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Q&A: Tamte On Destineer's Four-Pronged Approach

Q&A: Tamte On Destineer's Four-Pronged Approach

May 21, 2007 | By Alistair Wallis




Minneapolis-based publisher and developer Destineer was founded in 2000 by Peter Tamte, who now acts as the company’s president. Previously, Tamte had founded Macintosh publisher MacSoft, before working with Apple as senior director of worldwide consumer marketing and with Bungie Software as executive vice-president, leaving shortly after the company was acquired by Microsoft.

Destineer publishes titles through four different labels: Destineer, which Tamte describes as being “about authenticity” (Starship Troopers, Fullmetal Alchemist: Dual Sympathy), his own MacSoft label, which the company acquired back from Atari in 2003 (Halo, Age of Empires III), Atomic, through which they publish their military training simulations, and Bold, “for the mass-market, mainstream American heartland” (Red Orchestra, John Deere North American Farmer).

Destineer has also just announced two new additions to its Destineer label, versions of its Indianapolis 500 Legends for both the Wii and Nintendo DS. Legends will be an arcade style historical racing sim set between 1961 and 1971, letting players experience classic race cars as classic racers such as Al Unser, A.J. Foyt and Parnelli Jones. The game also promises pit stop mini-games that will utilize the Wii remote and DS stylus.

The success the company's Atomic label work for the Marine Corps saw Destineer announce in June 2005 that In-Q-Tel, a private venture capital firm funded by the CIA, would be making a “substantial investment” in the company. In-Q-Tel president and CEO Gilman Louie noted at the time that the firm was “very pleased with its partnership with Destineer and their promise of significant developments in simulation training that will enhance security readiness for the Intelligence Community”.

We spoke to Tamte recently, and asked about the company’s philosophy regarding its branding, the Macintosh gaming market, Destineer’s work with government training simulations, and its forthcoming retail titles.

What were your goals when you founded the company?

We originally had two objectives: the first was to develop a game engine that would allow us to create unique games, and the second was to build a Macintosh development and publishing business that would provide revenues and cash to grow our core business of creating unique multi-platform content.

How integral a part of the company is the idea of having four different labels? Is that something you had in mind when founding the company?

We ended up with four brands because of the businesses we’ve acquired. Initially, it wasn’t intentional.

Why did you decide to bring MacSoft in under the Destineer banner?

We acquired the MacSoft business from Atari in 2003. I had originally started MacSoft ages ago, so we understood how to build a profitable Macintosh business, and we believe MacSoft has meaning to the Macintosh community through its long-time advocacy of Macintosh gaming.

What are the main benefits of keeping your branding separate in that way?

Ultimately, a brand is just the promise of a particular experience. Brands only build value if they’re able to consistently deliver a particular, unique experience. But, the discipline that’s required to build brand meaning by focusing just on a particular experience fights with another objective of brand-building, which is awareness—the raw challenge of getting your brand into as many hands as possible. Our challenge is building four brands simultaneously at our size, which is tough.

Do you think this kind of brand awareness is something more publishers should be taking into account?

I think publishers should understand whether they’re pursuing a strategy of content aggregation or content creation. Both are legitimate strategies, but it’s very difficult to build brand meaning if you’re just aggregating various kinds content, rather than working with developers only to create games around a particular kind of experience.

Rockstar is one of few examples of a publisher that pursued a “creation” strategy, where they had the discipline only to build certain kinds of experiences, and this strategy and execution has built a brand that sells games.

On the other hand, EA, Activision, and THQ have all pursued aggregation strategies successfully. Both are legitimate, but they affect whether you can build a meaningful brand.

How would you describe the state of the Mac gaming market at this point in time? Do you see things improving or getting worse?

Apple’s market share is growing so quickly now that it virtually guarantees prosperity in the Mac market for most big-budget games. The biggest tricks to manage in the Mac market are keeping system requirements down, especially because there are too many machines with Intel-integrated graphics, focusing on content that’s appropriate for the Mac market—because the Mac market responds to certain kinds of content better than others—and distribution, because we need Mac software to get sold through more outlets.

We believe the movement to Intel processors will narrow the gap between when a game ships for Windows versus the Macintosh, and this will be hugely beneficial to the Mac market.

What do you think of as the "mass market" Bold is aimed at, and how do you go about attracting this market?

It’s important to separate “mass-market” from “casual”. We only create a mass-market game when we believe it fills an unmet need of mainstream America, has low system requirements, and will get good traction with the major mass-market retailers. John Deere: American Farmer is a great example of this. An earlier example is Deer Hunter, which our CEO Paul Rinde brought to market earlier in his career.

Do you see this as a market that will continue to expand?

Yes, it will definitely expand, especially as distribution to mainstream America expands.

How did you become involved with In-Q-Tel?

In-Q-Tel saw the work we were doing for the Marine Corps and inquired about making a substantial investment in the company. This allowed us to expand our training business to begin building training systems for a large number of intelligence agencies.

How do you go about designing a training simulation?

It’s really a mixture of both technology and subject matter expertise. Although we have acquired substantial subject matter expertise through our work with the government, we still work very, very closely with soldiers, Marines, intelligence, and law enforcement officers to build in accuracy and training effectiveness.

How do your games developed for the Government differ from their retail counterparts?

It’s important to say that we don’t make video games for the government, and we don’t make training simulations for the commercial market. Video games and training simulations share technology and artwork, but they diverge radically in design. Additionally, our training simulations offer a variety of tools to improve learning.

What kind of market is out there for the retail versions?

Our first commercial game based on a training simulation, First to Fight, was a top ten best-seller on Xbox the month it shipped and has sold many hundreds of thousands of units.

What training projects are you working on currently?

We’re working on a number of training systems for military, intelligence, and law-enforcement organizations.

What other projects is Destineer working on?

We have more than a dozen commercial games under development now for virtually every console, handheld, and desktop platform. At least six of these games will get announced during the next few months.

Where do you see the company going in the future?

We’ve been quietly building a proprietary game engine for the next-generation consoles that offers a number of capabilities I haven’t seen in other engines, and our studios in Minneapolis and Raleigh are building large-budget games with this technology.

Additionally, we’ve greatly expanded the number of projects we’re building with third-party developers, and we expect to get much more aggressive internationally later this year.


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