- The World of id
- Shreveport and Softdisk
- id in the Living Room
- Journey into Retail
- The World is DOOMed
- Competition and Copyrights
- Challenges and Growth
- Future Plans and Projects
- Masters of their Destiny
The World of id
It's late at night. You flick off the light of your desk lamp, turn the computer off, grab your coat and head for the parking lot. You're one of the last people to leave the office for the evening and you're glad you can finally leave the day's toils behind. As you stroll down the corridor towards the exit you notice a light on in an office down the hallway. As you approach the office with the eerie glow emanating from the door strange sounds begin to become audible. Grunts, groans and snarls become louder and louder with each step closer to the door you take. You hear heavy breathing as if someone was in extreme anguish. Then the explosions start and spine chilling screams followed by gruesome laughter. "What nightmare could be happening in that office?!," you think as you reluctantly turn the corner to peer into the doorway. As the beads of sweat roll down your face and you slowly poke one eye into the open door an earth shattering scream lets out sending you reeling back against the wall, "YES! THE PLASMA RIFLE! NOW YOU'RE ALL GONNA DIE!!!"
Don't be surprised if this situation sounds familiar to you. There is probably not a computer left on the planet be it in the home, office, or university that has not at one point in time or another had a copy of DOOM installed on it. DOOM is the award winning, world renowned 3-D shooter computer game that holds the amazing title of being the most installed computer software program ever! DOOM takes the game player and transports them into a macabre world of futuristic mutant humans and heavily armed aliens, and gives the user more firepower than what was used in the Gulf War to rid the Earth and any neighboring societies of this vermin by plain and simple brute force and attrition. What makes this game so different from other computer games in the past is that the creators of DOOM, id Software, pioneered the game play interface they call "first-person, texture map style game" which has become the de facto standard for all the games in this growing genre. This style of game offers the interface where the player is looking out through the eyes of their superhuman fighter into a 3-D rendered world with such realism and depth that the user feels they are directly inside the game. Enemies, scenery, and incoming salvos all have the look and depth of a realistic 3-D environment, and the user has complete control to move around, duck, jump, open doors and function as if they wearing the combat boots and shouldering a rifle themselves.
Located in Mesquite, Texas, id Software has created a family of computer game titles based on this style of play, and their perfection of this type of computing technology has made them the undisputed leader of the 3-D shooter style game. From the craters of Mars, to the castles of World War II Germany, to the mystical lands of sorcerers and witchcraft id has helped create some of the most popular computer games ever based on their innovations with the first-person, texture map style. Complementing this computer game development success was their marketing prowess to employ the internet and vast networks of computer bulletin boards and user groups to give part of their games away for free to establish their customer base. The "try before you by" technique proved to be phenomenally successful for id as they distributed a limited version of their software to the public for free to get the addictions established all over the world. They then offered the full versions to the public by charging a full game price. This strategy resulted in millions of copies of the id Software games being distributed all over the world, and healthy revenues for the now 14 person company totaling $16 MM dollars in 1995. DOOM has also been ported to many other popular game platforms including Sega, Super Nintendo and the Sony Playstation.
The EM spoke with Jay Wilbur who is the "Biz guy" for id Software and was one of id's core members when the company was founded. Jay discussed the beginnings of the company, what it was like when they were working out of his living room in their original Louisiana location, the phenomenal growth of the company, the partnerships they have developed to nurture their growth, competitors and copy-cat games, and the technology and game play innovation that stems largely from their own preferences as computer gamers. Jay also discussed the future of id including their next software title release called "Quake", and the upcoming DOOM movie and book projects which truly show that DOOM and its cousins have transcended the hard disk drive into a cultural phenomenon.
Shreveport and Softdisk
The biggest attribute to id's success and the success of their style of game according to Jay is the creative genius behind the technical wizards who invented the first-person texture mapping interface. The three persons who were the founders of id are John Carmack, John Romero, and Adrian Carmack. These three game developers all share in the birth of the id family of games and all have their own specialties in the development process that culminated to the products they offer. John Carmack is the id lead technologist and lead technical guru, John Romero is the chief level designer and game designer, and Adrian Carmack leads the artists in the art group. They are still with id and still very active in all aspects of the company's product development.
These three coalesced in Shreveport, Louisiana while they were working for a software company called Softdisk. The primary project they were working on was a computer magazine on disk called "Gamer's Edge". This product was released with a new version every thirty days and within the publication was a new computer game. It was here that Jay says the group gelled to hone their skills in developing games together, and where the inklings of what they might be able to do on their own started to form. Jay worked for Softdisk as well, but was associated with John Romero well before all of the group's association at Softdisk. It was during their tenure at Softdisk that the origins of their 3-D shooter started. According to Jay, John Carmack had conceived the technology for the first-person, texture map style game in an earlier game called Hovertank One. This concept is what the other founders of id built upon with their capabilities to ultimately come up with an earlier iteration of what exists today. "Everyone had play at the concept but it all came together as a result of John Carmack's technology work. He would say, 'I have an engine that does A, B, C...' and one of those capabilities was texture mapping. The game was then built off of that."
