Interview: Havok after ten years

Interview: Havok after ten years

By Develop

December 18th 2008 at 4:28PM

Havok recently reached ten years of age, having been developing tools for a decade that have become integral to numerous companies, both inside the games industry, and increasingly, in fields like cinema and industrial simulation.

With a new product on the way and a genuinely impressive client list, Havok has good reason to celebrate its first decade.
To mark the anniversary, Develop spoke to Havok’s MD David O’Meara, who revealed some tantalising details about his company’s next release.

Now Havok has existed for ten years, what have the highlights been over that period?

David O’Meara: There are absolutely so many highlights. I suppose if you were to look at the thing I’m proudest of, and I think everyone is proudest of, it is this – I don’t think anyone would have envisaged ten years ago that today if you go into a DVD or game store and you pick up so many games, there’s the Havok logo on the back of the box. Therefore, the thing we’re proudest of is that so many of our customers have taken our products, accepted our products, and used them so well. There’s been a lot of other things done to get there, but overall that’s the thing we’re proudest of. Also, the future is looking great with all the new products.

You haven’t mentioned the Emmy yet. How did it feel to win an award of such a highly regarded stature?

O’Meara: We received that in January in Las Vegas, and it was fantastic for a number of reasons. One was on a business level, because it was really true, pure recognition.  When you look at some of the other winners there on the night like Quake, it was just fantastic.

At the table we had some guests there. We had some of the most senior guys from Sony and from some of our customers, and to see them and a lot of the pride they had in Havok winning that was fantastic.

In another sense it has been very good for us because although we have been well recognised in the Western world in recent years, the Emmy has certainly had an impact in Asia, where we only opened our office in Japan last year.

On a personal level, it was just fantastic to receive the Emmy from Buzz Aldrin. He was a bit of a hero of mine for a long time.

And what kind of culture at Havok has lead to this award winning performance?

O’Meara: The culture at Havok has got to the point where people will just not accept mediocrity from other people in Havok. Anyone who is mediocre goes. There is just no room for mediocrity at Havok, and that sense of pride and world-class achievement, which is reflected by the Emmy, is embedded in Havok’s culture now. It does mean, in a very practical way, that people who are world class at what they do want to come and work at Havok, because they want to work with other world-class people.

Looking forward, what does the future hold for Havok. What are the ambitions of the company as a whole?

O’Meara: If you look where we are now, in our tenth year we launched two new products. In July we launched Cloth and Destruction, which brings us to a six-product company. Both Cloth and Destruction have been a success, and will start to appear in games in 2009.

So where Havok will go? Well, in a product sense Havok will develop more and more products in a modular way, and we will launch a new product, a seventh product, at GDC. So you will see over the coming years a continuation of new product launches.

Secondly you will see further geographic expansion of Havok, particularly in Asia. We did open an office in Japan, but there are other areas in Asia where we have ambitions, such as Korea and China, and also in Australia, so you will see significant geographic expansion.

Thirdly, perhaps we will see Havok more involved in serious gaming than we currently are.

Our plans are definitely to continue to grow in that way. We’re a very profitable company now, and we became very profitable about five years ago, so therefore we’re able to afford the investments that we make in all these new products. It’s  also possible that we will do some acquisitions.

Looking back again, what are the lessons Havok has had to learn over the past ten years?

O’Meara: They are all about people and individuals really. The first lesson is that it is absolutely critical that everyone who is part of Havok must make a personal contribution over and above just doing their job. If you’re a small company and you want to make it into the big time, it is a requirement really, for Havok or any other company, that individuals must make a significant personal contribution.

Another thing I would say is that it is very important to confront, if you like, vested interests, and do so quickly and immediately, and overcome them. Whether those vested interests are within people within Havok, or our own views on things, they have to be confronted, because everything that is not done for the customer means that a vested interest somewhere is blocking it. So the customer must come first, and vested interests must be addressed.

Finally, you’ve got to run your business in a financially strong way. Too many small start-up companies do not look at the financial side of the business properly. They may have very good technical ideas, they may have some very, very good people, but customers want a lot more than good products. They want to know that you’re a viable company – that you’re going to be around in five or ten years, and if you want the EAs and the Activisions and the Disneys of the world to buy from you, they’re not going to buy on a one off basis.

Are you continuing to expand your ambitions as a company providing for customers outside of the video game industry?

O’Meara: We’re used extensively in movies as well. For instance, the most recent James Bond movie Quantum of Solace, but there are a lot of movies we’re used in. We work with the Motion Picture Company in the UK. There is a significant demand from the serious gaming industry to use and incorporate Havok products within their products. We have done that to a relatively limited extent at the moment. The reason it’s limited is, getting back to the point I made about customers, we would never, ever do anything, unless we have the resources to make sure all our existing customers are fully satisfied. We’ll never compromise that, but I think over the coming five years or so, as our resources expand and our experience expands we will be more in serious gaming like industrial simulation.

Can you tell us anything more about the new Havok product you mentioned earlier?

O’Meara: The world has become very dynamic, and we have destruction on a massive scale, and characters on a massive scale. If we have multiple characters and very dynamic environments with thousands of pieces moving dynamically, how do characters handle that environment? Our new product will be about that.

Finally, what would you say to our readers considering using Havok on their projects?

O’Meara: Games using Havok products are certainly a lot better than games that don’t use technology such as Havok, whether it is Havok or something else. So I would say to your customers, and to you readers generally, two things. One: think very carefully, because these products can make games look an awful lot better and secondly can be very productive. One of our products, I think, could save millions of dollars in the development of the game, and that’s Havok Behaviour.

We see so many games where features are cut out because the deadline comes and the features are cut out. With Havok Behaviour one can overcome that. That’s one thing I would say.