UDEN #22 - WildWorks Studio + Networking

I kicked the meeting off with an introduction and welcome to WildWorks, with an overview of what would be covered tonight. Here is a quick recap of how it went…

Let’s Get This Meeting Started!

For UDEN #22, we are super lucky to be invited to the videogame studio of WildWorks, a long-time sponsor and supporter of UDEN. Clark Stacey co-founded WildWorks 16 years ago with a commitment to bringing the production values of triple-A games to kids’ entertainment. The result is what WildWorks calls “fun with substance;” games that entertain children while nurturing their curiosity about science and the natural world.

Animal Jam is one of their creations; it was born and bred right here in Utah.  The talented team at WildWorks took that ingenious idea from concept, through to household brand, becoming the most popular online playground for kids in the world with over 100 million registered users.

The mobile extension of this world, Animal Jam - Play Wild! has been among the top grossing iOS apps for Kids 9-11 since the beginning of 2016. It’s also received numerous awards, including the 2017 Google Play Award "Best App for Kids" and a Kidscreen Award in 2018 and again in 2019 for Best Kids App.

Best of all, Clark and the WildWorks team have made it look easy, but it hasn’t been.There is a lot we can learn from Clark, even if you’re not a videogame maker, even if you don’t make games for kids — and that’s why Clark will present the keynote at tonight’s UDEN meeting.

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UDEN BENEFITS

In our April newsletter, we introduced a survey to find out how we’re doing and to talk about benefits and services. Our goal, as you may recall, is to build a community of the creators of digital entertainment and technology in Utah, leading to economic growth for our sector.

No doubt that’s a worthwhile and lofty goal, but what does that mean to you, today, and your needs, tomorrow? How is UDEN helping? Is UDEN providing any value to you?  We’re always trying to think of practical things we can do that will help our community. Because we know that so many of you are contractors and self-employed, we had some ideas around providing some tangible benefits, such as health insurance and retirement plans.

But we wanted to know what you thought,  and so we asked you all to complete a short survey.  Tonight I’m going to share the results so far. I’ll be honest, I was a little disappointed in the results.  Barely 1% of UDEN members replied. We could interpret this resounding lack of response as meaning UDEN is doing an outstanding job, after all, how could we possibly improve? Or it could mean that you forgot. Or perhaps you don’t read emails we send? It could mean you don’t care about getting any benefits. So, please help us help you, help us make UDEN an organization that delivers what is valuable to you, as well as helping to build our community.

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I want to thank those people that did submit their feedback, and ask everyone else to please take the survey – there is a link on the website – please find a moment and complete it for us.  It will take no more than 3 minutes, most of the responses are radio-style click buttons. It might take you 5 minutes if you want to add some comments.

So... Let’s see how 1% of you have responded to the survey so far…

Once again, many, many thanks everyone who did respond to the survey already, it is really helpful information, but we don’t have enough responses yet for this to provide us with a meaningful direction.

UDEN OVERSEAS

Last week Jeff and I were in Riyadh, which it transpires is even further south than Provo! It’s in Saudi Arabia, a country in the midst of cultural reforms. It’s only in the last year that they opened movie theaters – now there is a demand for movies with local themes from local film makers. Likewise, they would like to be able to make their own videogames; to tell their own stories.

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Among the challenges they face, they don’t have local people skilled in entertainment; in the design, the creation or the business. We were talking to them about the potential of working with UDEN on our proposed apprenticeship program, which you have heard us talk about before. There is a lot of interest.

Jeff and I were fortunate to be invited to give some presentations while we were out there and we told the would-be entertainment creators about UDEN. We extended the hand of friendship on your behalf and offered to help them as they grow. Wouldn’t it be strange if our first UDEN chapter is in Riyadh! To start off they might show some of past UDEN meetings from our YouTube channel as there have been some excellent panels and keynotes. With the connection made, it’s possible that in future, they could be looking for collaborators.  We are hopeful that could be UDEN members. It’s early days but we thought that was a pretty cool development!

Talking of pretty cool…

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KEYNOTE - CLARK STACEY:

WildWorks History and Tips for Starting Your Own Game Company

Clark Stacey:

I might make it look easy because I don’t do a lot of the work, the talented WildWorks team here does all of that and they make it look easy for me, but I’d like to tell you a little bit about the company, the types of games we make and why we make it. Also I know there are some people here tonight that want to make games, or are making games, or starting companies, so I’ll share some advice about things to do or not to do based on mistakes that we’ve made. Then I'm going to show you something that nobody has seen before. I'm going to show you some of the new game that we're working on that will be launching later this year.

Blow stuff up games

WildWorks has been around for a while; we started in 2003. The other co-founders and I had a history of making “blow stuff up games” for a lot of years; AAA console stuff, a lot of vehicle combat; if it involved cars or planes blowing each other up that was kind of the stuff that we were doing. But when we started this company we saw a different opportunity… basically we observed that kids were really an under served demographic; the types of games that kids would get would be… a new animated film is coming out and somebody like THQ or Midway goes out and hires some yahoos like us and gives ‘em six months to put something in a box that they can throw on the shelf at Walmart that will at least boot up when you put it in your PlayStation. That's really about where the quality bar was. I think like a lot of startup studios, particularly then, you start out doing work-for-hire projects like that before you can build up enough speed on the wheel of karma that it throws you out into doing your own IP and that's the hope I think for everyone. That’s still very possible today.

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For us that began with some projects with Namco Bandai, with Activision Value… we did a game on the Pac-Man IP called Pac-Man World Rally, we did some stuff with the Snoopy and Peanuts IP — we did what remains the best flight combat game on the Xbox platform with Snoopy Flying Ace. Then the bottom fell out of the market we were in. If you’ve paid much attention to the games market since about 2008 you’ll find there's not a lot of software on the shelves at Walmart anymore; there is certainly not a lot of kids software on the shelves there anymore because boxed software, kind of went away.

The pivot to original IP

The market for those type of quickie 6-month multi-sku projects based on the latest movie to come out, those don’t really happen anymore. In fact they don't often happen even with mobile games which are easier to distribute. That model was moved on with digital distribution, with the introduction of the iPhone… and it moved on because kids kind of moved on from that type of game and hopefully, they had their quality bar raised.

We saw that change and thought, hey, we’ve got some killer technology, we've got some super talented artists, designers and programmers, we could come in and actually do a lot better than the market currently had for kids right out of the gate. We came in that's what we did.

Some of the games that we went on to work on then, Animal Jam obviously being the the biggest one; Tunnel Town and some other IP that we've experimented with but along the way there were a lot of things that we did that never saw publication such as our lamented Barbie Guitar Hero game which I still really regret never came out… you never got to see it… you never got to see the awesome pink guitar that we had! The types of games that we were looking to publish, that we were looking to establish ourselves with, our theme was entertainment with substance. We wanted to make games that were not overtly educational because if you have kids or if you've ever been a kid, you know when somebody tells you that you're going to play an educational video game, that you know right away it's going to suck! With very few exceptions! Because they’re not very well made, because they’re made by educators or marketing companies or people who don't make games for a living.

Kids’ games not for kids!

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We wanted to make something that was not overtly an educational game but had some educational DNA in it that was legitimate and that parents and kids could actually trust. We found kind of a unique niche that I'll tell you about. It came out of an observation that you can see right now in the App Store — if you look at the top top 200 grossing games in the App Store, they all have two things in common: deeply integrated social features, whether that's leaderboards or registering your Facebook account or they spread virally through your social media accounts. And they all exclude kids. At least they're supposed to. If they are a general audience game then they are supposed to not have these social features facing kids, or they have to obtain verified parental consent from parents to store the data and allow that interaction. So what happens is that most of them pretend that they're not for kids. What you see in the App Store now is a lot of games that are coming out that are obviously based on, for example, Frozen, for God’s sake! They’re based on what is obviously children's IP but they don't put them in the kids section of the App Store, they put them in the general section of the App Store and pretend they're not for kids… until now it has enabled them to get away with having a lot of the social functionality that helps these game spread virally without any of the regulations that would normally bound a game for kids. It’s starting to change dramatically and I'll talk about some of the reasons why.

We saw an opportunity and we continue to see a huge opportunity in what we do which is creating safe social games for kids; that is we have found through a combination of technology and elbow grease and a lot of attention paid daily to our audience, that you can have social features like chat, like buddy list and things that are carefully moderated for kids and you can enjoy the viral success that creates in your products… but also so you can do what is the most natural thing that happens on playgrounds everywhere: kids want to play with their friends… they want to meet friends… they want to make friends. When they have games that they play in the living room together, that’s the kind of thing that they do, the kind of thing that they're looking to do. We have enabled that with a technology platform that we've evolved over the years of operating Animal Jam called JamNet and that is what our future products are based on. It's something that we are beginning to offer on a license basis to other developers that want to make games for kids that have some of this social functionality.

