Last Ditch Effort? 

Yesterday, my former employer put out a press release that they're offering ClayTools systems at a steep discount for attendees of the Game Developers Conference. They've also partnered with a game development studio who will incorporate ClayTools into their development pipeline.

On the one hand, I've reached the point where I'm legitimately glad to hear that the company is making strides to still hit the game developer market. When I was last at the company (about 2.5 years ago), it was the plan then, but there was a hesitance to take a stab at it because the prices would need to come down significantly, and doing that would be the other product lines at risk. Unfortunately, I think that sometimes, you need to take those risks if you want to succeed. The delay in developing both a low-cost haptic device and a low-cost and solid API allowed competitors like Immersion and Novint to catch up in their offerings or increase their market share (Immersion becoming big by suing Sony and Microsoft, Novint introducing a low-cost haptic device called the Falcon that has been extremely well-received).

It's sort of painful to watch. I've still got some good friends at the company (though, sadly, it's much smaller in size, and a good number of talented, intelligent people have left). The company still seems to be muddling through the same problems it faced in 2000-2003, and these problems stem directly from the desire to create a new market segment, while not touching the existing one at all. I think that's a foolish and short-sighted proposition -- the market for high-end haptic devices is a niche, and it's been a profitable and consistent niche for the company. The mass-market is the low-end, low-cost device; by not committing to that goal, it feels to me like things are just on a slow burn towards obsolescence.

Compounding this problem is the fact that a high-tech, high-idea company like SensAble really needs to spend a tiny bit of money and pay a college kid to redo the website. I was involved in the last redesign (and the upkeep of the site), and that was in 2002. Four years later, the site is a mish-mash of bad ideas, poor web writing, and a complete misunderstanding of how to use the web to help your business. It's the site of a company that looks like it's either a) out of business, or b) about to be out of business. A "What's New" article from August 2005? Mismatched fonts and graphics? Just painful, not to mention damn near impossible to tell when there is actually any new news to report.

For the record, I do want the company to succeed. I have no stock in the company, no vested interest in their success. But, it was my first job out of college, and I'm still close to a lot of people who have passed through the company. They gave me a chance to strech my legs a bit as a product manager, which has lead to my current role as an engineering project manager at a web hosting company, which I'm just utterly digging. It was also my first experience with a company at a crossroads, having an identity crisis. Management getting pushed out. Layoffs of long-time employees, followed with hiring people who've worked with the new management before. Spending about two years becoming a company that marketed technology without actually creating it. It was painful, frustrating, and made me want to run as far away from technology as I could.
In short, I really disliked a lot of what the company had become, and how it had gotten there. Almost 3 years later, the company is doing what many of us had suggested (low-cost device with low-cost/free API, aimed at integration with other applications), and that's mildly refreshing. I just hope it's not too late.

I think this is post #1 in my job history series. I've been thinking a lot about work, and how I've gotten to where I've gotten, and yesterday's press release kinda was the tipping point. Post #2 will be about how I did run away from technology for about a year and a half, and how I don't think I could have ended up at a worse place in my entire life. I mean, like, legitimately, the skeeviest, nastiest, weirdest, most fucked up place I've ever been.