Vicious Cycle Software has a new publisher/owner in Little Orbit, the Santa Ana, Calif.-based publisher that focuses on Hollywood licensed games from DreamWorks Animation, USA Network and Disney. The game maker will remain operating in the Triangle and has plans to expand both its Vicious Engine business and its game development operations.

Eric Peterson, President/CEO of Vicious Cycle Software, talks about the company’s growth and what’s in store for the future in this exclusive interview.

  • How did your company come to be in the Triangle?

The Hasbro Interactive offices in Chapel Hill (formerly, MicroProse Software) were closed in December 1999. In less than a month, our group of founders decided to retain half of the talented employees at Hasbro Interactive Chapel Hill office and forge a new beginning. That is when Vicious Cycle Software, Inc. was born.

  • How has your studio grown since launching?

Like many companies in the game industry, we have had our share of ups and downs. When we initially opened our offices, we started with 12 employees. A couple of years after opening, we had shipped and procured new products and we were able to expand. By 2006, we reached 50 employees and had three titles in production and were preparing to launch the Vicious Engine. A year after that, we decided to sell our company to D3Publisher of America, Inc. and be part of a larger organization.

After the D3PA acquisition, we moved into our new offices in RTP and planned to grow the company to 90 or more employees. However, a few years after the purchase, there was a downturn in the retail gaming market and the economy in general, MMO and social games began to flourish and because we weren’t making those types of products, we scaled back.

Then, this past year, D3PA decided that it was time for them to step away from the retail game business entirely, go 100% digital and mobile with their future products and look for a company who would be interested in acquiring Vicious Cycle.

  • What impact will the acquisition by Little Orbit have on your future growth?

We expect the new acquisition to be very positive. We are currently employing 36 employees and, depending on the number of titles we produce for Little Orbit, we could end up expanding once again. We are revamping our engine for the latest consoles and newest technologies while also preparing it for mobiles games so we can expand into that sector of the gaming business in the near future.

  • How have you seen your engine technology evolve and grow?

We had four very strong years selling our cross-platform technology, but after 2011, we had a smaller engineering and support team and, due to our reduced staff, we weren’t promoting the technology as much as we had in the past.

We continued to improve our engine by adding more platforms and enhancing features such as our deferred renderer, new animation and physics features and full featured material authoring tools, but we weren’t actively trying to sell the engine to developers. Improvements were solely being made to support games we had in production at our studio.

Now with our new partner, Little Orbit, we have decided to make some larger scale improvements to the technology so that we can share it across the company and create products that span all the current consoles (past and present platforms) and mobile devices on the market today.

  • What are the challenges of competing with the likes of Unreal Engine, Gamebryo and Unity?

Since our priorities at Vicious Cycle have shifted over the last three to four years, we currently aren’t competing with Unreal and Unity for a spot in the game engine space. And while we have been in a bit of a hiatus with our engine, companies like Unity have done a fantastic job getting their tools and technology into the hands of many developers worldwide. And companies like Epic continue to push the boundaries of hardware with their technology. Both engines have their strengths and weaknesses and I expect them to continue to have great success in different sectors of the market.

  • Why do you think the Triangle is home to three game engine (Epic, Gamebryo, Vicious Cycle) companies?

It isn’t just home to game engine companies; it is home to numerous game developers and technology firms too. The Research Triangle Park has been home to many companies over the last twenty years like, MircroProse/Hasbro Interactive, Random Games, iRock, iEntertainment, Epic, Funcom, Insomniac, Red Storm, Vicious Cycle, Red Hat, Nortel, IBM, Lenovo, Nvidia and more. The list is expansive, and for years the area was known as the Silicon Valley of the East Coast.

We also have universities such as Duke, UNC, NC State, Wake Forest along with other academic institutions nearby that generate many talented job applicants for our industry.

Note: In the second part of the interview, Peterson talks about the challenges of working with Hollywood and why RTP has developed into a gaming hub. The story is now available online.