Incredible engagement with kids

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Animal Jam is as much a social network as it is a game. We have 110 million registered users, but that’s kind of a PR stat because it's a number that can only go up right? We get more registrations all the time. A stat that I like to highlight more is how engaged the players that are in there really are. During the school year, obviously, kids have a lot of things going on outside of Animal Jam but still their daily playtime is over 50 minutes. In summer that's 60 - 70 minutes. Kids aren't using this like Candy Crush that you play on the bus or something. They are using it as a social network. It’s how they keep in touch with friends who are out of town, it's how they keep in touch with their friends from school and they have a lot of friends that they meet and interact with just on Animal Jam. That's kind of what we wanted. To have this kind of engagement, if you compare us to, say, the Disney Channel or Nickelodeon or something, and you compare audience size, those would be great Nielsen ratings for a new show on the Disney Channel. But if you look at minutes spent and the amount of engagement there, Animal Jam is two or three times the engagement numbers of a Nickelodeon or Disney Channel. What are kids doing in Animal Jam for all that time? They're trading items — we have virtual items that your animals can wear or they can decorate their dens with — and the trading volume among kids exchanging those among themselves is roughly equivalent to the Australian stock exchange everyday; about 650,000 trades!

We have tens of thousands of new avatars coming in every day. We have tens of thousands every month of new art submissions kids are creating in our art tools, submitting to us, for us to moderate and approve and then they can put those up in their den, they can exchange them; they're playing the mini-games; there is a video platform on which they're watching a lot of educational video about animals in the natural world and sciences that we generate. So the engagement level is very deep. The educational part of it, I believe strongly that if the kids are interested in something thing then they will direct their attention and drive to learn about it as much about it as they can. Every kid has a favorite animal and they all want to know everything about it and they want to demonstrate to you their knowledge about it. There's no better advertisement for Animal Jam for us than a child who comes to the dinner table and says I just learned this about owls in Animal Jam. That parent is going to say “Okay, yeah we’ll pay to subscribe to Animal Jam, you’re obviously learning something”. The approach we take to education is that all the educational materials in the game are free, all of the core gameplay in the game is free: you can go in create an account right now and you can play Animal Jam for the next 10 years and never pay anything... you won't be excluded from social features or from playing different mini games and things. You won't have as many cool animals as members do and there might be some dens that you can’t see, but all the core stuff and especially all the educational stuff is free and open to you in an unlimited fashion.

We monetize Animal Jam and a lot of our other products through subscription. Particularly with kids we think that this is the most ethical, sustainable, understandable method of monetization. In-app purchase, which is much more common in the mobile realm, is very easy to abuse, particularly with kids that don't necessarily understand the the psychological tricks that can be used to induce repeat purchases. We don't want to create what is called in the in the mobile game space ‘whales’; we don't want kids racking up thousand dollar iTunes bills playing Animal Jam on a monthly basis. What we would much rather do is get a few dollars a month from their parents for a very long time and that is something that has worked out well for us because our subscriptions average over 14 months in length, so we're holding on to these subscribers for a long time because, I hope, they find value in it and the parents see that their children are actually getting something out of it beyond just a game that they're playing.

Tips for new start-ups: #1 Know the law

I tried to think of some things that I wish that I had known 16 years ago in starting this company, or 10 years before that starting the previous company. The first and primary one is that if you are getting into games now, you're an aspiring game maker, thinking of starting a studio and you are not familiar with COPPA and GDPR, these are the major things that are going to be governing the culture around games for the next decade. These are laws.

COPPA

COPPA, the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act has been in place in the US for almost 20 years and it basically governs how data can be collected and used, from users online on a website or a game app, that you know are under 13 years old… or that you should know are under 13 years old.

If you have a game that has animated characters in it that looks like a cartoon, that looks like something that ought to appeal to kids, by the letter of the law of COPPA you have to be compliant with these data protection policies. Which means that if you're collecting data from a child user, say to serve advertisements, to have the register an account, to save their about what they collected in your game, then you have to obtain verified parental consent in order to store and use that data.

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If you don't the penalties are pretty severe — $16,000 per violation which means per user. Companies like Tik Tok that are shamelessly exploiting kids, harboring predators on their on their platform and collecting the kids data and selling it and using it, are getting some big fines. They’re not getting big enough fines to stop them but they're getting $4.5M - $5M fines. That’s pretty significant and for a small company that can be a killer. They can also ban you from publishing your game at all in the US anymore. There are some resources though: Privo actually I think has a really good primer on what you need to do to comply with COPPA and if you're thinking about launching a game, thinking about starting a studio, I would urge you to at least give this a scan and familiarize yourself with it and ask yourself is this is something that you have to comply with.

GDPR

GDPR is essentially the European Union’s equivalent of COPPA but ten times scarier because it opens the door to civil suits based on the same type of data privacy violations that COPPA deals with. That means that not only do you get a tremendous face kicking from the EU government but then all affected parties get to come in and sue you and take whatever's left. This is a company killer. There is also a GDPRK that is specific to kids. The difference between GDPR and COPPA is that with COPPA, if you are putting kids safety and privacy foremost in the design of your game and in the way that you do business then you’re probably going to be alright; you're probably naturally going to be doing the things that would help you comply with COPPA anyway. With GDPR you can have that as a primary focus of your business and you could still go awry. In the US, COPPA defines a child whose data has to be protected under this rubric as under 13. In the EU every country gets to define that age limit themselves: some are 15, some are 14 and depending where you're operating that's what you have to anticipate and adhere to. You have to store all of the data that users generate and be ready and willing to hand it over to them at a moment's notice. If a parent says “I want everything that you've ever collected about my child” you had better be able to zip it up and send it to them toot sweet. If you can’t, you can be in a lot of trouble, subject to a civil suit.

There haven't been any real headline-grabbing fines arising from GDPR yet but there haven't been a lot of these civil suits come to the courts yet either and I think that enforcement is being gradually on-boarded since it only started in 2018 and they're not really putting the screws on yet. But it's is coming and if you’re making games now and you're publishing them on the App Store or on Steam or anywhere else that is accessible worldwide you are subject to these laws and not knowing about them is not an excuse. Again, Privo can help you with that

Safe Harbor Programs

Something that is very valuable to us is a ‘Safe Harbor Program’ that offers some protection, with COPPA at least and hopefully there will be something similar coming for GDPR. A Safe Harbor Program basically means that there is a body of experts, in our case in organization called CARU, that reviews Animal Jam from top to bottom every year and makes sure that all of our privacy policies, our email practices, our data collection, everything is in conformity with best practice and COPPA law. Because of that if there's a violation or if there's a complaint, before the FCC comes and sues us and puts us out of business, or goes to the media and we have the worst PR day ever, they come to us privately and say you've got to fix this or we're going to come and stomp on you, and so you get a chance to fix it. That's basically what the Safe Harbor Program means, you get a warning before they come after you. It’s something you should absolutely look at if this is a part of the business and you're going to be in.

#2: Start with your team

Here are a few thoughts for those of you who are starting game studios or have started game studios: something I get asked all the time is “How do I get to get funding?” or “Who do I talk to for funding?” or “How do I get Angel funding?”. I want to make the point that funding is not the first concern, putting your team together is the first concern: identifying the core members of that team. You might say “Well if I don't have funding that doesn't matter because I can't pay the team”. Sure, but identifying the team, getting them to gel together should be your the first thing. I have a friend in Australia who has a two-person game studio — actually him and his cat — and then a couple of hours with remotely. A few years ago he came out with a not terribly original game based on an old arcade game, but it was a novel presentation of it, and it had a really cool, quirky art style. He threw it up on the App Store and a few days later suddenly he was making 50-grand a day and didn't really know why this had struck. This game has gone on to make many millions of dollars and launched his company. The reason that it worked was because the game was built around a solid gameplay mechanic, plus he had found an artist that took a quirky take on these characters that nobody had really seen before, that was just a lot of fun to look at and play with. That artist was somebody on something like deviantART or one of these remote working sites. But because he had identified what he needed team-wise first, before worrying about funding or anything, he was able to create a hit out of nothing.

#3: Start with games your team can actually make!

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User acquisition is the other big concern most people have in starting game studios and it's a legitimate concern. But my observation has been… and any of you are welcome to prove me wrong… that really great Innovative products that are executed really well don't die on the vine. There are plenty of innovative game mechanics and game ideas that have a boring art style or a mediocre UX execution and those probably go nowhere. There a lot of highly polished copycat games that are just another Match-3 with super polished and beautiful user interface, but they don’t go anywhere either. If you have the innovation and you have the execution then user acquisition is not going to be your number one problem; there are still going to be challenges there but UA is not going to be the number one.

