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Posts tagged ‘Paul Bettner’

4
Jun

Zynga closes Dallas studios (Formerly Bonfire Studios and NewToy)

Yesterday Zynga announced the shocking news that it was closing its Zynga Dallas and Zynga With Friends studios. Prior to Zynga’s acquisition of these teams they were known as Bonfire Studios and NewToy respectively. It was not long ago back in February 2013 that Zynga’s Chief Operating Officer, David Ko announced that it was merging all of its Texas operations under a single office as part of cost cutting moves for the struggling company. Now it seems those cost cutting measures have gone even deeper resulting in the layoff of all staff from the studios formed by Ex Ensemble Studios members. Read moreRead more

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6
Oct

Paul and David Bettner leave Zynga

Ex Ensembler’s Paul and David Bettner who set about forming the hugely successful mobile studio NewToy have confirmed that they have now left the mobile gaming giant, Zynga. Paul and David Bettner joined Zynga after NewToy was acquired in December 2010. Back then the brothers commented that joining Zynga made perfect sense as both parties “share the same dream of building a social treasure”. Since the acquisition the NewToy studio which was re-named “Zynga With Friends” have greatly expanded the “With Friends” series of games from the massively successful Words with Friends to including Hanging, Matching, and Gems with Friends. Read moreRead more

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2
Dec

Zynga acquires NewToy

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9
Jul

Paul Bettner of Newtoy also to speak at GDC Europe

Paul Bettner from iPhone developer NewToy is also going to be presenting at GDC Europe along with Bruce Shelley (these are separate presentations). Paul’s talk is titled “Keys to Successful iPhone Game Marketing”. The talk is likely to draw on things from the studio’s expierence in generating highly successful iPhone games including the highly popular Words / Chess with Friends series. Here is the session description from the GDC Europe website:

Publishers and developers are constantly looking for ways to solve the biggest issue with creating games for iPhone, discovery. If people don’t know about your app and can’t find it, it’s impossible to make money in the market. The participants of this session will discuss what you need to do to have success in today’s iPhone market. From the effectiveness of advertising, to code giveaways and promotions, if you’re creating a game for iPhone, this session will better prepare you for the task of marketing your game.

https://www.cmpevents.com/GDCE10/a.asp?option=G&V=3&id=642877

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21
Mar

Paul Bettner responds to Ian Fischers open letter via Joystiq

The debate continues between Paul Bettner and Ian Fischer as Joystiq have managed to press a response from Paul in regards to Ian’s recent open letter where he shed light on some flaws in Paul’s speech including falsifying his position as a manager who had some oversight into the way the studio was run and his title a “Creative Director” of which there was no position at Ensemble.

One important point to highlight in the response is that Paul does believe Ensemble was a high quality studio that it was focused on delivering excellent games, and the studio did with each game selling millions of copies:

In my opinion, Ensemble was one of the greatest game developers in the world. I loved Ensemble. I owe so much to the friends I was privileged to work with there for so many years. I am extremely proud of what we accomplished together and I said so in my talk. Our shipped titles and their legacy in millions of sales and numerous awards are an undeniable testament to Ensemble’s industry-leading focus on quality and fun.

Here is the full response:

 ”Ian and I did work together for over a decade. I value our relationship and I appreciate his letter. At Ensemble there were times where our individual philosophies on game development led us to different perspectives on how things should be run, as is evident in his response. When I read Ian’s open letter, it seemed to me that he was actually supporting many of the points I made in my talk (the usage of crunch, for example), even though we obviously disagree on how and why these factors contributed to Ensemble’s demise.

That said, there is a message that I tried to convey in my rant that has still not gotten enough coverage:

In my opinion, Ensemble was one of the greatest game developers in the world. I loved Ensemble. I owe so much to the friends I was privileged to work with there for so many years. I am extremely proud of what we accomplished together and I said so in my talk. Our shipped titles and their legacy in millions of sales and numerous awards are an undeniable testament to Ensemble’s industry-leading focus on quality and fun.

Ian points out:

‘The truth of the matter is, Ensemble Studios, while certainly fond of numerous inefficient development practices, was no costlier or less efficient than any other developer of our caliber during this period of operation… yes, sometimes after we had steered hard left into the weeds, we needed to work long hours to get the car back on the road.’

This is the fact that is striking to me: Even at one of the highest caliber game development studios in the world, we still utilized these ‘numerous inefficient development practices,’ including the use of regular, recurring unpaid overtime. Yes we were way better about this than some. We scheduled it in advance. We catered meals and had family nights when spouses and children would come to visit their busy loved ones. We viewed crunch as a management failure.

But we still did it. On a regular basis.

