Issue #6 - Wednesday 27th July 2011Fen Research Limited
Any company with a "Vice President of Technology" clearly takes their tech seriously. Jagex have spent the last decade honing their proprietary tools, scripting languages and engines. For many years this effort was intended to support RuneScape, by far their largest product. More recently, however, they've begun work on further projects which appear to be on the same scale as RuneScape, such as Stellar Dawn and Transformers Universe. These ventures serve to make the most of their codebase and technological skill. Behind the scenes a new company called Fen Research Limited has emerged which appears to be based on Jagex's technology. At the helm of this is Jagex founder Andrew Gower. This article discusses Fen Research Limited and the new product they are currently working on.
"...we are busy working on our super duper product..."job vacancy. It continues: "We are building the product with the time and determination to do things properly, we don't hack and ship. Andrew's previous creation RuneScape has been online and maintained for over 10 years and is still going strong due to diligent engineering from the start. Our new product is expected to have just as long a life span, and to be used as the foundation we will build upon for years to come. So engineering the product well is essential."
Officially created in June 2010, the company appears to employ at least two Senior Developers and one Senior Software Engineer. The Senior Developers joined the company in September 2010, while the Senior Software Engineer joined in June 2011. One of the Senior Developers, who holds that position both at Jagex and Fen Research, describes his specialties as "Java development, MMOGs, client/server architecture, systems administration." The other Senior Developer says he works "as a senior software developer at Fen Research where I research cutting edge game development technologies." The Senior Software Engineer says he is "working on an exciting new tool for the development of multiplayer games."
Fen Research's apparent employment of only three people probably reflects its recent creation, so it seems unlikely that the company will continue to remain as small as it is currently. While it will probably expand, Andrew Gower's wish to avoid "big company politics," his aim of "taking the best ideas from everyone rather than dictating from the top," and the promise of working "as part of a small elite development team," show a definite wish to remain relatively small. With the associated benefits of a more flexible working environment and direct communication to leaders, this could be a significant departure from Jagex.
"At Fen it is about working on stimulating projects with great people."executives: Andrew Gower (Fen's CEO, Jagex's Principal Architect) and Mark Gerhard (Jagex's CEO) are Directors. Jagex and Fen Research also have the same Company Secretary. Andrew Gower owns 90% of Fen Research's shares, while Jagex owns 10%. Mark Gerhard is presumably a Company Director in order to represent Jagex's interests in the company.
Andrew Gower, his brothers Ian and Paul, and former Jagex CEO Constant Tedder reduced or eliminated their holdings of Jagex shares in 2010. This presumably happened around the time they left the Jagex Board of Directors. It's not entirely clear what happened, though they seem to have sold their shares to Insight Venture Partners, Spectrum Equity Investors and The Raine Group. Representatives of those investment companies sit on the Jagex Board of Directors. The timing of the creation of Fen Research and the increase in investor ownership of Jagex seem to correspond. Perhaps one triggered the other, though it's difficult to determine which caused which, if indeed they're related at all.
"Fen is extremely well funded, and has the backing of 10 years of Jagex technology."Companies House documents, though it was probably quite a large amount. Presumably he invested at least some of that money in Fen Research. A further possibility is that Andrew Gower could have used past Jagex dividends and share sales rather than the recent sale of his shares to invest in Fen Research.
Jagex's 10% ownership of Fen Research probably represents an investment as well, and since Jagex's gross profit in the 2009-2010 financial year was £24.8m, they can definitely afford to invest quite a large amount in the venture. It's also possible that all financial funding for Fen Research came from Andrew, and that Jagex took a 10% stake in the company in exchange for licensing their technology, although 10% seems quite low if that's all Jagex wanted in return for the use of their technology.
Depending on the direction and success of the company's research, the impact on Jagex's games could be quite high. Since Jagex is the only current outside investor, it seems reasonable to assume that Fen will research things with a direct connection to Jagex's area of game development, though the level of separation between Fen Research and Jagex is difficult to determine. The financial risks to both companies seem very low. After all, Jagex clearly has the capital to finance a great deal of innovative research and design, and Fen Research, through Andrew Gower, has the proven ability to create highly successful technology.
"...I’ve always tried to pioneer new things, and not just copy what is already being done."interview, Mark Gerhard was asked about Andrew Gower's stepping down as Jagex's Chief Technical Officer: "Andrew Gower...had wanted to step down as CTO and focus on enhancing our game engine and other exciting R&D projects."
Jagex's CEO went on to say: "And, you know, Jagex is an incredible technology company...There must be at least twenty products within Jagex -- not just the games, technology products: platforms, proprietary applications and tools, that are all in their own right, you know, commercial products, etc. We pretty much run our own entire technology shop in-house. Almost everything we're using is custom and in our language. The company simply doesn't stop innovating, if you know what I mean. It's always been a case of 'What do we need to do? Okay, let's build it.' I mean, tons and tons and tons of different pieces of technology are all working together to create things like RuneScape. And MechScape and the FunOrb mini game. So yeah, it really is at super sharp end of technology. I can imagine you could spawn almost 20 companies using the products we've developed and use, at least 20 maybe more."