While the soon to be id Software Company was still working at Softdisk, an event took place that Jay says was a critical catalyst for id's beginnings. A member of a Texas software development and distribution company called Apogee contacted John Romero to offer him an opportunity to create his own product, "Apogee contacted John Romero and said, 'Make a game and I will distribute it,' and Apogee offered a few thousand dollars in initial funds to show their good faith. It was that seed money that grew into Commander Keen." Commander Keen was the first software offering from id, and of the genre of the 3-D shooter. One month after Commander Keen was released into shareware (the distribution technique of "try before you buy") John Carmack, Adrian Carmack and John Romero left their jobs at Softdisk and officially begin id Software on February 1, 1991. At the early operations Jay was the unofficial biz guy doing everything he does for id now, but on a much smaller scale. "At that time is was just counting the beans and making sure they were all in the right place. Now I ride shotgun over distribution, fulfillment, all the business management aspects, and all the new opportunity assessments."
id in the Living Room
The primary driver that Jay cites for id breaking off onto its own was independence. The group realized they had the capability of creating their own products, and they had the success of their first offering in the shareware marketplace. To proceed on their own appears to have been the next logical step. Like many new start-ups, resources and work locations are not always the primary concerns for the business' operations. The id group had moved out of Softdisk and into the living room of Jay and John Romero's home to create their workspace for the software development. "id started in the room right next to my bedroom," Jay explained, "The early operations were simple as everyone had their computers laid out all over the place. It was a big room with a lot of people working in concert towards the end goal. In the beginning was the Commander Keen series and everyone knew what the project was and was working feverishly to get it out."
As for funding and resources in the operations of id, the traditional outlets of friends, family and associates, or savings did not come into play, "We were all working in the computer industry at the time and everyone had a PC of their own. Just pick 'em all up and move them into the same room and you're a start up." As Jay described the operations in the early stages, he commented on the roles that everyone plays and the understanding of how each person desired to work, and how that vision still persists today, "The founders were the ones that wanted to drive the creative side of the product development and my work complemented the management and business side. In this situation the business side supports the creative side and the business side takes its cues from the creative side. When they (the creative side) spit out a game we (the business side) take it and run with it." When reflecting on his role with the company, Jay commented on the level of intensity his role entails, "It tends to be busy on the business side of things because they are only two people running the business side of this $16 MM dollar company. There's twelve guys in there and they pop out a game and we pick it up and haul butt with it."
When it came to the development of the content of the game and the testing of the game for playability and user preference, most of this was done with their own opinions and preferences. Sometimes outside parties would come in, not on a formal level, mostly family and friends who id would show what they were doing for the project they were working on to get their opinions. But these software developers relied mostly on what they wanted in a game to drive their efforts, "Ultimately we market to ourselves. We slide right into the demographic mold of the people that we are trying to sell to." This could be viewed as a risky proposition by not examining to great lengths the desires and preferences of your target market. However, you can't argue with the fact that the interpretation of their profiles fitting their market demographics as being sound logic to determine what users will want.
Journey into Retail
In the early days id worked with Apogee Software Productions almost exclusively. The strategy with their software products were to distribute them exclusively in the shareware market. Shareware being a concept that the software product is freely distributed on networks and disks or CD's for users to load and use for no charge, and sharing with their friends or anyone else who wants the product. Once the product has been used the producer requests the user to submit a fee for the ownership of the product, or an offer exists to get the complete version of the software product for the fee. "We felt we had the coolest games around, so with that in mind if you have the coolest games around and have the balls to show them off, put 'em out there. You can't hide a bad game in a good box on the net."
When the third chapter of the Commander Keen game was being released, id decided they wanted to enter the retail market with their software products. The company they partnered with to facilitate this was Formgen located in Canada, "A relationship was struck to distribute the game 'Commander Keen: Aliens ate my Baby-Sitter' into the retail channel." At this juncture id had arranged for their product distribution to be handled by Apogee and Formgen giving them a formidable amount of distribution in both retail and shareware. Utilizing strategic partnerships such as these is a valuable asset according to Jay, and allows id to focus on its core competencies while the other important aspects of the functioning of their business can be handled by organizations that specialize in doing so, such as distribution companies. "The price of entry into the retail marketplace is high." This situation continued for the next several titles from id including the games Wolfenstein and Wolfenstein 3-D which were World War II theme versions of the 3-D shooter of a heroic American taking on the best that Nazi Germany had to offer.
