Not only are these invisible middlemen still wearing short trousers – they’re barely two years old – but their core is as Irish as Molley Malone’s wheelbarrow. Pavel Barter asked DemonWare CEO Dylan Collins how a small start-up became the backbone of multiplayer gaming.
“DemonWare… what do they do?” The standard reaction of gamers when asked about this Dublin-born business is one which the team must surely appreciate. DemonWare’s role is to remain unseen and unheard, to enhance liaison between players and make a developer’s task less painful. Although networking technology is but a phantom for gamers, for developers and publishers it is the new physics or AI.
What do they do? DemonWare assist all the major platforms – publishers like Atari, games like Starship Troopers – and are working to deliver a multitude of titles on next generation consoles including the PSP and Xbox360. In gaming’s global village, these guys matter.
DemonWare was officially launched in mid-2003. CEO Dylan Collins explains: “Prior to that myself and [CTO] Sean Blanchfield had a wireless software company, Phorest, which we started in Trinity College. We sold the company and were exploring opportunities in the game space because it was exciting and, after all, our background was in networking. After a lot of flying around the world and talking to various studios, we recognised the opportunity for network middleware. Our bet was that the future of gaming will be multiplayer and online.”
Not that Collins and Blanchfield were exactly inventing the wheel – GameSpy was already working on networking assets such as peer-to-peer matchmaking, statistics, security, and voice chat. “They were doing a good job too,” admits Collins, “but we saw a niche for something a little deeper in the network space, a more comprehensive network layer.”
The start-up team (ex-Havok employees and Trinity grads) initially built around GameSpy, but only after publishers repeatedly approached them asking “can you do lobby services?” did they decide to take their competitors head on, securing external venture capitalist investment and moving into an office on Dublin’s Abbey Street. Mid-2003, DemonWare was officially launched.
“In that first year we attended a lot of conferences, more listening than talking to ensure that we were creating what developers wanted. We became a middleware partner with Sony and Xbox and that gave people a lot of confidence in us. We also made it a priority to respect everyone’s needs and deadlines. The most important thing for any studio is that their game is shipped on time.”
DemonWare launched their first product at the Game Developers Conference 2004. Onlookers were shocked as to how fast the company moved in such a short space of time, but theirs was an experienced team that learned from past mistakes in other companies. Furthermore, their timing was better than a Swiss wristwatch since multiplayer gaming on consoles was only just beginning to take off. According to Collins, “some studios didn’t have any experience [in networking middleware], others had bad experiences building their own and wanted to outsource.”
DemonWare touts two products. The first is State Engine, a complete networking layer which is easily dropped into a game and looks after communication between computers or consoles. The other product is Matchmaking + (famously advertised on a DemonWare t-shirt by a couple of copulating bunnies), a lobby service that gives players access to user management, stats and downloads. Want to track an online gaming session, communicate with other players, or access feedback? Matchmaking + covers it all.
“We looked at how GameSpy went about their solution and thought, we can invent something that’s easier to use,” says Collins. “To this day, the reason a lot of developers and publishers buy our tech is because it’s easy to use and assemble – they can focus on great gameplay while we look after the plumbing.”
Both products are buried in a number of AAA titles released across all console platforms in 2005; combine that with a new DemonWare office in Vancouver and it’s evident that this Irish business is still on the rise. “It’s pretty cool to see a new title rolling in every couple of weeks and think, ‘wow, I played the last game in that series!’ What was initially a small Irish company is going out there and competing on a global market stage.”
DemonWare will remain in Ireland indefinitely, although Dylan Collins recognises the irony of operating an online connectivity business in a country which has broadband penetration levels on par with the Sahara Desert. “We’re staying here,” he laughs. “The labour pool is pretty good, we’ve strong links with Trinity, and at this stage, what with Havok and ourselves, publishers know that Ireland has a great middleware scene. The disadvantages, of course, is that Ireland is definitely becoming more expensive.”
Having been chased by a T-Rex on a rollercoaster with Sean Blanchfield, locked in a Santa Monica pool duel with Dylan Collins, raced through San Francisco while fed whiskey on a DemonWare tram, and nearly abducted by screaming lunatics in a DemonWare limousine, I can safely say no one does public relations quite like this company. When asked about their PR plans for GDC 2006, Collins mutters something about “military involvement”. Want to know what DemonWare do? They throw one hell of a party.
More info: http://www.demonware.net/news.html