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Interview: Emergent, Krome Ink Major Tech Partnership

Interview: Emergent, Krome Ink Major Tech Partnership Exclusive

September 13, 2010 | By Leigh Alexander

September 13, 2010 | By Leigh Alexander
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More: Console/PC, Exclusive

Gamebryo engine company Emergent Game Technologies and major Australian developer Krome Studios have inked a deal to merge their middleware tech and engineering teams, collaborating on product extensions and developing cross-platform games together.

Through the deal, Emergent becomes exclusive licensor of the joint work into 2011 and beyond, the companies say. Krome CEO Robert Walsh tells Gamasutra that his studio has been for some time considering an entrance into the middleware space, and that Emergent makes an ideal partner.

"It seemed they have a strong customer base, and they're really strong in sales and marketing," he says. "Instead of having two more in the marketplace, we can join forces -- it just made sense."

In its 12-year history, Krome has been predominantly a console developer, creating products including Microsoft's Game Room for Xbox 360, the multiplatform Star Wars: The Clone Wars: Republic Heroes and the Ty the Tasmanian Tiger mascot-based series.

But its size means it's well accustomed to an internal tech infrastructure with a core engineering team, says Walsh. "At any one time, internally, we'll be supporting 5-7 game teams," he says. "We're in the middleware business already; we have a number of external partners and have integrated everything from Havok to PhysX."

There is a small amount of overlap between Krome's existing tech partners and Emergent's, says Walsh, "but not hugely. We both talk to the same people in the same space; there's more of a synergy than anything else. We already have those relationships and I think they'll continue."

"Culturally, our engineers see things very similarly," agrees Emergent president and CEO Scott Johnson, who also talked to Gamasutra on the partnership. "If you take a look at [our] two companies, we're each mature companies who've been very stable in the industry... and so there's a proven bed of technology on both sides."

Johnson says that Emergent historically began as a PC-centric technology, while Krome's began as console-centric. As both have evolved over the years into cross-platform companies, their heritages "dovetail together and overlap on our framework." And that can only benefit Emergent's large and growing Gamebryo licensee base, he adds -- to date, some 300 games have been published using Emergent's technology, from Oblivion to Warhammer Online, and it's also being used in Disney's Epic Mickey, for just a few examples.

It fits Emergent's strategy, too: When Johnson took on the role of CEO earlier this year, "one of the first things I said was, 'we need to get much closer to game development,'" he says. "Really understanding how the tools are being used and having an intimate relationship with teams is critical in making the right relationship at the detail level."

The companies tell us that starting in October, they'll roll out "a very aggressive roadmap" regarding their technology, and customers can expect to benefit from Krome's experience in "important details that come from really having shipped games," according to Johnson.

The pair also see a benefit in middleware that started as pure technology, rather than being licensed after a successful run backing a popular video game. "What's really great about that model is you have this killer game that is your marquee marketing message, and the guys that have been most successful at this have been able to have a lot of control with that game and that has allowed them to drive their business forward," says Johnson.

But he sees a limit in that approach: "You end up with a lot of games that look very similar," he says, and Emergent's party line for its technology is that a root in professional software primarily will benefit developers by offering them more flexibility.

According to Krome, the partnership will allow Emergent to offer that diversity to its licensees without pipeline compromises: "One of the other things is Krome is... one of the few developers in the world that has shipped the same game across six different consoles in six languages on the same day."

More specifically, Johnson also praises Krome's art tools and technology -- "things in the asset management world, or disc-based management world, or tools for an art pipeline... we're taking the best of each company's things and rolling forward on the proven framework of Gamebryo and offering that in a full engine with Lightspeed. We're really advancing aggressively."

"I think it's a great partnership, not just from a technology side, but from a philosophy side," enthuses Walsh.

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