The Los Angeles Times from Los Angeles, California on August 12, 2007 · Page 46
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The Los Angeles Times from Los Angeles, California · Page 46

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Sunday, August 12, 2007
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C2 SUNDAY,AUGUST12,2007 BUSINESS LOSANGELESTIMES Free with AT&T Yahoo! ® High Speed Internet Pro and Elite. Service not available in all areas. Restrictions apply. © 2007 AT&T Knowledge Ventures. All rights reserved. AT&T and the AT&T logo are trademarks of AT&T Knowledge Ventures. Free Wi-Fi Call 1.877.ONWARD4 or visit att.com/OnwardWireless. at AT&T Hot Spots with AT&TYahoo!® High Speed Internet– Business Edition on select speeds. Connect in and out of the office with wireless, broadband and voice services. No wonder more customers choose AT&T. When you order Broadband Internet, you’ll get free AT&T Wi-Fi at nearly 10,000 AT&T Wi-Fi Hot Spots—making sure you are connected on the go. Your small business needs to run anytime, anywhere, on any device. Depend on AT&T to give you a wide range of services that other companies don’t offer. As the entertainment world rushes headlong into the digital realm, Jason Rubin has gone in the other direction. Rubin made his career developing technically complex and visually dazzling video games, including “Crash Bandicoot.” This month he divedinto comic books, a medium as firmly grounded in pen and paper as video games are in zeros and ones. Oh, and he made a small fortune in between by co-founding Flektor, a social networking web- site. Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. bought it in May for more than $20 million. The 37-year-old entrepreneur’s unorthodox path blazes new ground in the creation of entertainment, jumping between analog and digital just like the young consumers who buy his products. “It’s just entertainment,” Ru- binsays. With video games, it’s an interactive world that lets players explore, choose their actions and tell their own stories. With social-networking websites, it’s a virtual world where people present themselves however they please. With comic books, it’s a fanciful world of big ges- tures, super-villains and saturated colors. “The fact that Jason can adapt so quickly and create products that people want makes him a new-media person,” says Chris Kantrowitz, Rubin’s close friend and a former game developer. “At the same time, he understands how to tell a story and fire up people’s imaginations.” It helps that Rubin, who lives in Los Angeles, belongs to the same demographic as his audience. He is young and single and enjoys plenty of disposable income. Like many in his core audi- ence, Rubin cut his teeth on “Star Wars,” which he saw when he was 8. “I knew I wanted to create universes after I saw that,” he says. “It set me on my path.” Growing up in Potomac, Md., Rubin knew his parents would not spring for a costly movie camera just so their rambunctious son could try his hand at making films. Instead he begged for a computer. On his 13th birthday, he got his wish:an Apple II. Around the same time, Rubin befriended Andy Gavin in Hebrew school. The two sat in the back of the class, traded computer magazines and swapped programs they had written or downloaded. At 15, they formed the company that would eventually become Naughty Dog Inc., named for a stray named Morgan that Rubin had adopted. Naughty Dog’s first computer game, “Ski Crazed,” sold more than 1,000 copies and opened the way to several other titles that Electronic Arts Inc. published, including “Keef the Thief” and “Rings of Power.” After graduating from the University of Michigan with a degree in economics, Rubin created “Way of the Warrior,” a gruesome fighting game that was pilloried by parents and lawmakers for its over-the-top violence. The bruising experience persuaded him to make games that were rooted in fun rather than gore. In 1996, Rubin, Gavin and their team of artists and programmers created “Crash Bandicoot,” a pollution-fighting cartoon marsupial. Naughty Dog signed a deal with Universal Studios to create three games in exchange for funding and office space on the studio’s Burbank lot. It was a great investment for Universal, which landed the rights to a game franchise that ultimately sold more than 30 million copies, making more money for Universal than many of its movies have. Rubin and Gavin negotiated the rights to 15% of all “Crash Bandicoot” game revenue and 25% from sales of related products, giving their company enough capital for a spin-off. They invested $4.5 million to create a franchise called “Jak and Daxter,” which also became a bestseller. “Naughty Dog has never released a bad game,” saysGeoff Keighley, editor of Gameslice, an online industry news site. “Only ahandful of developers have managed to pull that off.” Rubin and Gavinsold Naughty Dog to Sony Corp. in 2000 for an undisclosed sum. After staying for the contracted four years, Rubin and Gavin struck out on their own again. Kantrowitz introduced Rubin to MySpace, which was replacing Friendster as the hottest social- networking site. Rubin created his own flashy page that attracted attention: