Grow up! [1998]

Grow up! [Hosted by Forbes]

Date: 10/08/1998

Author: Bruce Upbin

Source: https://www.forbes.com/global/1998/0810/0109076a.html

The dark studio and offices of Oddworld Inhabitants, Inc. is eerily quiet for a videogames outfit. No raucous shootouts among 25-year-old software developers aiming Nerf guns at each other. This San Luis Obispo, California, company leaves those antics to the customers.

Oddworld is all business. “This whole industry is a bunch of kids,” says Oddworld’s chief executive Sherry McKenna, blasting her competitors for their lack of maturity. “You should be able to create a product on time and on budget and still make it creative.”

McKenna is not your typical videohead — and doesn’t even like playing games. She spent 20 years producing digital effects for commercials, films and theme park rides. In contrast, Oddworld’s president, Lorne Lanning, 33, is a die-hard gamer. The two met in 1991 at the Hollywood special-effects firm Rhythm & Hues.

One day in 1994 Lanning sat McKenna down for two hours and told her a story about an alien planet called Oddworld. The saga begins with a hero named Abe. A Moses-like figure, Abe is enslaved as a janitor at Rupture Farms, Oddworld’s largest meatpacking plant, run by some gangsterish types called Glukkons. When Abe finds out that his species is next for the sausage grinder, he sets out to free them. “Great, let’s make a movie,” McKenna said. “No,” Lanning insisted, “it’s a five-part videogame saga.” Lanning explained that videogames gross more than $5 billion a year, about equal to Hollywood’s annual box office take.

McKenna was convinced.

Oddworld Inhabitants opened shop in September 1994 after McKenna and Lanning sold 49% of the company to KG Squared, a now defunct venture capital firm in Denver, for $3 million. That grubstake paid for the first of an Oddworld quintology, Abe’s Oddysee. The project so impressed game publisher GT Interactive (1997 sales: $531 million) that it bought the venture capitalist stake and acquired the rights to market Oddworld’s games.

McKenna swore two things. Her games would set a new standard in computer graphics. “I didn’t want my friends in Hollywood to laugh at me,” she says. And her company would be run like a business.

Well before character design or animation on Abe’s Oddysee began, McKenna and Lanning spent four months planning every phase of the project. The programmers didn’t like being pinned to a date. Tough.

McKenna introduced a strict regimen that applies to this day. Every morning Oddworld’s producers issue a company-wide E-mail explaining the status of games under development. All 60 employees know who the laggards are.

Last September the company released Abe’s Oddysee on time (three years) and on budget ($2.5 million). In less than a year, the $45 (retail) game has sold 1 million copies worldwide for the Sony Playstation and PCs. Oddworld should earn about $6 million in royalties this year from GT.