Todd Harris for Atlanta Jewish Times

Todd Harris dismisses Hindu criticism of SMITE as being generated mostly by one person.

By Zach Itzkovitz
Computer games may bring to mind a teenager in his bedroom who hasn’t showered in three days.

But that isn’t the picture you get at Hi-Rez Studios in Alpharetta. Hi-Rez has developed some of the most popular PC games in recent years, including Global Agenda, Tribes: Ascend, and SMITE.

Jewish community member Todd Harris co-founded Hi-Rez with Israeli Erez Goren in 2005 and serves as the chief operating officer.

“Erez and his brother were big gamers way back in the day,” Harris said. “They started a software company around 1985, doing software automation for gas stations. I joined that company when it had around 100 people. When we left, it was around 1,000 people.”

After that company, Radiant Systems, went public — NCR bought it in 2011 — Goren and Harris started another software company, BlueCube Software, which they later sold.

Using profits from their first company’s initial public offering of stock and their sale of a second company, Goren and Harris started Hi-Rez Studios with enough private funding to make what they wanted, how they wanted.

They stuck with Alpharetta, known as the Technology City of the South, with over 600 tech companies, because of its high-tech workforce, low costs and friendly business environment, Harris said.

Their games are hybrids of computer programming, architecture and ancient mythology. They even employ a “lore researcher” to read up on culture before it manifests in a game.

Controversy arose in 2012 after the release of SMITE, a game featuring gods from a diverse range of religious traditions as playable characters who battle one another. One such character is Kali, a Hindu goddess of time and destruction. Hindu leaders objected to Kali’s in-game attire, which some would call pornographic.

“It was really only one individual in America who tends to protest when he sees Hinduism portrayed in a light he doesn’t approve of,” Harris said. “He did issue a lot of press releases, and it made the news.”
According to Harris, gamers at Hi-Rez Studios occasionally broadcast their digital endeavors for the viewing pleasure of the Internet’s gaming community.

“Here, two people in our studio that are playing the game, they’re demonstrating some new functionality,” Harris said. “Right now there are 1,600 people that are watching this.”

Hi-Rez hosts competitions for games such as SMITE. One competition offered a payout in the millions, Harris said.

Competitions are occasionally filmed and broadcast using Hi-Rez’s production studio. It is a set that resembles mainstream media outlets such as ESPN — lights, cameras and actions.

“There are commentators doing play-by-play. There’s a ticker,” Harris said. “There are instant replays.”
Computer game development demonstrates the union of art and science. Game development requires a lengthy assembly-line process that demands diverse skills from a diverse workforce. Facilities with different purposes compose Hi-Rez.

The studio works closely with Microsoft to make games playable on the Xbox console. Within the studio are large displays of analytics, letting the developers know just how many gamers are playing their games and how that number has changed over the years.

Playing god has never been easier or more lucrative. Ever-mutating technology makes work and any task more efficient and leads to advances in entertainment. New digital platforms afford artists more tools and, therefore, more creative freedom.