Monday, 17th September 2007 at 8:00 am
Gamebryo vendor Emergent is riding a wave of expansion and announcements, recently unveiling a new online games platform and increased support for Wii in its game engine. We caught up with CEO Geoffery Selzer and new president Scott Johnson to find out more about the company's plans…
Firstly, let’s talk Emergent Platform, which you’ve just announced. It’s targeting online games - how did the decision to offer this come about?
Geoffery Selzer, CEO: One of our fundamental tenants is to provide a series of tools and services designed to take away the pain of building video games. With the rapid migration to online gaming it's not only the production that is difficult, it's deployment. You need hosting, bandwidth, DRM, server tools, server management, load balancing, e-commerce - all these different elements. In terms of traditional capabilities, this is outside of the core competency for developers and even publishers. If you're developing your first game for online you've got millions of dollars of infrastructure to build. So the whole idea is to level the playing field and solve the hard problems for developers. It's manifest in the launching of the platform.
The ultimate goal is to significantly alter the risk/reward relationship of building and deploying an online game.
How will this reduce the cost for developers?
Selzer: Our business model is a pay as you go service – that’s why we partnered with HP. Besides being the largest supplier of servers into the games industry they have worked hard to create a flexible business model – so we can provide something that’s turn on/turn off as needed.
If you’re going to deploy an online game you have to invest in building the entire suite of tools and services you need – that’s a big investment. The other investment is the ownership of your hardware – how can you make a call on that when you don’t know how big your game is going to be? If you’ve going to build a nine or ten million dollar advanced casual game for online deployment you’re going to have to spend three to four million on top to get that completely up and running online if you include everything form personnel through to the buying of software and servers. Emergent Platform takes all that away.
By reducing the risk we can catalyse innovation and creativity and allow developers and publishers outside of the top two or three companies that have that infrastructure to do this, to play in a competitive way.
You mention casual games – are you seeing a predominant emphasis towards that category in those using tools like Gamebryo?
Selzer: We think that advanced casual games - what some call mid-session casual games - are going to be the heart of the growth in the marketplace. Our business model isn't predicated on that - we're very relevant to large-scale MMOs, in fact that's where our thinking began - but we believe this mid-session gaming is going to be the catalyst for the expansion of the games market through all demographics and markets. New developers will be starting up for this along with different kinds of developers, different business models, and new ways to make games. Emergent Platform is built to encourage all of that.
Let’s talk about the $12m funding you secured a few months back – clearly that has supported the arrival of Emergent Platform and Gamebryo for Wii, but how else is it helping the company?
Selzer: When we acquired NDL in 2005, it was basically a core PC engine. We now have a solution that spans all next-generation platforms, a much more robust engine, the beginning of a significant tools undertaking, and maybe – and perhaps most importantly, the foundation of a framework that will allow the tool development for our product to rapidly increase.
Scott Johnson, President: We’re really tackling the difficult problems on a foundational layer and concurrency is one of the two or three big issues for the game industry in the coming years. There’s only going to be more processing power and more multi-threading brought to the game world and if you look at our solution today, and a product we offer called Floodgate that addresses how we’re handling PS3 and how that technology is then being used in 360 and PCs, we’re bringing a runtime to market that is second-to-none.
Many of the people we’ve spoken to have said the very notion of developing a cross-platform game is crazy given the points of difference between game systems. Can Floodgate alleviate that problem?
Selzer: When we started working Floodgate, it was really to address a problem that we were having and the industry was having with getting the type of performance out of PS3 that people really expect it’s capable of doing. So we designed a tool that not only levels the playing field for developers for PS3 because they can get at least equivalent performance from 360 and PS3 using our tools, we have the absolute fastest runtime for PS3 because of this. But it’s also designed to deal with concurrency going forward.
Every PC manufacturer is developing massively multi-core chips that are going to be at the heart of PC gaming systems going forward and next-generation game consoles are going to be multi-core as well. This tool is designed as an abstraction layer to enable developers to be able to function within the context of any multi-core environment. Now, it’s going to require refinement to do that but everything we’re building, even our server-side, has concurrency in mind going forward.