Start with games that the team you've assembled can actually make. Related to this is the first gig that you do doesn't have to be your magnum opus that you've long dreamt of making; the fantasy RPG that's going to take a hundred million dollars to complete and launch is probably not the first thing that you and your buddies working out of your garage ought to take on. Don't be fooled by the success stories that you hear of people who look like they just came out of nowhere and that's exactly what they did. None of those real in the sense that they might look. Think about about Steven Spielberg: his first gig was doing bad TV shows that you've never heard of. Pixar didn't even get to make real animated film for their first five or six years! They found they had no market for it, they had to build physical computers and sell those to stay in business while they tried to figure out this whole computer generated graphic arts thing. The example that a lot of people love to cite in games is Notch, the creator of Minecraft. But he worked for King.com, the most derivative game company there is, for many years before he ever got to go and do Minecraft. So it doesn't come from nowhere, your first game is not going to be your only shot; work your way up to that magnum opus — wait until you can self-fund it; wait until you don't have to make any creative cuts based on the funding in order to realize that vision. There's a lot that you can do in the interim, there are a lot of people out there looking for talented small teams to come in and do parts of their game or to work on adjacent type of products.

#4: Find under-served audiences

Something that we have been very fortunate in and show you kind of how this plays out, is identifying gamers, or audiences, that really aren't being served by what's out on the market now. There are still plenty of these demographics out there now that want to play games, that are playing games but that really don't don't push their buttons that much; maybe the game mechanic is one they like but they're not really into the whole, maybe, real time strategy war-thing, maybe they wish it was something different, a different look… there are so many opportunities out there for this now. We were fortunate with Animal Jam in identifying that pretty much everybody who thinks of kids games is thinking of preschool. Yet there's this whole swath of audience between 7 and 13 years old that nobody is making games for. If you go look at the kids category of the App Store right now, there is nothing in there for kids that are 8 and over. The games might state that they’re for 8 or 9 and older, but really it's not, they’re preschool toys.

We found a niche, an underserved demographic in these kids that really wanted a safe playground online to meet with their friends or meet new friends; a non-toxic community they could join for kids who love animals and dig art and love doing the kind of activities they can do an Animal Jam. There are a lot more opportunities like that out there; if it's not an underserved demographic it could also be an under-represented fantasy. When we think about what kind of game do we want to build next, we often think about what is the core fantasy behind that game: is it ‘I'm a Space Marine, I'm going through and killing everybody on this Moonbase’?, ‘I’m an Italian plumber who's going to rescue a princess’? What is the core fantasy that the player is going to become and be? What is the player’s primal urge that is going to be satisfied? There is a zillion of those out there right now that are are totally untapped in games. Is anybody here familiar with Playrix and their games like GardenScapes? This is a company that took match-3 Candy Crush type game play and they took Farmville type game play and they matched them together and they found this huge audience of people who'd that's exactly what they wanted to do… they like the match-3 gameplay and they wanted a story behind it, you know, a narrative to take them through it. Those games must be making a hundred million dollars a year plus. There are so many opportunities out there still that are under-represented.

The message I would have for you is that there were a lot of these audiences that are not being served by the stuff that's in the App Store right now which is mostly real time strategy, which is Game of War, is Match 3. I mean it it all starts to look the same after a while because it's all going for the largest common denominator. There is a lot of open water like this out there and if you can take a step back from the marketplace and look at it you can find it.

What’s next for WildWorks?

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Our core demographic for Animal Jam is around 8 - 13, then we have this huge spike of kids 16+ who are very active members of the Animal Jam community playing the game. What are they doing in there? They have been there since we launched the game in 2010. They have stuck around that long because there's nothing else for them to graduate into. The only social network type thing for them to go into is something like Instagram or Snapchat which is totally toxic especially to girls, or core game communities like Roblox or Minecraft, totally toxic especially for girls. There aren't very many game communities, none at the scale of Animal Jam which is what they’re looking for — fantasy role-play avatar based social gameplay but geared towards them. Because we have this audience and because they are so engaged, we can talk to them, and what they're asking us all the time is can you make something like this but for older kids. Something that still has the filter, still has protections, still a walled garden but the walls are a little lower. Maybe I can exchange YouTube links with my friends, I can show off my my Instagram page, I can do things that I can't do an Animal Jam and I can do it in an environment that is aged up from Animal Jam.

So we looked at what the core fantasy of Animal Jam, which is kids become their favorite animals, they see the world through their eyes. Then we looked at how kids were the drawing and representing their animal avatars on Instagram or on YouTube or deviantART or places like this this and it looked a lot more mythological, it looked like the Chimera of human-animal hybrid, or these super fanciful versions of combined animals… it was a really unique look in and of itself. We took that as a starting point and said well what if we did something but with mythological animals; instead of it just being all of them together in one spot, it was a reality show. So, we are launching at the end of this year Feral, which is a reality show for mythological animals, where kids will be designing their own animal creation and they will be competing against one another for the favor of the internet audience and for the queens that ruled the realm that they're in. It is exactly what this audience has been asking for and that nobody has delivered.

In Feral the player designs their avatar from the ground up; we started completely over completely over in the character creation interface for this game and we start with some some some mythological basis, such as Kitsune, a mythological Fox. We start with that as kind of the the seed, kids take it from there and they can create something of their own; colors, tattoos, size, appendages, it is a very robust character creator that is going to give every kid in this game the ability to give their avatar a completely unique look. Then we put them in a world that has a narrative drive behind it and a social core — there is still the principal of ‘I'm meeting up with my friends in common hubs where we’re exchanging items’ but it's aged up a little bit from Animal Jam… we’re not just giving you the items you're going to trade with your friends, we're giving you the opportunity to go out into this world to find stuff and craft with it, and make those items, design those items yourself and trade those with friends. We're giving players the opportunity to do some crazy offbeat quests and things you'll be assigned. like you might be in a reality show, and we’re also tying in social favor come from the way that you integrate. Maybe the best way to offer an example of this is, early on in Animal Jam we saw the kids were creating music videos in the Animal Jam world. They were going out, gathering a bunch of their friends and staging these elaborate dance numbers inside Animal Jam set to the music and then putting them up on YouTube and they were awesome! They were really, really cool! With Feral we want to design something that from the beginning gives you the opportunity and the encouragement to make stuff in there, making stuff with your character, make stuff with your friends, whether it's video, it’s images it's artwork that you exchange in there and we tie it into your social networks outside of here. If you want to create a Feral themed Instagram page, you can do that on Instagram, turn the comments off and route them instead through here where you have some some bullying protection, you have some chat filtering, you have a safer place that parents and kids can trust. We look at it as an interim step between the completely walled garden of Animal Jam and the completely Babylon of a YouTube comments thread, which is not something that any 13 year old needs to be dropped into unprepared. This is a place where we can hopefully encourage some better net citizenship by having some guardrails on the interaction as they step from one realm to the next. Feral will be in a friends and family beta end of the Summer, early Fall. You will have an opportunity to sign up and test at fer.al. And it will launch by the end of this year; that is, anyone will be able to go in and create an account and start playing. It will be an experience across desktop computers and mobile so both can play with one another and we think Feral to be the evolution from Animal Jam, extending our demographic older. Our next steps after that will be extending our demographic younger and then growing them both.

Q&A

Per your comments about GDPR, does a member of your team need to be a lawyer?

Per GDPR, you need to have a Chief Privacy Officer designated in your company. That person doesn't have to be a lawyer but they they do have to sound like one if the EU calls up and ask them questions about how you handle data security.

You mentioned a third-party you can work with for compliance. Does this apply to any size team?

I would look first at the at the guidelines that are on the Privo website; if it seems like something could go wrong with your implementation then consider the security of a Safe Harbor Program. Privo lists the different Safe Harbor providers, companies that the FTC has designated are authorized to go in and review products or websites or whatever and certify them as being COPPA compliant, and if they're certified as COPPA compliant then that's when you will get the phone call from the FTC before you get the phone call from the New York Times. That’s a huge advantage. Those organizations do charge based on your audience in some cases, in other cases it's a flat fee, but also really your need for that scales with how much social interaction you offer with your game anyway. But if your game is not overtly aimed at kids then maybe don't have to worry about it. GDPR there is no Safe Harbor yet; I know of a few organizations that are lobbying for that and trying to get it done.

With live service games like Animal Jam and now Feral, how do you handle ‘crunch’ and take care of your teams?

The short answer is that early on we didn't do a very good job of that; Animal Jam is going on it's 9th year now, our content pipelines have gotten a lot better and we have kind of learned to pace ourselves to create updates on a schedule that our team can do. We have some support resources, outside studios that can contribute to some of the artwork stuff that we don't need to do internally but I think this is a very important point. I would hope that you could ask anybody from WildWorks here when was the last time they had to crunch. It does happen though, especially on new products like Feral where we're trying to hit milestones and get to a certain point but on established products like Animal Jam or some of our other live-ops games we don't kill our team in order to feed that content monster. These games are updated every couple of weeks and from the outside it looks like a pretty blistering pace but there's some things you can do particularly on mobile — when we update the app on mobile we can have some content that releases when the update comes out and we can have some in the update that is timed for later, to continue release week after week until the next update comes out. so we've already built it, it's already in there, it's already tested but we can release it gradually from the app. There things like that that we can do to pace that content out, but really it comes down to the processes that our artists have built, the tools that our engineers have built which are fantastic and that's what it enables that.

