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Middleware Postmortem: Quazal Technologies
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Middleware Postmortem: Quazal Technologies


November 8, 2004 Article Start Previous Page 3 of 3
 

What Went Wrong

Postponing Rendez-Vous. The counterpoint to the last 'What Went Right' point is that we took a long time to react and start on Rendez-Vous. We had received a lot of hints from developers even before GDC 2003 (actually, as early as 2000) that our potential clients, especially on the publishing side, really wanted a lobby solution to go alongside Net-Z. However, we decided to focus on Net-Z development instead and only started Rendez-Vous around July of 2003. We viewed Quazal as a product-development team, and not a service-development team. That's about a 5-6 month delay between really understanding the need for Rendez-Vous, and committing to actually developing it.

Originally, we planned to focus on in-game networking, and work with the existing lobby providers on PC and PS2 to let them handle the out-of-game solution. After several months (through GDC 2003), we realized that this relationship simply wasn't going to work from a technical and an ideological point of view. Also, several potential clients decided that they didn't want to license two technologies for online play, so they chose to develop their own in-game solution and license the lobby system elsewhere. This made for a pretty compelling argument to start Rendez-Vous.


Quazal's Rendez-Vous Management Console.

We've always strived to be open to new feature requests, but since then, we've tried to be a lot more responsive to things like this, and the message to other middleware developers is to always have an open mind to new features, and to always be able to criticize your current plans. Now, no company has unlimited financial or manpower resources, so you can't just immediately start work on any newly proposed feature or product, but we really should have reacted to the need for Rendez-Vous much sooner than we did. In the end, this likely cost us a good half-dozen licenses, which is a lot of revenue for a small company like ourselves.

Curse of the Grey Hair. Back in 2000, the Quazal management (then known as Proksim) saw that they had the potential to really explode onto the scene if they played their cards right. After getting a significant round of financing from the investors, they scouted around and hired a CEO to ensure the success of the company. This was someone who had experience handling millions of dollars, and someone who had success in the past. Turns out, it was someone who pretty much broke the company.

With a healthy bank account and a small company, the new CEO immediately decided that gaming wasn't where the money was, and started looking at other revenue streams. Business plans were made for servicing the oil and gas industry, the banking industry, the airline industry and more. Even after a very promising GDC 2000, focus was shifted away from gaming and toward business applications. Every few months, the target market would be changed as new potential opportunities, or even hints of opportunities, arose, development would shift to accommodate the new market, and very little R&D work got done. No real sales happened in this time period either. Add to that a new Texas office and a reasonably massive increase in spending, and that healthy bank account rapidly dwindled to a stack of loose change.

The CEO was ousted, Proksim attempted to shift their focus back to gaming, but the damage was done. In late 2001, Proksim changed their name to Quazal, as the view in the development community was that we had abandoned the gaming market (and after the wild goose chase for business licenses, I can't blame them). Eterna was launched a month later, after receiving a small amount of investor funding. However, the debts from the prior CEO's era were too great, and Quazal went into stasis for most of 2002.

In late 2002, Quazal was resurrected with a new round of financing. The lesson here? Just because someone has had success in the past doesn't mean they have any clue how to manage your company, and the results can be disastrous, and when you're looking for a CEO, don't turn over too much power to them too soon - bad things can happen! Since then, however, we've been running quite smoothly and have had much more success with far more limited resources. An interesting side note: We launched around the same time as Havok. If we hadn't made this detour, could be have been as large as Havok is today?

Finding That First Customer. Demos are great. Solid technology is important. Good documentation can't be overlooked. However, all of that is pretty much worthless unless you find a team willing to take a risk with your product. Getting that first reference customer for our Net-Z technology took far longer than it really had to.

