On July 14th the SEC registration of Phantom Entertainment, Inc. was revoked. The company repeatedly failed to file required annual and quarterly reports with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and thus violated the federal securities laws that requires public corporations to publicly disclose current, accurate financial information. They are still in Port Chester, New York.
Well almost it seems. Phantom Entertainment (formally Infinium Labs), after many many many false starts to ship 1) a game console, 2) a streaming game service and 3) a keyboard/mouse combination called the lapboard, apparently shipped the company’s first product, the Phantom Lapboard. The lapboard features a wireless swiveling keyboard with a shelf under it for a mouse. In fact, if you read the history of Infinium’s tech demos (start here) you’ll find that the lapboard was the only thing that’s a constant, the only things that was apparently real an any of their demos. Now they have apparently been shipping out actual Lapboards (@ $129) to consumers (sorry, currently sold out). So I guess a hearty cheer should be given? Maybe not. Let’s see, where to start.n.
Tim Robert’s starts the whole thing in 2002. Scandals occur. Leaves in 2005 with a boatload of stock. Many scandals follow. Rejoins as Chairman of the Board. Resigns in July 2007, the same time that Infinium gets $1.3 million loan agreement with European Investors LINLEY Management S.A. They double the number of outstanding shares to 2.4 BILLION. In September 2008 the SEC settles the charges with Roberts and as part of the settlement, Roberts agreed to be barred from serving as an officer or director of any public company for five years and, to be barred from participating in any offering of penny stock for five years. In Aug. 2008 a company called Phantom Gaming Service is incorporated in Delaware, with many of the same folks who work at Phantom Entertainment, plus Tim Roberts on board. Three days later, Phantom Entertainment gets $65K and some stock from Phantom Game Service AKA Phantom Streaming AKA StreamServ. 49% of the stock in fact. Phantom Game Service gets “technologies” powering the Phantom Game store – which had 1 (one) successful day before it shut down. Phantom Game Service then sells these technologies to a company called Game Streamer for cash and stock. Game Streamer enters into an agreement with (drum roll) Phantom Entertainment to give them access to all the technology & stuff originally in the Phantom Game Store. Who’s Phantom Game Service? Incorporated in October 2008 by Tim Roberts and friends. You can’t make this shit up. Do the math. He only needs 500 folks to prepay for a Lapboard to break even.
I’ve always been fascinated by some of the folks who used to work in the DirectX/Xbox groups at Microsoft and how they manage pursue (seemingly) lucrative, somewhat high-profile careers with nothing but string of empty promises behind them. Kevin is one of my favorites. After leaving Microsoft he and a few other famous game industry names formed the Capital Entertainment Group, which made grandiose plans and folded after a year without really doing much. He then was hired as CEO a company called Infinium with a never-to-be-release gaming console/service called the Phantom. He was often seen singing praises about how great the Phantom would be, how great the service, and how, No! it wasn’t vapor ware. How after a while he managed to move the company offices from Florida to LA (where he lived) and then left the company 5 months later. And then sued them for back pay. He was hired by Russian RTS developer Nirval (Heroes of Might and Magic) (which was owned by Florida-based Ener1 Group) as CEO in March 2006. Apparently Ener1 wasn’t happy with the low profits coming out the LA office and quietly closed it in December 2006. No word on what Kevin is up to now…
Update: There’s a nice -albeit short – reflective guest piece by Kevin on the XBox development effort you can read here.
Infinium will supposedly be showing the Phantom Game Service at both the Emerging Technology and New Form Factor areas of NVIDIA’s booth, South Hall #35311, and in the Microsoft Corp. booth in the Central Hall, #7145. Details about the Phantom seem to indicate it’s a Windows XP Embedded system running on an AMD processor with an NVIDIA graphics chipset. Release is scheduled for “sometime” in 2005.
If you’re attending CES you might catch Infinium’s president, Kevin Bachus talking at the “Digital Download” session on Friday at 3pm, room N245 of the North Hall.
Side Note: Infinium, along with two other companies, were mentioned in a fax stock scam that started making the rounds in early December. It helped push Infinium’s stock from 20 cents to 74 cents. With all the CES speculation it’s now trading over a dollar. More here.
It’s not just the game industry that does this, but the game industry in particular is rife with under-30 “managers” and “producers” who just can’t understand why employees don’t do what they are told or who can’t keep to a hopelessly optimistic schedule, not having a clue that working near 80 hour weeks for months on end is counterproductive. Don’t get me wrong, the software industry is still learning how to schedule, but there’s enough evidence and experience out there to know better. I still run into so-called software project managers who haven’t read Fred Brook’s insightful book “The Mythical Man-Month“, (or worse, who don’t believe it applies to them) even though this book is nearly 30 years old! If you work or are thinking of working is the software/game industry you should read this book. It’ll come as a shock to realize that more than half the software shops still don’t meet the minimum in Fred’s book.
It turns out that Electronic Arts, the largest game producer in the world, has come under scrutiny. In a posting on LiveJournal.com, a certain “ea_spouse” poured out her frustration that her fiancée’s long hours What irritated ea_spouse most, she said, was that Electronic Arts appeared to exploit her fiancée’s love of video games. Like many working in the industry, he grew up as part of the first generation to start playing video games at a young age. “It’s so difficult, because we love the game industry,” ea_spouse said “Games have been a part of our lives for so long.” But, she said, “he hasn’t been home for dinner to stay for months. It’s a constant stress. I can’t see him suffer without suffering myself. I noticed a change in him. All his interests have gone away. He’s constantly on the verge of getting sick. He’s pale and unresponsive.”
