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February 23, 2007

A couple of Heatwave Interviews

Two interviews that you may find interesting:

  • Gameplay Monthly has a fiesty entry from me about what's "wrong" with today's MMORPGs. Nothing new if you read my site. It also covers a bit about the company. Here's an excerpt:

    My point is this. People put up with a lot of DULL BS because in the end, gaming with other people can be a lot of fun and almost make up the difference. Yet, there's no reason game developers in this day and age can't find a way to make the rest of the experience more entertaining. You can't hide behind the old excuse of "We spent 90% of the project just making it work" anymore. There are too many tech solutions and a big 800 pound gorilla named "WoW" that says "We've made this as fun as possible. Try something else!"

  • Firing Squad asked me some decent questions about my motivations to start the company and how we chose the name Heatwave. A tidbit:

    Why now? I suppose because I'm ready. I've spent over a decade honing my skills as a designer, manager and businessman, and now the timing is right from a market perspective. I've spent the last few years working on a lot of "other people's" projects, most of the time trying to fix what was broken or improve what was there. That was true of Ultima Online, Battlefield 2 (I took a triage job as Online Producer after it launched) and certainly most recently at Codemasters where all the projects we shipped were chosen and signed before I arrived. I've always had strong opinions about how games could and should be made. Now that I've been on both the development and publishing side of the business, I've been able to confirm or adjust those opinions based on experience and fact. Time to put that knowledge to work for the benefit of gamers everywhere.

    Many more sites have picked up the coverage. We've even been picked up by Black News.com. Interesting tid-bit about our company, both Donn and I are of similar background, African-American and Italian-American.

    How's about dem odds?

    Posted by SunSword at 09:27 PM | Comments (1)

    February 22, 2007

    Holy EMAIL OVERFLOW, Batman!

    Well, the press release got some attention. Here's a shortlist...

    Game Daily
    Gamasutra
    MMORPG.com
    Fierce Game Biz
    Kotaku
    Games Industry.biz

    Lots of legitimate questions have been raised, particularly regarding the concept of bringing the excitement of single player games to online games. I'll post more about that in a bit, but first I have a ton of work for my current client to finish, then I've got all the interviews, job inquiries, business dev, GDC meetings and general spam to get through. Wee!

    Posted by SunSword at 11:45 PM | Comments (0)

    February 21, 2007

    In response to MMO != VC

    Over on Terra Nova.com, Dan Hunter commented on the sad state of funding for online games.

    It frustrated me because the MMO development as a whole suffers from the scarcity of funding. Since I consult for one of the few venture groups that actually funds MMOs, I get a chance to talk to MMO developers. Specifically, I spend a lot of time hearing one thing: “VCs and I.Banks don’t get us.” I am a gamer. I want people to understand the industry. I want my colleagues to get the MMO industry, so they fund good games.

    Obviously, this topic keenly interests me, as Heatwave is considering taking on some external funding in the near future.

    Part of the problem is that MMO Companies aren't great at having a strong business plan that VC's can understand. I think this is widely true of the game industry in general. It's also a hit driven business and unlikely to support as many companies as the forecasted market numbers may indicate at first blush.

    To complicate matters, it's really really difficult to find developers that actually have all of the right components put together for a likely successful liquidation event. I can't fathom the number of online games that I evaluated last year that were non-starters within 15 minutes. Wrong idea, wrong staff, wrong business plan, wrong technology...

    MMOGs are hard. Perhaps the hardest thing to do in this business. I imagine it's a scary place for traditional VC's and banks to find success. I can only think of one major exit of an MMO company, and that's EA's purchase of Mythic. I'm sure there are others, and yes the industry is young.

    In all honesty, I've assumed from the beginning that we'd get our funding from non-traditional sources. Mostly because of the kinds of stories many game developers tell of the difficulties associated with traditional VC's. Control issues and external pressures don't always mesh well with a highly creative, iterative process. So it's possible the problem goes both ways. MMO companies may not want VC funding in the first place.

    Well, anyway, there's my perspective. I too bemoan the lack of funding in the game industry, but I also believe that it takes a special kind of backer to understand what it takes to find success in the MMO business. If you know any of those folks, feel free to send 'em my way ;).

    Posted by SunSword at 01:46 AM | Comments (0)

    February 20, 2007

    Well, I said I was going to have a new website...

    Of course, I really was referring to this one...but we've been a little more focused on Heatwave Interactive instead!

    So, this is only the first stage in a multi-stage rollout of our corporate website. For gamers, there's really not a lot there. Sorry about that, but we'll get to the fun part soon, I promise.

    One of the big things I'm curious about is what people think of the logo. I think it will serve for now, but I'm not totally sold. That's okay, we're a new company, plenty of growing to do.

