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Loki Entertainment Software -- When's the IPO?

Apr 12, 1999, 00:23 (17 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Dwight Johnson)

by Dwight Johnson

I have to just say 'no' to computer games. They are too seductive for my weak will. Whenever I have installed a good computer game on my computer, I have soon found myself wasting an unacceptable amount of time playing it and have been forced to remove it and delete all known archival copies in order to bring my life back to its normal dullness of nonstop work.

And so I would have been only too happy to walk around the Loki Entertainment Software booth at Linuxworld Expo except that as a Linux newsperson, I was aware of the pent up demand for Linux games. Linux Today had recently run several stories about Loki Entertainment Software, a startup company that was completing a port of the popular commercial game 'Civilization: Call to Power' to Linux.

I soon found myself chatting with Loki Entertainment Software's President and founder Scott Draeker. Scott looks to be in the still under thirty set and is very clear about what he wants. What he wants is top-flight games on Linux.

Dwight: Scott, tell me something about Loki Entertainment Software and how you got started. Loki is some kind of Indian folklore name, isn't it?

Scott: The Norse God of mischief was the god Loki. We've always seen him as sort of a Promethian character. The part of the story that we like best is where he brought down the gods.

Dwight: How did he bring them down?

Scott: Through trickery. But we don't have to focus on all the little details.

Dwight: It's unpublishable?

Scott: It's not that bad. He did things like cut off Thor's wife's hair while she was sleeping... just a mischievous fellow.

I founded Loki back in August. I left my job at the law firm where I was working as a software licensing attorney. I had become very interested in the Linux community and following things on-line. I've also been a gamer my entire life and I noticed all the petitions out there and the discussions and there was a real demand, I felt, for games on Linux. People talked about dual boot machines where they would keep a Windows partition and the only time they would restart would be to play games.

Dwight: So you participated in some of those or watched some of those on Slashdot that they were having last summer?

Scott: Slashdot and Linux Today... places like that. By getting involved in the discussion, we were able to formulate the idea for Loki based on what people wanted. They were signing petitions; they were sending e-mails and calling these companies. The companies didn't know what to do. People would volunteer to port the product for free and that just confused them.

But as a software licensing attorney, I actually had clients who were game companies. So I new the model for their business, I knew how they thought and what the deal would have to be. So by getting involved and seeing both this need and knowing how it would have to happen, we formulated the idea for Loki.

We first didn't even know if it was technically possible to put games onto Linux. So I did some trolling on Usenet and got in touch with Dan Kegel over at Activision who introduced me to Sam Lantinga who is now our lead programmer. Sam is the author of the Simple DirectMedia Layer which is the media layer we are using in our first port. Sam was confident that the port was technically possible.

Next we had to see whether game developers would be willing to jump on board. After all, when you spend several million dollars developing a title, you don't want to put it out in a market where it will be rejected. It would just be a bad thing for them. So we needed to go in and convince them that the numbers were there and that the quality of the product would be unreproachable.

Dwight: How did you do that?

Scott: We had a proposal that we put together and we pitched several companies. Activision was very receptive. We looked at the code doing and also the game play for 'Civilization: Call to Power' -- whether it would be a good game.

I probably lost a year of my life to their original 'Civilization'. So when I saw what they were doing, I was very, very excited. I thought it was a worthy successor to the game I had fallen in love with years ago.

All the pieces fit into place. It was a great product; it was great timing; we had the programmer talent to develop it. We decided that we really needed to go ahead with this idea.

Dwight: And when was that?

Scott: We've been working on 'Civ' now since December. That's when we started actively coding on it. We'll be releasing just two or three weeks after Activison.

And, of course, you'll be seeing other titles from us. Our focus is really on best-selling titles. What we want to do is go out and see the very best of what the PC world has to offer and bring that to Linux. If you look back in 1998, there were, I believe, 1600 video game and entertainment titles, announced at the industry's big conference in May. The vast majority of those lose money. On the PC side, in all of 1997 you had 52 titles that broke 100,000 units and the ones that broke 100,000 units generally did considerably better. 'Civilization' over its lifespan has already sold 2-1/2 million copies. So it really is a first-rate title to be bringing to the Linux community as sort of a coming-out party for Linux gaming.

Dwight: How exactly do you plan to market and sell it?

Scott: We'll sell it the same way that other games are sold. You'll be able to buy it on-line. In fact, www.gamecellar.com has actually put a pre-order site for this particular title up. They've created an entire Linux section where you can go and preview all the titles -- which right now is [only] ours (laugh).

