Ch 7: First meetings with Cobalt Flux and Chris Danford - The Positive Gaming Story

20 - 12 - 2012

Ch 7: First meetings with Cobalt Flux and Chris Danford

This chapter explains how the first prototype of our first multiplayer product became a reality, how we met and partnered up with Cobalt Flux as well as how we first met with Chris Danford.

I went home from Holland with mixed feelings. It didn’t seem like it would be easy to sell Euromix 2 machines into fitness studios, even if the product got attention at the trade show. But the idea from Guus van der Meer sounded interesting, although I had no idea how that could be accomplished. I had 10 years of assorted business experience, but had never been involved with product development before. And Guus' idea may have sounded easy enough in theory, but it would not be easy to make something that could satisfy all requirements to make a success on the market. Usually a big company would make a product like that, not someone like us. A good thing as far as we saw it was that Body and Mind sounded eager to invest into the idea if we could find out how to do it, and work with us to make it happen.

Back in Oslo, we had an internal meeting with the others who worked full time, at that time only Thomas, Daniel, Matsi and myself, since we had scaled down on our Norwegian operations in the 18 months prior to this. First we thought in terms of making a prototype product at low cost and preferably as fast as possible. Daniel got ideas right away, and suggested that we could use the open source software called Stepmania for the software, since that was basically a PC based copy of DDR. If we could find someone to change that into a multiplayer version, we could have the software for our prototype. He further suggested that we should use the best metal dance mats we could find, and connect them all using USB hubs, as long as we could find dance mats that would work with USB.

Encouraged by this idea, we decided to start looking for a programmer who could do the software part, and to check with the market what people thought were the best among the solid dance mats out there (we realized that the mats would be used a lot, so we decided against the use of soft mats right away).

During our tournaments in the UK, I had met a player who was also a programmer, his name was Andrew, called Freiza. Daniel mentioned that Freiza had been one of the Stepmania programmers, so I decided to ask him if he could help us out with the software part. I got hold of him after not too long, and after a chat where he told me he would not have time to help us, he suggested that I should contact Chris Danford, the main programmer, inventor and project manager for Stepmania. After getting Chris’ details from Freiza, I contacted him. He was positive to help us out against a reasonable fee, and we agreed to meet up in Las Vegas in November (2004).

Most dance mats were manufactured in China. We had some experience with hard dance mats from China, and were not too impressed with what we had seen. Players on forums told us that the best hard dance mats out there would be Cobalt Flux mats, manufactured by a small company in Utah with the same name. Those were made from a combination of wood, metal and plastic, and there was a video on the internet showing a car driving over a mat…the mat still worked after words. That sounded promising!

We found their web site, it looked like a small and friendly company to me, and I decided to call them. This was in early October. A man with a deep American accent picked up the phone and answered “Cobalt Flux, how can I help you?”. I introduced myself and told him we were interested in their dance mats, and briefly mentioned the idea of a group training product based on the DDR concept. I told him machine dance was a registered sport in Norway, and mentioned that we were eager to get into the fitness industry. He said Cobalt Flux was a small family owned company, and that his ancestors were from Sweden, and his wife’s from Norway. His name was Ladd Anderson, and we got along well right away. Little did both of us know all the travels, meetings, successes, fights and drama which would follow that first conversation. We agreed that a few of us would come over to Utah to meet with him and his team at the end of the month. A few days later I booked flights to Salt Lake City for Thomas, Daniel, Daniel’s girlfriend Ann-Kristin and myself.

Shortly after this phone call, I travelled to Holland again to meet up with Toon from Body and Mind. At that meeting he introduced me to the Chairman of Body and Mind’s board of directors, Alfred Dijs. Alfred was a very experienced high level business consultant, and came across as very sharp. He was to be the main contact person for the future, and the person in charge of this new venture on behalf of Body and Mind. I updated them both on our progress, and told them about the upcoming trip to the US. We agreed that if that trip would be successful, we would proceed with signing a Letter of Understanding outlining our cooperation after I was back. Alfred told me about a fitness trade show he was going to in Germany, and during the next week he asked me for inputs on a power point presentation he was creating. He was hoping that we could be granted permission from Konami to use DDR as the software for the group training idea. He met with a Konami representative during the trade show, and showed an impressive presentation, which seemingly interested the Konami rep. He was a bit confused that Konami didn’t get back to him again for a long time after that. It had it’s reasons…

During this time, we continued to run our Norwegian operations with Euromix 2 machines, continue to develop the community, organized tournaments, media events etc, and in addition we had our health food / natural medicine company in Sweden continue to run smoothly, with Kishor and Miro ensuring that it functioned on a top level.

