I helped microsoft’s Bungie Studios launch their Halo 2 game to the tune of $100 million in presales revenue. In June of 2005 Bungie Studios who at the time was owned by Microsoft Corporation published a technical case study on the MSDN blog about their successful launch of Halo 2 Xbox game. The case study outlined the technical details on how my startup Ideal Science worked successfully with Bungie Studios to create a successful discussion forum which leveraged both content and engagement to drive more than one hundred million in presales.
In 2003 my one person startup Ideal Science had a successful Windows based forum package on the market called Ideal BB. I was selling it into enterprise companies like AT&T, SAP, and Microsoft. I wouldn’t actually say that I was “selling it” that implies that I was cold calling, more, I was answering inbound calls from interested customers who found me online. Microsoft was one of those customers using it to power much of their gaming studios. They liked it because it ran on Windows server which at the time was relatively new and not very popular. That was my niche actually and the reason I built the software in my spare time. (And subject for a whole other story.) It was this relationship with Microsoft that spurred the phone call late that afternoon on a snowy day in January of 2003.
Microsoft had recently acquired Bungie Studios the game studio responsible for the top selling Xbox game Halo. The person on the other end of the phone was heading up an engineering project at Bungie to create a new custom discussion forum. This one would become the center of their marketing efforts with Halo 2. This person was soliciting RFQ’s from discussion forum companies like mine looking for something based on the then new .NET platform. Normally Microsoft wouldn’t hire someone like me to build something so important but they were happy with my previous product and thought I would be best fit to build a .NET version.
After a few months of negotiating I completed a partnership agreement with Microsoft to build a .NET version of my Ideal BB product. Microsoft would get a single license which they could deploy to Bungie and I would own the rights to the product. This sort of agreement is not common for Microsoft. I had heard that they were difficult to negotiate with but I found that to be untrue. Negotiating this agreement was easy and they were happy to let me profit from the work they were paying for. Not only that but Microsoft also agreed to help test the product with their security and load testing teams.
The deal would provide enough cash for me to grow my business from a single person shop to a five person company. I decided to move Ideal Science from NYC to Austin, TX where I thought Microsoft’s money would go further. I went to college at UT and was looking for a reason to move back to Austin. This was it.
Over the course of the next year we worked closely with Bungie until they finally released the product on their website. Leading up to the launch of Halo 2, Ideal BB handled more than 90 million messages between fans of the game. At any one time there were more than 5000 simultaneous visitors browsing through the messages. It was a technical masterpiece for us and for Microsoft.
Bungie generated a lot of buzz using the forums serving up more than 4 million pages per day and accumulating more than 300 gigabytes of data. To say that they had good user engagement was an understatement. They would regularly post screenshots from the game and drive long discussion threads from fans talking about strategy. Many of those fans preordered the game in anticipation of its release.
The success of Ideal BB with Bungie led to a new product offering for my company. I released it shortly after the Bungie release and quickly drove new business. Over the next few years this product became the centerpiece of Ideal Science powering sites from CNN to the FBI. We published a case study on Bungie which talked about the success of the project and became a powerful tool for selling into new enterprises.
The Bungie Studios project was a big technical achievement for both myself and my company. I didn’t do it alone, I couldn’t do it alone, I had help from other talented folks. In the end we created a really cool product that millions of people continue to use today. After some time however the market changed and the product became a commodity. As a result new license sales dried up and I had to release all of our employees. Every now and then I would get a call from Microsoft to license more copies for other studios. At one point I tried to get them to acquire the software from me outright but it was actually cheaper for them to continue buying licenses. With no leverage, no exit and little to no revenue I abandoned all work on it.
I left Ideal Science to pursue Zosh the iPhone app company that I co-founded in 2008. I wasn’t able to engineer an exit with Ideal Science so I recruited two advisors to help me create one with Zosh. In 2010 Zosh was acquired by YouSendIt. The lessons I learned from Ideal Science helped me create a successful outcome for my next startup.
I won’t ever forget my first big software success. How many times do you get to build software for one of the largest software companies in the world? How many times do you get to work with one of the most successful gaming studios? Combine both and its a dream opportunity. I will forever be grateful.
Originally published at www.joshkerr.com on June 16, 2014.
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