What advice would you give to those of us starting out to prevent crunch at the beginning of our projects?

If your project is going to require those kind of live updates then what I would do is make sure that while you're still in development you have designated somebody on your team was going to be a community manager, that is somebody who is going to take the lead in communicating with the community and helping to set their expectations for what the content updates are going to be, because you don't want to promise and not deliver or under-deliver. Unlike in the hardcore game, [WildWorks] is lucky because kids are much more pleasant audience to work for than the average, for example, OverWatch player, but even even there it's incumbent on us to set their expectations accurately and if we say we're going to do something on a certain timeline then to do it and if not then to tell them no, we can't do that on that time line and then here's why. Generally if you signal that, they [your community ] come to understand that there's integrity there, you're as good as your word and they will cut you a lot of slack. But if you're making the promise that ‘hey we’re gonna update every week and it's going to be awesome and all this new stuff is going to be coming out’… and then you don't, that's where you get into trouble.

How do you help your Feral team with the crunch you describe?

This team has had to take on a Herculean task, because without growing the the internal team here we have added on a whole other live-ops game of the scale of Animal Jam on to their shoulders. The only way that we can do that is by offloading some of the Animal Jam on mobile and Play Wild! on web, to outside studios that can carry some of that load. For instance, we have so much data having done this game for so long we know what type of features what type of content are most desired most exciting thing for kids playing Animal Jam; if that's a certain type of animal avatar or new pets or new dens or or whatever… that's all content that we built a million times now and that pathway to getting it into the games is pretty well trod… that's the kind of thing where we can do the core design work here and then we can oversee and outside studio doing it and that frees up a lot of cycles here to work on the new stuff… which these guys will probably tell you they want to be working on anyway, cuz it's a hard gig, even if you love Animal Jam, to work on it for 9 years, that would be a tough lift.

What are the lessons film makers are not getting from the game world?

Maybe the obvious answer is like what Netflix is doing now with Black Mirror and offering interactive choices within a narrative framework that people are used to… but I think you're also seeing it more in the background of what Netflix and Amazon and those guys do because Netflix knows more about its audience than Sony Pictures or Warner Brothers or those guys ever did. Netflix knows things about their audience that their audience doesn’t know about itself, in terms of what they're real preferences are… not just “I want to see more cartoons” or “I want to see more rom-coms”, but what types of storylines they respond to, what types of Storytelling tropes they respond to. We have the advantage of having this real-time ongoing conversation with out audience that most filmmakers don't and we do that by having a lot of feedback mechanisms in the game, by having a very hands-on community team that's listening to our users all the time and constantly feeling their pulse… and we have a lot of data that the game generates that tells us a lot about what they like and don't like to. I think if there's if there's anything that's that's an easy pick up for film makers it's probably not something that you're seeing overtly now in what Netflix does, but I can guarantee they're doing a lot of it and they're investing a lot, because they're spending billions of dollars a year now on new content and they're not doing the old studio model of throwing a dart at the board to see what they make, they have a much better idea of what's going to work and what isn't.

How has working on a toy-line worked out for WildWorks?

We launched an Animal Jam toy line in Target and Walmart in 2015-16; we have had about 55 licensees on and off. The toys did extremely well in their first year and sold millions of units. I think that are toy partner Jazzwares dialled them in a little young for our audience, going after the Shopkins market when really our audience is more toy collectors than toys playsets type of players… but we've been through that boom and bust cycle with toys and with a lot of other products and we still have them, we have a subscription boxes that include toys that are still doing quite well and apparel. .There's a lot of lessons to take but for a game studio maybe the ones that are not the most obvious is that the production cycles on different types of products are way, way off what we've learned to expect as digital creators, where we can turn on a dime with new ideas and new products… depending on what it is that you're making , once you're committed to molds then you're stuck with those for a while at least until you get return on investment for those. If you decide you want to make pajamas you have a regulatory approval period that is nuts… to have your pajamas tested and certified that a child can wear them and not burst into flames in the middle of the night… there are things like that you probably don't know just intuitively about the product cycles and how long it takes to develop, how far in advance you need stuff to them, when those drop-dead dates are. For us it's come down to having really good comprehensive style guides and good processes in place for approvals and for feedback. It’s quite different.

How important are toys to the Animal Jam brand now?

Even when our toys were selling millions of units it was not a huge revenue driver for us, it’s more of a brand marketing exercise and we made it a principle when we started our licensing program, that everything we made, whether that was lunch boxes or books or pajamas or whatever, would have a game code with it that would unlock something in the game and ideally something that you couldn't get any other way. That didn't go over well with Apple so we backed off from that a little bit… but that's what it was for us and when we were studying this, we talked to other game companies that has done this kind of toy redemption thing, and they were telling us you'll be really excited if you get 3 to 5% of your toy purchasers actually redeeming their codes in your game. We got 22%. Because that was really the focus as much for us as revenue. We wanted an experience that extended what you were doing in the game. I think that's more important to us, giving our audience what they want than it is as a primary revenue driver. Toy royalties, consumer product royalties, unless you're Disney, you're talking about 10 to 14% off of net, you have to sell a lot to really move the needle.

Can you explain your partnership with National Geographic?

When we looked to focus on our own IP and launch Animal Jam, we were going up against Disney, Viacom and people who have their own cable channels, so how could we get brand recognition? How could we compete when they can advertise their stuff on TV all they want? So we looked for an already-established kids brand with some of the same mojo that we tried to inculcate in Animal Jam with the idea of affiliating with them. We looked around, we talked to a lot, we got fairly far down the path with Animal Planet but we really liked the Nat Geo guys. What we did was actually pretty straightforward licensing deal with them; they they did not have any editorial control over Animal Jam, they didn't own any part of it, we just went out and licensed their name and their yellow rectangle and put it on the game, in such a way that when we launched it looked like National Geographic Animal Jam. I think that probably got us our first quarter million registrations or so, they came straight from the Nat Geo Kids website, but by the end of the first year we were sending them more traffic than they were sending us and by the end of the second year Animal Jam was orders of magnitude bigger than Nat Geo Kids. It was definitely a good deal for them, such a good deal that in fact we cut it off about a year and a half ago, Animal Jam was rocking without National Geographic and we hadn't been using their brand really for a for a long time. But it enabled us to work with a lot of other educational partners too.

What’s your hope for the future of digital entertainment in Utah?

I don't want WildWorks to be the biggest studio, as it is now; I don’t want us to be one of the three biggest studios here; I want to see a lot of studios in this valley and I want to see a healthy ecosystem here, which might sound counter-intuitive — don't you want the talent pool all to yourself? — no, I would rather have an ecosystem here that attracts a lot of talent from different places, attracts investment from different places, so that when I talk to a superstar engineer who's been in Silicon Valley their whole career and come to realize they're never going to own a house and is thinking about maybe the Salt Lake Valley would be good to move to…. but if I move there and things don't work where do I go? Adobe? I go down the MLM Corridor here and sell Noni Juice? I want there to be a vibrant digital entertainment ecosystem here so that investors are looking at us and talent is looking at us and we've got it at a net inflow. I would like to see a lot more companies big and small.


Many thanks to Clark, Joy and the entire team at WildWorks for being such great hosts, for sponsoring this event and for such a great insight into one of Utah’s best videogame studios!

UDEN Trade Mission - Paris 2018

In continuing to undertake activities as part of its 2018 theme of business development, UDEN took a booth at Game Connection Europe in Paris, France at the end of October. The goal was to raise the profile of Utah as a place where quality digital entertainment was created and to introduce Utah's talented creators of entertainment content and technology to a global audience, with the hope of creating new opportunities for everyone.

The UDEN booth at GCE18

Were we successful? Well, in terms of raising the profile, the phrase we heard most was “You do that in Utah?”, second only to “Where is Utah?”. As for business opportunities, time will tell how much was created (the show only ended two days ago at the time of writing) — but there was a lot of interest.

The UDEN booth looked professional and was supported by a video showreel running at the booth as well as a shorter version running in rotation at monitors across the entire show floor — I have to say, that video was what got us most attention, it was highly visible.

UDEN’s digital eBrochure for GCE18

We received a lot of positive feedback about our digital eBrochure - a business card that contained a 32Gb thumb-drive, which contained a searchable directory, links and the digital materials provided to us by UDEN members. We handed out most of the 50 we had prepared.

While we promoted the entire sector of digital entertainment in Utah, at the show we were featuring the work submitted by UDEN members who completed an application beforehand, as well as that of our generous sponsors, GrowTix, WildWorks, Spark XR and the Utah Film Commission.

About half of the three days was spent in meetings arranged prior to the event, with the other half in impromptu meetings where people dropped by the booth because they had seen the video, or where we had dropped by on other exhibitors’ booths. I also created a few short video blogs each day and shared these on social media (see links below).

