Sixty-four percent of parents believe video games are a positive part of their children’s lives. Alumnus Eric Preisz couldn’t agree more.
Let’s say you have a terrific idea for a video game. But you need a means of meshing the various bells and whistles into a single piece of software. One that, you hope, will be enjoyed by legions of devoted video game players. GG Interactive, led by CEO Eric Preisz ’00, could be the source of the missing element that ties it all together.
GG Interactive, formerly known as GarageGames, is a multi-faceted company based in Vancouver, Wash., that makes software for independent video game developers. The company made its name not in developing video games, but in producing a game “engine,” Torque, that has evolved into several versions. Simply put, a video game engine takes the components of a game, such as audio and graphics, and pulls them all together in a single piece of software.
Independent game makers are the primary buyers of those engines. “Lots of them have tech jobs and do this as a hobby,” Preisz says. “Others are employed by video game makers and want to branch out on their own. The reality is that a lot of people will try to make money off a game, but few actually succeed. You have to make 10 games and hope one hits. That’s a do-or-die business.”
It is not a business model that GG Interactive emulated. Instead, it developed its Torque game engines and made licenses so affordable that even the smallest aspiring video game magnate could buy one. Now the company is looking increasingly to education and entertainment as its future.
When the state of Nevada — the location of a branch office of GG Interactive — decided to create standards for courses on video game development, it invited Preisz to serve on a committee. He learned there was no curriculum to follow, so GG created a prototype of four high school courses to be taken over two years, similar to earlier work in Florida. “There are so many people playing video games; students want to learn how to create them,” he says.
The educational value isn’t just in learning how to create the games. Preisz also believes the games themselves can be valuable classroom teaching aids, complete with instruction, tests and grades. GG has created video games in a variety of areas, including customer service and career development, and when his company developed an adventure game for a criminal justice course, it hired a Los Angeles film crew and actors, and shot scenes on Hollywood sound stages.
A prototype game for autistic children asked youngsters to perform “simple tasks such as matching,” he says. “If the student wasn’t able to solve the puzzle, it would progressively give them bigger and bigger hints until they succeeded.”
Regardless of skill levels at video games and simulations, “the key to this kind of work is to do usability testing,” says Preisz, who often recruits people to try out a new product. “The most important thing is to watch what they’re doing as opposed to what they’re telling you.”
A little ‘Donkey Kong’?
Preisz’s career path was anything but predictable. Sure, the Bloomsburg native played “Donkey Kong” and other games as a youngster, but then he lost interest.
“I played video games less than everybody at this company,” says Preisz, who manages projects and products, occasionally writes code and oversees 13 employees in two cities. Luckily, it turned out playing video games wasn’t a prerequisite for success in the industry.
After graduation, he had two job offers: one from the maker of a Formula One race car game; the other from a Washington, D.C., company that produced training simulations for soldiers. The first job sounded like a lot of fun, but the second one paid much better. That’s the job he took.
“My office was in the [computer] server room,” Preisz recalls. “I was freezing.” He stayed for five years, before moving on to a company where he worked on 3-D simulations of the vehicle assembly building at NASA’s Kennedy Space Station.
When Preisz started his own computer programming business in Orlando, his clients included the U.S. Army and Air Force and Disney Imagineering. For Disney, his company created two interactive games for visitors as they exited the ride at Epcot’s Spaceship Earth geodesic sphere.
At the same time, he began teaching a course on video game optimization – basically, techniques and tools to make games run faster or better — at Full Sail University in Florida and became his department’s chair. That led him to co-write a book on the same subject he taught.
He started with GG in 2009 in a technical sales position and became CEO in January 2011. In recent months, the company has been involved in the support phase “of a multi-year effort to build a world-class entertainment platform for a world-class theme park.” Preisz says contractual stipulations bar him from elaborating.
Meanwhile, he has worked on several projects with Microsoft, including one that teaches computer literacy for people in developing countries. “We built cartoon-like stories and mini-games that teach people how to use their mouse, email, productivity tools, the Internet, and other functions,” he says. The program is scheduled to be offered in at least 20 languages.
“Everybody has a different way to use game technology,” Preisz says. “I think I’ve got the coolest job in the world.” •
Larry Keller is a freelance writer based in Philadelphia.