    Many thanks to Mr. Anonymous who designed the website and logo for us under significant time pressure. As it should be obvious, the primary purpose of the launch website is to serve up the press release and let people know that some of us will be at GDC in a few weeks. That would be a great time to meet up with us if you're interested in talking about the future of Heatwave.

    I'll surmise that the most interesting thing to talk about regarding the new site is "the quote." In case ya haven't read it (or it was that forgettable!) here it is again:

    Content is King. I don't care how good your 'relationship with the customer' is, if people don't like what you do, the only thing you'll have to talk about is why they aren't buying your games."

    Let's get the easy part out of the way. I'm not saying I don't care about customers. I'm not saying I don't want to have a "relationship" with them. There, easy part.

    On to the point. I'm reacting to all of the companies out there who are so focused on establishing a relationship with the customer (or even better, "owning the customer") that they lose focus on the really important part... the reason they have customers in the first place: good games. Lots of people are making this mistake. Start-ups. Big publishers. Media companies. Do you think Blizzard worries much about their relationship with their customer? Well sure they do, all 10 BAZZILLION of them. Why do they have 10 BAZZILLION customers to relate with? Great products. As a player, I don't want to be monetized. I don't want to be leveraged. I don't want to be profiled, dynamically served up, or commoditized. I just want to play great games. If I'm having a blast, I won't even notice you've sic'd HAL9000 on my camping patterns.

    That's all I'm saying. At Heatwave, we're focused on one thing and one thing only, making great games that YOU want to play. If you like our games, hopefully we'll also have a wonderful relationship. Who knows, maybe we'll ride off in into the sunset together. And stay up all night playing that badass Heatwave game...

    I suppose for some, it's an understandable position to take. Making hit games is hard. I'm aware that there's a good chance I may not succeed (okay, I don't believe that, but I have to say it). But I'm willing to take that risk. For you. For me. It's been something I've been working towards since childhood. And it's been hard. I am consistently amazed that game companies have such a hard time finding the fun.

    Soooo... "what's the deal with Heatwave right now," you ask? Are we hiring? What are these kickass games you are hinting about?

    Well, as I've mentioned in previous posts, we already have one client, and I'm pretty much 100% focused on making sure they deliver that great content I've been ranting about. At the same time, Heatwave is gearing up for some of its own projects. My partner and I have a very specific model for the company that will enable us to weed out the blah from the YEAH early in the project's lifecycle. I suppose it's a combination of three compatible models: 1 for business, 1 for production, and 1 for development. Ideally, this crazy concoction will allow us to bring great games to market.

    Are we hiring? Right now on a limited basis, yes. Are you passionate about games? Are you a collaborator? Are you a self starter? Are you willing to take some risks to do something incredible? If so, Art Directors, Concept Artists, and experienced Game Programmers please make your way to jobs@heatwaveinteractive.com. We're always looking for talented people of any background, but those are the jobs we're immediately looking for.

    Okay, it's late. I haven't had a good rant in a while. Looking forward to hearing your feedback. This website is next. I've gotten another request to bring back the forums. Now that I can actually talk about what I'm doing...maybe I shall....maybe I shall...

    Posted by SunSword at 01:06 AM | Comments (0)

    February 18, 2007

    I really was a child actor...if you call it acting...

    So...remember THIS post?

    Well...just to confirm some of what I said...I give you me. In the '80s. *sigh*

    Here's the link.

    Will I ever live this down? No.
    The commercial was an all day shoot, the day before thanksgiving. I got paid $600 to do it, and most of the day was spent playing video games while waiting for the crew to setup the shot. The most memorable thing about this experience? Playing the stand up version of "Discs of Tron" for about 2 straight hours. Awesome.

    Posted by SunSword at 09:32 PM | Comments (1)

    February 11, 2007

    Heatwave lights up the East Coast

    Since my previous post, Heatwave has already passed some very important milestones. We've made an offer to our first employee and landed our first business contract, all in the space of a few days!

    I can't discuss our first client, but I have to say, I'm pleased to see Heatwave already in the black. Assuming our first offer of employment is accepted, I think Heatwave is off to a solid start.

    I'd like to thank all the well wishers for their thoughts and advice on this new venture. I know some people may have felt a little "left out of the loop" because they didn't know what I was up to, and I'm sorry for that. I'm also flattered, as I didn't know so many people cared :). Allow me to explain. We have a very specific business plan that focuses on our first client and then bringing on a more sizeable staff. My experiences in the past have made me extremely aware of the affect my actions can have on other people's lives, and I'm going to make damned sure that we're only getting people excited and involved if I'm supremely confident that the time is right. That might seem like an obvious thing to say, but I've learned that even the slightest hint or indication can be taken by some as reality or a promise. Maybe that's because my enthusiasm is so infectious, but nevertheless, I've had to very carefully keep my expressions of excitement limited to a close group of trusted people.