The organizers told me they expected more than 3,000 attendees at the show. Mostly the other exhibitors were game developers, although there were service companies offering VFX, audio, localization, QA and middleware technologies too. A regular theme you will have heard at UDEN meetings is that community building and collaboration is the way to build economic success — and there were many other UDEN-like groups at the show, including trade groups from France, Germany, Switzerland, Italy and Finland, among others.

We always said this would be an experiment to see how useful it would be for our members. I believe these are absolutely the kind of things we have to do for our sector to succeed and am already being asked when and where for our next Trade Mission. Well, that’s up to UDEN members.  This event took a lot of preparation, lost money and was only possible thanks to our generous sponsors. If we want to do more Trade Missions to other events, we need UDEN members to be prepared to make financial and time contributions. So - what do YOU think? Please let us know.

  • Jon Dean

So.. You Want To Be a Game Producer?

I'm often asked how to get into the games business, but what if you want to become a successful games producer like me?  The following is a typical reply that I give in response to such inquiries in email or at talks I give; note that I reference organizations - these are in Utah, so if you have any suggestions for ones in other parts of the world that you have found useful, please do send them my way and I will add them.

Before thinking qualification, get some experience; it frankly matters more and will help you decide if you really want to do this. 

First – grab the materials from my website that I reference in my talks -- http://www.guv1.com/jonblogs/handouts -- these will serve not only as a reminder but also the ‘references’ doc includes organizations, books you should read, etc. 

Second -- using that material, attend meetings of the local groups and any others you can find; good for networking but in particular, you’re looking for collaborators: most universities have groups of would-be-game developers, for example.  Get involved with a team and begin to practice.

Third -- read the books I listed as I found them all really useful.  Perhaps start with the Game Production Handbook https://www.amazon.com/Production-Handbook-Heather-Maxwell-Chandler/dp/1449688098/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1518134665&sr=1-1&keywords=the+game+production+handbook&dpID=518Hqak6ItL&preST=_SX218_BO1,204,203,200_QL40_&dpSrc=srch  -- I don’t agree with everything Heather writes, but different studios do things differently (you say tomatoes, I say tomatoes…ok, that doesn’t work when written down but you get the idea) – and this is a pretty comprehensive study guide for everything you’ll need to be familiar with to be an effective producer.

Fourth – should you get a qualification? Know that hands-on experience matters a TON for would-be employers; getting a qualification in games production doesn’t have quite the value it should, mostly because so few of the courses are actually taught by… experienced games producers (so the piece of paper isn't much of a guarantee of anything for a would-be employer).  So should you decide to ratchet up student loans for such a qualification, check out the faculty that will be teaching you, especially how many commercial games they have shipped, size of teams they managed, platforms worked on… you know, experience (more than student games, titles you might have heard of).  A program that offers would-be producers the chance to actually work with a live student team and publish one or more actual games before graduation is preferable (such as the University of Utah's EAE program).  Noting that some of the larger game studios prefer someone with a degree, remember that because there are so few useful ones for production, in reality, they’re saying they want people who have attained a certain educational standard – as such, it doesn’t really matter what, but I would suggest a degree involving technology in some way is helpful.  If you have production experience (say through smaller studios) then they won’t really care if you don’t have a degree.

Fifth – can you become a producer through another game dev discipline? Yes, of course. Many get there by starting out in a QA role and demonstrating their value to a  studio through offering ideas, suggestions, organizational skills and generally a comfort level with game teams.  In my experience artists sometimes become producers, programmers rarely: the reason is, I suspect (huge generalization coming up), that artists and producers prefer to focus on one thing at a time, obsessing over the detail with that one thing until it is done (which they need to and is what makes them great at what they do). Producers have to manage a wider spectrum of tasks simultaneously - think of the plate-spinning trick, running between each of them as needs be (don’t let any plates fall!), giving them all attention. Still detail oriented but adaptable and OK with multitasking. I find people are hard wired to be one or the other.

Do please share your additional thoughts and experiences!

UDEN #17 - Holiday Party + Networking

The 17th official membership meeting of the Utah Digital Entertainment Network took place on November 29th, 2017, at Silicon Slopes in Lehi, Utah.  This was the first UDEN event where the RSVP list had to be closed before the event because the space would be full to capacity.  However, on the night traffic in the area meant that only a one quarter of the attendees were there at the start.   Even after delaying for an hour, still only half the attendees had made it - some saying it had taken them over an hour to get from Salt Lake City, so we decided to go ahead, concluding that anyone not there by then was probably going to give up and go home instead!

OPENING

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The focus for the evening was mainly networking, where we encourage members to seek out the other excellent talented people in the room, exchange contact info, perhaps some ideas.  In addition, there were more chances to get hands on some cool VR and MR technologies, which has been UDEN's theme for 2017.  I mentioned that this, being our last event of the year, we thought could be our holiday party!  But quite a few people pointed out to me that it’s probably a bit too early for that as it’s still actually November.  So instead we agreed that it's our ‘between the holidays party’ instead.

Before networking kicked off proper, we heard from our sponsors and exhibitors, some exciting announcements, plus a look back at where UDEN has been, and a look forward to UDEN in 2018.

I reminded everyone that UDEN is a non-profit trade group run by volunteers, that our membership and our events are free. To remain so, we rely on generous donations from sponsors – mostly space and food.  So we began by recognizing tonight’s sponsors!

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Food for the evening was kindly provided by J.P. Morgan, a new sponsor for UDEN. Tim Fellow and Jeff Bullock explained how they were keen to expand their support for digital entertainment and UDEN events seemed like a perfect beginning.  The delicious food was catered by Argentina's Best Empanadas of Salt Lake City.

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Welcoming us to Silicon Slopes, Garrett Clark talked about their mission and how they operated, including the range of activities they provide and invited UDEN members to contact him if they would like to take advantage of any of the opportunities they provide.  UDEN 17 was held at the headquarters of Silicon Slopes, which began life when several technology companies in this area decided to group together and to market the sector, not just themselves.  It has been a huge success.  Its mission has grown to encompass growth and education for all tech business in the state.  In January this year Silicon Slopes put on a huge event, the Tech Summit, which was slick, professional and very well attended.  They will be holding it again in January.

The Silicon Slopes story is of great interest to us, not only because they held out the hand of friendship to us in the digital entertainment sector, but also because of how they have worked together to grow the tech sector in the state. 

UDEN will be three years old next year.  I thought that tonight would be a good time to reflect on how we came to exist, where we’ve been, what we have achieved and where we are headed.  The following are extracts from my talk:

DIGITAL ENTERTAINMENT IN UTAH - PAST

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In the early days of Hollywood, Utah became a favorite place to make movies; it was relatively close to the studios in California, it was cheaper and there was an abundance of willing and talented workers.  Plus, the locations were stunning and made for varied backdrops.  That’s been the case for more than 80 years, a fact being celebrated right now by the Utah Film Commission’s “This is Utah” photography competition.  Given such a long and close relationship, isn’t it surprising that Utah didn’t become a greater force in the movie business?

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Something else that California dominates is the videogame industry.  Yet videogaming famously has its roots at the University of Utah, back in the 60’s. So too does the first virtual reality headset. And yet… Utah never became a hub for the games industry either.

In both cases, film and games, Utah has always been a place where we have had talented creative and technical people that work for – directly or indirectly – those Californian giants. 

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I think it is fascinating to reflect on why Utah hasn’t been more successful in these industries that – let’s face it – we helped to build, service and then sustain.  So good are we, in fact, that we have some of the best university programs in the nation in digital entertainment – but because we don’t have the jobs, every year we’re a net exporter of highly talented graduates who go on to build other states digital entertainment industries!

Film and games are creative and technical industries.  Both entertainment industries.  Utah clearly like its tech businesses, as we see from Silicon Slopes.  But could it be that entertainment has always been too frivolous to be taken seriously in Utah – despite the huge money that it makes?

Silicon Valley is, of course, the tech powerhouse of the modern world. What we see today, is that here in Utah, we have a strong and growing tech sector, ably represented by our friends right here in Lehi (Silicon Slopes).  How smart are these guys?  They’re even taking California’s name and using it to market themselves!  (Silicon Valley > Silicon Slopes)  

DIGITAL ENTERTAINMENT IN UTAH - PRESENT

The case for collaboration

What the good folks here at Silicon Slopes show us is that technology and innovation can survive and sustain a healthy ecosystem here in Utah.  That didn’t happen overnight, but it has been very deliberate.  So why has it not been possible for the same to happen in film or games here?  Because it has in other states and parts of the world.   Austin, New York, Montreal, Vancouver, the UK – all have thriving, healthy film and game ecosystems, all competing on the global stage.  These too didn’t happen overnight – they evolved over time. 

In each case, the main characteristic we see is that the participants – as individuals and companies – came together for a greater good.  They shared knowledge and know-how; they prioritized quality, they demonstrated innovation, they added value, they fostered a start-up culture, they planned for the long term. They collaborated.  That’s what we see in Austin, New York, Montreal, Vancouver and the UK.  It’s also what we saw here that led to the creation of Silicon Slopes.