Our trip to the US

We flew to the US in late October, and after a long trip we landed in Salt Lake City. We got to our hotel, took a rest, and the next morning we were all picked up by Ladd Anderson, the CEO I had talked to on the phone. He turned out to be an almost 7 foot tall ex Mormon, in his late fifties. We were first welcomed into what I believe was his family’s home at that time, and were seated around a big table. Ladd was the main participant from Cobalt Flux’ side, and as so often, I was the main talker on our side.

I walked through all the relevant things we had done in the past (including the natural medicine business in Sweden), explained the group training idea and told him we wanted to expand our operations, possibly via our Swedish facilities. I was asking if there was a possibility that we could license the rights to Cobalt Flux’ Intellectual Property for Europe, and also be given the rights to manufacture their mats for the European market, to sell to both private and commercial customers. He seemed over whelmed that 4 Norwegians had flown across the Atlantic to meet with him and get such rights for the dance mat he had originally made on a picnic table in his back yard. He told us he had mainly invented the mats because his 2 sons Matt and Tyson, who were about as tall as he was, had quickly destroyed any dance mats they had bought from China, simply because they were not solid enough. And now there started to be a lot of interest in these mats.

All in all, it felt like a very natural match. They had a great product and were on their way up, we had strong passion, innovative capacity and the ambition to spread what we did across Europe, a market Cobalt Flux had no contacts in whatsoever. They showed us their production facilities, which were pretty simple but effective, and on the last day Ladd invited me to his office and showed his latest invention; a version of the mat that was especially suited for the commercial market. Until then Cobalt Flux had only sold mats for home use, although still solid and sturdy. I told him this was interesting for us. Ladd and his wife brought us to the big Mormon temple in Salt Lake City, and told us a bit about their past in the Mormon church etc. We had some nice days together.

By the time we left, there was an intention between the parties that we would become their European distributor, and possibly get the rights for manufacturing the mats ourselves. I explained that it would be hard for us to build up national distributors all over Europe with the prices they required from us per mat, but Ladd was uneasy about giving away further margins and also to leave the manufacturing in another company’s hands. We agreed that it was very likely that their mats would be used for the group training product, which we around this time started calling the multiplayer product.

We travelled on from Salt Lake to Las Vegas, just a 90 minute flight away. After spending a few days there looking at the hotels, doing some fun rides, playing some Black Jack etc, Thomas and myself met up with Chris Danford, the man behind Stepmania. Chris was about 25 years old, obviously a smart guy, he worked for Microsoft at that time. We explained our idea about the multiplayer, and he said he could make a version of Stepmania that could give individual feedback to 32 players via small player boxes, and that it would be about 2-3 days of work for him. We offered him a fair compensation, he said that he would do it, and that was that. Then he proceeded to tell us that he was in charge of a new dance game product called In The Groove, which he and his Stepmania team had made for a company called Roxor Games. He wondered if we were interested in it, they had started to sell it in the US as a conversion kit for Konami’s DDR machines. It sounded like a small venture. We told him we were working close with Konami and didn’t want to risk our relationship with them, but that we should see what would happen in the future.

A few days later we went back to Europe, feeling like our trip had been pretty successful! We got the first 30 Cobalt Flux mats sent to us and ordered 30 more right away, and another bigger shipment shortly after that again. We kept 32 for our first prototype of the multiplayer, which we hoped to have ready for a first group testing early in January. In the mean while Alfred from Body and Mind outlined his plans for our cooperation, and since it was a bit confusing to us how and why they were supposed to fully own a product we developed and sourced all the most competent people around to create, no agreement was signed in 2004.

Chris Danford was hard to get hold of again, and we didn’t understand why. I left many messages on his voice mail, sent him emails etc, but he didn’t get back to me. In the second half of December he did send over a half-finished version of what we had agreed to, and I transferred the agreed amount for payment, but we realized that since his heart was obviously not in it we had to look for someone else to be our programmer. Chris did turn out later to be a person who does what has been agreed to, what we didn’t know was that he had gone back to Roxor Games after our meeting, and Roxor Games had offered him a full time job with them, developing In The Groove further onwards. More than a year later, he even showed us an In The Groove 8 player multiplayer version which he developed as part of the In The Groove 2 Playstation 2 release, that came as quite a shock then...

We were fortunate that there was a very skilled programmer in the Norwegian dance game community called Sesse who happened to have time to help us in late December, and via his help we were able to create the first prototype software. On January 10th 2005 we had our first event with our multiplayer prototype at a bowling hall called “Lille Paris” outside of Oslo, together with the machine dance club called DDR Hardcore. The first thing I noticed when playing was that I was standing on the floor and not my mat, because I was standing a bit on the side and there was no way of feeling where my feet were on the Cobalt Flux home mats. But we had made a prototype ready only months after the idea first came up, so 2005 looked like it could become an interesting year…and from our point of view, it certainly did!

What happened further on from January 2005 onwards will be explained in chapter 8 of the PG Story!

 

 


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