His Hollywood friends, including actor Danny Masterson and actor-director Jon Favreau, asked him to redo theirs. Rubin saw a need for fun, easy-to-use tools for making cool MySpace pages, and he talked Gavin into helping. The result was Flektor, a free service that lets people add hundreds of funky special effects to the media they post on MySpace and other sites. It went live in April and was sold to News Corp.’s Fox Interactive the next month. Rubin always had a knack for making money from his crazy ideas, sayshis dad, Stephen Rubin. His father recallsa fundraiser that Rubin orchestrated during his senior year in high school: Jell-O wrestling matches, including a sold-out bout between the school’s principal and two cheerleaders. It raised thousands of dollars. “Jason sheds a tremendous number of ideas at a high velocity,” saysGavin, who over the years has been the technical side of the duo. “I try to capture the best ones and figure out how to make them work at a practical level.” Rubin’s latest venture is a monthly comic book mini-series called “Iron and the Maiden” that went on sale Aug. 1. Technically, it’s about as far from video games and the Internet as you can get. Drawings are made by hand, then sent by Fed- Ex to colorists and letterers. Unlike with digital files, in comic books there is no such thing as a backup if the original is lost. “As a digital guy, it was shocking,” Rubin says. “Comic books are made the same way they were 60 years ago.” But he pursued the project the same way he made games. He plowed tens of thousands of dollars of his own money into the company, hiring the best designers, colorists and draftershe could find. “I work with people who are more talented than me,” he says. “That’s been my mantra from the beginning.” And he made sure they all got credit. Their names get the same prominence on the comic book’s cover as his. For Rubin, credit is a big deal. He lobbied game publishers a few years ago to give more recog- nitionto developers. That made him unpopular with many game companies, which feared that doing so would encourage poaching by rivals. It’s just one of many controversial stances he’s taken throughout his career. For example, he made a splash when he said marketing the ultra-violent “Grand Theft Auto” to minors was the equivalent of selling them cigarettes. “Sometimeshe’s controversial,” Keighley says. “But he’s usually proven right.” alex.pham@latimes.com SUNDAY PROFILE Speech balloons are his newest thing INVENTIVE: Jason Rubin “sheds a tremendous number of ideas at a high velocity,” says creative and business partner Andy Gavin. With Rubin at Flektor’s offices in Culver Cityis his dog, Jo. Carlos Chavez Los Angeles Times Jason Rubin, who’s churned out video games since he was a teen, now steps into the comic-book world. By Alex Pham Times Staff Writer Self-starter Who: Jason Rubin Age: 37 Education: University of Michigan, ’92 (bachelor of arts in economics) Current title: Chief executive and chief creative officer, Flektor Inc. Career highlights: Co-founded game development studio Naughty Dog Inc. Created a comic-book series called “Iron and the Maiden.” Hometown: Potomac, Md. Favorite game: “Doom” Favorite movie: “Star Wars” Hobbies: Snowboarding, playing video games Personal: Single. But committed to Jo, a 1-year-old mutt he rescued from a shelter. Regarding the Department of Homeland Security’s plan to impose fines on companies that don’t fire employees who have invalid Social Security numbers (“Rules on illegal workers stir fears,” Aug. 4): Republicans should be against the plan because it tells companies how to run their businesses. Democrats should be against it because it is likely to lead to inadvertent firing of legal workers. We live in a country built on free enterprise. Let the profit motive do the job of immigration enforcement instead of the courts and the police: Change the Tax Code to prohibit a company from taking a deduction for an employee’s wages if the employee’s Social Security number is invalid or misappropriated. Undoubtedly, employers would quickly adopt procedures to avoid having to pay salaries out of post-tax profits unless they judged that the economic reward was worth the risk. The results would be: lower wages for known undocumented immigrants because their salaries would have to be paid from precious post-tax profits, better- paying job opportunities for those legally allowed to work in the countryand higher tax payments (compensating society at large) from companies that still employed undocumented workers. Michael Ernstoff Los Angeles Profit and prices at Stater Bros. Regarding “Profit soars 174% at Stater Bros.” (Aug. 9): I’ve been in Stater Bros. recently and seen lower prices than in Vons or Albertsons across the board. So why are those two chains crying poor? They fought the hardest against the demands for araise from the retail clerks, while Stater offered to pay the clerks whatever was agreed upon at the negotiations. Apparently the people at Stater are doing something right. The other supermarket chains could learn something from them. Ron Diton Upland Letters Suggestion for federal hiring rules

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