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25 May, 2015 - 12:31 By Tony Quested

Ex-Jagex powerhouses shake up Cambridge games industry

Mark Gerhard, co-founder and CEO of PlayFusion and former CEO of Jagex

Mark Gerhard, former CEO of Cambridge games developer Jagex, and Andrew Gower – co-founder of the business – are building separate new ventures set to shake up the Cambridge UK games technology cluster.

Gerhard (pictured above) is powering up fast with Cambridge Ventures, which is advertising for 25 people across a range of related skills. He is CEO and co-founder of that business. He has also co-founded and is CEO of PlayFusion, incorporated in January.

Both Cambridge Ventures and PlayFusion are headquartered at St John’s Innovation Centre and their websites say they remain in stealth.

PlayFusion has four founders – Gerhard, David Gomberg (ex-CEO of Lazoo Inc), Rican Hodgson (ex-CFO and COO at Jagex) and screenwriter, television writer and author Justin Heimberg. Gerhard, Gomberg and Hodgson are listed as directors.

PlayFusion specialises in creating digital games that provide what the founders call “unparalleled interactive play experiences in conjunction with toys and video (YouTube/satellite/TV broadcast/movies/On-demand) content.”

They add that PlayFusion’s turnkey digital gaming platform, comprising proprietary API’s and components, brings continuous two-way interaction between physical toys and digital games. 

“Once we develop a game, our technology provides real-time interactivity and telemetry from physical toys and video content as they interact with it,” its web details state.

Gerhard publicly gave no reasons when he announced last September that he was quitting Jagex after seven years at the end of 2014 – but the itch appears to have been well and truly scratched with his latest enterprises. His team boasts collective experience spanning more than 150 game titles across multiple platforms.

The Cambridge Ventures website says that the business “only invest in and collaborate with teams that we believe will be awesome. We have numerous projects currently in stealth mode but we will be shouting about them soon. We only work with high calibre individuals who want to achieve extraordinary things as a team and have a load of fun along the way.”

Jagex, which has a new CEO in games industry ‘veteran’ Rod Cousens, and other companies in the Cambridge games cluster, might find competition for staff becoming even hotter than normal now Gerhard has left the RuneScape developer to forge ahead on his own. Cousens said when he took the reins in April that he was determined to build Jagex into an even greater force in the industry.

Andrew Gower, founder of Fen Research
Jagex co-founder Andrew Gower

Jagex co-founder Andrew Gower has meanwhile added more spice to the pot with a new venture of his own. He developed RuneScape with his brother, Paul.

In December 2010 he left the Jagex board and has since founded a new gaming development and consulting company, Fen Research, which is gathering momentum. He is currently developing a futuristic sci-fi strategy game named Solstrike. Gower has designed a statically typed programming language to aid in the project's development.

Fen Research, also registered at St John’s Innovation Centre in Cambridge, was founded to “create groundbreaking new technology and products in the field of online games and user created content.” Its website states: “Over the last five years we have been creating an ambitious new games engine/programming language, which introduces an entirely new way of thinking about and creating online games.

“The hard work is finally beginning to pay off and our game engine has now got to the point where we can start making real games with it, and we currently have two exciting games in production. Our plan is to first create and release some games for you to enjoy, and meanwhile we will carry on improving the engine to the point where (further down the line), we can share the engine too.

“Fenforge is our engine and programming language which is designed from the ground up to make the development of online multiplayer games quicker, easier, and less error prone. Fenforge is still in development and we are not ready to share it just yet.”

The first game is a small, turn-based strategy game for two-six players called Solstrike. The second game will be much larger, the company says.

So why does the games industry need another engine? Gower’s team says: “There are plenty of engines out there that allow you to make single players games very fast, and there are many engines with excellent graphics.

“However, most of the existing multiplayer engines are not as flexible as we would like, and are tailored for making only a specific genre of game well (for example just first person shooters). Even then they often require a lot of customisation.

“Fenforge is general purpose and can be used to make any type of multiplayer game as easily as if you were making a single player game, and deals with all the latency, prediction and networking automatically. You don't even have to write a separate server and client! We do not believe this is something which can be effectively bolted onto an existing engine as an afterthought.

“To get this working really well has required us to first design our own programming language which represents the game in a fundamentally different way, and then build the entire engine on top of that idea.”

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