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New game: Activision Blizzard veteran Noah Heller joins Atlas Venture

Posted by Scott Kirsner  April 18, 2012 08:04 AM

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An executive involved with one of the most successful videogame franchises ever — Activision Blizzard's "Call of Duty" — is joining Cambridge-based Atlas Venture as the VC firm's newest entrepreneur-in-residence. And it sounds like he's already laying the groundwork for a new company of his own.

Noah Heller, who'd previously been based in Santa Monica, is moving to Boston. "I liked the energy here a lot," he says, "and I wanted to go where it was a little more blue sky" — meaning that the gaming industry isn't as well-developed locally as it is in places like Los Angeles, San Francisco, or Austin. Mentioning Boston's "awesome" schools, he adds, "I kind of look at Boston as a new market for gaming. That's not to short-shrift the guys at Harmonix who are knocking it out of the park, but I want to be part of the core here as it expands."

Heller's last day at Activision is today; he'd been the product director for "Call of Duty Elite," a subscription-based service linked to two games in the "Call of Duty" series, and had also worked on the company's first iPhone product, "Call of Duty: Zombies."

As for what's next, Heller says, "I have a pretty good foundation in blockbuster games, but the open web has been really intriguing to me. I like the idea of sending someone a URL to get them into a game session." As an example, he mentions a new racing game that can be played within a web browser, demonstrated by Gradient Labs at the recent PAX East conference. "The idea is that I can send you a link, and all of a sudden we're in an arena, building cars, and playing in a demolition derby — all these things that shouldn't seem to work in a web browser, with no plug-ins or software to install."

Heller continues, "I think with this second wave of social and mobile gaming, you're going to see production values really start to step up." He also believes that gesture-based game controls — for example, Microsoft Kinect — will become ubiquitous.

Heller will be helping the partners at Atlas source and evaluate deals, but he acknowledges that he's already working with a small team on a new venture of his own. "I have a few engineers I'm working closely with" — and he's looking to hire others — "but I don't yet have a specific company to talk about that's going to do X, Y, and Z."

Atlas partner Jeff Fagnan recruited Heller to the firm. Atlas has invested recently in LuckyLabs, a Boston social games startup, and helped create the HTML5 Game Lab at Bocoup Loft, a Boston tech development firm.

It'll be interesting to see whether Heller leads Atlas to make more gaming investments — and also what kind of product he's cooking up.

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Scott Kirsner was part of the team that launched Boston.com in 1995, and has been writing a column for the Globe since 2000. His work has also appeared in Wired, Fast Company, The New York Times, BusinessWeek, Newsweek, and Variety. Scott is also the author of the books "Fans, Friends & Followers" and "Inventing the Movies," was the editor of "The Convergence Guide: Life Sciences in New England," and was a contributor to "The Good City: Writers Explore 21st Century Boston." Scott also helps organize several local events on entrepreneurship, including the Nantucket Conference and Future Forward. Here's some background on how Scott decides what to cover, and how to pitch him a story idea.

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