20 Questions with Don Sechler, MBA ’05
Don Sechler, MBA ’05, is on a mission to create the next generation of entertainment in the horror genre, and his dream is anything but scary.
At the beginning of 2023, Sechler left his role at PlayStation, where he worked for nearly a decade, to partner with multimedia company Blumhouse Productions on their newest project: video game publishing. Blumhouse is best known for its work on what moviegoers will recognize as some of the biggest scary movies of the past 10 years, including films like M3GAN, Get Out, Insidious, and Paranormal Activity.
As the co-founder and chief financial officer of the newly formed Blumhouse Games, Sechler hopes to bring the company’s horror movie magic to the world of gaming, a market he is more than familiar with after his time with PlayStation.
“We want to apply that concept of making original, indie-budget, creative content to the interactive space,” Sechler says. “We will work with independent game developers by producing and publishing their content; operating as a true creative partner that helps maximize their creative vision by making the best game possible. We want to tell original stories that push creative boundaries in the genre, and hopefully we end up seeing our game worlds on the big screen.”
To learn more about Sechler’s background, career, and of course, what’s coming from Blumhouse Games, we asked him to answer our 20 questions.
Blumhouse Games has a horror genre focus. What drew you and your co-founder to the genre?
My co-founder, Zach Wood, is a horror super-fan the whole way. I definitely grew up on it, having seen more than my fair share of stuff like Nightmare on Elm Street and Stephen King’s movies as a kid in the ‘80s. In terms of games, I was most into Resident Evil on my original PlayStation (I still remember that first jump scare from my couch in undergrad!). But more clearly, I saw the business opportunity. I think the industry was lacking a publisher at a scale that could elevate the genre and help connect fans to the best content. Horror fans are younger, more diverse, and play more games than the rest of the market, and that’s all really exciting.
Where do you want to see Blumhouse Games in five years?
Even if things go according to plan, we won’t be releasing our first games for 18-24 months from now. But hopefully in five years, our initial slate of game releases has at least a handful of games that fans and critics love and we’ve already begun planning for further growth.
What kind of work do you do at your job?
My official title is CFO, but in more casual terms, my co-founder helps make the games (he’s a video game producer with 25+ years of experience), and I help run the business side. Right now, that’s a lot of business development as we seek out and sign our first batch of games, but also just getting our business set up with systems, processes, contracts, etc.
What’s your favorite part of your job?
Even in just these first three months, I can’t tell you how many times we’ve heard creators tell us that the passion projects in their studios, the things they talk about during game jams or around the proverbial water cooler, are in our genre. There just seems to be an overlap here that we can really tap into. The idea of bringing true passion projects to life that hopefully delight fans is definitely my favorite part so far.
Did you ever plan on working in the video game industry, or was it something you fell into unexpectedly?
After graduating from Ross, I spent eight years as an investment banker and private equity investor, and that followed a pretty straight track in finance starting from undergrad. During my time in private equity, I had an epiphany that I was more interested in (and better suited for) operational, team-based roles, and that I may as well try to do that in an industry that I have personal passion for.
What is the financial side of the gaming industry like? What are some of the challenges you face?
Honestly, I was able to apply my investment lens to PlayStation’s business more directly than I might have thought. I created a methodology comparing the total economic benefits of a partnership to the cost to acquire users through such partnerships based on the lifetime value of a customer, and that underpinned virtually all of PlayStation’s third-party partnerships in the PS4 and early PS5 era. However, games are ultimately a creative product, so the hardest parts are both forecasting the expected performance and evaluating what would have happened in a partnership or non-partnership scenario.
At Blumhouse, that challenge is exacerbated because everything we do is new, non-annualized, and indie, and we are intentionally pushing creative boundaries for which comparable games can be hard to come by. So we know our forecasts will be “wrong”, but hopefully they will be correct enough directionally for us to make the right business decisions.
What’s something people don’t know or understand about the video game industry?
A lot of people my age or older probably don’t understand how big of a business it has become. It has long surpassed movies in terms of revenue and now gets compared to movies and music or sports combined. Younger generations spend more time playing video games than watching TV and movies and consider it more core to their identity.
Do you have a favorite video game?
I could never pick just one. I will say at this stage of my life (with two kids and a job that keeps me plenty busy), I genuinely appreciate short-form experiences. In other words, the very kind of indie games we aspire to make. Some of my favorite of those games include Firewatch and Dredge (two games we would have been proud to be associated with here at Blumhouse Games, had we existed, as we have an expansive view of the genre to include suspense or thrillers with a dark edge), and Untitled Goose Game (which is definitely not a genre fit but is great fun).
What is your proudest accomplishment in your career so far?
One project that I felt a lot of personal responsibility for that impacted millions of gamers was PlayStation’s decision to enable its gamers to play games cross-platform, meaning playing with friends on Xbox, PC, or mobile. My role was to make the business case and show the economic impact of making the decision vs. the status quo. Given PlayStation’s market position and historical conservatism, changing company policy on this topic felt like a big deal.
Biggest challenge you’ve overcome?
I’m really proud of how much I’ve accomplished relatively independently, like putting myself through school. I’ve navigated life without a ton of guidance; my father was an alcoholic and convicted felon, and my mother was a first-generation American that didn’t go to college. It was my lifelong ambition to attend the University of Michigan, and I got accepted for undergrad but had to turn it down for financial reasons. I am thrilled that I later got a second chance to attend Michigan Ross to earn my MBA. Go Blue!
What was your dream job when you were young?
The two that come to mind are professional athlete and astronaut. Those weren’t in the cards, but outer space is definitely fertile ground for good scary stories.
If you could go back in time, what advice would you give the person you were 10 years ago?
I probably would have conditioned myself to expect a roller coaster ride, not just because of the inherent nature of video games, but also because when you do work in an area of passion, your “care level” for outcomes is really high, and that’s a double-edged sword. Fortunately, I’ve had a lot more ups than downs, but those downs can be intense in a much different way than a private equity deal not going through.
What was your best business decision?
I’m strongly hoping that, in a few years, I can unequivocally say that it was the decision to trade in a team of 100+ that I deeply care about and a multi-billion dollar P&L to build something of my own at Blumhouse Games.
Did you have a favorite professor?
I loved virtually all of my professors, but how could I not say Gautam Kaul here? I didn’t get to have as much class time with him as I would have liked because I skipped out of basic finance, but anyone that frequently compares finance to love has a leg up with me.
What do you miss about Michigan Ross/Ann Arbor?
My friends. Going to all the home football and basketball games. The food (Frita Batidos didn’t exist yet when I was in school, but I always look forward to going now, and RIP China Gate). And just that eternal ray of energy and optimism that exists when you put so many talented and ambitious people together at an early inflection point in their lives and careers and give them the tools to do anything they can dream up.
Favorite TV show to binge?
This list changes all the time, but some favorites in the last few years include: The Last of Us, Cobra Kai, Winning Time, I Think You Should Leave, and Andor.
Favorite comfort food?
It’s gotta be pizza.
First album/CD you ever bought?
This is a tie between Van Halen’s 1984 and Run DMC’s Raising Hell, both of which I bought on cassette tape at the Phoenix swap meet.
Most used app on your phone?
Probably a bird-related app that I need to move on from for various reasons.
What’s your pet peeve?
People who are only focused on themselves and have no concern for the impacts their actions have on others.