Hey I'm Cary Walkin. I'm a chartered accountant that created Arena.Xlsm. The game has been featured in 79 media outlets all around the world and has been downloaded over 250,000 times.

Proof: My Website

Download the game for free: here

Twitter: @CaryWalkin

Facebook: Arena.Xlsm

Subreddit: /r/ArenaXlsm

I'm very glad to be here and I'm excited to answer your questions! Lets do this! AMA! :)

Edit 5:42 PM EST: Thanks for doing the AMA with me! I feel like I've learned a lot from this, I hope you have too! If you have any more questions feel free to post them and I'll check back later tonight!

Comments: 179 • Responses: 59  • Date: 

Spitball_Idea35 karma

What the reaction from your co-workers when you showed this to them?

Where did you get the inspiration?

What do you think of Numbers?

I love the game, by the way!

CaryWalkin37 karma

I've been away from the office for months doing an MBA, so most of my co-workers had no idea what I was working on. A couple weeks ago when I went back for a visit I saw that everyone was playing the game in the office!

EDIT: Not everyone, but a lot more people than I would've expected at an accounting firm.

CaryWalkin22 karma

The inspiration for the game came from just experimenting with the tools available and thinking what could be done. A lot of the game design was inspired from playing a lot of games and watching Extra Credits

blondenbrittu20 karma

Not a co-worker, but I'm a friend of Cary's from his MBA program and I think he's awesome!!! :)

CaryWalkin14 karma

Hey! Thanks for coming to my AMA!

Sugar_Skull4 karma

I am also a friend of Cary's and I agree he's awesome.

CaryWalkin4 karma

Thanks! :)

Damienkn1ght20 karma

Why do you password protect the Macros in your sheet?

CaryWalkin26 karma

Because the macros are a giant mess of me forcing things to work. The code itself is actually quite embarrassing. I understand people's desire to tinker with things so I started releasing code snippets of standalone systems that would be cleaned up and easy for people to understand. See VBA4Play Movement and Collision Detection for an example of what I'm trying to do. The interesting thing is even when I released the code that I thought was clean, I still got a ton of feedback from the community for how it could have been done better. I am just not a coding expert.

iamadogforreal6 karma

Theres no nice way of saying this but... deal with the criticism. I think its insane people are running this on their work computers. For all I know you've put in some malware. Excel runs under the credentials of the local user, most of whom will be local admins.

CaryWalkin24 karma

Totally valid concern. However I would have the same concern with almost all software that I run on my computer. I have tried to mitigate this concern by slapping my name on it all over the place so there would be a huge reputational risk to me if there was a deliberate attempt to install malware. Given that this is being released for free so that I can get exposure for a future career in the games industry, there are no incentives for me to do anything involving malware.

The interesting experience for me has been that as a content distributor , I am now seeing Arena.Xlsm pop up on unauthorized hosts (anything that is not my blog). There is a very real risk that those copies may have malware in them (speculation on my part) and there appears to be nothing I can do to stop that. Even if I released the code in full, those copies are outside of my control and could contain malware.

super_aardvark13 karma

Sign it with PGP? Then at least you can prove that a version with malware isn't yours.

CaryWalkin4 karma

I'll look into this. Thanks! :)

Yedzava2 karma

He just mentioned above that the game works based on a set of macros. If someone messed with it, the game wouldn't work properly!

Damienkn1ght3 karma

Great point. Locking macros as a default is good practice for something like this, I agree. Making the source available to the community is really the question here.

Yedzava2 karma

True. I'm sure OP will deliver if asked nicely!

CaryWalkin7 karma

I have responded to direct requests for code portions. I helped someone out with their project by sending them my AI code earlier in the week. I consider it on a case-by-case basis.

DeadcatXL20 karma

Hey Cary,

Can you make a more stealthy version of the game.

By that i mean take out all graphics and color, so it doesn't look so gamey when my boss walks by?


