AGDC 07: Icarus Platform Interview with David Gardner

Icarus Studios first snuck into the public eye as the development studio behind the post-apocalyptic MMORPG Fallen Earth, but that doesn’t seem to be their largest focus. The Icarus Platform, a suite of tools that power the development of any MMO, has entered the market head-to-head with HeroEngine from Simutronics and BigWorld’s BigWorld Engine. At AGDC, we spoke to David Gardner about his engine and why he thinks it’s a better solution than those of his competitors.

“We believe you can take an excellent product to market without actually writing any code,” Gardner explained from the second floor of his AGDC booth, yes AGDC booths now have two floors.

Their tools eliminate the necessity of programmers. Instead, a comprehensive scripting language enables designers and content creators to directly implement content. For those who have or are programmers, don’t worry, they’re not obsolete. People can get under the hood and fiddle with whatever they want if they wish.

Gardner promotes his tools as a tightly integrated package and provides for everything an MMO company could need. It’s not just a client and content creation tools, it’s the back end, the billing and everything else.

He points out that they built their set of tools with the operation and long term stability of an MMO, noting that every founder of Icarus has taken an MMO to market in the past. They also tout their optimized bandwidth, something that keeps costs down. Gardner claims that their engine uses 10% of what their competitors do.

While it’s new on the scene, Gardner told us that they’ve had six years of development on the engine and currently have 75 people hard at work on it. That’s more than the size of some game’s entire development teams.

We asked him to compare his platform to his primary competitor, HeroEngine. He claims that their solution has far more functionality and is more cost effective to develop on. He also believes it would take less time to make a game using it, which is hard to judge since both platform’s proof of concept titles (Hero’s Journey for HeroEngine and Fallen Earth for the Icarus Platform) have been in development nigh on forever. Gardner did admit – with some obvious disdain – that his tool is much less pretty and not so fun to demo as the very cool looking HeroEngine. Where HeroEngine lets content creators work simultaneously within one area, Icarus relies more on spreadsheets and traditional development, something they clearly believe is more practical.

The main theme of Gardner’s comments was a belief in partnership between Icarus and those using the platform. He noted that they will – for an added cost – provide companies with access to motion capture equipment, sound studios and asset libraries. He also noted that they work hard to make sure that studios that use Icarus get to market. They line up deals, go to meetings and introduce them to potential investors.

He also told us that to date, every company they’ve demoed their platform for has adopted it.

“The only deals we don’t win are those that we don’t show,” he boasted.

It’s only been three months since they opened up the doors to license this engine out, but already Gardner tells us they have roughly 10 clients.

The cost of their engine, without going into specifics, he believes is initially cheaper than HeroEngine and BigWorld, although we have no way to verify this. He also touted their flexibility when it comes to how a company chooses to pay. They can pay a lot up front, or try and make it up on the back-end through royalties. It’s up to them.

Engines are hard to read when it comes to interviews, but as I gazed out over the AGDC Exhibit Hall, I realized just how big and competitive this market has become. Right across the hall was a BigWorld display, next door to them sat Emergent and just beyond that HeroEngine. If none of those do the trick, there’s also Multiverse. Each of them offers a different twist on the same core idea: they do the boring parts of game development and free studios up to make the games. Which is best? Until they all put a game on the market, it’s too early to say. Hopefully, in the next couple years, we’ll find out.

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