Gamebryo vendor Emergent is bolstering its tech engineering workforce by striking a major, long-term deal with independent studio Krome.
The move sees a role reversal of sorts; Krome will be more active in engine development and Emergent will begin to co-develop its own games.
With so many questions looming over the deal, Develop sits down with Emergent CEO Scott Johnson (picture, right) and Krome CEO Robert Walsh (left) to discuss the new venture.
This deal will see a large number of engineers collaborate – I take it work will begin on Emergent’s next big engine.
Scott Johnson: Yeah that’s true. We’re looking at the future here. When I took over as CEO I made it clear that Emergent needs to get closer to game development, and this is something we’ve been working on very methodically.
I didn’t realise Krome had such a focus on tech.
Robert Walsh: We have licensed out our engine to other studios, but it’s just not been public knowledge. We made an initiative a couple of years ago to get into this space.
And if you look back at Krome’s history, we’ve always been a middleware provider internally. We’ve at points been running six or seven projects on all platforms and for twelve years now we’ve always supported multiplatform development on the console.
We’re looking to move forward as a powerhouse in this space with Emergent. The group has great sales teams, good technology and we think merging the two will give Krome more bang for its buck.
How do you merge two teams thousands of miles apart?
Johnson: Distributed development is something our industry has had to learn how to deal with over the past five years. This is really about that.
What’s making this partnership possible is really incredible online collaboration tools that Krome has developed over the years. It’s allowed us to hit the ground running.
One of the things that’s wonderful about the partnership is that we have teams in America and Australia, kind of round-the-clock development.
Culturally we’re very similar, yet Australia is on an eastern time zone – that’s the best of both worlds.
Walsh: Krome knows the ins and outs of distributed development – with three studios, we’re used to not everyone being in the same spot.
Engine vendors often develop games to flaunt their tech; Crytek has Crysis, NaturalMotion has Backbreaker, Epic has Gears of War. Why has emergent decided to make its own games now, after games such as Fallout 3 and Epic Mickey already exhibit the best features of the engine?
Johnson: While we’ve always had a good feedback loop with our customer base, we’re now going to get very intimate with game development using the tech.
And this goes back to my history; I’ve been close to game development for a number of years.
It’s important that we know, as tech providers, what is truly important in developing games. There are a lot of details in answering that question, and the only way to find all the answers is making the games ourselves.
That’s really the driver behind it all.
Epic Mickey and Fallout 3 are beautiful games, no doubt, but of course they’re games we have little control over, in the sense that they both have their own controlled marketing message. It is important fotr us to have our own key titles out there that we can control.
And Krome knows how to make games, it has done so for a long time now – I think this partnership will see some exciting properties come from this partnership. The market needs innovative titles, and together we’re both well positioned to do that.
When Emergent restructured last year it was the tech team that was reduced. Now there’s a need for a bigger tech team again, why did you partner with an external studio rather than grow internally?
Johnson: We made changes a year ago to afford us the opportunity to take the best of what we have and combine ourselves with the third largest independent game studio in the world.
Krome has been building games for twelve years, and that gives us a very important context since day one.
But, why a partner instead of growing tech teams internally?
Johnson: Because it’s a nice match. Krome has had its own mini-engine business for a number of years, supporting five to seven game projects at any given time.
In the world we live in today, making smart business combinations – as opposed to building from scratch – that’s always a good idea.
What I’m driving to is the question; is a partnership like this more expendable than building up internally?
Johnson: Expendable? No. Engineers are highly-trained and important individuals in the marketplace. Having the right core tech team is essential – having the development teams is essential, and that’s what this combination allows us to have is a lot of fluidity.
Can you see this partnership and engineering workforce being the same size in, say, three years? Can it last beyond that?
Walsh: Actually in three years time, I think our workforce will be bigger. We’ve got to start planning for the next generation of consoles – it’s coming, whether it’s in two years or four.
Right now we’re still going to support and build on our own tech, but we’re also going to be planning for the next generation.
Johnson: Exactly. No one knows when the next generation starts, but new platforms in all kinds of forms are coming out all the time.
Offering out your engine for free is the newest trend in the engine business; is Emergent going to emulate what Unity and Epic have done?
Johnson: We’ve had a prototyping program in place for a long time, and we support the independent game community very aggressively.
A lot of companies have put a different marketing spin on their engine plans, the bottom line is that we’re working to keep the best game teams moving forward.