The StarCraft Business Model

The StarCraft Business Model

No, this isn’t a post about logging into while you’re on the clock. Nor is it a post that outlines the strategies that will finally undermine those Koreans that you can’t seem to defeat. No, this is about what I believe much of corporate America is missing. It is why startups will always hold the underdog advantage over long established institutions of business. It is about pushing the envelope as a company and not getting comfortable. This is certainly nothing new, but it is easily forgotten — it is the Starcraft business model.

Let me set up a foundation for those of you that might not know the difference between Dark Templar and High Templar. Starcraft is a real time strategy game. Each player begins with a handful of units with the goal of conquering the competition through military prowess. Players are enabled to build structures, advance their technologies, and build stronger military units as the game progresses. In order to do this, however, the player must harvest resources (minerals and gas) and make decisions as to which advances to spend them on. The game can be extremely fast paced as players expand their bases to harvest additional resources and build up their armies.

The Secret is in the Resources

The truth is, there is a direct corellation between the speed a player spends their resources and his or her skill level in the game. It does nothing for you to ‘save your money’ in the game. If you aren’t using as many resources as you’re gathering, then you aren’t growing as fast as you could be. At the beginning of the game, this is easy. There are few units to manage and your enemies are still busy building up their own bases. As the game progresses, however, it is easy to become distracted as you launch attacks or work on establishing new territory. If you aren’t equally aggressive at building bigger and better military units, your resources will start to build up and give you a false sense of security.

When looking at corporate America, it is easy to see a number of parrelells between these concepts and the downfalls and successes of business strategies. A startup is a new player in the game. They are eager. They are hungry. They harvest every resource possible and optimize everything they can to make sure they survive. The pace is fast and focussed, and they make those handful of units quickly do exactly what they need. Why? Because if they don’t, they won’t survive. It’s as simple as that.

Compare that to the corporate giants of business. They have long since graduated from the startup phase. It is easy to get comfortable. To let those bank accounts get plenty of extra padding. To hire people that are ‘good enough’ rather than looking for exceptional talent. They are slow and unresponsive. They have reached a level of success that they find noteworthy, and let their guard down.

They’ve forgotten to spend their resources.

They have reached a level of success that they find noteworthy, and let their guard down.

There is no excuse for companies with vast growth and resources to fall from grace. It is a result of complacency and overconfidence. They have the resources at their disposal to create incredible innovation and change, but they either fail to see it or are convinced that they are invincible. They continue to manufacture reapers when they should be pumping out thors. And while their initial strategy is what gave them the edge over competition in the first place, if they don’t continue to spend resources aggressively and adapt their strategy, they will get overtaken.

This has happened to plenty of businesses. But there are a handful of corporate business that I’d like to look at specifically. In every case, they had the resources to dominate their industries and should still be leading their markets today. But because of a few missteps of complacency, they have become victim to younger and newer strategies.


Blockbuster had everything they needed to beat Netflix and Redbox to the punch. They lost touch with their industry by putting too much emphasis on having a physical store to rent movies. They assumed customers would be ok with higher prices if they were allowed to keep the movie for a week. But really, who would watch GI Joe more than once?

I worked at blockbuster during my first year of college. I know first hand of their over confidence because I was there to see how they handled Netflix — they didn’t care. They were confident that no one would want to get their movies by mail. This was about the same time that TiVo began to be a more commonplace luxury. It was apparent that the industry was changing. And if that wasn’t enough evidence, Blockbuster’s problems were compounded with the introduction of Redbox. Why would I want to pay $4.50 to rent that copy of GI Joe for a week? I’m only going to watch it once. I don’t need a fancy store with racks to get lost in. Blockbuster failed to see this as a viable feeling of its customers. Because of these mistakes in judgement, I no longer use Blockbuster for anything. Instead, I stream Netflix on my iPad and Playstation, and I go to Redbox when I want to see the new releases. There is no reason that Blockbuster, with the physical inventory, the industry experience, the financial backing, and the brand name, couldn’t have been the service I still use today to watch a movie.

American Auto Makers

Remember the GMC Jimmy and the Chevy Blazer? Remember the Mercury Sable and the Ford Taurus? What about the Chrysler Town and Country and the Dodge Caravan? Guess what? Each of these pairs were the exact same model with a different logo. But this is nothing new. Ford, GM, and Chrysler have been doing this for years with several of their vehicle models. I have never seen a more blatant example of complacency and laziness in an industry. It is apparent that innovation was very low on American automaker’s list of priorities. Meanwhile, other brands like Honda and Toyota have become popular because they pushed for better and more reliable vehicles. Not to mention how Hyundai and even Kia have started to creep into the market as big hitters. The automobile was invented nearly a century ago. It still has 4 wheels, uses pedals, and uses a wheel to steer. Why? Does it have to stay that way? These are the questions American auto makers should be asking and using their resources to develop.

I have absolutely no sympathy for Ford and GM. Overconfidence doesn’t even begin to describe their problems. They have consciously tarnished their brand names in an effort to make more money. It should be no wonder to them why they are being destroyed by imported brands. While these American companies were busy slapping different logos on the exact same model, foreign companies were busy actually trying to innovate and provide vehicles with the features customers were looking for. Ford, GM, and Chrysler got lazy and stopped pushing themselves. Ten years ago I would never have considered buying a Hyundai or Kia. Now? I’d definitely buy a Hyundai, and I’d at least consider the Kia. How do companies like Ford and GM let that happen?


It is remarkable how slow the newspaper industry has been to adapt to technology. The Internet has devastated them. And what is worse, they continue to be the last ones to realize it. Newspapers still struggle to understand a media other than the printed page. Rather than investing in new resources by hiring new experts in interactive media, they believe they can figure it out themselves. Attention newspapers everywhere: hire digital media and user interface designers. It is time to swallow your pride and move forward.

Newspapers had the readership and the writers to create phenomenal content for the web and mobile world, and they also had the brands and credibility to be a go to source for information on the web. But just like Blockbuster, they are stuck in the physical realm and unwilling to take the risks necessary to get out of it. And now? It’s probably too late for them even if they embrace the change. If you’d like to see this first hand, check out Page One: Inside the New Your Times on Netflix.

What About You?

This is a great lesson to corporate America and businesses. If you don’t invest in R&D and continue to utilize your resources, you will get left behind. But what about on a personal level? I believe the same principle still applies. When was the last time you bought a book related to your career and actually studied it like you were in school? When was the last time you paid for a subscription to learn a new skill? How many websites have you designed that looked more or less the same with a different logo? Don’t settle. The more resources you have, the more you should be spending. You must push yourself. You must invest in new sources of inspiration. You must learn new skills.

You must construct more pylons.

Scott Jensen

Hi There!

I'm Scott, and I love writing things like this. But I spend most of my time working as a designer.
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