Masters of Doom
Masters of doom-Book cover.jpg
AuthorDavid Kushner
CountryUnited States
PublisherRandom House
Publication date
May 6, 2003 (Hardcover)
May 11, 2004 (Paperback)
May 15, 2012 (Audiobook)
Media typePrint (Hardcover)
Print (Paperback)
Pages352 (Hardcover)
368 (Paperback)
ISBN0-375-50524-5 (Hardcover)
ISBN 0-8129-7215-5 (Paperback)
794.8/092/2 B 21
LC ClassGV1469.15 .K87 2003

Masters of Doom: How Two Guys Created an Empire and Transformed Pop Culture is a 2003 book by David Kushner about id Software and its influence on popular culture, focusing chiefly on the video-game company's co-founders John Carmack and John Romero.

Upon release, Masters of Doom received positive reviews from critics and has been placed on numerous "best of" lists for video game books. The book would later influence Palmer Luckey to establish the technology company Oculus VR, and Alexis Ohanian and Steve Huffman to found reddit.[1] In 2019, it was announced that the USA Network had greenlit a pilot episode of a potential series based on the book.


David Kushner was a contributor for news outlets such as The New York Times, Rolling Stone, and Wired.[2] Since this was his first book,[3] Kushner spent five years on research.[4] He moved to Dallas, Texas to conduct the interviews with the subjects, interviewing them late into the night.[5]


John Carmack
John Carmack
John Romero
John Romero
Masters of Doom focused on id Software's co-founders John Carmack and John Romero.

The book describes the "Two Johns'" respective childhoods, their first meeting at Softdisk in 1989 and the eventual founding of their own company, id Software. It discusses in detail the company's first successes, the popular and groundbreaking Commander Keen and Wolfenstein 3D games, as well as the new heights the company reached with Doom, which granted the company unprecedented success, fame and notoriety. It also discusses id's next project, Quake, as well as the aftermath of Romero's departure from the company and his founding – and the eventual collapse – of Ion Storm, his new game development studio. Kushner also describes the new gamer culture created by Doom and its impact on society.

While the games themselves are discussed in detail, Kushner's main focus is in the work dynamic and personalities that enabled their creation. He describes Carmack and Romero as the driving forces of id Software, but with very different personalities: Romero is presented as having unbridled creativity and considerable skill, but he loses focus when the spectacular success of the games allows him to adopt a rock star-like public persona. Carmack, on the other hand, is depicted as an introvert, whose unparalleled programming skills are the backbone of id Software, enabling the company to create extremely sophisticated games. However, he has little interest in – or even understanding of – the social niceties that enable people to enjoy working together.

Much of the book concentrates on this dynamic. While the two men initially complement each other well, eventually conflicts develop, leading Romero to be fired from the company. Carmack, the skilled creator of the complicated and fast game engines the company's products use, is repeatedly referred to as the only person in the company who isn't expendable, and this gives him a great degree of authority and influence. However, this influence transforms id Software into a considerably less pleasant and fun place to work and causes the company's games to become increasingly repetitive, despite their technological sophistication. Romero is on the opposite end of the spectrum; his Ion Storm is intended to be a very fun place to work, where "[game] design is law" (Ion Storm's slogan was "Design is Law") and that technology must be created to realize the designer's vision, instead of the other way around. However, his lack of management and organizational focus leads to poor and financially disastrous results.

Although Kushner adopts a novel-like narrative, Masters of Doom is a work of journalism. According to Kushner's notes in the book, it is based on hundreds of interviews conducted over a six-year period. Kushner was an early entrant into the field of video-game journalism, and recycled some of his own original reporting in the book.


Masters of Doom: How Two Guys Created an Empire and Transformed Pop Culture was first published in May 2003 by Random House in hardcover and ebook form. Random House released an excerpt of the book before its release.[6] Random House later negotiated a deal with UK publisher Piatkus, releasing a trade paperback in autumn 2003.[7]

Critical reception

"Kushner has cracked open the dark world of John Carmack and John Romero, the authors of the blockbuster computer games Wolfenstein 3D, Doom, and Quake. Reading this fascinating underground tale is as addictive as the games themselves."