I hope that my rant shines a light on the quality of life issues that were present even at one of this industry’s greatest studios. I don’t think we should accept these practices as a necessary evil of game development. I think we can do better. I can do better. This is a call to action: our industry-wide reliance on mandatory unpaid overtime needs to stop.”

I hope that now as independent studios groups like Robot, Bonfire, Windstorm, NewToy and Fuzzycube can operate with much less crunching – or in NewToy’s case, where lead by Paul Better, no crunching at all.

Source: http://www.joystiq.com/2010/03/18/ex-ensemble-studios-lead-designer-responds-to-bettner-rant/

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17
Mar

Ian Fischer responds to Paul Bettner in open letter

 

Ian Fischer ex Lead Designer at Ensemble Studios and now working in the same role at Robot Entertainment has responded to Paul Bettners rant at the GDC where Paul claimed the studio was expensive, in efficient with low staff morale. As I discussed before these are only one mans views and do not reflect the whole studio. Many ES employees were very happy with the management of ES and followed ex ES leaders such as Tony Goodman into Robot Entertainment and David Rippy into Bonfire Studios. If staff wernt happy they simply would not have formed these new studios.

However, Ian Fischer has taken the time to respond to each of Paul Bettners points at the GDC in an open letter on his personal blog. You can read the whole letter below however I recommend checking out the full posting on Ian’s website for comments.

An open letter to Paul Bettner

Paul,

You and I worked together at Ensemble Studios for more than a decade.   I respect your right to your own opinion and your right to state it.  However,  I take issue with the manner you have decided to speak about your displeasure with “crunch culture” at the 2010 GDC. 

In several email exchanges, you seem to indicate that your comments are being taken out of context but you need only visit any of the summaries regarding your talk to see the message you have given people: 

Escapist – Ensemble Studio Member Blames Crunch For Failure

Eurogamer – Crunch Culture Killed Ensemble Studios

Edge – Crunch Brought Down Ensemble

Industry Gamers - Halo Wars Developer Talks About How ‘Crunch’ Destroyed Ensemble

Devlop Online – Crunch Culture Killed Ensemble

Joystiq - Recently laid-off devs rant about being recently laid off

You have given people the impression that Ensemble was inefficient and expensive.  

It is true that each of our games cost more to make than the last.  This was not unique to Ensemble and had nothing to do with a “crunch culture”.  Between Age of Empires in 1997 and Halo Wars in 2009, game development budgets, team sizes, and schedules increased across the board.  This was primarily fueled by the maturation of 3D and publishers adopting portfolio strategies focused on big-ticket “blockbuster” games.  

Ensemble danced to this tune and shipped five major titles (each of which gained membership into the million+ club) and four expansion packs (five if you count the one developed by Big Huge Games) during this period.  I invite you to compare that to our peers — take a look at the number of games put out by Valve or Blizzard or Epic during the same time and speak with the people we know at these studios about their budgets and teams.  The truth of the matter is, Ensemble Studios, while certainly fond of numerous inefficient development practices, was no costlier or less efficient than any other developer of our caliber during this period of operation.

You have given people the impression that Ensemble burned out our best people.

Your comments include statements regarding chasing people out of the industry, destroying “precious artists”, wrecking families, and causing people to “sacrifice their youth”.  

Ensemble enjoyed a reputation as a place you didn’t leave.  Our retention rates, including people who did not exit the company voluntarily, were in the vicinity of 90%.  You will find few developers who can claim this at all and you will find none amongst the ones who actually “wreck families” or ask people to “sacrifice their youth”.  

Of the people who were once in the studio, the vast majority are still in the games business.  Of the people who worked at other developers prior to Ensemble, the most common complaint was that the studio was too lax, that we allowed our people too much freedom and did not hammer individuals for playing games or not being at their desks by the official start of the workday.  There were certainly people at Ensemble who did not like working long hours for extended periods (all of them, in fact) but your implication that it was a place that used people up is wholly untrue and contrary to all evidence.  

You have given people the impression that Ensemble accepted crunch. 

The leadership of Ensemble Studios saw crunch as a failure.  While it was certainly used, it was never “institutionalized” or accepted.  Tony Goodman, Harter Ryan, Chris Rippy, and David Pottinger, in particular, worked to eliminate or at least reduce it constantly and we improved this with each game. 

Prior to Halo Wars, which required what it did for the circumstances surrounding the closure of the studio, we had crunches that were scheduled in advance, typically for two weeks in duration, with extra hours (usually 10 until 10) four days a week, normal Fridays and weekends off, with chefs who came in to cook meals for the team twice a day, usually a family night during one of the weeks, with a month or so of extra paid vacation after a game shipped.  That was a far cry from the do-or-die conditions during Age of Empires and the leadership was still upset about having to ask people to do it. 

You have given people the impression that the closure of Ensemble was somehow a “fiscally responsible decision” and that Ensemble is to blame for the closure. 