The World is DOOMed
id had developed a widespread reputation of being one of the most innovative and coolest computer game shops in the world. Their success with Wolfenstein 3-D is reflected by the millions of copies that were distributed through shareware and the more than 250,000 units of the full game that were sold. "We knew before the product was launched that we had a good product because we are game players. Never, never did we realize the monumental success these games would reach. If you had told us that Wolfenstein 3-D and the various versions there of would be the most installed software of that period, I would have laughed at you." Buoyed by this success id Software never veered from its course or its formula in creating software products that left their customers begging for more, and eager to know what new realms and nightmares the id crew could come up with.
On December 10, 1993 id released the now famous DOOM computer game. This a full year and a half since the release of the Wolfenstein 3-D title. When looking at the schedule of release the id group kept in offering new games, it is noticeable there is no pattern or fixed time period between releases. This is because the company does not adhere to any strict time frames for when they will release a new game. "We don't look at things like we want to have a new product out every certain period of time, or we need to look at that sort of thing from a business standpoint. We want to up the level of technology and game play with every game. When we're done, we want it to be the coolest damn game around, period. If that takes six months, it's six months. If that takes one year, it's a year. If it takes two years, it's two years."
From a technology standpoint, DOOM presented the newest achievement of innovation from the minds of id and John Carmack when it came to the core technology the game utilizes. id's adherence to a high level of quality and innovation fuels the developer's desire to constantly improve on the techniques and technologies they develop, and these improvements are so comprehensive that essentially id starts fresh in developing technology with each new step they take. "On the step from Wolfenstein to DOOM, John Carmack took the technical stuff and from Wolfenstein and started from ground zero to create DOOM. Heretic and Hexen (the medieval sorcery theme games in the 3-D shooter style produced in conjunction with Raven Software) took the game engine from DOOM as far as it could go. The same thing will happen from the DOOM technology to the upcoming Quake technology. In our estimation it's the best way to achieve true innovation."
DOOM succeeded in continuing the record setting pace in the gaming industry that id Software had created with all of its product released. As of October 1995 it was estimated that fifteen million copies of the shareware version had been downloaded and more than 150,000 people had registered for the full version through the 800 number registration service. Just a few of the accolades DOOM received for its success include the Game of the Year by PC Gamer and Computer Gaming World magazines, and an award for Technical Excellence from PC Magazine.
id had matured during its early years of existence and was taking on more tasks for the promotion and distribution of the game than they had originally done with their earlier titles. The evolution of this started with the Wolfenstein 3-D title when Wilbur formally joined id as the official biz guy. Jay described one of his primary goals as to cut out as many middle men in the distribution channel as possible. id accomplish setting up their own mail order system and arranged an 800 number order processing service. This resulted in the end of the relationship with Apogee so id could move forward and grow towards being their own full-fledged publisher. "It was time for us to move on. As for the shareware distribution it's not that hard. You upload the shareware version to many sites and it takes on a life of its own as it spider webs across the globe. We lease our own call centers and fulfillment centers." id has also "stepped up" with their retail distribution partner by teaming up with GT Interactive and no longer working with Formgen.
DOOM II: Hell on Earth which was the sequel to DOOM was released on October 10, 1994 which was nicknamed "DOOMSDAY" by the eager public and retail market. This release was one of the most anticipated software game releases of all time. In fact second only to Mortal Kombat which was released by Acclaim, DOOM II was the fastest selling computer game ever. The game was distributed in retail by GT Interactive in the United States, and by Virgin Games in Great Britain. Over half a million copies were released to retail on that day, and more than 1.2 million copies have been sold as of October 1995.
Competition and Copyrights
The people at id Software not only consider themselves computer game developers, but avid computer game fans. In the same manner that they decide the acceptability and content of the products they create, they also feel they are fair judges of the competitor products that exist that have largely stemmed from their innovations. "We do pay attention to the marketplace and what they are doing. We like a good game as much as anyone else likes a good game. We develop good games primarily because we want to play them. But when a good game comes along we don't ignore it, we embrace it. We play it, we enjoy it, we complement those who made it. When a bad game comes out we pooh-pooh it."
When referring to id's technology innovations and its influence by competitors, he states that going forward with their new technology innovation is driven by, "We want to do the coolest thing ever. We don't look at it from the competitor perspective or wanting to stay ahead of the industry perspective. We have done it this way and have been able to stay ahead of the industry. I think we will remain ahead of the industry partly due to the talent pool and party due to the philosophy differences between the way they work and the way other companies work. We don't look at things like 'We have to beat them.' We look at things like we have to have the coolest games around."