CaryWalkin27 karma

This is actually much harder to do than it sounds, a number of calculations are dependent on the background colour of a cell (such as if you are standing on fire). Currently, my focus is on adding new content to the game. Also, while I know this game is getting played a lot in offices around the world, I don't know if that is something I should be promoting... Someone has to think about the GDP! As such, my answer to this is maybe. :)

qroter17 karma

How about a "boss key" like the old games that bring up a fake spreadsheet that looks legit??

CaryWalkin21 karma

This is actually much easier to implement... great idea! I'm still very conflicted on this though from an ethical standpoint.

BitcoinBubbler16 karma

Well people are either going to be playing your game at work or reading reddit at work (as evidenced by your AMA!) so you wouldn't really be adding to a problem so much as making it more interesting.

EDIT: Actually, by keeping people in Excel and off the internet, you'll actually probably be helping.

CaryWalkin17 karma

This is the best argument I've heard. Thanks for making me smile :)

CaryWalkin4 karma

The "boss key" that you suggested has now been implemented in Version 1.3 as a direct result of your feedback during the AMA. Thanks! :)

diegojones415 karma

Accountant / Excel junkie here. Well done.

Have you ever been happier than when excel introduced the iferror function? That makes me so happy.

CaryWalkin14 karma

I would say that the night I proposed I was happier... but yea, iferror is definitely a close second! :)

Kgb52915 karma

How did you first get the idea to use excel for an rpg?

CaryWalkin41 karma

I'm an accountant by profession, I use excel every day of my life. I simply worked with what I knew. Also there is an old adage that underneath every RPG is a massive spreadsheet, so now the massive spreadsheet IS the RPG!

Drunken_Economist13 karma

Is the RPG the most complex thing you've ever programmed?

CaryWalkin15 karma

Yes and by a lot! Prior to this the most complicated thing I had done was a space invaders clone done in Turing for a high school project.

The complexity with the RPG comes from having so many different systems actually work properly with each-other. Before I add anything I brainstorm: how can the player's movement interact with this? How can the enemy interact with this? How can the player's spells interact with this?

DirtyPinkPig9 karma


CaryWalkin7 karma

There were a lot of questions so I'm going to number them to try to keep this organized.

1) Use excel and always be willing to learn when you run into a problem that you don't know how to fix.

2) New projects at work are usually a result of observing a problem people are having repeatedly. Note: This only really works at a small/mid-size organization. At larger organizations there is usually people on staff who are systems people who should be consulted to make sure the thing you are trying to do isn't going to cause problems elsewhere down the line. While it may feel awesome to solve the problem now in excel, in 5 years from now when you have mission critical applications running through excel it can cause problems with the rest of the system.

3) A lot of trial and error until you get the feel for what everything does.

4) Probably a waste of time but hey to each their own! In my opinion, you're much better off making things in excel that work and then using those things as your templates for the future. It helps to cement the knowledge.

5) VLOOKUP and IF are pretty critical for me on a day-to-day basis.

6) I don't really know where to start on this one. Sorry.

7) Instructions at the top of the spreadsheet or on a "HOME" sheet if the workbook involves multiple sheets. One set of instructions that all users can understand is ideal.

8) As an auditor, I'm required to sign-off on any worksheets that I edit in plain sight. I'm not sure how applicable that is for your situation.

9) I don't think I've gotten disrespect exactly, but people in general are change adverse. If I come up with a new way that is more efficient or more effective, some people have a tendency to preemptively call it dumb as a defense mechanism for them to not have to learn anything new. It's human nature.

DirtyPinkPig4 karma


CaryWalkin5 karma

"New system from scratch" is very vague. Different projects will have different requirements. Basically, if you are not the user of what you're making, that is where you should start. Then consider all stakeholders in the chain who may rely or require elements from that system.

Poncheezled8 karma

We're dating right?

CaryWalkin9 karma

Only if this is my fiancée!

rick-victor7 karma

Are you going to continue chartered accounting or is your newfound fame going to change your career plans?