Every single game Ensemble Studios made, across more than a decade, paid for it’s development and made a profit.  Microsoft had it’s reasons for closing the studio but to imply that it was because we cost too much is fiction.  ES enjoyed a long relationship with Microsoft (as many ex-Studios people now at Robot or Bonfire still do), first as a partner and then as part of the corporation after 2001 – if, at any point, the leadership in Redmond wanted to reduce the cost of making games in Dallas, they could have done so with a phone call.        

You have given people the impression that you speak with authority.

By apologising for your inactions “as a manager”, you suggest that you were a manager and therefore imply that you have some insight into the operation of the studio or into the justifications for our closing.  You were never a member of the management team at Ensemble Studios.  For that matter, neither you, nor anyone else, was “Creative Director” at our studio.  You were in no way involved in any of the conversations between Ensemble’s and Microsoft’s leadership regarding the closure of the studio.

As I said, I respect your right to have and state your opinion.  I would request that you not suggest or allow people to assume that you speak from a position that you did not hold.    

Since we’re on the topic of looking back on mistakes we made, I will leave you with this:

All of us knew what Ensemble was and we signed on for it willingly (including Microsoft, who purchased us in the middle of developing our third game with them and who knew what we were like).  Of the “old timers”, none of us wanted to work at a factory, beholden to a rigid schedule, cranking out mediocre games to keep the lights on and we did our best to attract like-minded individuals.  We wanted the freedom to try things, to experiment, and to set our sights on unreasonable goals (an attitude very similar to the “65% of the impossible is better than 100% of the ordinary” espoused by Google). 

We exercised that freedom and certainly valued it far more than efficiency.  With that independence came the responsibility to actually get things done on occasion so, yes, sometimes after we had steered hard left into the weeds, we needed to work long hours to get the car back on the road. 

If you want to find mistakes with what we did, I’d suggest that those trips into the weeds, looking for new territory, with a partner who wasn’t fond of being there, was more our error.  Had we decided to crank out RTS after RTS instead of chasing after the MMOs and FPSs and RPGs and RTS-differents we constantly had in prototype, I’m sure we would have been a more efficient studio that could have operated with zero crunch. 

The vast majority of us didn’t want to do this.  I’m glad for that.

Regards,

Ian M. Fischer

Certainly a very insightful response into the runnings of Ensemble Studios. Sadly its a shame that comments in this letter is unlikely to make it into gaming news websites and the reputation of Ensemble may well have been damaged with the recent press. I hope that fans of the studio can draw there own conclusions from the facts above.

See the full post on Ian’s blog

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14
Mar

Paul Bettner of NewToy says Ensemble demise due to company culture

News is spreading around that Paul Bettner an ex Ensemble programmer has had a bit of a “rant” at the GDC explaining that Ensemble Studios should not of blamed Microsoft for the studios closure and should instead look at failings with the company culture at Ensemble Studios. In what has proven to be such a shock read from an ex-Ensemble employee which certainly damages the excellent working environment Ensemble was credited for he says:

“The reality is that every single game we shipped took twice as long as we said it was going to take, and cost twice as much to make.

“Microsoft is a public company, they answer to their shareholders, and we were simply too expensive.”

Ouch.

But wait, theres more:

“Ensemble had a company culture where everyone was a workaholic, developers worked late and slept at the office, and were addicted to the rush of success of the Age of Empires series.

I watched this happen and I did almost nothing to stop it. As an employee, and later as a manager, I didn’t take a stand. I just kept hoping for that next high”

“This is a horrible vicious cycle. We burn out all our best people. We destroy these precious artists, we wreck their families and we sacrifice their youth. So they leave, and they take all their experience with them.”

Some pretty shocking comments there which resulted in huge applause from the GDC audience, perhaps with other developers agreeing that there is way too much pressure in the industry with these “crunching” hours.

This is the first time we have had an Ensemble Studios employee almost attack the way the company was managed but we must remember on the other end of the scale that alot of people stuck with Ensemble once the studio was told it would be closed down and ironically Dave and Paul Bettner were one of the first employees to leave and start NewToy before Halo Wars was completed.

These are one mans comments and do not reflect the thoughts of the whole studio. 45 employees followed Tony Goodman to start up Robot Entertainment so there must of been confidence in the highest management. Perhaps lessons have been learnt about crunching hours and the new Ensemble startups are paying closer attention to how staff are looked after and how studios are run to ensure talent does not leave whilst at the same time balancing budget and hitting milestones. Now with studios like Robot and Bonfire being fully independent there may be less pressure to meet publisher demands, hopefully.

