How it all started…
Tobias and Niklas met in Umeå in 1998. At the time, Tobias was still in high school, but active in the demoscene, while Niklas was studying physics. Later, Niklas moved to Stockholm to work in the cryptology field, while Tobias was in Gothenburg working at the Vision Park games studio.
The two stayed in touch, devising their future plans; when Tobias landed a gig at development studio Grin he quickly got Niklas hired. The two of them ran the engine team there for six years, until deciding to start their own company. With a small team, Niklas and Tobias built the Bitsquid engine, later acquired by Autodesk and renamed to Stingray.
This is where I entered the picture. I’d just come off of a consulting gig with Epic Games, helping them with the new direction for UE4; previous to that, I’d spent several years leading the marketing efforts for Unity. Needless to say, I love tech and I’m passionate about helping provide great tools for developers. Phil Scott over at Nvidia, a mutual friend of ours who knew I was looking to continue working in middleware, introduced me to Bitsquid, knowing that they needed marketing and business development help.
I was already acquainted with Bitsquid’s tech and philosophies, as I’d followed Niklas’ blogs and comments on several dev sites over the years. After some talks at E3 and several emails, I took the gig and flew to Stockholm to meet and work with the team. I have a bunch of funny stories about the guys that I’ll recount here in the coming months, but the main thing I want to convey is that I admired how both Tobias and Niklas ran their team, how they respected my ideas, and how fast we started to execute marketing plans together. They were the first team I worked with that never talked over me in meetings (which is saying a lot, sadly). The three of us were highly aligned on how we viewed the importance of the community, and they were open to doing things in, dare I say, an “out of the box” way. Their love for development was contagious, and watching them have one another’s backs during important decisions was a rare and special thing to witness. I was smitten.
During this time, Bitsquid had nailed down an acquisition with Autodesk, so you can imagine how dismayed I was when Autodesk siloed marketing from development and separated us to finish out my contract without them. For years afterwards, I would meet up with the guys in Stockholm and at GDC; toward the end of all my visits, I would always bug Tobias, “Hey, so when are we going to work together again?”
GDC 2016 rolled around. I’d just launched Lumberyard for Amazon, and was looking forward to seeing Tobias and Niklas per our usual GDC hangouts. When I saw the both of them again, I had this weird feeling in the pit of my stomach. I’d felt like, in my current gig, I was working in the wrong place, with the wrong people, and on the wrong tech. The first thing I said to Tobias was, “When are we going to work together again?” Now here we are, together again.
It’s only been three weeks, but those have been the best three work weeks of my life. It’s pretty delightful how Tobias and Niklas speak of one another; they are, in a sense, brothers from different mothers, and it was this familial feeling that drew me to the both of them. I can’t tell you how amazing it is to actually start with engineers from the beginning. Usually, I get slid in when people realize, “Oh shit, we need marketing and a business plan.” And by then it’s too late — not impossible, but really painful. Understanding the tech from the ground up, and how the guys are building it, is important for me to understand and devise our plans around. It will enhance how we work with the community. Tobias, Niklas, and I agree on key principles: transparency, diversity, inclusiveness, accountability, and quality. I’ll talk about this in more detail in later blogs, but being aligned on these values — as founders — is really important. I always find it comforting when you know where ideas are coming from and what problems are being solved, and that’s why I love reading origin stories.
There are lots of interesting nuances and fun details about Tobias and Niklas’ origin story, and you should definitely ask them to tell you some stories over beers next time you run into them. :)