CaryWalkin8 karma

Ideally I'd like to merge my passions and expertise into a managerial finance role at a game company. But yes, as a result of this experience my mind is very open regarding career and I am excited to try new things!

jerik227 karma

Were you always on reddit? Or did you hear about it in the news after the game got popular?

CaryWalkin4 karma

I am new to reddit. I had been on the site before, but I think I just got intimidated by the UI and never actually signed up with an account to post. Reddit was actually critical to my game getting popular in the first place. This article here: Financial Post References the party I had at 3,000 views. That was pretty much all reddit. :)

The_Goat_Fucker6 karma

What are your thoughts on world of Warcraft

CaryWalkin3 karma

I played WoW since release until the Burning Crusade expansion. Very polished however I don't actually feel all Massively Multiplayer in it. I actually prefer Dark Age of Camelot with their RVR system to get that genuine feeling of being in a persistent massive world. As a disclaimer, I say this having not played either game in the last 3-4 years and have no idea what their currents states are like.

RageDoll6 karma

How did you react to the sudden popularity of your game? And where do you see yourself going from here on? Stick purely on developing this and/or future games or continuing with accounting?

CaryWalkin15 karma

I was absolutely shocked. I never thought so many people would be interested in a complex spreadsheet that I made while procrastinating on MBA work!

As for future plans, this may be naive but I don't think it needs to be an either-or thing. There are a lot of jobs in the game industry where both skills could be used to be very effective such as taking on a Producer role. Regardless of the type role I play, I hope to continue to contribute to the video game community.

soopermateys6 karma

Will this work in Open Office Calc?

CaryWalkin4 karma

Sorry, only Excel 2007, Excel 2010, and Excel 2013

Skirkle5 karma

How do you pronounce .xlsm?

CaryWalkin8 karma

X-L-S-M not excellism.

The first time I had heard excellism was in this video at mashable: http://mashable.com/2013/03/26/excel-rpg/

Am I wrong on this? I don't want to start a Gif vs Jiff fight...

bushysmalls9 karma

It's pronounced "Excelsior!"

CaryWalkin6 karma

One thing that I love: Excel puns! :D

Atheist1014 karma

So.....basically your game is EVE Online?

CaryWalkin11 karma

Next Project: Eve Online port in Excel

beneaththewaves75 karma

So many in-depth replies! You are cool and this is a good AMA.

CaryWalkin2 karma

I'm glad to hear this! :)

CalithThorn5 karma

Hey Cary, Well done! When will we see the sequel? (PeterC)

CaryWalkin4 karma

I'm still working on developing the current game. Since release I have had a lot of new ideas for new content to be added. A sequel is something that I've set up conceptually and within the storyline but I would want to work with a team to implement it.

00035 karma

Any interest in 'getting rich' after a few year of accounting and starting a business/indie gaming company? Have you thought of learning any other languages?

CaryWalkin4 karma

Most people in the indie gaming scene will tell you that starting an indie gaming company is a terrible way to 'get rich'. As an indie you usually have very little capital and all of your eggs are in one basket, if your game does not take off then you often go bankrupt. Most people go bankrupt. One way to mitigate that risk is to start an indie firm with competent people who can help you implement the game well so you have a better product. At this stage of my career, I do not have those kind of contacts to take on that much risk. I think what I'd like to do is join a larger company so I can learn what it takes to survive in the industry before I consider becoming an entrepreneur.

As for learning other languages: prior to Arena.Xlsm I was in the process of learning C#

00035 karma

Haha thanks! I meant getting rich as an accountant...

CaryWalkin3 karma

oh wow! I totally misread that question! I'm so sorry!

Anyways, yes I did need to build up a fairly large safety net as an accountant prior to doing an MBA. I'm now very eager to get into the gaming industry so I'd prefer to spend my time in that area.

galvanizd4 karma

You should get in touch with Chris Ye, one of the co-founders of Uken Games in Toronto! http://www.uken.com - I'd be more than happy to make the intro..

