Psychochild's Blog

A developer's musings on game development and writing.

10 October, 2011

Interview with Royal O’Brien
Filed under: — Psychochild @ 3:38 AM

Sometimes technology is often an unsung hero in game development. The visual art or game design often tends to get a lot of coverage because it’s easier to show screenshots or talk about gameplay than to really show off tech.

BitRaider provides an interesting bit of tech that allows you to start playing a game before it has all been downloaded. It’s a pretty neat bit of tech, something that many game developers have discussed over the years. I interviewed Royal O’Brien, the co-founder of BitRaider, to get his perspective on the technological and business sides of the game industry.

I was introduced to Royal by some mutual friends of ours. His company BitRaider is interesting because I find being a middleware provider to be a very tough job. It’s pure tech, and it doesn’t have the sexiness of game development proper. The industry is also full of the “not invented here” (NIH) types who are really hesitant to rely on outside technology. Running a business under these circumstances makes for an interesting situation. So, I asked Royal to share some of his insight.

1. Who are you and what is your background?

I am Royal O’Brien. I am a serial technology entrepreneur that knows how to speak both tech and plain English. I’ve heard it’s a very unlikely combination, but something that I’ve gotten used to over the years. For the last 17 years as an entrepreneur, I have taken different felt needs in the marketplace, determined how it can make money, then crafted the business plan on how to get from point A to point B. From there, I sit down, architect and code the technology itself. On the development side, I have been a developer pretty much all of my life going back to the old TRS-80 days. I am self-educated, and have a continual daily practice of learning new technologies and practices to stay on the top of my game.

2. What is BitRaider? How is it different from other systems, like the dreaded Pando Media Booster?

BitRaider is a streaming technology that seamlessly installs a game and lets you begin playing with only a small fraction of the game downloaded. While you are playing, the technology watches your play activities and requests, then rearranges the incoming stream of data on the fly to ensure it not only stays ahead of where you are going, but also anticipates what you’ll be doing next.

We created the technology with the player experience as our top priority so you can play and patch without the wait. The big difference is its ability to not only handle dynamic situations, but to ensure the system, internet connection, and response back to the consumer is not overburdened with the actual process of streaming. Another difference is that we do not run unless we are being actively used, and unload ourselves when you exit the game. Most people do not like unrelated applications running, that includes us as

3. Why did you focus on developing tech for games?

If you look at why consumers haven’t widely adopted digital distribution of gaming entertainment like they have books, movies and music, it is primarily because it is less convenient to download such large files. Even with high-speed broadband, the time and patience required to download and install large games has fueled the ongoing success of brick and mortar retail. Creating a pain-free installation means players don’t have to be PC technicians and worry about user permissions or making decisions on what runtime package or DirectX version they need to preinstall in order to play a game. We wanted to create a PC experience that matched the ease of console play.

4. What unique tech challenges have you faced with your project?

Man, where do I begin?

The evolution of Windows 2000 to XP to Vista to 7 changed quite a bit. UAC was a whole different beast of joy. The kernel driver models, of which I can say was a good thing they changed. And a big challenge was really being able to get behind the scene without disrupting unrelated applications. Then there are the tons of ways in which the network can spew bad data or connections at you on the fly. On the patching side, it may seem simple, but the prep work before you can apply a patch was more of a challenge than the actual patching process itself. Then of course threading like madness and keeping them from eating the bus or bandwidth up so the play experience is as smooth as possible.

5. What unique business challenges have you faced?

One of the few business challenges faced was really about the pricing and perception of what you are providing as a value add, and the actual value of itself. When you are new to the market, you have everything to prove because you haven’t been widely adopted, so that leads to a lot of negotiations. Once we worked with a few customers, we found the sweet spot where we were actually aligned with them, so it became more of a ‘win-win’ scenario, which is not overly common in most business practices.

6. Given your background as an entrepreneur, what do you wish someone had told you when you first started?

Fortunately, this isn’t my first rodeo. I’ve been baptized many times in one of the hardest lessons that any entrepreneur must deal with, which is that persistence and tenacity is just as important as innovation and brilliant technology. And, finding the right business partners is a life-long entrepreneurial pursuit. Most importantly, we can build the best tech, but if we do not act as tenacious in business, it will never see the light of day.

7. What do you wish your fellow entrepreneurs understood better?

Building actual authentic value to a product will help grow the business versus pure spin and hype. One of the things I think most entrepreneurs need to remember is to never underestimate their own ability to make something happen, and the teams they build are just as critical as the product they have. I have heard lot of people complain that it’s too hard to start something new, but really, if it were always easy, everyone would be doing it.

8. Anything else you’d care to share?

You can learn a little more about my game and mod development by googling my old-school gaming handle of: OBWANDO. And no, it’s not a Star Wars reference ;)

Thanks for the interview!

Any questions about the business side of the industry?

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  1. Is this the same tech that Blizzard is now using with the WoW downloader or is that proprietary Blizzard software?

    Comment by Bronte — 10 October, 2011 @ 6:02 AM

  2. Brian Green interviews Royal O’Brien

    [...] add comment Brian “Psychochild” Green known for pioneering MMO’s including his work on Meridia… [...]

    Pingback by BitRaider, LLC — 10 October, 2011 @ 10:50 AM

  3. NIH is always an issue, one I’ve been on both sides of, actually.

    In my experience, NIH is almost always about “how are we going to support this, moving forward”. All the worst-case scenarios scare the living daylights out of anyone of faint heart and significant experience. “Black box” middleware in particular needs to solve a _lot_ of development headaches before it’s going to make the cut. (Telling my customer my middleware vendor went bankrupt a year ago so I can’t get any real support on the issues they are having/changes they need doesn’t work as an excuse, surprisingly enough.)

    On the other hand, watching a company dither that could easily shave off a man-year of development if they’d just let you and your $500 product in the door is uniquely frustrating as well. (Been there, done that…)


    As for BitRaider, the product sounds intriguing. I’m assuming the predictive aspects of the software are based on identifying styles of play or events in game, and communicating that to the patcher… haven’t had a chance to really explore the linked site yet, but I’m hoping there’s some info on methodology to pore over…

    Comment by DamianoV — 11 October, 2011 @ 6:21 AM

  4. Just a quick response via phone at GDC.

    The tech used in WoW (Blizzard) is baked into the code, and not BitRaider. I had spoken to some of the devs with some tips over the last couple years at some of the shows and blizzcon events. It doesn’t hurt to help people if your product’s timeline doesn’t match up with theirs.

    Regarding the response related to NIH and solving issues. Not only do you have to solve the apparent issues, but be flexible enough to solve the seemingly unrelated issues. The answer of ‘we don’t do that’ simply doesn’t cut it. If you aren’t trying to solve a felt need that is even remotely connected, you are going to need to suggest some possible solutions. Working as a vendor is a great way to work with customers, but treating them as a partner is much better.

    In relation to being a middleware solution, one of the important things is to always make sure you are not getting in the way of your customer. They operate their company at its own pace, and if you need to be involved to perform or control any part of the process, then you are in the way, and usually quite undesirable. We built the system and toolchain to ensure the customer is in full contrl 24/7.

    One of the key elements is not just streaming data, its the ability to change directions of the needed content as fast as a user can change ther mind, and know how much is enough for that area before focusing on the next.

    Comment by Royal O'Brien — 13 October, 2011 @ 3:37 AM

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