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Q&A: Unity's Seyler On Making The Tool Firm Switch

Q&A: Unity's Seyler On Making The Tool Firm Switch Exclusive

February 1, 2010 | By Brandon Sheffield

Recently, engine developer Unity Technologies announced it hired GarageGames executive Brett Seyler to serve as VP of strategy at its new San Francisco headquarters.

At Oregon-based GarageGames (and later its sister company InstantAction), Seyler served as VP of strategy for the Torque engine business, giving him a firm baseline of experience in the world of engine development and sales.

Unity has been a fast-growing member of the engine world, recently closing $5.5 million in funding from investment groups including Sequoia Capital, and offering a version of its popular development environment for free. Recent company statements put the Unity engine at a developer base of about 63,000, and a consumer install base of about 20 million.

In a new interview, Gamasutra spoke with Seyler about his experiences at GarageGames, why he made the move, what appeals to him about Unity, and his advice for prospective job-switchers.

Why did you decide to make the switch from GarageGames to Unity?

Brett Seyler: Leaving GarageGames was no easy decision. It was a great experience and I have very few regrets. I was lucky enough to work with some truly brilliant people. Josh Williams -- a phenomenal young CEO -- and the company founders had an exciting vision for growing the company further with InstantAction and games. It was great to be a part of that and work with them in a variety of roles.

For the past two years at GarageGames, my primary responsibility was leading the Torque business, in all aspects. In that capacity, I got to see a relatively young development team grow by leaps and bounds and it showed in the releases we shipped. In 2009, I think Torque moved forward faster than at any time in its past. I have to credit that modest but very effective team with that accomplishment.

In July last year, the company saw major changes. We brought on a new CEO, [Westwood Studios founder] Lou Castle, and decided to close the company's Eugene headquarters, relocating the employees there to Portland for platform development and Las Vegas for games and Torque.

I want to say that, in my short time working with him, Lou was really great. He lived up to his stellar reputation and was very supportive during what could have been a much more difficult period of transition.

Nevertheless, these changes and others were no longer a good fit for me. I wanted to be at a younger, smaller company again, and yet, I still felt very passionately about the kind of work I was doing.

In truth, I'd been a closet fan of Unity as a company for quite some time. I've watched them craft and deftly execute a great strategy that has allowed them to grow faster than anyone else in this space.

Even when I was running the Torque business, I always had a good, friendly relationship with [Unity CEO] David Helgason and others. I was killing myself trying to find ways to beat them of course, but I almost always came away impressed with how they managed their young company.

I also knew that if I joined, I could add significantly to their already impressive momentum. I'd been spending 18 hour days for more than two years thinking about how to succeed in this space and I didn't want all those ideas to go dim or my passion to dwindle.

In the end, Unity offered me the perfect opportunity to see these ideas and ambition come to life. What's more, my vision to invest heavily in the rapidly changing web and mobile markets and for adapting to their evolution were eerily in alignment with the Unity founders. It just felt right.

GarageGames was also a game developer. Is it different working at an engine-only company?

BS: It is, yes. The company has grown at tremendous speed and has fantastic momentum. Finding ways to continue improving and innovating is challenging, but I've been impressed by the single-minded focus and dedication to the core product. The vision is to build the best tool set available for authoring interactive content and to support the most attractive platforms.

It's hard to argue with the results this kind of focus has achieved thus far, but we're thrilled to have the support of Sequoia Capital so that we can think very big and be very bold about seizing new opportunities, should we choose to. It's an exciting time!

Was there something you were looking for in your career that you couldn't get at GarageGames?

BS: Yes. I wanted to be back at a smaller company with greater control of its destiny. People talk about the day the "soda is no longer free." It's an apt anecdote.

I strongly prefer the intensity and passion of start-up culture to bigger companies. If I hadn't found such a great fit at Unity, I would probably be doing something much smaller still. I've always been inspired by what a few driven, talented people can do. It's an addictive lifestyle, the excitement of it.

How do you feel about the fact that several other companies are making their engines free to some extent after Unity's announcement?

BS: I commented on this a bit in a blog [post] for the Torque community shortly after [Unreal Development Kit] was announced, and my feelings on it haven't changed all that much.

I think Unity was very bold and very smart in making a commercial license to their product free. Even though Epic used the word "free" everywhere -- which was great for PR -- UDK is really not free for commercial use.

Semantic nit picks aside, I think Unity and Torque should feel validated in their commitment to developers in this space. Unity is focused not just on making their tool set accessible for developers to use, but to create works they can profit from.

This is consistent with supporting platforms that offer the best commercial opportunity as well. Right now and for the foreseeable future, that's the web and mobile devices.

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