What We Do

All this started from an unassuming beginning…

The ball got rolling for us back in early 1994, when a handsome young engineer called a long-time family friend for dinner. That old family friend was me, Annie. (Later, I found out that his original dinner plans had fallen through and I was the “backup.” Nice.)

We grew up in the same small town in Texas, but college had taken us on different paths and we hadn’t seen each other in years and years.

Pheromones got involved that night, the night we went to dinner, and within six months we found ourselves wearing wedding rings and relocating to San Diego, where Jeff had taken a job as an engineer with Hewlett-Packard making….zzzzzz….printer…..zzzzzzzzz……softwear…..zzzzzzz……

I can barely stay awake to write it, let alone work on it all day.

After a brief stint in San Diego that allowed us to experience buying a Christmas tree in shorts and to consequently realize that southern California was Not Our Thing, Jeff transferred to the HP Vancouver, Washington campus. We lived in Portland, in a little cottage with a vegetable garden. I had a great job. My best friend moved to Portland. I loved the rain. I loved my friends. We had basset hounds. We cut our own Christmas tree up in the mountains.

All was well, except that Jeff hated his job. He loved writing code and what he really wanted to do was….make games.

Games? Like, video games? Is that even a job?

Well, as it turns out, it is.

Late one rainy Portland night, Jeff and I were having a discussion about his job and his life and his job satisfaction and games and I pulled a copy of Warcraft off his shelf and looked at the developer’s name. Blizzard. It meant nothing to me. I said send these guys your resume. Just see what happens.

That was a fateful decision.

He emailed a resume around 11PM and by 8AM the next morning, a very sharp man, who would later be on of Jeff’s closest friends and business partners, had called Jeff to set up a phone screen. Things moved fast and the next thing I know, Jeff is packing a bag to go interview for his dream job.

Of course, there’s a catch. There’s always a catch, right?

Blizzard turned out to be Jeff’s dream job, and it also turned out to be located in the most soul sucking, freeway clogged, mall crawling place on earth: Orange County, California. Yes, Southern California. Again. What was I going to do? It was his dream job and we were a team.

So, we moved down there, again, bought a little old house, had two beautiful children, planted roses and orange trees, and Jeff worked.

I don’t mean Jeff worked on weekdays, or evenings, or even occasional weekends. I mean Jeff worked ALL THE TIME. Seven days a week. 14-16 hours a day. Every single day for months and months and months. Diablo rolled into StarCraft, StarCraft rolled into StarCraft: Brood War, Brood War rolled into Jeff being the team lead and lead programmer of the project now known as the ubiquitous World of Warcraft. The work never seemed to stop. This was, as they say in the tech world, a suboptimal situation for a man with a family. The children barely knew him.

I let my unhappiness with both the job and the area be known. Frequently.

In 2000, we left Blizzard with two of Jeff’s Blizzard coworkers and moved to Seattle to start a new company that wound up being called ArenaNet. It happened really fast, with the three guys basically deciding over dinner one night to branch out. Five days later, our house was on the market and we were off to Seattle. I was overjoyed!

First of all, you hear all kinds of things about business partners and the terrible twists and turns that happen with partnerships, but we lucked out. Our partners were really, really, really smart guys, top level programmers, and they were level headed, pragmatic, honest and trustworthy and, most importantly, they had the right stuff, the sheer stamina to go the distance with the grueling process of a startup. Here we are, ten years later, and I am so grateful that those guys were our partners.

I won’t bore you with the details of the startup, except to say that they were wonderful and terrifying all at the same time. Working for yourself is always going to be better than working for The Man. It just is.

After several painful years of growth and mistakes and hiring the right people and firing the wrong people and building consensus and being very, very, very, very, very, very, very poor, ArenaNet was bought by a big Korean online gaming company called NCsoft and we shipped our first game, an MMO called Guild Wars.

And you know what’s weird?

I always felt like that the game industry was my enemy, that games were cutting into my family life, but after Guild Wars shipped, Jeff kind of relaxed and spent more time at home and I started “getting” the industry. I love the artists, I love the programmers, I love the designers, and the producers, and the music and sound folks. I love the writers, the localizers, the sales people. It takes a special kind of person to work in the game industry. Even though it is a Big Serious Business, there’s a light-heartedness to the kinds of people who choose this as a profession. You may not like your bosses but you’ll almost always like your co-workers and you’re damn sure to like their wives and husbands and partners. Cool people.

And the fans…no, don’t get me started. They are wonderful. Game fans are passionate, no-bullshit people. They call it like they see it. I love that.

It was a honeymoon period for sure, and like all honeymoon periods, it had to come to an end. That’s pretty much where the blog picks up, as Jeff began to realize that it was time to move on and we began to contemplate leaving the company we’d spent TEN YEARS building, our business partners, and…well… most of our friends. Basically our whole life. It was hard to think about leaving.

Now, we’re racing full force into a new startup, the fabulous, the thrilling…

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Learn more at undeadlabs.com . Our first game, for the Xbox, ships in spring 2013.