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EMBA and GLEMBA Class of 2017 Visit to Glass Egg and Bloomer

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EMBA students Alexander Moeller (left) and Ajay Amberkar (right) with the receptionist at Glass Egg

The massive video game industry, which relies on highly trained artists and computer programmers in Japan, the U.S. and Europe, has discovered a new source of talent in a surprising place — Vietnam.

We were excited to head into an air-conditioned room after our previous company visits in Ho Chi Minh City — little did we know that surprise was waiting for us. Within minutes of our visit to Glass Egg Digital Media we realized we were about to experience something special. This company is assisting game publishers like Microsoft and EA as they focus on idea generation, game design and product marketing while outsourcing the development of characters, vehicles and weapons to low-price subcontractors. The founder and CEO, Chris Tran, commented that his company works very closely with clients to structure and finalize the technical aspects of each program, through which he and his team have opportunities to understand their clients better.

Jon Kay (left), CEO of Bloomer, and Phil Tran, CEO of Glass Egg

Located in Ho Chi Minh City, Glass Egg is a digital media company formally incorporated in 1999 that specializes in 2-D and 3-D designs as well as some animation for video games. The company of about 300 employees, 200 of them artists, became one of the preferred development partners for Microsoft in 2003.

Glass Egg was involved in designing components such as vehicles, weapons for first-person shooting games, spaceships or background landscapes for games such as JumpStart (an educational game for children), Le Mans 24 Hours, Forza Motorsport (Microsoft X-Box racing game), Battlefield 2, Night at the Museum, F1 2010, Need for Speed, Forza 6, Call of Duty – Black Ops III, NFS 2015, Forza Horizon 3 and Titanfall 2.

The company’s core competency is very clearly the design of any type of cars in 3-D. However, it also developed three games that were test projects and not released to the public market. Glass Egg is evaluating whether to pursue creating and releasing entire games in the future.

Senior management consists of eight expats with a total of 75 years of experience. Glass Egg prides itself on turning concepts into reality by having core strengths such as strong technical skills (all work is quality inspected), depth and breadth of employees’ experiences, staff longevity (very low turnover), long-term relationships and repeat clients (Sony, Sega, EA, Activision, Microsoft). The company heavily focuses on sourcing its employees locally.

Apparently, there is no formal degree program or training available right now for the type of videogame developers Glass Egg is looking for. Graduates from top-notch universities are not necessarily the main source of focus for the company; rather, it seeks talented individuals who have experience in or passion for art, lacquerware, painting and architecture. Once Glass Egg vets new talent, it puts them through extensive in-house training, ranging from six months to one year, in software programing or game designing to get them ready for long-term employment with the company.

Glass Egg uses software called Autodesk to design its 3-D models. Since Autodesk is not available in Vietnamese, an employee is familiarizing himself with the software and attending online training sessions to create Vietnamese versions of tutorials and training materials for Glass Egg’s local employees. The company-developed training program is customized for each new artist being hired and may take three, four or six months.

Artists mainly design new cars from scratch. Rarely can Glass Egg get a copy of the original drawings from car manufacturers. In most cases, Glass Egg artists use high-resolution photos of cars, then create thousands of polygons that eventually make up the vehicles. Usually, eight to nine versions of a particular car need to be created — ranging from close-up to far-distance views.

The examples we saw were extremely detailed. Even the smallest items, such as a car key show scratches and signs of wear and tear. The 3-D car models show incredibly tiny details such as the tread of or marking of tires, reflections on windows or the body of cars under various light conditions. We were told the design of a single car for Forza took about 20 man days, whereas it now takes 120 (!!!) workdays to design a car for Forza 6. For a pistol like a Glock 45, it takes about 13 workdays to design.

In the gaming industry, time to market is crucial. Every few years companies such as Microsoft or Sony release new platforms of their gaming consoles, X-Box and PlayStation, respectively. Since the technical specifications of upcoming machines are tightly guarded secrets, Glass Egg developers need to anticipate the processing power and capabilities of new consoles before they are even released. Eventually, major games will need to be ready for market release simultaneously with the release of the actual consoles. Over many years, and after several successful projects, Glass Egg has developed a very close relationship with Microsoft that allows the company to become involved in Microsoft’s preproduction activities and to receive hardware specifications slightly before the console launch dates.

Competition in the videogame industry is fierce. Per Glass Egg, there are about 1,500 studios on the market with only 100 to 200 being serious competitors. Glass Egg stated it is among the top three developers in the industry, with clients from 20+ countries, most of whom are repeat customers.

Mr. Tran commented: “Once clients appreciate our initial work for them, whether it is 2-D or 3-D, they want to continue working with same team for the next projects.”

Mr. Tran attributed his success to motivating his employees with non-monetary incentives. “Our internal training program is the key for us to know who will be with us for the long haul. The longevity of our employees is driven by two main drivers. First is the growth opportunity. As an example, all our top and middle-level managers are Vietnamese. Some of these leaders came to our company speaking no English, but today they can communicate really well. And this is the secondary reason for the longevity of our talent, the opportunity to reach higher.”

When it comes to leadership, Mr. Tran commented, “We never tell our employees how to do it. We simply communicate what needs to be done, and they figure out the best way to do it. We have long realized that they know their jobs better than we do.”

Mr. Tran is striving to create a Silicon Valley in Vietnam, but we observed a strong Vietnamese flavor in the workplace. Some employees concentrated on dual computers while enjoying Vietnamese songs that stream from their mobile devices.

Visit to Bloomer

We also visited Bloomer within the same building as Glass Egg. The start of this company was inspired by a Glass Egg employee. The idea behind Bloomer is that many people like to post photos on social media with the anticipation of getting many “likes” in return. The expectation is not necessarily a monetary compensation, but rather the “fame” and publicity that come with being rewarded with many likes.

Bloomer saw a business opportunity and developed a mobile app that is currently in its infancy and initially intended for the Vietnamese market. The way it works is that users of this app get 100 free flowers that they can use to “like” or award to other people posting interesting or otherwise unique photos. If users want to use more flowers they will then have to buy more from Bloomer’s app. The users who post photos will compete for receiving more flowers than other users. Bloomer’s idea is to reward the user with the most flowers in a given year with publicity such as being on the front page of Esquire magazine, or being invited to movie premieres along with celebrities, where they will be allowed to show up on the red carpet with an entire entourage. Others may win the opportunity to be part of a dedicated video around them that may be published on social media.

The app will be completely clean, that is, no adult or questionable content will be allowed. The system will be constantly monitored by Bloomer customer service staff. Also, other users will be able to flag inappropriate content in order to block users who violate Bloomers terms and conditions Ultimately, if Bloomer becomes successful in Vietnam and possibly other countries within the region, the company’s exit strategy seems to be geared toward a huge IPO.

From our perspective, it appeared that the senior management of Bloomer and Glass Egg have clear financial goals in mind. With their prior track records within the digital media and gaming industry, we think there is a high likelihood of success.

- Written by: by Shaw Derresse, Sachin Kungalli and Alexander Moeller

EMBA and GLEMBA Study Tours

Each year, the UT Dallas Executive MBA and Global Leadership Executive MBA programs take an international study tour to compare and contrast different cities (often in different countries), to better understand each city and country’s competitive advantage, and to learn about companies’ business strategies in the global and dynamic business economy in which we live, work and play.  Read more articles

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