"We want you to be able to go into your favorite software store and pick up a copy of Red Hat or SuSE and pick up a game as well." - Scott Draeker, President and Founder of Loki Entertainment Software.

I think there's going to be a lot more on-line activity but we also want to have a retail presence. We want you to be able to go into your favorite software store and pick up a copy of Red Hat or SuSE and pick up a game as well.

Dwight: When you were working as an attorney, it must have been a pretty big stretch for you to make the decision to leave such a good career to do something totally speculative.

Scott: Absolutely. But I think it's been a very good and positive change. My family's been very supportive. The posters in our booth were designed by my wife. She's done a lot of work for the company. We're all very excited and it's been very, very rewarding.

Dwight: Were you a Linux user then before you decided to become a Linux game developer?

Scott: No. (laugh) I had become first aware of Linux back in 1994. But I have been an Apple user and then a Mac user since the Apple II days and I had finally gotten fed up with Apple and was looking for a new home. I saw KDE on the Web, I saw Red Hat on the shelf and I thought, well, maybe this is where it's going to be. But I wasn't going to go anywhere until there were games.

Dwight: When was the first time then that you used Linux? Was it sometime after you actually founded Loki?

Scott: It was actually before that. I purchased Red Hat 5.0 when it first came out and installed that and played around with it a little bit. And I've been using it and progressing more and more since then.

Dwight: Since you're not a software developer, you would need to somehow attract the developers... the ones who would actually do the coding. How did you do that?

Scott: They were really excited. And the people we have are top notch. It was a great marriage. These guys wanted badly to write games for Linux.

Dwight: Did you meet them actually first and then make the decision to develop games on Linux?

Scott: Absolutely! In fact, I was introduced to Sam through Dan Kegel at Activision. I talked to Sam on the phone a few times. We flew him down and chatted for awhile. Flew him down a second time and went to Activision to look at the code. And what we found is that we both really wanted to see games on Linux. And so there was a very good synergy. He had the talents and I had the plan for making it profitable so that we could do this and not starve to death.

Then we brought on Matt Carlson. And we have another programmer, Karl Robillard, who'll be starting in March. We have an intern and another full-time developer who'll be starting in May... all of them Linux developers with some good projects under their belt. And we have other offers outstanding. So we're going to be up to at least six programmers by the summer. I hope to increase that further. The more developer talent we have, the faster we can pump out titles.

Dwight: What is your general plan for the next 12 months?

Scott: The next 12 months we're going to do between four and eight titles. You're going to see us bringing Best-of-Class representatives from multiple genres. You'll see action/adventure title. You'll see, hopefully, a real-time strategy, first-person shooter. We really want to create a broad gaming environment and experience on Linux. So for people who are considering moving over, they'll see that the kinds of games they want are already there -- maybe not five chess programs, but certainly the best chess program will be there.

Dwight: How is Loki Entertainment Software funded?

Scott: We're privately funded.

Dwight: Are you seeking more investment?

Scott: You know, it's interesting. We actually have had some very interesting discussions in recent weeks. It would be very interesting to possibly bring in some outside funding to be able to speed up and enlarge our projects. For example, I would really like to put programmers to working on projects to create more of an infrastructure for first-rate, leading-edge, 3-D acceleration and that kind of gaming experience on Linux as well. All of those things, of course, are constrained. You'd have to do one thing after the other. Bringing in outside funding would be a way of accelerating it. So it's something we're looking at.

Dwight: You must have some competition, Scott. What do you see coming along?

Scott: Well, as far as I know, we're the only company that's porting games to Linux right now.

Dwight: Really?

Scott: Yes. I'm aware of a few other titles which are also available on Linux. Of course, you've got Doom and Quake and the genre where the source has been released or unsupported binaries have been released and the community's kind of brought that in and done the work.

You don't have really commercial shrinkwrapped, fully supported games for Linux -- which is really the market that we're looking at. Aeges Technologies recently released an interesting 3-D flight simulator. Unfortunately, I haven't been seeing that on shelves anywhere. And I know that ID is doing a Linux release of Quake-3 Arena. But I don't know of people doing ports. Again, there are probably a very limited number of real hits that come out each year -- the "must have" computer games. And we're going to be doing those.

So when you do see other companies coming along in the future, they're more than welcome to port games. There's way too many for us to ever do by ourselves. But we really want to be the ones who come out with the Best-of-Class, top-flight titles. And we want to come out with them as quickly on the heels of the Windows version, if not simultaneously, as absolutely possible.

Dwight: Ok! I certainly wish you much success.