I think you would have at the very least an interesting conversation.. I run the Startup Digest in Toronto - http://www.startupdigest.com/toronto/ - let me know if I can help. Cheers!

CaryWalkin2 karma

Sounds like a great idea! Thanks!

raging_radish5 karma

When are you going to implement my Wingdings idea?

CaryWalkin7 karma

The concept is being implemented as part of V1.2. So now rather than just controlling a smiley face :) your character will change based on how you are feeling. So you will become :'( at low health and 0:) when you have Resurrection activated. There are 10 new avatars to collect: http://imgur.com/hGgEoJG

el_notario5 karma

No question. Just want to say that everyone at MPA knew you were smarter than Andy.

Also bring back the Jim Kleinsasser hair.

edit: ok one question. Is it true that you owe all your success to Steve Redding?

CaryWalkin2 karma

Wow... Blast from the past! I also just googled who Jim Kleinsasser is... That was pretty spot on. If I played American football then that is exactly what I'd look like!

path4114 karma

As someone who is familiar with excel and is a web programmer, this is pretty awesome!

Congrats on completing and releasing your own game! Provides me a bit of a spur to keep working on my own game I always put off.

CaryWalkin2 karma


super_aardvark4 karma

Is there any chance this thing works, or will ever work, in one of the open source spreadsheet programs? (e.g. OpenOffice, Libre Office).

CaryWalkin2 karma

I don't really know how to do that. I think there would need to be a complete re-code and even then I'm not sure if those spreadsheet programs have a Turing complete back-end.

Matt_NZ4 karma

Have you had any feedback from Microsoft about this?

CaryWalkin5 karma

Yea, I had heard from Microsoft's PR department when I released the game. They said they'd be putting an article up on their blog about the game but they haven't done it or I just can't find it. I'm not entirely sure that the game is consistent with their PR narrative of pushing office 365 and Excel 2013, given that the game is backwards compatible up to Excel 2007.

Damienkn1ght3 karma

Also, its probably not good PR for PRODUCTIVITY software to say, 'Look what neat games your employees can play on our Spreadsheets!'

Even so, I heard a story about an IBM sales rep in the 80's who was fighting to get a client to buy IBM servers and software, even though they cost more than the competition. He went back and forth toting product features, but finally made the sale when she showed the exec a cool Golf game and offered a copy of it as a bonus with the sale.

CaryWalkin2 karma

In all fairness, this would not be the first time Microsoft has featured an excel game on their Office social media platform. http://blogs.office.com/b/microsoft-excel/archive/2010/06/23/excel-2010-games-missile-command-and-tower-defense.aspx

Which is why I think it's probably an issue because Arena.Xlsm does not take advantage of any Excel 2013 features.

d01059504 karma

Hey Cary! Is Arena.Xlsm your favorite project? Do you like being an accountant?

CaryWalkin13 karma

Arena.Xlsm was a great opportunity to be creative. As an accountant, being creative is not always ideal for your career. I really enjoyed the creative process and want to ensure that I can continue to do that regardless of my profession. Neuroplasticity plays a role in this, if you don't use the creative parts of your mind, you begin to lose the ability to be creative.

kickassninja13 karma

Simple. Neat. Clever. Microsoft could use this for an AD saying anything is possible with Excel. My question, is there a paid version going to be released soon?

CaryWalkin5 karma

I am totally willing to do a paid version with a lot more bells and whistles but I would like a game developer/publisher to work with me on that.

bewmar2 karma

If only you lived with CS guys who made games in university!

CaryWalkin2 karma

Weird Fact: I actually did live with a QA tester who worked at Silicon Knights on Too Human.

bewmar2 karma

Weirder fact: that was me!

CaryWalkin2 karma

Mind Blown

jay2121273 karma

In my country they are merging CA, CMA, and CGs into one accounting Designation the CPA - Certified Personal Accountant. What is you opinion on this?

Also i am on the fence between Financial advisor and the now CPA, so i want to ask how budgeting if any do you help people/corporations do on average.