That has not happened with digital entertainment in Utah. If anything, it’s been siloed and self-interested, accepting the role of servant to the Californian client rather than master of its own destiny.  That’s not to say there hasn’t been success: there have been, some quite remarkable success stories. But it hasn’t been sustained because it wasn’t leveraged for the long term benefit of the community, and ultimately those jobs went away.

Digital entertainment here has a yo-yo economy in Utah - we have a few bright sparks that burn really bright… before burning out and we’re in darkness… until the next one pops up.   Which really sucks when its your job that keeps going away, forcing you to consider leaving the state, uprooting your family and all that relocation entails.

UDEN's ROLE

Which brings us to UDEN.  Those of us who work in digital entertainment and who like living in this state need to step up, collaborate, plan and make our own destiny.  That was why UDEN was founded, to bring the creators of digital content and technology together, to create that startup culture, figure out how we add value and then go make it happen.  Working together in a focused, deliberate way, for the greater good. We have the talent. We have the creativity. We have the technical chops.

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Made In Utah

When we started, we modeled ourselves on the successful ‘Made in New York’ community of digital entrepreneurs and we were called ‘Made in Utah’.  Our fresh membership very quickly came together and showed great promise, deciding overwhelmingly that MIU was a terrible name, not least because its widely used elsewhere in the state, including by cheese makers!  Huge debate followed and eventually we compromised on the least offensive variant of words being proposed, and the Utah Digital Entertainment Network – UDEN - emerged.

GOALS

Our goal was to bring the various, separate interests together with a common voice and shared objective – to become a community.  Our primary tool for this has been our networking meetings.  At these we have tried to inform, connect and grow our community. 

ACHIEVEMENTS

Our meetings have grown from around 50 people to over 200 at UDEN 16.  We have been to some wonderful places, had some excellent sponsors, held educational panel discussions and had some truly insightful keynote speakers.  We have also had community information slots in the form of our Hive Ignite feature, and this year we began to include live exhibits as well.  We’ll put together video highlights for the next meeting.

While the meetings have been really important for networking and education, UDEN has also:

  • advocated for the creators of digital content and technology in many venues including local and state government as well as national policy;
  • we have  represented our industry sector on many high-school career panels;
  • career days, including Microsoft's;
  • UvU’s STEM days;
  • participated as part of the Governor’s 25K jobs initiative and the Governor’s Economic Summit; 
  • advised other groups on behalf of this community;
  • represented our industry in conversations with companies considering relocating to Utah;
  • helped to setup the UCDA digital summit last year and the inaugural Lightspark Digital Summit earlier this year

·We know that through these UDEN meetings, hundreds of connections have been made and dozens of collaborations have begun. So we’re proud of the start we have made, but it’s just that – a start.  Effecting real change requires action, action from everyone here.  UDEN's job is to focus those efforts and keep us on track. It’s a sobering thought that we have less people working in digital entertainment in the state today than we did when UDEN started almost three years ago.  So – where are we headed? 

DIGITAL ENTERTAINMENT IN UTAH - FUTURE

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Silicon Slopes Partnership

Looking ahead to 2018, we’re excited to announce that the Utah Digital Entertainment Network will become the official Silicon Slopes Chapter for digital entertainment.  Through this partnership, UDEN and Silicon Slopes will work together to identify ways in which we might leverage the respective skill sets of our communities, fostering collaboration and mutually beneficial opportunities.  This will include sharing of knowledge, capabilities and services in addition to the cross-promotion of events.  Joining forces with Silicon Slopes will help UDEN toward its goal of building a strong ecosystem for digital entertainment across the entire state of Utah.

CALL FOR VOLUNTEERS!

2018 needs to be about action – not just from us, but especially, from you, the community.  We are a volunteer organization with, frankly, very few volunteers!  So, if you can spare a few hours each month and would like to do something for UDEN, please let us know as we have some ideas that we think could be really helpful in building our ecosystem and be really useful to you!  (To volunteer for UDEN please email us: info@utahDEN.org)

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Jobs Board

For example, when we setup the website, you gave us hundreds of ideas for features that you wanted.   We all agreed that a jobs board was a must!  Well, we have had a jobs board for two years now.  No-one uses it. Truth is, it needs someone to manage it to be useful.  So let’s be pro-active – have someone make a regular search for open jobs, gather the details, and post them on the jobs board.  The more jobs it has, the more jobs it will attract, the more useful it becomes to job seekers and recruiters alike.  Simple. And powerful.  If you think this is the kind of thing you might like to manage for the community, let us know!

UPCOMING EVENTS PAGE

Similarly, we have an events page. You asked us for it – but very few people use it, including our own members!  It has really powerful functionality, like EventBrite – you can post your own meetings on there, you get your own link to share and get notifications of RSVPs etc.  Here, then, is another example of a central location that could be a useful resource for all of us in digital entertainment and will help us grow. Again, if someone would like to round up any events you see out there and post them – including cross-posting things like the Silicon Slopes events, or the ones from the Film Commission, or the universities, or the Games Guild etc – it’s a few hours each week.  Interested?  Please get in touch.

OTHER IDEAS

Perhaps you have ideas for resources that might be really useful to help build our community?  One of our advisory board members, Corrine, had just such a great idea -  what about a page that has a list of projects looking for contributors?   It’s a bit like a jobs page, but more for contracting, either paid or unpaid. I think it would be super helpful in making connections – if we can find someone to manage it. 

Again – if you have ideas, better yet, if you can volunteer a few hours to make those ideas a reality – let’s talk! 

UDEN ADVISORY BOARD

We have had a terrific volunteer organizing committee since we started, and starting in 2018 we’re going to renew these positions on an annual basis, allowing for new people and new ideas to influence our direction.  If you would like to volunteer for our advisory board for 2018 please get in touch.  These are unpaid positions, requiring a few hours each quarter to attend meetings, as well as a few hours helping to arrange these meetings, finding sponsors, fund raising.  (To volunteer for UDEN please email us: info@utahDEN.org)

DONATIONS TO UDEN

Asking you all to step up is hard. Who has the time?  Well perhaps the answer is that UDEN needs to be funded so that we have resources to effect the kind of change and progress that we have seen Silicon Slopes achieve.  What do you think?  Are you ready to put your hand in your pocket?  We’ll be announcing a donation strategy in 2018.

MEETINGS & FOCUS IN 2018

Making things happen needs to be our focus for 2018.  Again, that means all of us.  For UDEN's part, we’ll continue to do what we're doing including organizing meetings.

Sundance

Right now, we’re working on two events in January during Sundance – we’ll share more details soon but they include a social mixer event in Park City, with the Utah Film Commission, much like we had this year.  We’re looking for a sponsor for this – so if you know anyone that wants some prominence during Sundance, please get in touch!

The other event will be held in Salt Lake City over three nights, intended to showcase to the public the best of Utah digital entertainment. Lots of hands-on interactive activities, live VR, music, film and performance art.  We’re also looking for someone to write a simple AR app for use at the event in return for exposure.  Interested? Get in touch.

Access Salt Lake

Longer term in 2018, we plan to hold two week long events at our home at Access Salt Lake, each day having a different theme within digital entertainment.   For example, Monday might be indie games events, Tuesday might be vfx related activities, Wednesday might be AR technologies, Thursday might be Education, Friday might be interactive movie focused.  Each day could have keynotes or working sessions.  We think a game jam or the movie equivalent might be fun as well.   We’re still at the idea stage, but we would like to talk to groups that might like to ‘own’ a day as part of such a week. Interested? Please get in touch.

SHARK TANK

Raising money is always a great topic for this community, so we’re thinking about a series of ‘Shark Tank’-like events where a handful of you can pitch your ideas to a group of potential investors or other professionals, to hear their critique. 

We hope that through such activities everyone can improve their pitching skills as well as broaden the mindset of potential investors into the potential that exists in this space, locally.

DIGITAL APPRENTICESHIPS

A longer term idea that we’re also working on is digital apprenticeships.  The goal here would be for UDEN to manage a digital trade apprenticeship program in conjunction with local businesses.  These are not internships, these are paid two-year positions, during which apprentices work on live digital projects 80% of the time, learning the trade and coming up with their own projects in the other 20% of their time.  The idea is that such a program would fill the gap between people who know how to use the tools of the trade but perhaps aren’t ready for the workplace yet, or who with some mentoring could learn how to add value rather than simply do a job. The hope would be that after two years the apprentices will start new businesses.   We will see if we can get a sector fund to invest in such businesses.  If the apprentices don’t want to start new businesses, they’ll be work ready for either digital entertainment or our friends here in Silicon Slopes land.

So – that’s what we’re thinking about as we head into year 3.  We’re still very excited about the prospects for digital entertainment in Utah and we hope you are too!

Let me close these thoughts by thanking you.  To those that have been to all, or most of our meetings and supported us, thank you.  If this is your first time, please join UDEN on our website and become a regular – social media is the best way to stay in touch with us.   In either case – let’s make 2018 the year of action. Let’s Move The Needle, just like Silicon Slopes has!