Both she and her fiancé understood long hours came with the job. It came as a rude shock when EA set “mandatory” hours from 9am to 10pm, six days a week. And then later set it to seven days a week. “They were just so pompous about it.” she said. This has caused a storm of controversy about working environments in the game industry and the “sweatshop work conditions” at EA in particular.
On July 29, 2004, Jamie Kirschenbaum filed suit against EA in San Mateo Superior Court. Kirschenbaum is an image production artist at EA. After the ea_spouse posting San Francisco law firm Schubert & Reed has initiated legal proceedings to start a class action lawsuit on behalf of a group of EA employees. “We are seeking unpaid overtime for a good number of (EA) employees who weren’t (properly) paid,” Schubert said. “EA contends they were exempt. We contend otherwise.”. EA says that non-managers don’t have to get paid overtime. It’s my opinion that EA should bite the bullet, pay everyone for overtime, and fire all the managers who went along with this crap. If the managers didn’t understand that they employees were the valuable resources they are, then they can’t be trusted not to watch out for them. There’s a difference between managing and dictating, the EA managers obviously did the easy thing and screwed their underlings rather than push back on obviously hopelessly optimistic schedules. Think I’m being harsh? A few days after ea_spouse posted her story, a software engineer fired from EA posted his own story under his real name. Among his accusations: His manager had hung a sign in the office that read “Open 7 days”. “So I’m posting under my real name — you have to stand up to this type of thing or it will continue. And every company will become EA so that can compete… Remember, you can’t spell ExploitAtion without EA.” Kudos Joe!
Additional feedback has been the posting of the hiring letters for EA’s Senior Vice President of Human Resources Rusty Rueff and Executive Vice President and Chief Financial & Administration Officer Warren Jenson. Not a good think to know that the jerk forcing you to work 80 hours/week not only makes a large six-figure salary, but also gets a bonus if you meet his deadline.
The good thing is this has started a “quality of life” issue in the whole game industry. The IGDA, gamasutra.com and Game Developer magazine have all taken note. If anyone wants any quotable, true, jaw-dropping stories about bad management during crunch-mode, I’ve got a bunch.
- ea_spouse post Slave Driving EA Games.
- Salon.com: Santa’s Sweatshop
- NPR Morning Edition story: Stressed-Out Game Designers Sue Software Maker
- NPR Morning Edition update: Read the Amended Complaint Against Electronic Arts
- LA Times story: Working Too Hard in an Industry of Fun and Games
In its latest filing with the US S.E.C. Infinium says it’ll have to spend $US 22.2M over the next 12 months in order to execute its “current business strategy”. Basically it says it’ll need $US 11.5M to launch the Phantom Game Service and sell the first 10,000 units. Then another $US 10.7M to “achieve cash flow break even”. Then, as if that weren’t enough, it says it anticipates having to spend another $US 20.2M over the next 16 months for promotion and services.
Tough, since according to the Sept. 30 statement, it has $US 20,991 (yes, 20K) in the bank, leaving it a bit short. The company said it has hired SG Capital to help it raise the funding it requires, and indicated that it was already talking to a number of potential backers. It also plans to discuss a debt-for-equity scheme with its current creditors. But it warned: “If we are unsuccessful in raising capital or we do not launch the Phantom Game Service when currently planned, we will need to curtail our proposed spending.“
|Infinium Labs and Sun Microsystems announced today that the companies have signed a collaboration deal to create a network and infrastructure that streams content for Infinium’s Phantom Game Service, direct to the living room.
“The Game Technologies Group’s understanding of online gaming, along with the broad-based expertise of the company in delivering content and services over networks, makes Sun an ideal partner for us. Sun’s expertise in delivering content from back-end systems to the user will now become one of our biggest assets. We can focus on offering consumers choice, convenience and ease of use with our PC and Java-based game service.” said Kevin Bachus, president, Infinium Labs.
(Yeah, Sun has always been a household name in gaming experience….)
“The Phantom Gaming Service model of delivering games to the home over broadband via a receiving device dovetails with Sun’s goal to use Java technology to allow people to play their favorite games without platform restrictions. We share Infinium’s vision of making games available over a network so they can play anywhere, anytime. Infinium’s mission is in line with Sun’s goal to leverage the network as a vehicle to make entertainment content, information and services ubiquitous for consumers, and we want to empower the company to make that happen in the video game arena. We’re glad Infinium’s direct to consumer model furthers our initiative to help developers using Java technology to distribute and sell their games to a wide audience.” said Chris Melissinos, chief gaming officer at Sun Microsystems.
(C’mon – did you even know Sun had a chief gaming officer?)
Sun is providing architecture design and back-end infrastructure, as well as managed hosting services, as part of the overall solution.
Originally slated for a November 18 release in North America, with a European launch following next year, Infinium Labs now plans to launch its Phantom Game Service “sometime” in 2005. As spun by Infinium president Kevin Bachus; the explanation goes like this;
Which explains that since Christmas doesn’t matter, we’ll just delay anyway? Bachus denied that the delay indicated that Infinium is having trouble preparing the console and service for launch, saying that “we were on track to offer the Phantom Game Service later this year.” and “Many of our key marketing and retail partners, as well as publishers, have told us that they believe the best way to make the service successful is to hold off for now.”
Regardless of Infinium’s explanations, this is certainly going to create further criticism for the company – especially from the ranks of those who remain unconvinced that the device will ever launch at all.