David Perry’s gone and done it again. The iconic, Irish-born video game developer and techno-entrepreneur has found another pot of gold at the end of the digital rainbow. This time, a company he co-founded, Gaikai, has been purchased by Sony Computer Entertainment for a reported $380 million dollars, just three years after Perry became involved.
The thing that gets me most, and yes, I’m green with Irish envy, is that I can’t even pronounce Gaikai correctly. I've know for some time what Dave's company was up to, but honestly until thirty seconds ago, I had no idea that the cloud-based video game company was named after a Japanese word meaning “Open Ocean.” If fact, I—like a zillion other folks who a month ago were aimlessly wondering the halls of the E3, the massive video game trade show held annually in Los Angeles—had to pronounce the six-letter combo with an uncertain, guttural, choking sound. More often than not, the sentence ended with, “You know, the company Dave Perry is behind,” as if his endorsement made the clumsy name a selling point rather than a fatal marketing flaw.
What we've all discovered is that in the video game world David Perry’s endorsement is golden, and his continual success seems to be based on some unseen law of game physics, on the same rare visionary phenomena that guys like Steve Jobs and Walt Disney possessed. It’s the same insatiable desire for quality that copycat technologists, often companies whose names are based on dullish acronyms or end in “_soft,” will never understand.
But my assessment could be biased. After all, David and I have been industry acquaintances for years, and we seem to have acquired a mutual respect for each other: he for my unimposing knack to create historic video game acquisition spreadsheets; I for David’s good looks, charm, and bank account. We both like video games, too.
Our history is longer still. Back in the 90s, David and I worked together at Virgin Interactive, down in sunny Southern California. Actually, by the time I got there, he’d already left to form Shiny, which opened the coolest development office in the entire world, on a pier overlooking Newport Harbor. Unlike Dave and his crew, we, Virgin's marketing minions, had to sweat out life inland with the rest of the not-so-creatives, in a flat, gray industrial park near John Wayne Airport, which was a good thirty-degrees hotter than Dave's beach-front resort. Shiny was working with us on a Sega version of Disney’s Aladdin. Aladdin became a million-unit selling property, not surprising given that it followed Perry’s tsunami-sized hit game, Earthworm Jim, which, I believe, is based loosely on David’s life: a tall, lanky character from another part of the universe finds a superhero suit and then conquers everything, all the while maintaining humility and a positive outlook on humanity.
Back then, publicity and marketing women actually swooned when David Perry’s name was mentioned around the office. Even more impressive, nanoseconds later, Dave sold Shiny to Interplay, a rival video game publisher located, interestingly, across the street from our office. According to legend, David got roughly six trillion dollars for Shiny, and as the story is told, Brian Fargo, Interplay’s founder, still hasn’t forgotten it, and he occasionally wakes up in the middle of the night calling out David’s name.
That was the first time David sold his company—and according to more reliable sources, the actual price was around ten million dollars.
The second time he sold it was in 2002. At the time, Interplay’s financial life force was in dire need of a med-kit, and they ended up selling off many of their key assets, including Shiny. David and his crew were working on Enter The Matrix, a video game for the original Xbox and PlayStation 2, based on the Wachowski Brothers’ feature film. David pitched Shiny to French-owned publisher Infogrames Entertainment SA, and whatever he said worked. They ended up buying his company and the game-in-progress for forty-seven million dollars, proving that digital lightening does strike twice in the same location.
Shiny was acquired a third time in 2006. By then, Enter The Matrix had sold over five million copies, but David was long gone. Although, according to rumors, his cumulative royalty for the game was roughly nine billion dollars, give or take. Shiny ended up in the hands of a software conglomerate called Foundation 9, where it eventually died of merger-itus and the lack of Perry-gen.
Legend holds that about the time of the third acquisition, David was living a life of leisure along the California coast, spending time with loved ones in a four million square foot, ocean facing home, complete with tennis courts, helipad, and private yacht harbor. Admittedly, I can’t confirm any of this, but I do know that Orange County, where David calls home, doesn’t have a yacht harbor big enough to dock the size of his rumored boat. He did, however, learn to fly helicopters.
David and I connected again a few years ago, when he was contemplating the future of digital assets he’d created for his Game Industry Map, and over lunch in Los Angeles he mentioned his involvement with Gaikai. I nodded my head, as if I recognized the potential, realizing now that I didn’t see the digital telephone poll sticking up in the middle of the proverbial technical garden. Otherwise, I would have begged him to let me put his ridiculous-sounding company name on my business card.
What still mystifies me is how a guy with boyish good looks and a twelve-foot sixteen-inch skeletal frame can continually end up on top of the technology stack, and more importantly how he managed to get nearly four hundred million dollars for a speculative cloud-based game company. Perhaps it comes down to momentum. To reputation. To timing. To connections. All of which David Perry has gallons of. But there is a more important reason.
Earlier this year I ran into David at the Game Developer’s Conference in San Francisco. Together we sped along one of Mascone Center’s nameless hallways, with me teasing him about his obvious physical appeal, saying something like, “It must be tough being tall and good looking.” His response wasn’t surprising, if you know him. He speaks softly. He has a subtle but detectable speech impediment that becomes more obvious when he’s excited, when he’s talking about technology and the future. He looked somewhat embarrassed and then confessed that while growing up he’d always felt uncomfortable being taller than his mates (his actual height is six foot eight inches). I realized then how completely human my super-human friend really is.
My mother would remind me that David Perry is just like the rest of us, that he puts his trousers on one leg at a time. But I disagree. Mr. Perry isn’t like the rest of us at all. He possesses a natural Hollywood appeal. Yet, he’s approachable. Kind. He signals before changing lanes and gives up his subway seat for old ladies, even though he probably owns the whole friggin’ train. But more importantly, David Perry has a keen aptitude for seeing the future of technology, and then he takes the personal risks necessary to get there first.
Dan Rogers, Copyright 2012.