Mark Gerhard also said that Jagex is, "successful because of the emphasis on technology and passion for games. I mean, the corporate stuff is successful, but it's as a direct result of this deep love for developing technology and games, instead of the other way around. And that's nice, that's Jagex's DNA."
Jagex have moved away from this recently: the Executive Producer of Transformers Universe hosted a Develop Conference keynote on 21 July titled "Changing the Way We Develop Games Without Sacrificing Our Indie Identity." It explored how Jagex was “forced to shift from the traditional Jagex way of working” and discussed "working with deadlines when working with third-party IPs, as well as shifting from in-house to external tools."
While recently there might be less of an emphasis on internal technology, the technological skill remains, as evidenced by the recent release of Clan Citadels, which, for the first time in RuneScape, utilize skyboxes and player edited content.
In a May 2011 interview, Mark Gerhard said that, "massive improvements to our game development platform," are currently in development. When asked what "Jagex have planned for the coming months," he said, "It's certainly evolution or extinction in both the technology and entertainment spaces. Jagex have operated under the radar for almost a decade quietly whispering 'nothing exciting going on over here - look over there', whilst at the same time working diligently on numerous fun and ground-breaking projects, earning a wealth of invaluable lessons along the way. The coming year or so will begin to showcase just some of these enormous efforts ranging from evolving our existing games, dramatically improving tech, completely new games through to Jagex ultimately opening up our proprietary platform to other developers to use."
FunOrb was once described as "sort of our R&D lab to experiment with new game ideas and mechanics" and as "something of an R&D bed for us." Jagex even registered trademarks on the terms GamesLab and GameLabs. FunOrb's development and support have essentially ceased since then. Perhaps it was once planned that FunOrb would fill much the same capacity as Fen Research, but for some reason did not. Perhaps Fen Research was created in answer to the innovation gap which might have been caused by the abandonment of FunOrb by Jagex.
In late April 2010, Jagex stated that RuneFest attendees would be able to attend "sessions where you'll get the chance to use our tools to create actual RuneScape content." The promised session never materialized. It's possible that this in some way influenced Fen Research, as its domain names were registered soon after, on 13 May 2010.
"We are in a strong position and have ambitious plans for 2011..."
- "ground breaking... in the field of online games and user created content"
- "expected to have just as long a life span [as RuneScape]"
- "to be used as the foundation we will build upon for years to come"
- a "whole new arena" for Andrew Gower
- to be powered by "an exciting new tool for the development of multiplayer games" and "cutting edge game development technologies"
- being developed by "a small elite development team" at Fen Research who are able to draw upon Jagex technology and the expertise of Andrew Gower
- being developed through Agile development using Java and the Standard Widget Toolkit, utilising network programming and algorithms
If Jagex were to share their technologies, it could greatly aid smaller developers who can't fund the creation of such tools. Perhaps the technology has something to do with the, "customizable clan battlefields" technology and "built-in map editor" which power the Clan Citadel battlefields.
The fact that "Andrew is eager to conquer a whole new arena with Fen," suggest that the resulting product or products will be a deviation from the current technology which Jagex developes and uses.
It's unclear exactly what Fen Research will do, though given their funding they will likely have a significant advantage doing it. It will be interesting to see what Fen Research chooses to develop, given Andrew Gower's apparent wish for it to remain smaller and more elite and his increased freedom to do what he wants to. Fen Research seems more likely to develop game technology rather than actual games, so their progress is unlikely to be as widely publicized as Jagex's, but you can be sure that we'll be following their work closely at Stellar Dawn Central.
Jagex and Community News
- The Stellar Dawn Official Forums won't be closing after all, read the clarification here.
- Jagex have leased 220 Cambridge Science Park, possibly as a new headquarters.
- Jagex are looking for a new Chief Technical Officer.
- An opportunity to design RuneFest 2011's in-game item has been announced.
- RuneScape's Clan Citadels have been released.
- Cryptic Clue Fest 3 in RuneScape is underway.
- There will be a War of Legends Q&A on 28 July.
- A new 8Realms world, Alexander, has opened.
- SDC Post #5 - 14 July 2011 - The Future of Stellar Dawn Central
- SDC Post #4 - 18 June 2011 - Stellar Dawn: A Vision of What it Could Be
- SDC Post #3 - 26 February 2011 - Jagex, Microtransactions and RWT
- SDC Post #2 - 11 February 2011 - The State of Jagex
- SDC Post #1 - 19 January 2011 - FourthScape: Jagex's New(ish) Fantasy MMORPG
Contributors: Alex, Pliigi, Ren.
Disclaimer: Views expressed by members of staff do not necessarily represent the view of Stellar Dawn Central.