Another facet to competitor products that challenge the marketplace of the id products are the scores of illegal products and add-ons to the id games that have spread throughout the gaming community. Most prevalent with the DOOM family of games, id created its product to allow computer users to create their own levels and adventures within the framework of the DOOM world. Tools were published through id that gives computer gamers the power to create an infinite number of levels, challenges, and scenarios in a relatively easy fashion. What this has led to are people commercializing these software add-ons and illegally selling their work with the actual logos and artwork from id to falsely represent authentic id products. "Dealing with copyright infringements and copycat products has been complete hell. If you walk into any warehouse place or second tier retail operation, the add-on disks at these places have the DOOM logo and characters on the labels! I can't count the number of infringements I've had to deal with." Obviously the problem is so large id can only control the more blatant and large scale infringements, "To find these I scan the major catalogs or people send me stuff and we take immediate and decisive action. We don't let things slip buy, we react immediately."
Challenges of Growth
When asked about the challenges or problems that id has faced along its journey, this relatively young company seems to have been shielded by its good fortune to not have had anything earth shattering happen to them. "We've fallen into our pits along the way, luckily nothing deep enough that we couldn't crawl our way out. Part of that is having stellar product behind us. That helps in keeping the mistakes down."
The one aspect of the growing business that Jay pointed out as their more evident challenge has been dealing with the company's growth and how to shape the organization for the future, "We suffer from growing pains. Growth has mainly been our biggest problem because we want to stay small. But we want to expand into new technologies and new opportunities. There's always this constant clash. Currently we have a heavy fun-loving environment and will always keep that, but organizationally could use a tad more structure even though they are only 14 people. That is happening." Their small size is one of their strongest attributes of their success according to Jay, and one that they will work hard to maintain. Jay chuckled as he shared this story about the industry that has happened to him more than once in his time at id, "The big guys from our competitors who come in and visit and say, 'You know we used to have fun like this, now my life sucks.' Every single one of them says this with a twinkle in their eye. Even before that ever happened we agreed we would not grow into that type of organization. Gotta have fun. The fun we put in and have here definitely comes out to the user side."
Future Plans and Projects
As small as this company may wish to remain, their ambitions seem to be extremely large. id evolved from being focused on the development of their software products with others doing the shareware and retail distribution efforts, to taking on the role of the shareware distributors themselves. In the Fall their next generation of 3-D shooter and new technology is scheduled to be released that is once again anticipated to shatter the mold of computer gaming and user frenzy. Quake will employ a completely new core technology in their game motif, and with this new game launch will be plans to control even more of their own software distribution and publishing efforts. "We will being doing all their own retail with Quake. We gave DOOM to any Tom, Dick and Harry that could put it in a box and sell it. We found that we will be able to handle our own retail distribution of the shareware version. That will be our foot in the door to retail so we will evolve not only as a key developer, but a key publisher and distributor. Those systems are not hard. If you take it to it's most simplest form we look at a CompUSA as our end customer, we now have to fill his order. That's not difficult. We like to be in control of our own destiny."
With the success and integration of the DOOM style games into our culture, id has found itself handling projects of the DOOM genre outside of the computer into various other sorts of media. A movie deal has been inked that is based on the concept of DOOM, and paperback books have been published telling tales of the world of DOOM. But as exciting these other opportunities are based on id's work, these projects have proved to be challenging in orchestrating, "It's not as rosy as it seems to handle these tangent projects. It's great to have them come in and start dealing with them. When you're dealing with the Hollywood business it is a bizarre world. We had to bring on entertainment lawyers from Hollywood. It wasn't easy, it was a good experience."
When asked if id intends to produce any other sort of software product completely separate from the 3-D shooter style, it appears that while not out of the question, id intends to keep a sharp eye focused on what it has been so successful at up until now, "It's possible id may go on to make other types of games. It's hard to say with the next game because the technology base will be different and the technology base is what dictates what kind of new game we do. I'm not saying it's not possible we'll jump tracks to other types of games, but now it's not likely."
Masters of their Destiny
id Software has proven to be a phenomenally successful example of an organization that stuck to what it was best at, and did not compromise on its beliefs. As Jay stated this has been the case for id since their beginnings in Louisiana, "The objective as it continues to be is to make a great game. The philosophy is more of a build it and they will come. Our goal is to make a game that we are proud of and enjoy playing. We being the typical gamer share the mind set with our buying public, and when we're done we put it out and they want to buy it as well." Sticking to this philosophy will undoubtedly prove to benefit id in the future. Their products have created cult followings and have become integral parts of people's lives all over the world. The common interest of sharing the fantasy of playing in the world of an id game is consistent among many people, and actually shared by these people as they face off against each other in networked games both locally and in dial-up sessions from locations all over the country. Id Software has enjoyed the trip they have been on, and fully intend to control what they will undertake, and what direction their business will go as they continue to grow, "I've always felt it's pretty apparent that we feel that our destiny is held in whatever happens within these four walls. Not as an influence of what happens because of something that is outside these four walls. It's all what goes down in here." - ###
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