Lessons Learned from Raven Software

Lessons Learned from Raven Software

"Move or die," said Brian Raffel, co-founder of Raven Software on the closing day of DICE Summit 2009 in Las Vegas.

"We learned to adapt, anyone who doesn’t learn to change and adapt gets run over pretty quick," he says. Raffel took the stage to give a brief history of the Activision-owned Raven Software, which has managed to maintain its autonomy under the umbrella of the megapublisher. The studio is responsible for recent titles such as Marvel Ultimate Alliance and X-Men Legends, and classic games including Heretic.

The two brothers–Brian and Steve–founded the company in 1990 in Madison, Wisc., conveniently a mile away from id Software and near an ample pool of talent graduating from the University of Wisconsin.

When Raven Software shopped around its first demo, it contacted 10 publishers. Many had told the company that it would not hear from publishers for three to five months. Within a week it had six different offers. But when they finally came to sign a contract with a publisher, the company’s lawyer overlooked the right to first refusal clause. "It was close to indentured servitude," says Raffel. It gave the publisher first dibs on any game idea–and it ended up causing a bit of legal entanglement for the fledgling studio. Raffel says he wound up having to use his credit cards to make payroll.

Raffel launched into a retelling of how the Raven team switched from Amiga programming to making PC games, which eventually led to it meeting up with id Software thanks to the small development community in Madison.

But after seven years of being an independent, Raffel says it was time for a change. The studio shopped around for a buyer, but couldn’t find one who wanted to leave the studio relatively untouched until Activision. At the time, it was the 15th largest publisher and had just been reborn by chief executive Bobby Kotick.

When Raven Software made the decision to be acquired, it ended up losing a lot of its key employees, says Raffel. Many distrusted Activision and were afraid that it would ruin the corporate culture. Now whenever we make bold steps, says Raffel, we make sure that everyone understands the decision before we make it.

Now the studio is working on a game based on the X-Men Origins: Wolverine film, a Wolfenstein game, and an original intellectual property called Singularity.

Pic via MobyGames