lead anyone, let alone a game company product development.

At one point I was asked if the other people in the office had their resumes out. When I responded they did not, I was asked why they didn’t. I said because they trusted me. That I had told them we would get through this as a team and that we would stick together until it was done. That we *believed* in the project.

The New CEO laughed at me.  “Then they are stupid.. and YOU are stupid,” he  said. And so it continued .. for four solid hours.

I was trapped.
I couldn’t get out of the room (I was blocked in the corner)
I couldn’t get to a phone (No cell phones at that time and the phone in the room didn’t work.)
I couldn’t even see out.

I finally quit trying to defend myself and resorted to mental tricks to try to keep myself from crying. I stared at the table top and in my head went through the grooming procedures on my show dog, Ch. Shurcan’s Finders Keepers… it was the only way I could distance myself enough that I didn’t just melt down. I had vowed I would NOT cry in front of these people.

Finally, they decided to adjourn for lunch. We all left the room and the Board Member agreed to drive me to the restaurant.  As we walked to the car, he put his arm around my shoulders and said, “That was pretty rough in there. I’m sorry for that.”

Ironically enough, we went to a sushi restaurant.. and it was the very first time I’d ever had sushi. A terrible introduction as it all tasted like ash to me.

The New Board Member took me back to my hotel after lunch. It was about 3PM. My flight out was the next morning at 10. They told me to take a cab to the airport and left me there. I went in and flopped on the bed and cried for a solid hour.

When I did make it back to New Mexico, Tim met me at the airport. He had a grim look on his face. I asked him what was wrong. He told me he had just received a phone call from the New CEO. They  had promoted him to Head of Product Development (my position) and that I had been demoted to “designer.” They then told him his first job was to tell me that I’d been demoted and he was taking my place.

They then said they wanted him in Seattle the very next week for “orientation.”

There, in the airport, at that moment, we finally decided we had to leave.

Tim did fly up to Seattle the next week. His experience was rather different from mine.

He was met at the airport by the New CEO. They took him to a five star hotel in down town Bellevue. They picked him up again that evening for dinner at the New CEO’s house, where they grilled steaks on the patio which overlooked the bay, drank wine and socialized for the evening before returning him to the hotel.

The New CEO then picked him up again in the AM for the business meeting in which they gave him a tour of the offices and met in the New CEO’s office to go over the new plans for the company. This was followed by lunch and an afternoon trip to the airfield to see a demonstration by the Blue Angels.

At one point, during the show, the New CEO said to Tim, “I just don’t understand Sheri.”

Tim answered, “What don’t you understand about her?”

He said, “I tried everything I could to break her. Everything. But she just wouldn’t break. I just don’t understand.”

Tim said quietly, “She a very strong woman.”

… the funny thing is, to this day  neither he nor I understood exactly what that meant. Break me to what? Why? But that didn’t matter. What did matter is we then knew the attack on me had been planned and purposeful.

When Tim got back, we put into motion our plans for leaving the company. We decided we would return to Austin and try to set up our own company doing games for girls. We told our landlords we were leaving, got estimates and set the date.

We then made the call to Seattle. I don’t know how the New CEO didn’t expect the call, but apparently he did not. He went completely silent. Then, after amoment, he offered us an increase in pay to stay. We refused and ended the conversation as quickly as we could. I then announced the change to the team. They were unhappy, but not surprised as I had kept them abreast of everything that had been happening.

In two weeks, Tim and I had packed up, lock stock and dog kibble and began the trek back to Austin to set up Sirenia Software, Inc.

Published in20 Years in Games - looking back


  1. Xyzzy Xyzzy

    It’s beyond understatement to say that their behavior was horrifying… It really makes me wonder why the heck the game industry in particular has been so severely dysfunctional; I get the feeling (not just from your posts) that the massive degree of sexism is tied directly into & fed off of it. Would those guys be as profoundly, openly sexist if they were in another business altogether?

    My guess is that the jerk’s comment about trying to “break” you is that it had the same kind of origins & intent that an abusive partner does… That is, that he wanted you to stop offering your experience/knowledge & using your mind independently, and to instead act like a little girl with a crush on her teacher: bringing him suggestions in hope he’d praise you, waiting to be told what to do rather than taking charge in any way, etc. I’m basing my ‘guess’ on the admitted motivations of the emotionally abusive guy I was in a LTR with for a few years.

  2. Drew Trujillo Drew Trujillo

    Wow. I had never heard this story. You were – and I’m sure still are – the best. I still hear your voice in the back of my head in terms of getting it down in the design document and how it’s the bible. 🙂

    Big hugs. Say hi to Tim for me.


  3. Royce Love Royce Love

    I just recently got to hear you speak at the Full Sail Panel held Friday. I am an online student, and even though we missed a bit of the beginning due to technically issues, I was so glad that I attended the panel. I learned a ton of great things from your colleges and you there. I started reading up more and saw this post, and just still can’t believe how people think into situations like that is acceptable.

    I am glad that I grew up learning to be open to every type of person and trying to make things work until you cant.

    I am glad the experience didn’t destroy your passion and dreams!

  4. Michael Michael

    I found your blog courtesy of my obsession with Serpent Isle, but I have since read each of your entries regarding your career in video game development, and have found them to be both fascinating and also incredibly confronting. While it is not a surprise to read that high-rolling CEOs ran their companies with a detached attitude and an iron fist (not to mention a lack of understanding of their industry), the stories you have relayed of personal attacks and abhorrent staff management are shocking in their focused, needless cruelty. It’s hard to imagine how being sitting an employee down in a room and making fun of them for hours could possibly improve the bottom line, yet the New CEO in your entry above was likely paid a large sum of money to do precisely that.

    Sadly, having spent some time in the Bay Area recently, I doubt very much that things have changed. CEOs in charge of software development companies may now be more knowledgable about their industry, but I doubt the staff management has improved. It seems the modus operandi of these companies is to flog the employees for all they have, and then put a bullet in them. Even that is a step up from the needless humiliation you suffered.

    I hope you have found writing these stories out cathartic. They are stories that need to be heard – and not just from the point of view of sexism in an industry still dominated by men either. While I would wager your experiences are more common per capita of women in the industry, I doubt very much they are confined to them. The more voices that expose this behaviour, the closer the industry will be to rooting it out. While it is often missed by CEOs trying to improve the bottom line for the next budget review, the smartest companies are run by people who know the most profit is to be made when the employees want to be there, not when they are bullied into submission over issues they know infinitely more about.

    I’m looking forward to reading more of your stories of your time in the industry.

  5. Tim Tim

    I went to Seattle to meet our new CEO back then, and he was really weird. Looking back on it, I understand that he had a completely different vision of how companies worked than Sheri and I did. It was a vision I didn’t care for.

    The idea that a guy could ask me to dinner and schmoozing after emotionally abusing my wife was repugnant to me. I had to get some emotional distance from the scene, so I could act rationally.

    After all, had I simply called him a out for talking about my wife that way, he’d have fired us at once. We needed time to get set to go, and I bought us that time by being rational and cold. It was a good learning experience, but one that I’d not wish on anyone.

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