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innovation economy

Industry vet moves to helm at game studio

Hank Howie has had many adventures in game development.

Hank Howie has had many adventures in game development.

Excerpts from the Innovation Economy blog.

Disruptor Beam, a Boston game development studio, is adding an industry veteran as its chief operating officer: Hank Howie, formerly head of Blue Fang Games and more recently cofounder of Beach Cooler Games. He will oversee business operations as chief executive Jon Radoff spends more time focusing on product. The seven-person studio is working on an online game tied to the hit HBO series “Game of Thrones.”

No release date has been announced for the Facebook-based game, which Radoff says has been in development since December. He hints that it will be in 2012 or early 2013.

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Earlier in his career, Howie was president of Blue Fang Games in Waltham, creator of Zoo Tycoon, a top-selling PC game, and the Facebook games Zoo Kingdom and Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?

In 2009, Howie tried to shift Blue Fang from a developer of PC and console games
to a more Facebook- and mobile-oriented studio. But Blue Fang shut down in 2011.

Howie’s next venture was Beach Cooler Games, a virtual studio — it relied on contractors rather than full-timers, and didn’t have an office — that produced the mobile game Universal Movie Tycoon.

Disruptor Beam’s staff, along with an army of more than 30 contractors, is working solely on the Game of Thrones Ascent project right now, Radoff says, collaborating with HBO and George R.R. Martin, author of the novels upon which the cable series is based.

“We’re trying to bring triple-A, console-like game sensibilities to social gaming,” he said, “with higher production values and more immersion than people have seen so far.”

Flybridge expands NYC office

Flybridge Capital Partners, the Back Bay venture capital firm, is adding staff at a Manhattan office it opened in January. David Aronoff, a Flybridge VC who invests mainly in IT businesses, is working out of the New York office, and principal Matt Witheiler plans to move down at the end of the summer. (Both had previously been based in ­Boston.)

Aronoff says he has hired an associate who will start in September and notes that the firm brought on Picturelife founder Nate Westheimer as an adviser in 2009.

“Over the past five years, we’ve been spending time increasingly in New York, and we have several portfolio companies there now,” Aronoff said.

While the New York tech scene in the late 1990s may have “turned out to be a mirage,” Aronoff contends it’s different now: “It’s a really interesting ecosystem of entrepreneurs, and we’re seeing things that are keeping us interested.”

A novel idea to solicit novel ideas

If you’re launching a crowdsourcing start-up, what better way to formulate a marketing campaign than by asking the Internet community for advice?

Cambridge-based PieceWise is designed for people who are trying to plan a project “and they don’t know exactly how to do it,” said cofounder and chief executive William Neely. “Instead of hiring a consultant, you can put some prize money out there, and everyone can give their ideas.”

So PieceWise is practicing what it preaches, offering $1,000 to those who supply advice about how the four-person company should conduct its first marketing push.

“We haven’t been very creative in coming up with marketing ideas,” Neely admits. “We want to gather some crazy ideas from this campaign.”

Neely says PieceWise is similar to 99Designs, where users create a bounty for the best-designed logo, for example.

“But the really cool feature we have is that the prize is collaborative,” he says, meaning it can be split up among multiple contributors. Users can vote on the best ideas and that determines how the cash is allocated — even though the person who posted the prize in the first place may choose to run with an entirely different set of ideas.

Visit www.boston.com/innovation for the full Innovation Economy blog, updated ­daily.
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