CaryWalkin3 karma

Are you Canadian by any chance? :P

I am in a similar boat. I now sign as CPA, CA because of a similar merger. It's a confusing mess and I get a lot of requests to file US tax returns as a result.

As a Canadian CA: Cary Walkin, CPA, CA

As a US CPA from California: Cary Walkin, CPA (CA)

Technically I could get both and be: Cary Walkin, CPA, CA, CPA (CA)

Not a great brand strategy...

As a chartered accountant in public practice I do very little budgeting because my role is largely to audit the budgets made by others. In industry however, you will need to budgets, forecasts and financial reporting frequently. Companies are looking to you to paint their financial picture both in the past and in the future.

Michaelish3 karma

Do you make profit from the game?

CaryWalkin7 karma

Nope, nor was it ever my intention. I did receive a month of reddit gold from one redditor so that's kind of like profit! :)

Mantheron3 karma

What are your thoughts on other spreadsheet programs like Google Docs, LibreOffice (or OpenOffice), or Numbers?

CaryWalkin3 karma

I really enjoy working with Google Docs for collaborative spreadsheets. Eve Online stuff comes to mind immediately. I haven't used LibreOffice, OpenOffice, or Numbers so I cannot comment on those.

Karnblack3 karma

I think your game is great, but I still need to finish it. I'm the excel "guru" at my work, but I don't feel like I know enough to be labeled that way. It's crazy that when you know something other people think is black magic that you become some kind of miracle worker. Do you get that at your work or do they just treat you as the macro guy? Also, I'd been thinking of using Excel to create a turn-based strategy game, and I think the release of your game has given me the motivation to start on it.

CaryWalkin3 karma

At work I'm treated as the guy who can fix problems. We have a formal IT group who is in charge of actual system development which I do not get involved in on the programming side.

amlax9892 karma

So what comes next if/when it dries out. Any new ideas?

CaryWalkin4 karma

A sequel or port of the game would be cool. I'm also looking to expand the world that I created in the storyline of Arena.Xlsm. I've had some discussions about potentially turning it into a graphic novel, but that is likely a long way off. I'll probably take on the first project that looks interesting to me.

EDIT: Just to be clear, my focus is on the games industry and that is where I think I can make the most impact.

brtt30002 karma

You should repost this in /r/gamedev

CaryWalkin2 karma

How do I do that? Sorry I'm new still...

brtt30002 karma

Just go to that sub and submit a new text post :)

Maybe something like: I'm this and I did that (copy paste the info), and done an AMA about it; somebody said you guys might appreciate it also, and add link to this IAMA.

CaryWalkin2 karma

Thanks: Re-posted

NuckElBerg2 karma

As an M.Sc in Accounting and a fellow Excel nerd, I really want to congratulate you on this achievement! My mouth fell to the floor when I read about this on Kotaku yesterday, and I immediately linked the article to my father who is also a fellow Excel nerd. :P

Now, a quick "personal" question: Which do you prefer using (or most often use) when working in Excel; long nested functions, calculations over several cells, custom made VBA functions or macros? :)

CaryWalkin4 karma

It really depends on whether or not anyone else will need to use the spreadsheet. If it's just my baby then long nested functions. If it's something other people need to be able to understand, calculations over several cells with documentation.

JCollierDavis2 karma

Sorry I missed it when you were live. I've been playing a bit at work and having fun.

A few feature requests.

  1. Anyway to include different special characters for different monster types? How about different monster levels tiered by color?

  2. Diagonal movement for the PC.

  3. Initiative. I haven't figured out how to attack the monster when it steps into melee range with out always taking a hit first.

  4. Dodge, evade and flee mechanics.

CaryWalkin2 karma

1 and 4: Having monster levels beyond the current range of 3 probably requires having the flee mechanic so players aren't randomly stuck in unwinnable fights. Dodge/Evade/Flee I avoided because I wanted combat to be strategic rather than action oriented. I know there is a bit of mixing (such as critical hits) but I didn't want combat to feel too random. Currently dodge, evade, and flee can be done with spell integration of Shield, Invisibility, and Invincibility.