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MICROSOFT

At most of our events this year we have been focusing on VR, AR and MR technologies.   Many of you have told us how much you liked the opportunity to get hands on with different types of these technologies.  So tonight, as the last in our VR themed year, we have two more very cool technologies for you to try.  The first is called Mixed Reality – or MR.  As a reminder, MR applies the technologies of Virtual and Augmented reality to allow you to interact with digital objects superimposed into the real world around you. We are super excited that the Microsoft Store from downtown Salt Lake City have been kind enough to bring along some of their MR equipment for you to try tonight.  Here to tell us more, please welcome Corbett and Steve!

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VIRTUALITIES

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Let’s keep talking VR for a few minutes… you might recall that we introduced you to the VOID many months ago at UDEN – as you may know, the VOID VR is brilliant - it's also huge and takes up a huge amount of space.  At the opposite end of the scale are VR headsets you plug into your phone, or perhaps your home PC, like Microsoft's Mixed Reality. Inbetween these two types of VR, there is VR Arcade, which is typically larger than you get at home but small enough that you can try multiple different experiences in one location, often in a store.

Virtualities have opened a VR Arcade downtown Salt Lake City, and they have been kind enough to bring some of their VR Arcade experiences here for you to try tonight.  Here to tell you more about what they do and is Ryan Burningham!

CLOSING

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 Now its time for networking, and on the rolling video behind me you'll see your checklist challenge of things to do next; but before we begin, I would to say thanks to a few people:

  • to Jeff Peters for arranging tonight's meeting and to Clark Stacey for helping to run UDEN;
  • to Jacquie for volunteering to help us tonight as well as Jen;
  • to Silicon Slopes and JP Morgan for sponsoring tonight’s event;
  • to Microsoft and to Virtualities for the hands-on VR and MR experiences;
  • to our advisory board for their counsel and support;
  • and of course, to you all for continuing to support UDEN

Wishing all of you the very best for the rest of 2017, and a very happy holiday!  Thank you!

UDEN #15 - AR/VR Deep Dive: Work In Progress

UDEN #15 took place on June 7th 2017.  Access Salt Lake once again generously hosted UDEN for this membership meeting and the Utah Film Commission sponsored the food and drinks!  

As part of UDEN's focus on virtual reality technologies this year, UDEN #15 gathered together some of the various virtual reality, augmented reality and mixed reality initiatives happening in our sector in our state. We planned it to be a great opportunity for our members to network, learn and find collaborators to help engage in this vital emerging technology.

No panels, no keynotes, but hands-on!

  • showcase of work in progress of yet-to-be-released products!
  • new software offerings
  • different types of hardware
  • opportunity to meet service providers

...and as always the opportunity to network with the best and brightest of Utah's digital entertainment community!

Here is a video recap of the evening: 

Who was there?

Among the individuals and companies that were showing their wares were:

NOORDA TECHNOLOGIES

 

iSLAYER

    • CJ Pollock and his team announced the public beta for their VR FPS for mobile, called iSlayer, and allowed some early hands-on at UDEN #15
    • www.projectportara.com/get-islayer
 

SIGHTSCAPERS

  • Using state-of-the-art VR and AR technology, Sightscapers teach museum visitors of all ages to don not just a set of VR goggles, but new, curious eyes that will stay with them long after they leave the museum exhibit
  • At UDEN #15, they showed VR exhibits using their Vive setup, AR exhibits through smartphones
  • Sightscapers see the world through a child's eyes. Everything is something to be discovered anew for the first time. Sightcapers are passionate about working with museums and higher education to create pre-packaged supportive content as well as specific custom-made life experiences, that all works in tandem with existing exhibits
  • Thanks to AR/VR technologies, a personal interaction with lives and places previously thought gone forever is finally at hand
  • www.sightscapers.com

BULLFROG SPAS and FRINGE CONTENT

  • For over 20 years the name Bullfrog Spas has been synonymous with innovation in the world of well-engineered hot tubs
  • Now Bullfrog Spas is pioneering another first by bringing virtual reality to the spa retail space
  • This was the “can’t miss exhibition” at the Pool & Spa Show and we are making it so you can get a little piece of the experience with our VR viewer and your smartphone
  • www.bullfrogspas.com/vr-view
  • @bullfrogspas

THE GApp LAB

  • The GApp Lab (therapeutic games and apps) is a collaboration between the Center for Medical Innovation and the Entertainment Arts and Engineering Program at the University of Utah
  • They showed some of their latest VR medical applications
  • www.thegapp.eae.utah.edu
 

MONKEYTIME SOFTWARE

 

SPY HOP

  • Students in the intro virtual reality class at Spy Hop utilized the programs Cinema 4D and Unity to create 3D worlds that can be explored in Google Cardboard
  • The students in this class range from 13 - 16 years old and they shared their first attempt at creating this type of project!
  • Spy Hop is a nonprofit youth media arts organization located in Salt Lake City, Utah whose mission is to mentor young people in the digital media arts to help them find their voice, tell their stories and be empowered to affect positive change in their lives, their communities, and the world. Spy Hop is considered one of the leading youth media organizations in the country. In 2015, they won the National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award from the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities and were named one of seven global Adobe Creative Catalysts
  • www.spyhop.org
  • @spy_hop

SOLITON REACH

  • I represented start-up company Soliton Reach at UDEN #15 and gave live demos of their prototype real-time, drift-free motion sensors for VR, AR and MR
  • The sensors allow you to interact with the virtual world the same way you do in the real world ...with your hands and body. It's only natural!
  • www.solitonreach.com
  • @solitonreach
 

COSMIC PICTURES

  • Cosmic VR is a full service production company creating immersive experiences using virtual reality. We focus on providing cinematic stereoscopic 360° video and VR experiences. Partnering with agencies, brands, venues and artists, we work with our forward-thinking clients to make a real impression at events, exhibitions or anywhere else people get excited for the future of storytelling
  • www.cosmicpictures.com/vr.html
  • @Cosmic_Pictures
 

UTAH VALLEY UNIVERSITY

  • UVU's Digital Media Program is blazing new trails in teaching VR development technology in its classes. This includes web applications, 360 photos and Cinema
  • UVU will be announcing a new course on Cinematic Storytelling for VR, VR cameras, techniques
  • www.virtual.uvu.edu
  • @DigitalMediaUVU
 

HOLO DEFENDER

  • This AR game was created by a team of four students who are about to graduate from the Software and Game Development program at Neumont University
  • Holo Defender is an arcade tower defense game for the Microsoft Hololens. The goal of this project was to create a simple grid-based tower defense that can be projected into the physical world. It plays as a standard tower defense, with robot foes moving through a predetermined path while trying to reach an end goal, and damage the player’s home base. Players must use their wits to strategically place a variety of towers onto the map to stop waves of enemies from progressing. However, once the player’s base has taken too much damage, it will all be over!

UDEN #14 - Post Production

UDEN #14 took place on April 19th 2017.  Access Salt Lake generously hosted UDEN for this membership meeting and VR/AR startup Soliton Reach once again sponsored the food and drinks!  

Tonight’s keynote discussion centered around post-production, a critical phase of the film making process.  An expert panel kicked-off this topic off for us and then it was opened to the floor for questions and opinions.  Later in the networking hour, there was a VIP tour of HUGEsound a few blocks away for those who wanted to see a world-class post-production facility.

To begin, Joel Smith spoke a few words about the Access Salt Lake facility and I talked a little about Soliton Reach and their products.  Our huge thanks to our sponsors!

 

Then we moved into Hive Ignite, our regular spotlight on interesting people, products or companies in digital entertainment in Utah.

 

 First up tonight was Spencer Viernes who talked us through the InPerson networking app.  InPerson was created to help professionals connect face-to-face in a meaningful way that galvanizes the relationship.  LinkedIn is great and an InPerson connection helps strengthen the bond beyond a virtual connection. With InPerson, you can engage with professionals that are located at the same event you are attending.   You can invite and connect with people in real-time and carry those forward both those new relationships and the ability to have ongoing correspondence.  UDEN14 was already live as an event that people were using to connect with live using InPerson!  As Spencer said, "Online is okay, InPerson is better!"

Next up should have been Bryce Hansen,  Assistant Director at the Salt Lake Small Business Development Center, Salt Lake Community College.  However, he was taken ill earlier in the day and so his colleague Peter Callister stood in and walked us through the details about the upcoming Utah Crowdfunding Summit.  Taking place on May 4th, it is Utah's largest training and networking event for crowdfunding, created for tech and social entrepreneurs, as well as for non-profits who are raising money.  They will have some of the country's best crowdfunders, experts in Kickstarter, Indiegogo, Regulation Crowdfunding (Investment-Equity), and much more!  There will also be a competition, Crowdfund Hero, an online crowd voting competition where the Top Six contestants at 11:59 on April 30th are automatically selected to pitch for cash and prizes at the Utah Crowdfunding Summit on May 4, 2017.  On the online platform, contestants receive one point for each vote, social share, or dollar donated. For example, if your entry receives 10 votes, 20 social shares on Twitter and/or Facebook, and $100 in donations, your point total will equal 130. UDEN members get a 20% discount for the Summit - go to our website event page for details.

