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AGC: David Bowman & Kelly Heckman

Carolyn Koh Posted:
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World Smiths - Interview from AGC

David Bowman and Kelly Heckman talk about the sale of Horizons and their future

Editor's Note: This is one half of a two part story. Next week, we will also run a story that chronicles what has gone on since Horizons was sold to EI Interactive that includes comments from the current owners and operators.

At the Austin Game Conference I had the chance to sit down with Kelly Heckman, former Online Community Representative for Tulga Games’ former property Horizons: Empire of Istaria and David Bowman, former CEO and Creative Director of Tulga Games.

I asked Heckman what she and her company Gamers Info Net (GIN) did for Tulga. “We provided services which included building and maintaining the community site and selling site. We administered all software, marketing which included placing ads and managed the forums – setting them up and setting the high-level moderation guidelines. We had someone in content QA, a site admin, and a coder.”

Then the burning question I had: Were you asked to prepare the community for the transition or not to?

“Due to the terms of the sale, I was not allowed to make any official statement to the community,” Heckman told me. GiN’s contract ended the moment the deal was inked and although she offered EI a 30 day transitional contract, the offer was not accepted.

“Up until the sale, it was business as usual. We all expected to come in next week and continue working. I could not see how Horizons could be sold and Tulga not be part of the deal, because without Tulga, how could Horizons exist?”

We spoke again about the licenses in dispute. “EI bought the URL and the data contained therein. Some licenses to operate the software that manages the data are non-transferable and belong to GIN,” said Heckman. EI Interactive will have to purchase copies of these licenses for their own use.

Heckman expressed great frustration at having to watch in silence as a community she had built and nurtured, crumbled before her eyes as anxiety built due to lack of official communication and the players began to “feed on each other.”

“They deleted every single post I and Dotcher had ever made… and wiped out a lot of technical support information.”

Heckman expressed her opinion that EI was not supporting the Horizons player community. “Registration on the forums is still closed,” she told me at AGC. An allegation that I checked on the date of writing, September 14, and true enough, when attempting to register on the forums, you are met with a page stating: “Sorry, registration has been disabled by the administrator.”

Horizons was David Bowman’s “baby” a game he was intimately involved in creating. Bowman’s career in Games Development started when he joined Bungie and worked on the Myth series. He then left Bungie to join Turbine to work on Asheron's Call where he rose in the ranks to VP of Production. He left Turbine to work with Artifact Entertainment on the launch of Horizons in 2001, then formed Tulga Games LLC and bought Horizons from Artifact in 2005 when they filed for bankruptcy.

I asked him how he felt about the sale of Horizons to EI Interactive.

“It was a business decision,” he said, indicating that his investor wanted to sell and he had a duty to perform as CEO of Tulga. “Our subscriber numbers were climbing, we had an expansion on the way, the timing was right.”

I questioned if he had any input or any hand in seeking a buyer and was informed that the information was put out at E3 2006 and his investor did the matchmaking. For Tulga, it was business as usual. He spoke with several interested parties but had no indication as to who the successful buyer would be. “The biggest shock was the relatively unknown that the company was eventually sold to,” said Bowman.

I had to ask the question, “Were you not allowed to inform your player base of the impending sale?” I was told no, although the players were aware that they were seeking a buyer since it had been announced at E3. Tulga had no input on the Press Release that was sent out by EI Interactive, and EI did not retain the services of their community management contractor, GIN.

Terms of the sale of course could not be disclosed, but Bowman indicated that they made recommendations and were committed to a proper turnover of assets. “I recommended that they hire the development team in order to continue providing content and retain GamersInfo for community management.”

A transition team was put in place to fulfill the terms of the contract, and Bowman also recommended that they hired the person that was in charge Server Operations.

Indicating that the server and software was stable, Bowman said he had full confidence that EI Interactive could operate the game successfully, but had no comment about its future as he does not have an inside track with EI. “It is theirs to run and develop now.”

I asked if he had a message for the players of Horizons that I could pass along. “Thank you for playing Horizons,” he said, “We had a great community with a lot of wonderful people. Thank you.”

What then was in store for David Bowman? “Well,” said David, “The last thing I did as CEO of Tulga Games was to fire myself. We are no longer under any agreement to provide any services.”

David then provided me his new business card; World Smiths, LLC. David Bowman, Architect. The Evolution Engine that Horizons was built on belongs to David and perhaps there are still worlds to be built.

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Carolyn Koh

Carolyn Koh / Carolyn Koh has been writing for MMORPG.com since 2004 and about the MMO genre since 1999. These days she plays mobile RTS games more, but MMOs will always remain near and dear to her heart.