At GDC 2003 (three years after our first appearance, but the first tradeshow after our resurgence), we started up relations with dozens of teams, including some large publishers and developers. However, as promising as many of these were, none wanted to be the first to use our tech. At E3, we started talking with Eidos, and the relationship ebbed and flowed on through the summer. Finally, in October 2003, we closed our first deal with Eidos (and several followed quickly after that). The most asked question at all the trade shows and conferences was 'Who is using your technology?' We didn't have a good answer for that, and ended up spending a lot of time showing off demos and explaining how the technology actually worked.

At GDC 2004, we ran a much smaller booth, but we were able to talk about several teams that we were working with, including Eidos, Ubisoft and Sammy Studios. Seems that once you mention your client list, people don't care HOW your technology works, since they know that it DOES work. Now, the obvious next question is 'what games have SHIPPED with your technologies?' We'll have a good response to that in early 2005.

Did it have to be this way? Probably not. Looking back, we probably could have made some relatively major concessions and discounts with one of our other evaluations to lower their risk, but we didn't, and we suffered for it. Again, live and learn.

Blurry Focus and Funding Strings. With a reasonably small staff, and even with products that share a lot of their core technologies, focus is key to successfully delivering what your clients need, on time. After Quazal started back up in 2002, we still spread our focus between Eterna and Net-Z, and then started up Rendez-Vous development. This has been a huge stress on our staff, and impacts what we can deliver to our clients.

Looking at our client base now, pretty much everything has been based on Net-Z and Rendez-Vous. Eterna still hasn't really started paying off. Looking back, we probably should have put more focus purely on Net-Z, while letting Eterna slide a little. This would have let us get Net-Z into a 'completed' form sooner (nothing's every really complete in middleware), and would have let us devote more resources to Rendez-Vous, possibly letting us have it ready sooner too.

However, even if you realize that a change of path is beneficial, sometimes you can't act immediately due to your funding model. We love our VCs. Without them, we wouldn't exist. However, when you gain funding with a certain business plan, shifting away from that business plan is something that has to be cleared through your board of directors. Any other middleware company should realize this too, and be prepared. Also, part of this is simply a hesitation to 'let go' of the technology you started with, even though the market is screaming at you that your focus shouldn't be there. It took us a little too long to really realize this, though.

Don't Flinch. After the failure outlined in the second point, and the 'wasted' time outlined in the fourth point, Quazal became a little gun-shy and hesitant to invest. Basically, while we can now much more accurately figure out where our resources and money should go, we still hesitate to actually commit these resources, to the detriment of our marketing and our development. We now have decided to hire a few more staff members (though finding the right people is really quite difficult) to help speed up development on Net-Z and Rendez-Vous, and to help with support requests, which we know will start becoming an issue as we gain more clients.

Earlier on in our history, we ran an advertising campaign in trade magazines, with little tangible response. That cost a good amount of money, and didn't give any return, leading us to be more skeptical of the need for traditional marketing. Also, we licensed a certain console for development that it turns out nobody was interested in for online gaming. This made us more hesitant to jump on new platforms.

In 2005 we'll be starting up a more robust commitment to marketing and promotion. While our 'free' marketing has been worthwhile, and word of mouth has helped immensely, we understand that more traditional marketing is needed to really take us to the next level of awareness. We hope that by spending a little more on these things, it'll turn around and actually give us some better returns. It's a hard attitude to change, though.

A Look to the Future

What's next for Quazal? Well, everyone in the industry knows that there is a major transition looming on the horizon. With the next consoles from Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo in the wings, and with the PSP and DS introducing online play to the mainstream handheld scene, there are some great opportunities for middleware, as well as some great challenges. Quazal does indeed plan on supporting several of these new platforms. Also, we'll be devoting a lot of our time to Rendez-Vous development. While the technology in Rendez-Vous works really well, there are a large number of things we could enhance to make it easier for developers to adopt it as their own, and we're working on these. Last, but not least, it's time to really take on the Goliath in the online middleware market. With Net-Z and Rendez-Vous, we like to think that we have a pretty powerful slingshot in our pocket (with a laser sight and everything!).

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Article Start Previous Page 3 of 3

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