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GDC Online: Trinigy On 'Very Saturated' Mobile, Casual Reaching 'Balance' With Core

GDC Online: Trinigy On 'Very Saturated' Mobile, Casual Reaching 'Balance' With Core Exclusive

October 5, 2010 | By Leigh Alexander

Trinigy U.S. CEO Danie Conradie hopes that the company's Vision Engine framework will stand out in an increasingly complex middleware landscape because of its flexibility.

Over 150 projects now use the engine across all platforms -- it supports Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Wii and PC -- and Conradie says that it's the engine's large number of partner integrations that drive value for licensees.

"It's definitely modular; we designed it that way," he tells Gamasutra of the tech during an interview at this week's GDC Online. "We ship an evaluation SDK, people get the source code so they can see how we do the partner integrations."

"Then they can choose them or leave them out; we don't want to get in the way. They're used to using third-party libraries already, [so] we can interface with what they're already familiar with."

Partners include Speedtree, PhysX, Havok and FMOD, and Conradie says Vision Engine aims to add value for users already working with those tools. "It's not just the components," he adds.

"For example, if you have Speedtree, it combines with our dynamic lighting system; you can place the trees and landscapes in our editor."

In an environment where tools focus on getting ever lighter and more accessible -- the better to serve smaller studios, independents and developers of iPhone apps or browser games -- Conradie says his company continues to focus primarily on a traditional base of licensees.

"Our target has always been middle to upper-level developers... we've stayed away more from targeting indie developers, just because of the inherent complexity of what we do. Our software is also used for a lot of serious games, which have specific high-performance demands."

The Browser Space

But recently, Trinigy rolled out the Webvision framework, a tool that allows users to package their products so that they can run over the web. "We've also seen quite an increase in terms of adoption in the MMO space just because the developers -- for example, in Korea -- they have their own networking tech already, but they might need an engine to display tools for editing worlds."

In cases like those, having a modular framework can be a value add, Conradie explains. "There are 15 MMOs in development [using our tech] even though we don't do anything specific in terms of networking for that," he adds. "Many customers have proprietary backends."

Even though it's primarily focused on a different kind of customer, Conradie says the movement in MMOs and online games has been increasingly impossible to ignore -- "That's one of the reasons why we made our engine available to those that want to publish games on the web."

And Trinigy formally revealed Webvision just after it announced seven licensing deals with studios in China, South Korea, and Vietnam, including big players like Neowiz and SmileGate. All in all, that's begun to spell a broader spectrum than Trinigy has historically explored in the past.

"Our typical pricing model for boxed titles always had a sliding scale -- it's a percentage-based system that's not based on royalties, but on budget. Many customers want to do Xbox Live Arcade, PlayStation Network or Wii Ware titles; that's why we make the model flexible, so that developers who want to do shorter titles have access to our technology. We see some developers doing a game every two to three years; others are doing two to three titles every year. So we cover both ends, there."

So Trinigy's approach the evolving marketplace is that rather than offer indie licensing deals or an alternative solution for smaller platforms, is simply to be as flexible as possible with the solution it has: "Being modular definitely helps, because we can support different libraries," Conradie says.

But it's a unique set of challenges middleware companies face in the current environment, in the middle of an exceptionally long console cycle with new platforms emerging in the mobile and social spaces. "I think everybody is looking at how they can adapt," says Conradie.

Looking East And Growing Bigger

Besides being modular and as flexible as it can, Conradie says the Korea space has indeed received increasing focus. The company has a German headquarters, and sales and support offices in Texas and in Korea.

There's been "quite a lot of interest" from the latter market, Conradie says -- Eastern countries are more open than they've ever been to Western technology, and the challenge for companies like Trinigy is learning to meet the specific needs of that market in terms of crossing language barriers and learning what kind of visual look and inputs developers in the region require, for example.

Conradie says Trinigy has hired more people to keep up with its quickly-growing customer base, as like many middleware companies it focuses on ongoing sales and support relationships with licensees. It also wants to make sure it helps users stay abreast of version evolutions, and that it collects feedback on features users are asking for in the framework.

That's not to say that changes in the marketplace haven't posed unique challenges for Trinigy to consider. "In the past year, you've seen some of the bigger studios shutting down," he suggests. "Historically you would have seen maybe one or two companies coming out of that, but now we're getting a lot of new studios up."

But because of those studios' small size, they traditionally focus on smaller-budget projects like casual, social and iPad games, a market Trinigy has historically not addressed. "It's definitely challenging," Conradie says. "But we've sort of continued doing what has worked for us, focusing on the higher end where we know we have revenues. I think there has been a gold rush... that market is getting very saturated and it's getting really difficult to have success in that space."

Trinigy's recent client list, on the other hand, reads very traditionally core-market -- games made with its tech include Ubisoft's strategy title Settlers 7 and unannounced projects from TimeGate Studios and Robot Entertainment.

"There is always going to be a market for the hardcore console games," says Conradie. "The casual market has just become more popular right now. It'll reach a balance point."

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