Tony Goodman, the CEO Behind Wordscapes and How They Make Successful Games Across Genres
“When I was 12 years old, I sold my brother’s toys to make money.” Perhaps this was the first indication that Tony Goodman, the leader behind the world’s top word game, Wordscapes, would become a CEO.
Having an entrepreneurial edge at an early age has come in handy for Tony, who leads Dallas-based studio PeopleFun. It’s also the reason he was able to successfully create a number of gaming companies and then segue from mid-core to casual games.
Tony was recently honored as a finalist in the D CEO and Dallas Innovates Startup Innovator of the Year Award and was profiled in Dallas Innovates’ The Future 50 in Dallas Fort Worth and D CEO Magazine’s On the Table column.
A gamer at heart
Born in San Francisco, Tony moved to Texas in 6th grade and grew up playing games. His passion and curiosity started with board games like Risk and when video games took the industry by storm in the ‘70s, he quickly became a gamer.
When Tony was in junior high, he met his now-business partner and good friend John Boog-Scott. John, Tony, and Tony’s brother Rick founded Ensemble Studios in 1995. At Ensemble, they developed the cult classic strategy franchise, Age of Empires, which has a total of eight games and was published by Xbox Game Studios.
PeopleFun and the success of Wordscapes
After selling Ensemble Studios to Microsoft and making more mid-core strategy games, Tony decided to pivot into the casual mobile game industry. Casual mobile games were starting to grow rapidly and Tony was eager to try something new.
Tony launched PeopleFun in 2012 with John and Angelo Laudon, both of whom worked with Tony at previous companies. Having spent several years making mid-core and AAA games, Tony, John, and Angelo wanted to create games that were fun and would appeal to a broad audience, which is how they landed on word games. PeopleFun has since created global favorite Wordscapes, now three and a half years old. The game continues to dominate the word category in the iOS and Android app stores with more than 120 million downloads, 4.5 million daily active users, and 14.8 million monthly active users
Built by gaming industry veterans, PeopleFun’s success is largely attributed to its people. Just like their name, PeopleFun has fun people and was founded on the belief that good, innovative ideas can come from anywhere — even if you’re not a product designer or engineer. As a result, the studio was able to nearly double its employee headcount over the last year and move into a new office (before the pandemic). The team continues to develop new features and ideas for Wordscapes and their other hit titles such as Word Stacks, Word Chums, and Wordscapes Search.
Life lessons in his journey as a leader
While Tony has been able to lead several successful companies, winning wasn’t always easy. In college, Tony landed a cold calling job and thought it would be easy after seeing his roommate quickly excel. But after failing miserably, he confessed, “I’m a terrible salesman. I can get people excited about things, but only things I’m excited about.”
This key moment in his life helped him learn to accept himself and recognize his strengths that would later embody CEO-worthy qualities, “I started to trust and lean into my own traits, regardless of where that might take me.”
Tony, who still enjoys playing games, says some of the biggest lessons he’s taken away from his years of building successful companies is two-fold:
1. Don’t lose sight of goals: “Solving big problems is easier than solving small ones. It’s easy to get stuck on the small problems and forget your end goal. Focus on the big problems—you can be more creative and holistic about what you’re solving.”
2. Feedback and collaboration: “We encourage all employees, regardless of tenure or level, to provide input on our games. If we want to make the best games, taking feedback from every part of the organization is how we help employees grow and ensure that we stay on top of trends.”
Get to know Tony: Rapid-fire questions
No CEO profile would be complete without a rapid-fire Q&A!
Here’s what Tony had to say about his favorite food, greatest inspiration, and must-have software tool.
Q: Who’s the greatest inspiration in your life?
I have two sources of inspiration: Steve Jobs, who has single-handedly given birth to new marketplaces and caused seismic shifts in our world—multiple times.
I also draw inspiration from the people in my life: My wife, family, friends. and co-workers. I believe that there is greatness to be found in almost all individuals. It’s just a matter of looking deeply.
Q: What are you passionate about?
Technology. We live in extraordinary times of change. A million years ago the hand ax was invented by Homo Erectus. That primary tool was unchanged for 980,000 years. The technology curve only began to spike 20,000 years ago. We live in a time of crazy acceleration where technology evolves more in a decade than the previous million.
Q: Name something you could never part with.
I love my original Dungeons & Dragons manuals.
Q: What would your last meal on earth be?
Q: What is your dream car?
A flying car.
Q: What’s the toughest business challenge you’ve had to overcome?
Stop trying to be other people.
Q: What is an office/home accessory or tool you can’t live without?
Slack. How did we ever get by before Slack?
Q; What is your favorite movie?
2001: A Space Odyssey, then the Star Wars franchise.
Q: What is one book you think everyone should read and why?
The Lord of the Rings. It is an underrated masterpiece that has defined modern fantasy.
Q: Name one item on your bucket list.
Living my life on my own terms.
Q: What has 2020 taught you?
I’ve learned that working remotely was much easier than people expected but that working remotely can be much less productive than people think.
Q: What has you most excited about the future?
How mankind’s desire to improve itself can overcome all short-term social and political obstacles. Goodman would like to add more word games and expand into puzzle games.
PeopleFun is hiring! Visit their careers page to see their open positions.