Source: http://www.eurogamer.net/articles/crunch-culture-killed-ensemble-studios

Sidenote:

It should also be noted that Robot Entertainment sponsor the International Game Developers Association and therefore stands by the values and principles behind the IGDA “Quality of Life” white paper. If there were any issues at Ensemble these should now have been addressed with the management at Robot Entertainment. Robot Chief Operating Officer, Patrick Hudson comments on the IGDA website:

Robot Entertainment is proud to support the IGDA in its ongoing mission to make the game development community a better environment for all of us.

This comment is not related or a response to the Paul Bettner discussion and has been present on the IGDA website for quite some time prior.

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18
Sep

Paul Bettner: Newtoy to become a “Nintendo of the iPhone”

bettner_paul[1]

NewToy’s Paul Bettner an ex programmer at Ensemble Studios was one of the first to start up a new games company out of Ensemble’s ashes. Paul is now talking to Gamasutra about the new start up company and how he in-visages the companies future. Paul hopes that NewToy can appeal to the unique iPhone market taking into account the platforms easy connectivity and user interaction. The Gamasutra article explains how well the “Chess with Friends” application has been doing since launch, although missing out on the Top 100 the game has had some excellent download numbers:

Chess With Friends came from that philosophy. The game got good support from Apple, which featured the game prominently on the App Store as Pick of the Week in March. The vote of confidence led to a nice jump in sales.

But it still didn’t break the top 100 Apps on the sales ranking list on the App Store, meaning visibility for the game would be low. For iPhone developers, making the top 100 is a crucial requisite for having a successful game.

Bettner said he didn’t pack up and go home. There is a life outside of the Top 100, and it involves sustained growth of a game’s sales and good consumer retention, two things possessed by Chess With Friends and its Scrabble-style counterpart, Words With Friends, he said.

Combined, Chess and Words, which both have ad-supported free and paid versions, have been downloaded 500 million times so far. They draw 50,000 active users daily, and are tracking 200,000 for September, Bettner said. The ratio of free to paid versions is 5:1.

Check out the full article on Gamasutura.

As NewToy continue development on new and exciting applications such as the much awaited “World War Robot” with acclaimed artist Ashley Wood. 

Good luck NewToy!

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9
May

“World War Robot” the next iPhone game to come from NewToy

World War Robot

NewToy formed by ex Ensemble programmers David and Paul Bettner who left Ensemble before its closure have announced thier second iPhone game “World War Robot”. The official press release from NewToy follows:

WORLD-RENOWNED CREATORS JOIN FORCES FOR NEW IPHONE GAME


May 5th, 2009 – McKinney, Texas – Newtoy, an independent video game developer, is pleased to announce it is collaborating with acclaimed artist and creator Ashley Wood, renowned for his work on the graphic novels Popbot and Zombies vs. Robots and credited with creating one of the world’s first digital comics for the Sony PSP – Metal Gear Solid: Digital Graphic Novel. Newtoy is partnering with Wood to bring his WORLD WAR ROBOT universe to life in a new game designed exclusively for the iPhone and iPod Touch.


In World War Robot, the human race is split by religion and politics as they wage a savage war between Earth and Mars. Giant robots augment the destruction with incredible battles, intense human/robot drama, a little black humor and some political intrigue thrown into the mix in this epic story.


“We share a dream for a new kind of game development,” said Paul Bettner, creative director at Newtoy. “World class game makers from around the globe – artists and illustrators, designers, musicians, coders – joining forces to craft the highest quality entertainment experiences on the most cutting edge game platforms. We are moving away from the monolithic studio model of development. We want to redefine the way video games are made. This collaboration with Ashley is that dream, realized.”


Of the partnership, Wood says, “I’m excited to team up with game creators who I have admired and, more importantly, whose games I have enjoyed playing over the years!”


About Ashley Wood

Ashley Wood is an internationally acclaimed artist and creator. He lives with his wife, three children and cat in Australia. Ashley has been making up pictures and ideas for a long time and has worked with major publishing and entertainment companies, including Dreamworks, Warner Bros, Sony, Konami, Vivendi International, Random House, Marvel Comics and Todd McFarlane Productions. Ashley’s work has appeared in books, movies, magazines, comics, television and video games.  Ashley is a three-time Spectrum Award winner and a two-time Communication Arts award winner and the co owner of 3A Toys. His personal website is: http://ashleybambaland.blogspot.com.


About Newtoy

Founded in 2008, Newtoy is the realization of two brothers, Paul and David Bettner, creators of the internationally best-selling Age of Empires series and most recently the highly anticipated Halo Wars strategy game for the Xbox 360. Paul and David bring nearly two decades of industry experience to Newtoy, with over twenty million units sold and multiple “Game of the Year” awards. Together, they share a vision for creating revolutionary games for the iPhone and iPod Touch. Newtoy’s website is: http://newtoyinc.com.

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