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Ownership Change Interview

Carolyn Koh Posted:
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Horizons: Ownership Change Interview

Horizons, a game that has changed ownership a number of times in the last year has changed again, This time though it's a company of mostly former Tulga Games folk running the show, fronted by CEO Rick Simmons who takes the time to talk to Carolyn Koh about the change and what it means.

On July 17th 2007, we learned via an interview on Gamersinfo.net that Horizons: Empire of Istaria had been acquired again; this time, by a company formed by previous CTO of Tulga Games, Rick Simmons and staffed mainly with former Tulga employees. The Horizons community was informed first. Quietly, the forums were opened up to registration again, the external test server - Blight - put back online, and a new secure billing/subscription system installed. On September 10th, a press release went out to say that an agreement to purchase of assets from Tulga Games LLC was complete.

"September 10, 2007 PHOENIX, Arizona - Virtrium LLC, developers of online game technologies and products, announced today that it has completed an agreement with Tulga Games, LLC., in which Virtrium has agreed to purchase the assets of Tulga Games. As part of the purchase agreement, Virtrium will continue to support and develop the subscription based MMO Horizons."

What this means for Horizons and its subscribers; we talk directly with Rick Simmons to find out. 

Carolyn Koh:

Thanks for speaking with us, Rick, tell us how the journey has been so far.

Rick Simmons:

We've had our hands full recently with a few things. If you've been following, there's the new billing system, new support system, Blight client, maybe secret new content patch in the work (shh - it's secret), not to mention the pain we went through to pretty much overhaul the facility when we first picked things up a month ago. A few of us still have cuts healing on our hands from those server boxes - yikes.

Carolyn Koh:

What does the acquisition of Horizons consist of and what led up to it?

Rick Simmons:

Tulga Games found themselves owning Horizons again and started talking with Virtrium about the future of Horizons. After some discussion, Virtrium made an offer to purchase all the assets and it made a lot of sense for Tulga, both from a business perspective, as well as product perspective. Virtirum has a lot of the people who were previously involved with Horizons, so Tulga Games felt confident that we had a unique capability to see Horizons succeed and grow.

Carolyn Koh:

Just who is Virtrium LLC?

Rick Simmons:

Virtrium LLC is owned by me (Rick Simmons) and is backed through my own personal investments as well as private investment. Prior to working in game development, I spent a number of years working in the petroleum industry doing software development. The petroleum industry is doing quite well and my assets / relationships from those days have placed me a solid position to see Horizons succeed. Virtrium is owned and managed 100% by me - which means we're going to be doing exactly what is best for the future of Horizons.

Carolyn Koh:

What are the current and most important issues you are working on game-wise?

Rick Simmons:

We just got the billing system rolled out and it looks excellent. Billing is working properly and we're quite pleased with how this release went. The remaining major billing update is a feature that allows someone to purchase a subscription voucher for a friend. Basically you purchase a unique code that can be redeemed for a subscription. We'll have this rolled out shortly.

Since we acquired Horizons, we have completed the following major tasks:

  • Overhauled the facility - both hardware and security setup.
  • Released a new billing system.
  • Released a new support system.
  • Revamped the forums and cleaned up the boards.
  • Set up Blight again and re-enabled all characters that were on Blight.
  • Rolled out a new terrain enhanced client to Blight. Work in progress.
  • Next content update. Work in progress.
  • Art assets related to the next content update. Work in progress.

Lots of people out there would like to know specific details on the next content update, but past experience tells us to only talk about updates that are ready to be released to Blight. If we talk about a new feature or expansion to content, and then decide to postpone or run into a technical issue, it's often interpreted that we're not living up to a promise. We want to meet every promise we make to the players of Horizons. Our general goal is to release a set of content updates that expand and improve Istaria for existing Horizons players. There are a lot of people who have stuck around and we want to do something that shows our commitment and thank them for their continued support of Horizons. When there is change, we know people get nervous. We're looking to show players that we're here to make Horizons a better place.

Carolyn Koh:

Will you elaborate on the billing system? What options will you provide Horizons subscribers?

Rick Simmons:

The new billing has two very important features - it works and works reliably. The process of creating, canceling and reactivating accounts is very dependable and indicates clearly what is happening.

We're rolling out a feature that allows customers to purchase subscription vouchers for other players. This has been a requested feature for a long time - so if you have a friend or family member and want to pay for their subscription (but don't want to give out your credit card), we allow people to purchase a subscription code that can be safely redeemed.

Our billing partner is PayPal. Customers can use all kinds of different payment methods with their PayPal account, or can just use a regular credit card without a PayPal account.

We still have our 2 week free trial, and have added a new Basic Subscription for $9.95. The Basic Subscription allows a new or previous player to come check things out and see if they like what is going on. If people want to own a plot, have more characters or consignment slots, a Gifted Subscription has everything bumped up (as well as allowing plot ownership). The Gifted Subscription also supports account upgrades, so you can bump up the number of character or consignment slots without having to purchase another full subscription.

Carolyn Koh:

What other important support issues are you addressing?

Rick Simmons:

The majority of support issues we're seeing right now are from people signing up with the new billing system and have questions about how things work. For example:

  • Can I stack 3 subscriptions on a single account so my character can own 3 plots?
  • (Yes)
  • What's my user name? (We send it over after verifying identify)
  • What's the average rainfall of the Amazon Basin? (80 inches)

Carolyn Koh:

What are your future plans? After all the most pressing issues are addressed?

Rick Simmons:

On the content side, we're primarily focused on rolling out updates that show existing customers that Horizons has a great future and is being actively developed again. Outside of the last year, Horizons has an excellent history of releasing all sorts of great updates to the game world - some small and some very large - without requiring people to go back to the store to purchase the expanded content. We're going to continue that tradition of expanding Horizons with each update. We've got some great things in the works that we're sure existing players are going to like. Once this set of updates is out the door, we'll shift to a more balanced development plan where half of our content is focused at the newer players and the other half is for veteran players.

On the technical side, we're going to continue to make updates that improve performance and fix bugs. About a year ago, we had a great track record of picking problems small and large, and then focusing until the problem was fixed. Some things got done in a week and others took longer, but it got done and people noticed. The current client on Blight is one of our larger updates and has a new terrain system. The goal of this update is to greatly reduce video and system memory usage, while pushing out the view distance. This is one of our more challenging updates because of the complexity of the problem (more things in view is more things to load and manage), but we've been working on it and are seeing good results.

Check out Page Two for the rest of this interview!

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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.