David Seigfried, Booklist[8]

Seth Mnookin for The New York Times described the book for its pacing and detail, calling it "an impressive and adroit social history."[3] Jeff Jensen for Entertainment Weekly gave it a "B" rating.[9] Thomas L. McDonald for Maximum PC offered praise for its prose and its representation of the subjects.[10] Edge described the book as being akin to a Greek drama without the pathos, adding that the story was "a cautionary tale of relationships in the games industry."[11] Hardcore Gaming 101 considered the book to be "a highly entertaining and quite informative read."[12] Scott Juster for PopMatters gave praise to Kushner's extensive research and interviews of Carmack and Romero.[13] Since its release, the book been placed on several "best video game books" lists.[14][15][16]

Salon contributor Wagner James Au, while declaring the book to be "excellent", criticized David Kushner for giving too much credit to Catacomb 3-D in terms of technical merit in comparison to Ultima Underworld.[17] Ann Donahue for Variety considered the character study of "the two Johns" to be interesting but thought the book had "problematic tunnel vision" by rarely taking a broader look at the impact Doom had outside of the gaming industry.[18] Computer Gaming World's Charles Ardai called it "clumsily written but nonetheless compelling".[19] Publishers Weekly considered Kushner to have given too much leeway about the violence in the two Johns games. The magazine also criticized the narration to be dry in parts of the book.[20]


Palmer Luckey, the founder of the technology company Oculus VR, first became interested in virtual reality after reading Masters of Doom. John Carmack would later leave id Software in 2013 to work for Oculus as their chief technology officer.[21] In 2016, Kushner released an audiobook follow-up titled "Prepare to Meet Thy Doom and More True Gaming Stories". The book is a compilation of Kushner's long-form journalism which included a “where-they-are-now” article on Carmack and Romero. The book was read by Wil Wheaton.[22]


In 2005, former Ion Storm chief executive officer[a] Michael Wilson sued publisher Random House Inc., claiming the book made false allegations against him making a dodgy business deal to purchase a BMW with funds from the company. Wilson sought $50 million in damages, with further punitive damages from the publisher.[24] A spokesperson for Random House issued a statement announcing the publishing company's support of David Kushner.[25] As of 2020, the outcome of the lawsuit is unknown.


Plans to adapt the book was first conceived in 2005, when it was announced that producer Naren Shankar was planning a television movie for Showtime based on the story.[26] The movie never materialized beyond the initial announcement.

In June 2019, USA Network greenlit a pilot episode of a potential series based on the book, to be written and produced by Tom Bissell under James and Dave Franco's Ramona Films label. The series, if it should continue, is expected to be an anthology series.[27] The series will feature Eduardo Franco as Romero, Patrick Gibson as Carmack, and will also star John Karna, Jane Ackermann, Siobhan Williams, and Peter Friedman, and will be directed by Rhys Thomas.[28]

