Personalities in Gaming: Cliff Bleszinski

The gaming industry is filled with braggadocious, nerdy, and emotional artists. Cliff Bleszinski is all of this and more. A braggadocious, self confessed nerd, Cliff Bleszinski is one of the formative figures that is responsible for modern gaming as we known it. Known by many gamers simply by his old nickname “CliffyB”, Cliff Bleszinski is an artist whose canvas is code and whose brush is emotion.

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Bleszinski grew up as a self described “angsty” teen, living out his problem through his pursuit of designing games. Today, a mid-40’s CliffyB still remembers and comments on his journey through life as filled with personal highs and lows, all while working to design and produce games. These two parts of life seem to follow CliffyB in whatever he does: emotion, and game design.

Cliff’s father died when he was 15. Cliff met this tragedy with what would become his go-to response to life’s joy’s and griefs - by designing a game. At the age of 15 Cliffy sold his first game, Palace of Deceit, for $20 to a teacher in high school. Teaching himself using visual basic, Cliff eventually began working as a professional game designer in 1992 at Epic Games.

In 1994 Bleszinski gained renown at Epic for his work on Jazz Jackrabbit. With a plot based on a reimagining of Aesop’s fables and in a sci-fi setting with a super hero Jackrabbit, the game was unique in both scope and theme.  The side scrolling platform adventure game was Epic games best seller at the time, and launched CliffyB to the forefront of game development.

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For 20 years Cliff worked for Epic Games, and his efforts still have a lasting impact on contemporary game design. His work with the Unreal Engine and Unreal Tournament provided the format for later generations of first-person shooters such as Halo, Call of Duty, and Battlefield. Later, his work in the Gears of War series would revolutionize the third-person shooter, and the franchise would go on to make $1 billion in sales from 2007-2014.[1] Throughout his time at Epic Games Cliff had the opportunity to shape the game design world. However, for all the joys that accompanied life as an Epic Games employee, Cliff wasn’t in charge.

Working at Epic was originally exciting, and a fast paced environment. Cliff’s lifestyle was also fast paced and over the top. During one interview with the New Yorker, which took place in his Ferrari, Cliff said that “One of my jobs in life, is to make this look a little cooler.”[2] Beyond being responsible for some of the most formative games in the first-person and third-person shooter genre, Cliff Bleszinski is also a keen observer of the games industry landscape. In 2013 Bleszinski noted the storm of free-to-play and online only available games, signalling the death of the disc based product:

You cannot have game and marketing budgets this high while also having used and rental games existing. The numbers do NOT work people. The visual fidelity and feature sets we expect from games now come with sky high costs. Assassin's Creed games are made by thousands of devs. Newsflash. This is why you’re seeing free to play and microtransactions everywhere. The disc based day one $60 model is crumbling. If you can afford high speed internet and you can’t get it where you live direct your rage at who is responsible for pipe blocking you.[3]

The work that had helped him cope with the death of his father at 15, the work that provided for his first car and apartment, the work that had made him an icon in his professional field, the work that had been with him through a first marriage and divorce, was now something that CliffyB was “done with”.[4]

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In 2012, CliffyB walked away from Epic games, and retired from game design. 20 years after first joining Epic as a young artist living in his mom's house, CliffyB was disgruntled, disillusioned, and by his own description "burned out". The excitement, enjoyment, and art of creatively building something from nothing was gone. Cliff described a recurring theme at Epic Games in his later years:

"It was a combination of gamers feeling jaded, as well as working with some very talented people who were also very jaded," I could pitch the most amazing idea to anybody back when I was at Epic toward the end, and they'd be like 'I don't buy it,'"

While retired, Cliff focused on his new marriage and enjoying life away from the troubles and trials of making games. Before long, though, he decided to come out of retirement and begin making games again, though not as a game design contributor, but as the one calling the shots. Bleszinski opened his own game design studio called Boss Key Productions and has been working since 2014 on a game called Lawbreakers, which Cliff promises will offer gamers a mix of classic and new experiences in a low gravity environment.

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Moving from the creative design process to ownership and production has been a noted change in Cliff’s work since coming out of retirement to launch his own studio. The stress related with ownership is different than that of creative content:

The thing this time was a new business partner with Nexon, a whole new studio, I'm the primary owner and CEO - it's not Tim Sweeney's and Mark Rein's gig anymore. I'm feeling good right now - it's getting a solid response - but beforehand it was like holy crap, heavy is the head that wears the crown. This studio did in fact give me my first grey hairs.[5]

Cliff Bleszinski is a paradigmatic example of all the stereotypes surrounding gamers from born in the 70s and 80s. He is quick thinking, foul mouthed, and passionate. His business sense has been honed by competition in a fierce market that only remembers the most recent of success. His professional and personal life is riddled with relationships, both good and bad, that have combined in Cliff to become both a sarcastic cynic and a creative mind.  

You can follow Cliff Bleszinski on twitter @therealcliffyb.



[1] “Microsoft Acquires 'Gears of War' From Epic, Assigns Next Game To Black Tusk Studios” by Daniel Nye Griffiths. 1/27/2014. Statistics retreaved from report available at URL:

[2] The Grammar of Fun CliffyB and the world of the video game. By Tom Bissel. 11/3/2008. Accessed via web:

[3] “Cliffy B: Numbers Don’t Work to Allow Used Games, Disc Based Day one $60 Model is Crumbling” by Sebastian Moss 6/12/2013. Accessed online at:

[4] Interview with IGN “Gears of War and Lawbreakers Creator Cliff Bleszinski - IGN Unfiltered 07” accessed via youtube:

[5] “The big Cliff Bleszinski interview 'I've had a very polarising personality in the 25 years I've been doing this” By Martin Robinson. 11/08/2017. Accessed via web