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Video game designers look global

Entering publication business helped company grow, evolve with industry

Posted: August 5, 2012 2:00 a.m.
Updated: August 5, 2012 2:00 a.m.

John Beck, left, and Voldi Way of WayForward in their Valencia studio on July 13.

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Video game developer WayForward Technologies began with only three or four employees in 1990. Financing the startup was done using the personal credit cards of founder and entrepreneur Voldi Way.

Today, the Santa Clarita-based company owns and operates a 10,000-square-foot building in the Valencia Industrial Center and employs 83 people.

What began as an Orange County business, building games for game consoles like Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo Entertainment System, morphed into a game developer-contractor for game publishers by 1997.

“We worked with a number of CalArts students in the beginning but it was too hard to get down to Orange County, so the company moved to Santa Clarita in 1994,” said John Beck, general manager.

At one point the company also developed games for the educational uses like the Leapster hand-held games, but that market kind of dried up, Beck said. WayForward also developed games for the hand-held Nintendo devices and began designing some Web-based games. Today, it’s busy creating mobile phone games.

But what really catapulted the company to success was getting into the publication business.

In 1995, the company had grown to some 10 people. By 2000, it jumped to 20 employees.

And then WayForward hit the mother-lode when it gained entry into the lucrative publication end of the business by design video games for globally based game developers, publishers and manufacturers.

WayForward worked with international publishers to exclusively develop games such as “Silent Hill: Book of Memories” for the Sony PlayStation, and “BloodRayne” for Xbox. However it mostly deals with  publishers that have some kind of presence in Southern California, Beck said.

“Early on, WayForward had to work really hard to get publishers,” Beck said. “But eventually the company got two small projects and then increasingly became trusted with more and more important properties.”

The company since expanded rapidly, Beck said. To help with that growth, Santa Clarita lent a hand.

“We helped them in a few small ways,” said Jason Crawford, marketing and economic development manager for the city of Santa Clarita. “We worked with them on the Enterprise Zone program and helped them look for space.”

WayForward is an example of a startup business; a couple of guys with ideas that become very successful, he said. These are the types of technology-creative companies that the city wants to grow. It only takes one idea and a startup company ends up having 1,000 employees.

The city wants to help incubate these types of businesses that start small but can grow really big, Crawford said, but it’s a labor intensive process requiring a lot of people, equipment, capital and building space.

In WayForward’s 20-year history, the privately-held company has developed 120 retail products and it generates multi-millions in gross sales, Beck said.

It’s probably best known for its ability to revive classic intellectual property in games, creating new art and character animation capabilities.

As the game developer continues growing, its strategy is to “expand its games into new arenas like social media, mobile and casual markets,” Beck said.

“Henry Ford was famous for saying if he asked people what they wanted they would have said a faster carriage,” Beck said. “We have to anticipate what our customers will want and develop that.”

Managing through all the changes and rapid growth requires focusing on the company’s key strengths, he said. Beck identified character design and animation, technical expertise and a sensibility for what makes a highly addictive, enjoyable game as core strengths of the company.

As for recruiting as it grows, WayForward continues to have a good relationship with CalArts, recruiting from the school on an ongoing basis, he said.

Various job openings posted on the company’s website, WayForward.com, include positions for a 3D character animator, an Unreal and/or Unity programmer, junior and senior programmers, technical artist, Flash/UI artist and assistant art director.

“We might well be one of the oldest independent game developers in existence,” Beck said.

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