Thursday, November 11, 2010

Gamebryo / Emergent IP and Assets at Auction

Gamebryo is dead*! Long live Gamebryo!
* - Well gamebryo may not be dead. The development team is disbanded, and it's highly uncertain if another company will try to reanimate the corpus of code.
Emergent's assets and IP are being auctioned, closing Dec 10th. The announcement contains some interesting content, which is nice to be able to share publicly.

The financial profile of the company since 2005 is contained, here it is in handy chart format: 
Note that revenue was significantly less when I joined in 2004. We saw big growth in 2005, and that continued solidly through 2007. The peak of 12.2 Million in 2009 notes a significant success for a product that started with a small core Gamebryo team of ~15 engineers that I joined in 2004. The excellent growth financially reflects the engineering investment of the previous year or two, plus the more recent sales efforts. 2004 to 2009 were very good years.

There are also updated numbers for the number of titles that used gamebryo:
...selected by studios around the globe to bring over 350 titles across more than 15 game genres to market. At any given time, Emergent is supporting over 100 projects in development and has sold over 490 licenses in the past five years.
And the top titles list has some fresh new items, including Epic Mickey:
Titles using Emergent’s technology  include Game of the Year award-winning titles like Fallout 3, The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion,as well as critically acclaimed titles like Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning, Civilization Revolution, QQ Speed, Divinity II – Ego Draconis, Dance on Broadway, LEGO Universe, Epic Mickey, Bully and more.
The amount of investment into Emergent was also listed, "To date, Emergent has secured over $40 million in equity financing and raised over $4 million in venture debt financing". (I don't believe that includes the history of NDL, which was founded in 82 and started development of Gamebryo in the late 90s.)

The diversity of Gamebryo is also mentioned. 14% of revenue came from non video game sources, and no one client represented over 10%. Some of the notable customers were:

  • Video games: Electronic Arts, Activision, THQ, Ubisoft, Sony, Bethesda, 2K, Atari, Disney
  • Online games: Tencent, Shanda, TheNine, NineYou, NC Soft, Kingsisle, EA Mythic, Trion
  • Military simulation: USC ITC, Total Immersion, IP Keys, Lockheed
  • Education: USC, University of Pennsylvania, UNC, Nanyang Polytechnic
  • Other: Rio Tinto, Tacx, WMS, GTech
Among the assets, a data base of over 6,200 profiled developers and 14,775 contacts is listed.

It also incorrectly lists that "The Company holds on patent for Floodgate." I was one of the inventors that filed the provisional patent, which was left to expire and not filed for full patent status.

And so it is, the labor of many passionate engineers, sales staff, and support staff is up on the auction block. I have mixed feelings. One one hand, it was a great run, Gamebryo has had a significant impact on the industry, and that's success locked into history. It's also nice to have a change of pace, and the downturn for Gamebryo has seen us move on to interesting new challenges. But it's also sad, because I feel that Gamebryo could have had a different future, one that continued the success we saw from 2004-2009. It's difficult to speculate on how things could have been done differently, and we'll never have an answer about how else it could have played out. We were aggressive and shot for big growth and new products, not just settling for "getting by" or sitting on our mild success. Investors were interested in big returns. And, if world events and industry winds had blown in another direction, we may have been greatly successful. 

One thing is clear to me, however. When the investors/board decided to cut half of the engineering staff in 2009 they either 1) made an explicit decision to kill the future growth possibilities and attempt to liquidate the investment they had made, or 2) had no comprehension of what a software product such as a game engine is and how much value code without engineers to support it is.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

IGDA Leadership Forum: Tools Round Table

I hosted the Tools Round Table at the IGDA Leadership Forum this year. The group focused primarily on project management and communication. Attendees were producers, tech leads, a software consultant, an agile coach, a Hansoft employee, two localization professionals, and students.

Below I've included my notes from the discussions. Contents are purely in order that they were mentioned.

But before the notes, some quick thoughts on the conference. It was pretty small just a hundred or two people. I missed a lot of people who cut out half way through the second day (I showed up only for the end). There was a dinner with John Romaro interviewing Will Wright, with a goal of capturing designer's thoughts for posterity (romeroarchives). This is a great idea, though the level of detail covered in the interview only scratched the surface. It was interesting, but was primarily just getting the rough timeline of Wright's early career.

On with the Tools Round table notes:

Project Management
  • iteamwork
    • online - project management - slightly dated feel - free
  • jira with greenhopper front end
    • good for short term sprint plans, limiting for long term projects
    • some web-app style hiccups
  • (in follow up for long term:)
    • MS project
    • pen-paper
    • spreadsheets
      • hard for a wider team to use, OK for the single producer working with it
  • pivotal tracker
    • good for scrum
    • nice 'index card' like view
    • not a database
  • devtrack
    • often pushed by publishers
    • database backend
    • not great out of box, lots of work needed to setup for a team's process 
  • base camp
    • good for small teams
    • day to day level workers annoyed at it, though higher levels liked it
    • didn't scale up as well
  • scrum works
    • smaller teams, medium teams, good for burndown charts
    • free and paid versions
  • smart q
  • 5 pm web
Transitioning between long term planning and fine grained issue tracking remains the largest problem.

  • yammer
    • like an internal twitter
    • threaded views
    • third party tools good
  • google wave
    • threading issues
    • recommended using RSS updates of a wave to track it
  • google docs
  • gotomeeting
    • great screen sharing, not so great web cam
  • mikogo
    • similar to gotomeeting - free
  • webex
    • too heavyweight
  • skype
    • great webcam sharing, so-so screen sharing
  • meetingplace
  • active desktop
    • HTML on desktop with team specific information, e.g. bug counts
  • design docs placed in source control shadowed to a web server for ease of access
  • wiki