Monday, June 5, 2006
Interview with Robert Brown, Pragmatic Solutions
My interview today is with Robert Brown, VP of Business and Legal Affairs at Westlake Village-based Pragmatic Solutions (www.pr-sol.com), a firm that operates the back end of the popular, America's Army video game. America's Army is an immensely popular, first-person-shooter game that is offered free (as a recruiting tool) to users by the U.S. Army, and is also has been adapted by the Army and other armed forces for training and simulation purposes. The latest version of the game is linked into an online, multi-player game system. I thought it would be interesting to hear about the firm and its business.
Ben Kuo: So how did you deal with the U.S. Army come about?
Robert Brown: It's started from a bit of due diligence work about two and a half years ago. From just a chance meeting and doing some work and doing into some development things, they asked us to redevelop some of their technology, primarily in the area of authentication. We initially started with putting together the authentication system--basically, anyone who logs into the game logs in through our software. Then, successively after that we've been adding additional modules in each release. We've done a full statistics back end, dynamic content delivery, a reporting portal, and we also do a lot of work with the America's Army game engine in the government sector. What they do is the re-purpose the game and use it for training, simulation, learning technology, and things like that. We've also branched out from there, and in partnership with the Army, spun off a number of businesses. One is we run the Honor business for the Army. Basically people can purchase servers, play on those servers, accumulate points, and so forth, so that the Army can monetize the game. As you know, the original game is free. With the servers, people actually pay for it, and that money goes back to the Army as far as development costs.
BK: What's the background on the company--how did you get into this?
RB: The owner of the company, Peter Jakl, has about 20 years of software development experience. He had written some programming languages, and that was a big part of where he came from. The other primary people, myself included, came on board when we started picking up the Army work. We built it from a very small company, and we're now about 12 people, primarily developers. Peter and I handle most of the business development. My background is largely in the entertainment industry, and have worked for some dot coms. There are a lot of people we've hired who are really avid gamers. What we thought we'd bring is a new approach to the gaming industry, which is to focus on the data, as opposed to just the front end and what games look like.
BK: So this company really just grew out of the entire America's Army work?
RB: It did. Wedo have other customers we work with, doing pure software integration, and do a lot of different things. The Army business not only took off for us, but we saw an opportunity to build on that, establish partnerships with companies, and have a long term vision to repurpose that technology into other games and build up our network. We were able to build off the experience we had with the Army and established ourselves.
BK: So are you looking now at the massively multiplayer game market now?
RB: Yes, what we think we bring differently to the table from other companies is database driven gaming. It's a full suite of software tools, that in and of themselves are very interesting, but where we really think there's value is all those tools work together. They drive the database, drive gaming, but give the developers and publishers an additional revenue stream and return on investment, either to give them a way to provide targeted marketing to the consumer, or to sort of create ancillary markets they hadn't already seen. It's been a big focus area we're heading into.
BK: What kind of data do people use, what are they collecting, and what do they do with that data?
RB: With the Army, what is really intriguing, because they can't collect personal information, it's made the data we can show that much better. We're not allowed to collect personal information of any kind. We have a user ID, and a email address, and that's it. We've been able to tie that information into overall information on gameplay, servers, and we have a new game matchmaking site (www.aa-mbs.com) which gives the ability to tell a story. What that does is it takes things like an IP address, and do things like associate a national flag with them, showing on a server, for example, that ten players are from America, three are from Germany, six are from Canada, and so forth. More importantly, it allows a users to create their own information - create a server, buddy list, follow their own servers to watch gameplay. As we partner with other companies, and put our software into other titles, and don't have as many of the limitations as the Army has around collecting personal data, we'll be able to showcase how we can target to specific demographics.
BK: So are you working with any in-game advertising companies?
RB: We're in the process of talking to many of those. We come from a very different vantage point. One of our dynamic content delivery systems (DCDS) -- which does in-game advertising, like what a Massive or Double Fusion does--we look at an asset as an asset. Whether's it's an advertisement, a gun, a poster, or object, we can deliver those things--it's not just media. What we're looking for right now is to partner with an ad company that is interested in data from that point. We're interested in partnering with someone who isn't just interested in delivering advertising just from a streaming media standpoint, but look to repurpose things in the game. It's been somewhat of a challenge finding the right partners.
BK: Thanks for the interview!