Developers, are ill equipped to build for that type of environment – but we’re making it a no-brainer. Those are the types of things that we’re undertaking. When we saw what was coming out of PS3 and Xbox 360 and started to get inside what Intel and AMD are doing under NDA, we decided that we had to re-architect our core. And that’s what allows us to make multi-platform development easier. So where we are now in the marketplace is that we don’t have all of the built-out tools that a game company builds for themselves, but we have that core architecture to help people handle the problems that make multi-core development difficult on a much higher level.
What was the reason for moving your research and development teams from Northern California to North Carolina?
Selzer: As we started to accelerate our production, having products that are that intimately tied together being architected in two separate offices led to way too much fragmentation. So the closing of the Northern California office was done because NDL has 22 years of building enterprise-quality product, and the culture there is something we wanted to bring throughout the company.
All of the major engineering talent up in Walnut Creek agreed to move to Chapel Hill, and we significantly reduced the fragmentation in the company. Raising the funding and having such a successful increase in sales gave us the breathing room to do this. We felt like we needed to do it now, and it’s been a very, very powerful move for us.
Johnson: NDL as a company had been around for 22 years and had a very strong culture of world-class product development and delivers an enterprise-quality product, and that’s really the foundational cultural aspect of the products that we want going forward.
Selzer: Not only a culture of world-class development, but a culture of world-class support. And support isn’t just a matter of supporting your customers, its about testing and how you develop and how you document and how you comment your code and THEN how you support your customer, and NDL did that better than anyone in the industry and that’s one of the primary reasons why we acquired them.
How does the support structure work at Emergent?
Johnson: There’s three levels of support in our company. There’s a pretty heavily trafficked forum where our customers help one another, and that’s an area where we see a lot of potential for expanding, and is kind of foundational to our core philosophies.
We also have some dedicated support engineers, and about 70 to 80 per cent of the problems get solved there, through their experience and sample apps we may have. So if an issue comes up more than two times, generally we will write a sample app to illustrate how to work with the technology to solve a particular problem.
And if that doesn’t solve an issue for someone, we put them in touch with the lead engineer on that particular task. So a certain percentage of our engineers’ time is earmarked for supporting the customer, and that gives them direct reach into the guys who are leading the charge in developing these products.
Recently you expanded into Eastern Europe with an office in Poland, but there’s also been a lot of activity in Russia and China. Is global expansion a priority for Emergent?
Selzer: We have a worldwide footprint. The amount of business that comes out of China – and we don’t have any feet on the ground there, but we’re working on that – is very significant. We have a fantastic reputation in China. We’re also the leading middleware provider for games in South Korea. We’re going to be very relevant in Japan very soon. We’ve got western Europe pretty well covered, but there’s a huge amount of development going on in Eastern Europe, and that’s going to be tremendous in terms of its impact in the games industry over the next ten years, and it’s relatively untapped in this marketplace and it’s not going to stay that way for that long
So yeah, we think of ourselves as a worldwide solution and as a global company. Not only are we doing sales worldwide, but we’re starting to do our development worldwide as well.
So with the addition of the Emergent Platform how will the company's technology offer evolve over time?
Selzer: We've altered the economics of building and deploying an online game. But this is one the first stage for the platform. If you look at our partners [HP, 3Tera and Aria Systems] you can see the level of depth we can bring in; and we're talking to many others as well. When the server engine we're also developing is complete, and Emergent Metrics launches completely soon as well, we'll have a really robust offer for developers - you'll be able to come to us and we can deliver a toolset that starts with Gamebryo, through to the Emergent Platform and help you from the day you launch the game right through to the day you end up closing it down. And it's all offered a software as a service model.
Do you anticipate much demand for such a heavily integrated solution?
Selzer: We all know that developing games has become more and more difficult. As consumer expectations rise you have issues like multiprocessors, as seen in the PS3, alongside of that. Solving these problems is something the industry is warming to very quickly - so when we share our vision with other people they get quite excited and have told us that we need to be offering this level of support.
And there are two other key parts of our offer - our certified partners program and our in-house engineering group - which completely restructures kind of risk a developer is expected to take in a very customer-focused fashion. We'll still let people licence just Gamebryo on its own if they want, but we think this 'pay as a you go' style model will radically catalyse the industry towards creating new creative content.
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