    However, now I can talk about it! So, if you're interested in working with me at Heatwave or just talking about what we're up to, you can always drop me a note at anthony ||at|| heat wave interactive . com. While we're not aggressively hiring at the moment, I'm always happy to talk with people who are passionate about making games.

    Today, I'm in Philadelphia, PA. I've never been to the city of brotherly love before. So far it's been great. We came in from New York on Friday night, having completed some business there. We took the train from Manhattan and arrived in Philly about an hour later. The 30th street train station is an amazing structure. I'm staying with my business partner and Heatwave Co-founder, Donn Clendenon, in his very cool converted fire house.

    The weekend has been spent working on business plans and taking care of miscelleanous corporate details, such as a failed attempt to open up our corporate bank accounts. I suppose that's a tale worth retelling...

    We went to an American bank here in Philly on Saturday. The lobby was a little busier than expected, but that gave us the opportunity to watch Barack Obama's speech while we sat in the waiting area. It was very interesting to watch the other bank patrons watch the speech. Regardless of your political bent, or your thoughts about him as a candidate, Barack is undeniably an interesting person to watch. As Senator Obama delivered his speech, the bank, which had been blubbling with the hubub of tellers and customers doing business, grew noticebly quiet. Donn looked at me to get my attention and then pointed over to the teller desk where everyone in line had turned to watch Barack talk about his entry into the presidential race.

    I have to wonder if that will be something worth remembering, or just an interesting mote of experience, soon forgotten.

    Oh, and it was a failed attempt because after all that waiting, the computer systems went down and never came back online. We'll have to try again on Monday...

    Anyway, the "big thing" we've been discussing this week is the Heatwave Interactive Inc. logo.

    More on that tomorrow...

    Posted by SunSword at 09:36 PM | Comments (0)

    February 07, 2007

    I feel a Heatwave comin' on... (holy cr4p, what have I done???)

    The past two or three weeks have been incredibly busy and because of the nature of that bustle, I really haven't had much opportunity to talk about what I'm up to.

    Last month, I blathered on about how I was going to make some big changes and things are going to change. I was serious.

    Last Friday was my last day at Codemasters. I've started a new company called "Heatwave Interactive, Inc.", as a vehicle to bring great games to the masses and "right" some of the "wrongs" in the games business. Currently, Heatwave only has a few employees, but we've already landed our first contract for a major client. What are these great games you ask? How about those wrongs? And can I really do anything about them?

    I'll get to that. But first, let me give you a little context for what my life is like in this transition.

    Codemasters & England. My family and I really are very sad to be leaving England so soon. We firmly expected to be there at least three years. We've had an amazing time. We've travelled all over the UK and parts of Europe. The kids have been exposed to a very different way of life, and as a family we've had to adapt to some pretty significant lifestyle changes (family of six with no car for 5 months...). The people at Codemasters are fantastic. Along with some great professional contacts, I've made what I hope are lifelong friends. In particular, the Codemasters Online Gaming (COG) division are an inspiring group of people, weathering very difficult conditions for a vision they believe in (not to mention holding up the banner for online gaming's "forgotten continent").

    I'll miss you guys.

    Heatwave & Austin. So, as of Friday, I've been phoneless and computerless. That's been rough. Particularly since I've been travelling quite a bit in the US. At the moment I'm in Austin, Texas doing a little house shopping and getting some fundamentals set up. Over the next month or so, I'll move the family and get into the groove with our new client. Also, we've got some corporate branding coming along, and of course a website (the current domain is purely a placeholder). I've got a great partner in a gentlemen named Donn Clendenon, who I've been working with "virtually" for a while. We've also got some very talented folks working with us on various parts of the business. I can't wait to tell you a little more about that in the near future. So far, it's been one of the coolest experiences of my creative/professional life.

    Over the next week, I'll address the "rights" and "wrongs," the reason for choosing Austin as our base of operations, the motivations behind the name "Heatwave Interactive," and other various topics as they arise.

    Anyway, this is just a quick update to say, I'm dead serious. I'm a man with a family of six with a good salary and I just quit my job. Serious coolness will result.

    One last thing, I'm considering doing some "reality blogging" about what it's like to start a new company, or more specifically, a new game company. There are a lot of implications to consider, but very few people have an idea of what it's like to start a business, much less a game company. Am I crazy enough to let the Intarweb vote on our company logo? What about which game project we should do first? Is that pure insanity? I'd be interested to hear your thoughts about that.

    Peace.

    Posted by SunSword at 03:19 PM | Comments (1)