Find the fun in what you do - Sid Meier and his unique approach to games

Since the 1980s, his name has been synonymous with releasing top-notch titles like Sid Meier’s Civilization and Sid Meier’s Pirates! The upcoming release of Sid Meier’s book makes it the perfect occasion to take a look back at his stellar career and to ask the talented developer himself a few questions.

History mixed with game development

Usually, in every hero origin story we write, we tend to start with an opening sentence like “nothing suggested that this would be their fate.” But actually, in the case of Sid Meier, it was exactly the opposite. Born in Sarnia, Ontario, in 1954, he studied history and computer science at the University of Michigan - two faculties that practically defined his future career.
After graduating, Meier went to develop cash register systems for department stores. It wasn’t bad work, but he clearly wanted to do something more creative. In the early 1980s, he bought an Atari 800 – the computer that made him (as well as many other developers from his generation) fall in love with video games. And since he could play them, Meier decided, “why not try to create them?”


In 1982, Sid Meier started a video game company along with his former co-worker, Bill Stealey. Their first creations were mainly flight simulators. This actually isn’t surprising, since they both loved the classic Red Baron game and Stealey was a graduate of the United States Air Force Academy. Thus, MicroProse made its developing mark with titles like Hellcat Ace (1982), Solo Flight (1983), and F-15 Strike Eagle (1985). Sid Meier ended this creative period with the release of F-19 Stealth Fighter in 1988, a game he considered an almost ideal simulator.
From then on, he focused mainly on strategy games. The first one, Sid Meier’s Pirates! from 1987, became not only a cult classic, but it also marked a new era of the video game industry; one where developers started to experience a level of celebrity. When asked why his name was attached to the title of the new game Sid Meier recalls:
- The decision to put my name on game titles came from Bill Stealey [...]. Bill used to tell the story that Robin Williams gave him the idea at a Software Publishers Association dinner in the 1980s, back when MicroProse – and Robin Williams! – were both members of the SPA. I was busy making a Pirate game at the time and wasn’t at the dinner. I do remember telling Bill that I was making a Pirates game, and him saying “You’ve never made an adventure game before, maybe we should put your name on the box so the people who liked F-15 will recognize you that made it and buy it anyway.”
- I’ve come to think of the Sid Meier! who appears on box fronts is a little different than regular, behind-the-scenes Sid Meier. That Sid Meier! is always smiling and having a good day, and isn’t trying to figure out how to make his game fun, or struggling with technical problems in development, or just plain having a rough day.

And so, a tradition was born. The next strategy games from MicroProse - Sid Meier's Railroad Tycoon (1990), Sid Meier's Civilization (1991), and Sid Meier's Colonization (1994) became massive hits. They also included what would become a trademark of the creator’s titles – a wholesome game experience that included the complexity of the title’s mechanics with an intuitive interface and neat visuals. How does he manage to achieve that? The answer came to us when we asked him about the favorite title of his own creation:
- When you make games, each one is like your child. You always love something about them. Maybe some of them struggled a little bit to come together, some of them had an easier development, but you always remember something positive about each of them. I feel like every game I’ve attempted has given me a chance to try something new, or explore something that I enjoy in a video game form.

Firaxis Games and further projects

In 1996, Sid Meier left MicroProse along with his two coworkers, Jeff Briggs and Brian Reynolds, and founded a new company, Firaxis Games. Here, he continued to develop a string of highly popular strategy games. For example, Sid Meier’s Gettysburg (1997) brought gamers a new approach to civil war battles, while Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri (1999) took the civilization-building genre into space.
Firaxis Games also secured rights to some of Meier’s former titles and went on to make sequels. Games like Sid Meier's Civilization III (2001) and Sid Meier's Civilization IV (2005) have shown everyone that nobody understands the series as well as its creator. Meier also got back to his earlier management passion with Sid Meier’s Railroads! (2006). Although he turned 66 this year, his creativity still hasn’t slowed down. Employees from Firaxis Games headquarters in Maryland say he drops by from time to time with some new ideas to catch gamers’ attention. To all the aspiring developers he has a bit of simple yet meaningful advice:
- Make games, and make them about things that are interesting to you. Find the fun in what you do, listen to your players, and make changes based on what they’re telling you – even if you disagree with them, try to understand what they’re telling you about the game that you’re making. Build on what you learn, and don’t be afraid to put a project aside when you feel stuck on it. You can always come back and take it off the shelf again, and maybe you’ll have an answer later.

The legacy

Recognition for Sid Meier’s achievements came quite early. In 1996, GameSpot considered him one of the "Most Influential People in Computer Gaming of All Time” describing him as "our Hitchcock, our Spielberg, our Ellington”. Three years later he became the second person (after Shigeru Miyamoto) to be inducted into the Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences' Hall of Fame. Many other accolades followed.
When asked, if he thinks that games can be more than entertainment and change someone’s perspective on the world, he answers:
- I’d like to think so. At their best, games can encourage you to think a little differently, try a little harder, and push yourself just a little bit beyond. Video games have inspired millions of people to work on some of the biggest problems we face today, and I’m happy and fortunate to have had a career that has let me pursue what I love, making games that people enjoy making.
On September 8 of 2020, a book titled “Sid Meier's Memoir! A Life in Computer Games” is set to premiere. Like many faithful fans around the world, we can’t wait to get our hands on it!