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DICE 2011: Bill Budge Discusses His Software Origins

Bill Budge, AIAS Pioneer Award winner and father of user-generated content in games with his famed Pinball Construction Set, discusses his software origins and love of software tools.
Just after receiving the AIAS’ second-annual Pioneer Award from the Interactive Achievement Awards at the DICE Summit, user-generated content pioneer Bill Budge took the stage to discuss his storied history, and his love of software tools. In an on-stage interview with Wired.com’s Chris Kohler, Budge began by discussing his entry into games. “It was in 1978 that I started to think about getting a computer,” said Budge. It took him a long time to find an Apple II, since most places were sold out or didn’t carry it. “I would put it back in the box, in the plastic, after I finished programming on it. That’s how precious it was to me.” He began programming in his spare time, but didn’t consider it a profession – people traded games and software on floppies in person, back then. “I was lucky in college, I met this guy who saw my games, got excited, and said ‘I think I can sell these,’ and he got them into a couple hundred stores,” said Budge. “I got a check for $7,000 for the first month.” The partner gave Budge 55 percent, and took 45 percent for himself, but over time that number flipped to opposite amounts, as “costs were rising.” Budge’s father wised him up to the fact that he didn’t need a partner – it’s just putting floppies in bags and hoofing them around, after all. “My dad said, ‘look, you can do it yourself,’” said Budge, “and my sister was ready to jump in. It didn’t take much to have a software company back then. Kind of like now, actually!” This was the origin of BudgeCo, which shipped Raster Blaster and Pinball Construction Set, the games for which Budge is best known. But the market was shifting, and Budge knew he needed a partner, which he found in Trip Hawkins and Electronic Arts. “I think I realized after a while that the business was changing,” Budge admits. “It was getting harder, you needed presence and sales force. Trip [Hawkins] was really pushing that. The minute I decided and signed up and saw the PR stuff that he did, it was amazing.” But there were other offers, as well. “I remember one, it seemed incredibly stupid,” Budge joked. “It was this licensing company, and they wanted to know if I was interested in these ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,’ and I thought it was incredibly stupid, so I kind of passed on that one.” Though Budge is known as one of the fathers of user-generated content in games, he wasn’t really thinking about it that way at the time. “I remember when I was drawing the ball, I used to like to graph things out. Very soon it became just the way I worked was to do everything on the computer,” he said, and this is what prompted him to create the tools that allowed him to make the existing levels, which are the same tools players use to create their own levels. After a while, budge sort of dropped out of the spotlight, though he worked at 3DO, Apple, Electronic Arts (for a second time) and Sony, before moving to Google, where he is now. “3DO I liked a lot, and EA was fun for a while, but then I got this amazing offer at Sony,” he said, which was an offer to build up the company’s tools tech, some of which is still used today. “It let me make software tools, which is kind of my thing,” he said. Now at Google, he’s getting back to his software roots and working on safe delivery of raw web code on the net.

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