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Tuesday, May 15, 2001
 
2001 Small Business profiles

Wild Tangent heads for jungle

By Sharon Pian Chan
Seattle Times technology reporter


Dean Rutz / The Seattle Times
Alex St. John, chief executive of Wild Tangent, calls the annual Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles ``a giant consumer nerd smorgasbord.''

If the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) in Los Angeles this week is a forest, then Wild Tangent is a mere mushroom compared with the video-game giants. The largest annual trade event for the electronic-game industry already promises to be the largest in its history, with Microsoft and Nintendo both showing off video-game consoles they're launching this fall.

Wild Tangent, a Redmond-based interactive media company, and hundreds of other small operations will struggle to be seen and heard above the din of hundreds of new games, celebrity appearances, scantily clad showgirls and blowout parties.

Chief Executive Alex St. John describes it as "a giant consumer nerd smorgasbord where you can get lost indefinitely amid the most enormous forest of booths, new geeky tech and content."

Despite the noise, the high concentration of decision-makers in one place means 15 minutes of fame here could decide a young company's future. Wild Tangent is planning to make announcements about its business, including today's launch of a digital-distribution channel. The company has partnered with graphics chipmaker ATI, Hewlett-Packard and InfoSpace to deliver its games to consumers over the Internet.

It's also co-sponsoring a Martinis and Massage party with ATI on Thursday and Friday where partygoers can balance a cosmopolitan while getting their shoulders rubbed.

The company started planning for E3 six months ago. Twenty-five employees are expected to be there, each likely to average about five meetings a day with customers, potential partners, media and developers. How much is the company blowing on the event? "It's a low six-figure number," said St. John, who has attended every E3 since 1994. "... It's a great place to get deals finished."

Founded in 1998, Wild Tangent develops technology to deliver interactive media over a low-speed Internet connection, such as a 56K modem. With interactive games taking up large amounts of memory, the company's technology compresses the data so that a 10-hour game doesn't take any more space than a 10-second game, St. John said. Games developed with its technology rank among the top five downloads on WinAmp, a Web-based streaming media player.

Developers download the software-development kits free and, if the content gets posted in a commercial environment, it pays Wild Tangent a license fee ranging from $1,000 to $100,000.

The company also makes online games an advertising outlet.

With new partners ATI and Hewlett-Packard, Wild Tangent also plans to start selling fee-based games to consumers for $10 to $20 each.

If the model sounds slightly unfocused, St. John brings it all back to one business model.

"We're in the business of television for multimedia," St. John says. "You don't make a TV program without paying for it with advertisers and distribution relationships to get it to people."

The company's gearing up for the next graphics-technology trade show in August, and St. John already has made plans immediately following E3.

"Sleep," he says.

Sharon Pian Chan can be reached at 206-464-2958 or schan@seattletimes.com.

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