See also


  1. ^ Sources inaccurately claimed Mike Wilson to be Ion Storm's COO rather than its CEO.[23]
  1. ^ Ohanian, Alexis (June 26, 2013). "The Book that Inspired the Birth of reddit". Making the World Suck Less. p. 1. Archived from the original on 2013-08-06.
  2. ^ Chick, Tom (April 28, 2003). "David Kushner on Masters of Doom". GameSpy. p. 1. Archived from the original on July 2, 2004.
  3. ^ a b Mnookin, Seth (May 4, 2003). "Id Vid". The New York Times Book Review. p. 27. ISSN 0028-7806. Archived from the original on May 27, 2015.
  4. ^ Ciuraru, Carmela (June 25, 2003). "An oddball pairing that led to 'Doom'". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on October 31, 2019. Retrieved October 31, 2019.
  5. ^ Chick, Tom (April 28, 2003). "David Kushner on Masters of Doom". GameSpy. p. 2. Archived from the original on October 27, 2004.
  6. ^ Staff (March 27, 2003). "Masters of Doom". Archived from the original on November 7, 2019. Retrieved November 6, 2019.
  7. ^ Jones, Nicolette (May 23, 2003). "Rights Report". The Bookseller. No. 5078.
  8. ^ Siegfried, David (April 1, 2003). "Masters of Doom: How Two Guys Created an Empire and Transformed Pop Culture". Booklist. 99 (15): 1361. ISSN 0006-7385. ProQuest 235608115.
  9. ^ Jensen, Jeff (May 16, 2003). "Masters of Doom". Entertainment Weekly. No. 710. pp. 74–75. ISSN 1049-0434. Retrieved October 30, 2019.
  10. ^ McDonald, Thomas L. (June 2003). "The Age of id". Maximum PC. No. 58. p. 16.
  11. ^ Staff (August 2003). "Out There". Edge. No. 126. p. 21.
  12. ^ Wild Weasel (January 23, 2013). "Masters of Doom: How Two Guys Created an Empire and Transformed Pop Culture". Hardcore Gaming 101. Retrieved November 7, 2019.
  13. ^ Juster, Scott (November 2, 2011). "'Masters of Doom' A Great Man History of Gaming". PopMatters. Retrieved November 7, 2019.
  14. ^ Gilbert, Henry (April 29, 2013). "10 great books that will teach you about gaming history". GamesRadar+. Retrieved November 6, 2019.
  15. ^ Davenport, James (June 8, 2016). "The best video game books". PC Gamer. Retrieved November 6, 2019.
  16. ^ Petite, Steven (April 15, 2017). "Take a gaming break to read these 10 great books about the hobby you love". Digital Trends. Retrieved November 6, 2019.
  17. ^ Au, Wagner James (May 5, 2003). "Masters of "Doom"". Salon. Retrieved October 30, 2019.
  18. ^ Donahue, Ann (June 23–29, 2003). "Book Reviews". Variety. p. 35.
  19. ^ Ardai, Charles (May 2003). "From Cradle to Doom". Computer Gaming World. No. 226. p. 49.
  20. ^ Gold, Sarah F.; Chenoweth, Emily; Zaleski, Jeff (April 28, 2003). "Nonfiction Book Review: Masters of Doom". Publishers Weekly. 250 (17): 62. ISSN 0000-0019. EBSCOhost 9628683.
  21. ^ Staff (June 10, 2016). "How a Book About Doom Inspired the Oculus Rift". Wired. Retrieved October 31, 2019.
  22. ^ Stover, Kaite Mediatore (April 1, 2016). "Prepare to Meet Thy Doom and More True Gaming Stories". The Booklist. 112 (15): 78. ISSN 0006-7385. ProQuest 1776689305.
  23. ^ Heaslip, Stephen (June 3, 2005). "Masters of Doom Lawsuit". Blue's News. Retrieved November 4, 2019.
  24. ^ Maragos, Nick (June 3, 2005). "Round-Up: Masters of Doom Suit, Slime Controller". Gamasutra. Retrieved November 1, 2019.
  25. ^ Gibson, Ellie (June 3, 2005). "Doom book publishers sued". Eurogamer. Retrieved October 30, 2019.
  26. ^ Martin, Denise (April 13, 2005). "Showtime's 'Doom' day". Variety. Retrieved October 31, 2019.
  27. ^ Andreeva, Nellia (June 27, 2019). "USA Network Orders 'Masters Of Doom' Pilot Produced By James & Dave Franco". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved June 27, 2019.
  28. ^ Patski, Denise (September 26, 2019). "'Masters Of Doom': Eduardo Franco & Patrick Gibson To Star In USA Network Pilot; Four More Cast". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved September 26, 2019.

Further reading