Game Companies Get Down To Business

Being a genius with a great idea isn't enough; gaming companies are following the lead of corporate IT and adopting third-party middleware to make their products winners.
Booch counters that such arguments were heard when programming shifted from assembly language to higher-level programming languages. "There's no doubt that hand-crafted systems are always going to be superior in performance to what I can do via compiler if, and this is a big if, I'm willing to spend the resources necessary to do that hand crafting," he says. "But when I start reaching a point of scale where I'm talking about hundreds of thousands, if not a few million lines of code potentially, then the ability to even build the software in the first place becomes the primary barrier toward advancement."

Such sprawling development projects are where Arrington sees enterprise IT methods having the most impact.

IBM knows something about that. At the GDC, the longtime standard bearer for enterprise computing said that it had reached agreements with several gaming and animation companies to provide software and services "to help game companies manage their games environment, reduce expenses, increase efficiency and generate more revenue." IBM has been involved with the game industry for about the past five years.

Hoplon Infotainment, based in Brazil, turned to IBM to provide mainframe-based hosting for its upcoming game TaikoDom. It's also using IBM Rational Software Development Platform to better manage the game's development process with workflow management options, automated code testing tools, and asset tracking, to name a few features.

Building a server farm that can scale with demand and handle bursts of gaming traffic, Booch observes, is a challenge not unlike what any systems administrator at a large company might have to face in rolling out a new online marketing effort.

Jackson suggests that middleware has migrated from the business world because the problems faced by online game companies aren't significantly different from general e-commerce concerns like security, real-time transactions, network communication, and database access. "Although many of the able middleware products like physics and graphics engines are unique to games, several others are merely addressing issues similar to business applications," he argues.

That being the case, Jackson sees further opportunity for traditional enterprise players to the gaming industry. "Given compatible hardware and adequate performance -- even a half-second delay in a game can prove fatal -- there is no reason why established middleware providers can't expand into the game development space," he explains. "This is why IBM does so well using its e-commerce platforms for online games."

Last August, The Acacia Research Group issued a report that predicted the game middleware industry would triple from $149 million to around $430 million by 2010. The firm suggests the growth of mobile phones as a gaming platform, along with interactive TV and IPTV, will make middleware more appealing to developers as a means to port their games to different environments.

This is not a trend that has arisen overnight. Arrington recalls hosting session at the 1999 Game Developers Conference at which he suggested the industry would move to off-the-shelf middleware, which drew audible gasps of disbelief. The following year, he notes, there were several games in development that used Criterion's RenderWare middleware. Now, it's commonplace.

While development tools have made it easier to make games, Arrington still believes there's a place for industry visionaries. People like Carmack "give the middleware makers something to shoot for," he says.