2: This was a design choice to have more interesting arena designs and actual puzzles, if PC can move diagonally then it causes problems where the player can run away indefinitely without having to be strategic about movement.

3: This is already in the v1.2 patch notes. I hope to have the patch out in the next week. :)

Thanks for your feedback!

I_Trill_Erectly2 karma

What's your favorite dinosaur?

CaryWalkin3 karma

Christmas Pterodactyl

drlemon2 karma

Are there any third party spreadsheet programs that right run it on mac?

CaryWalkin3 karma

I know people on macs can use boot camp to get it to work, I have a feeling that is not what you were asking though!

drlemon1 karma

No, it's not, i used to dual boot but 10.7 doesn't run vista and i don't have a newer version. I just really want to play your game!

CaryWalkin4 karma

You may want to try an internet cafe or a library. The leveling in the game is not designed to be a grind, a full play-through takes only 3-4 hours.

a3poify2 karma

I have two questions:

1: How does this work?

2:Can you put on the FAQ that it doesn't work on Excel 2003?

CaryWalkin3 karma

The FAQ specifies that it only works in Excel 2007, 2010, and 2013. Maybe we are looking at different pages?

Anyways, the game works by running a very long series of macros whenever the player makes an action such as a movement, an attack, a heal, or a spell. All of the variables in the game are stored on a hidden tab so that way players can save and come back to the game at their leisure.

MidSolo2 karma

Are you planning to work on other games? Any ideas?
Do you know other programming languages?
If you got an offer for a job at a game design company, would you take it?

CaryWalkin3 karma

I have not started any other games yet. I have an idea for a mobile game which I was actually going to make prior to starting Arena.Xlsm.

I've been programming as a hobby since I was 8, I have experienced many languages but I wouldn't say that I "know" any of them since it has been so long since I've used them. Aside from VBA: QBasic, C++, Visual Basic, and Turing. I used to know HTML but web development has changed drastically since I was a kid!

Depends on the company and what I could do to help them. I have an innate need to be able to make a difference and improve the company so my role would need to allow me to do that.

Tend_to_agree2 karma


CaryWalkin5 karma

From a huge mistakes side of things, I had to reprogram huge sections of code due to poor planning. Technically I wouldn't be where I am today had I not done that... but that's more of an alternate timeline scenario where the game is completed a month earlier and causes unknown consequences... Anyways, I learned from those mistakes and now it is much easier for me to add new features because I understand the type of planning I need to do prior to implementation.

As for getting into my current line of work: I was good at accounting in high school and there was demand for accountants in the job market. It was a logical fit.

Main driving force: Never stop learning.

Facewizard2 karma

Would you ever work with other people on a non-excel RPG? If you would, what kind of game would you make?

CaryWalkin5 karma

This is pretty much what I want to do in the near future.

I am keeping the "kind of game" very open ended because I am a fan of various video game genres. Rule number 1, it needs to be fun. I'd love to do story-based games like Spec-Ops: The Line.

jprofitt3031 karma

IS this Morgan Freeman's publicist again?

CaryWalkin7 karma

I hope not, this is my first AMA. I was lurking through Louis CK's AMA and Morgan Freeman's AMA yesterday so I think I have a decent sense on what works and what doesn't in this format.

As a side note: Louis CK's AMA was awesome! :D

gilzthebrave1 karma

i am actually did this when i' am on junior high school, with my friend actually, but it was pretty lame, :( in that day i'm just putting some pic and a bit of sound effect, and yes, it was horrible. and then i meet a flash, the question is, why you not use the flash instead? (it's little easier, at least for me)

CaryWalkin5 karma

I'm an accountant so I know a lot more about Excel than I do about Flash. While I'm sure Flash is a better development platform, there is a learning curve that is required to be good with Flash. I'm not ruling it out for the future, but it did not interest me at a time when I was taking a course in excel as part of my MBA.