For our final Hive Ignite, we were delighted to share the time with Microsoft.  Patrick, Corbett and Steve from the downtown SLC Microsoft store shared the community initiatives that they are engaged in, offering future partnerships and collaborations with the UDEN community, which was gratefully received.  This included details about the upcoming Gaming as a Career event, that UDEN and the Utah Games Guild are co-sponsoring.  Joel from a local high school also spoke as an example of a group very happy with their Microsoft partnership.

Then we moved into the keynote discussion for the evening - sustainable post production; it's that phase of making a movie which happens after the actors and camera people have done their bit; it’s where CG gets added, special effects, audio dubbing, soundtrack, editing and so much more. It’s really important and can make or break a movie.  While movies may be the best known example of post, it also applies to TV, gaming, VR and just about all facets of digital entertainment.

Here in Utah, we don’t get much post production work, despite quite a few movies being shot here, so it would be good to figure out how to get more of it as part of building our digital film industry here.  Why now?  In these days of cloud connectivity we can offer more efficient workflows and remote access – so, for example, a director doesn’t need to fly in from Hollywood to review work in progress.

To give us some deeper insights into these and related post production issues, we asked a panel of experts to give us their thoughts.  Chance Thomas, one of Utah’s most famous composers was our moderator.  He's won an Oscar and an Emmy for his work, with a repertoire spanning film, TV, games and even the Mormon Tabernacle Choir; including Marvel, Lord of the Rings, James Cameron’s Avatar, and DOTA 2! Chance founded HUGEsound, the world-class post production facility that could be toured right after UDEN 14. Chance then introduced the panelists.

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Michael Fox is a storyteller and picture editor with over twenty years of experience in film and television.  He began his editing career on the CBS family drama Touched by an Angel. That set him on a path that would eventually see him working with JJ Abrams (Almost Human, Believe), Michael Bay (The Last Ship), Stephen King (11.22.63., Mr. Mercedes) and many others. Michael is fiercely talented, lightning fast and a consummate perfectionist.  After years of living and cutting in LA, he returned to his Utah home and love of all things outdoors.

Brittani Goodman is a VFX Supervisor who described herself as a full-time Mom that also works at the LDS Motion Picture Studio.  At weekends she also runs a healthy freelance business.  Her innovative design work over more than 15 years has helped HP, Deseret Book, General Electric, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Hitachi, and many more. 

Jeff Meacham is a sound designer.  He graduated from Full Sail University in their Recording Arts program in 2005.  He went on to work with Electronic Arts for 7½ years, working on everything audio before making a switch to film for 4 years.  He has experience in both production and post production audio. He is now incredibly fortunate to be re-united with many of his former EA Salt Lake team members directing audio and helping pioneer virtual reality experiences at THE VOID in Lindon, Utah.

The panel discussed the scope of post production, the challenges it faces and some ideas as to how it might be grown as an industry sector in Utah.  Michael made the point that it is highly competitive and it's tough to compete against locations that offer big incentives to go there, so instead we have to think about how to add enough value that it's not a race to the bottom of costs.  Chance noted that most people in the field are freelance and Brittani shared that the key to success for freelancers was networking: don't be afraid to go meet, introduce yourself and your services.  These days she doesn't need to chase work; thanks to her reputation, clients finds her and she says it pays well. But that didn't happen overnight, so be patient and keep networking.  Jeff talked through his career path and talked about how working in virtual reality experiences at the VOID presented new opportunities and challenges, both of which you need to be prepared to embrace if you want to progress in your career.  The panel concluded that the only way post can be healthy and viable in Utah is if those involved come together, share and collaborate for mutual benefit, suggesting that UDEN is a great starting place for this.

I concluded the formal part of the evening with some closing comments, and for the next hour we networked before going to checkout the HUGEsound post production facility.

Huge thanks to:

  • Our panelists
  • ("ESPN's") AJ Dimick for setting up the mics, filming and setup
  • Lisa Matsukawa and Antonio for help setting up
  • Jeff Peters for helping organize UDEN meetings, fiming and setup!
  • Utah Valley University and Bryan Kessinger for loan of the extra mics! 

UDEN #13 - VR or Bust

The meeting opened with a HUGE thank you to our sponsors: Access Salt Lake, who have offered their space as a home for UDEN, and Soliton Reach, a startup that is developing wireless motion controllers for VR applications.

 

Opening Remarks

In addition to networking meetings with all of you, we meet with lots of different groups about how to build a better ecosystem for the creators of digitalentertainment in Utah.  Among the big events UDEN has been a major collaborator for include the UCDA Digital Summit last December and also the Lightspark Media Summit last week.  

Marc Stephens from UCDA spoke about the progress that had been made to progress the Summit outcomes; he told the meeting that Salt Lake County mayor Ben McAdams was fully supportive of the 'collective impact' plan and would be assigning some of his staff to help oversee it.  This is huge as it means funds are being set aside to help get a plan moving for economic growth in digital entertainment, which will have public sector support. Joel Smith added that progress had also been made with the STEM Action Center who were also going to be supportive of our efforts.

Many insights and ideas came up during the summit – here are a few:

•    We can’t build a sustainable industry based on handouts.  Instead let’s figure out how we build an industry sector that is not built on incentives but meeting commercial demands. 

•    I think of incentives like gasoline: it you put gasoline on a fire, it will go boom!  But if you put them on a dry pile of sticks, you just end up with a damp pile of sticks.  We, industry, have to create the flames of business before we can really justify the gasoline of incentives

•    We know we need investment and at UDEN meetings last year, we discussed the difficulties of doing this.  One of the ideas that came up was a sector investment fund, which will help fund initiatives that help us meet our collective impact goals

•    We create great talent for this sector through our educational establishments – but there aren’t enough jobs here to keep our annual graduates.  So we need to figure out better career pathing to create maximum opportunity for the students as well as better ways to help those students find jobs in the industry we have here already

One idea proposed at the Summit that could help focus all of these insights and to provide those ‘flames’ would be a common platform for our entertainment industry -- ideally one that has a future and that could leverage all of the creativity and technical talent we have here already.  The proposal was that VR and AR could be that platform.  And that’s why we’ll be discussing it here tonight.  The idea is not be to stop you from doing anything else – but investment would be focused in the areas of the common platform.

•    Imagine if we all became expert in this field?  The film makers could help us understand story telling in this medium.  The game makers could help us understand interactivity and user interface.  The artists could help us use the tools of visual effects and audio.

•    Once proficient, we could lend these skills to the wider tech and medical community in Utah, all of whom will be looking to VR and AR in the coming years

•    And so through our educational programs we could deliver the ideal workforce through career pathing, such that skilled students would have the option of a vast array of jobs locally, not just in entertainment

•    Thus we build business and jobs.  We can then brand our collective skills to the global audience.  And so we achieve economic growth.

Crazy?  Perhaps?  Worth trying?  We would love to hear your thoughts.  We’re discussing this topic here tonight. It’s a direct follow-up from the UCDA summit.

Call for Volunteers

Whatever we choose to do, it’s going to take effort.  While Marc and the UCDA continue to set the ground work for long-term collective impact, UDEN plans to continue pushing to make progress in the short term. 

If you’re interested in being part of a volunteer team to work on areas you feel strongly about and collaborate with the other UDEN teams, please let us know. info@utahden.org

Communication for Community

How best can you stay connected with this community?  There is the website, social media, slack channel – sure.   But here is another option, created by a local developer Spencer Viernes - an app called InPerson - why not go to your app store right now and download it?  Great way to stay connected with this community!  It uses your LinkedIn account, so if you have one, then this is a great connection tool for us.

Hive Ignite

It’s now time for Hive Ignite, our regular spotlight on interesting people, products or companies in digital entertainment in Utah.  To keep it simple we do it like a speed date – 3 minutes to give us all the elevator pitch.

Before we begin, let me say that we always have Hive Ignite spaces open in our future meetings, so if you have something you would like to share, or perhaps you would like to ask for help – just come see me after the meeting (or email) and we’ll get you signed up.  First come, first served.

Entrepreneur Learning Pad - Krista Groll

Aurora Awards - Krista Groll

Soliton Reach - Jon Dean

Panel: VR or Bust

On to tonight’s keynote discussion!  As mentioned earlier, one of the ideas that came up during the UCDA summit was that – perhaps – the best way to build future economic impact would be for us all to specialize in the same area.  The area suggested was virtual reality.  

Tonight we would like to consider whether it makes sense for all sectors of Utah’s entertainment community to embrace VR – film, games, education etc.  The reason we might want to is that – perhaps – by all being great at the same thing, we are collectively better and can become known internationally (getting that respect we deserve!), so boosting our ability to bring jobs and economic growth.  That’s not to say people can’t do anything else – of course they could – but that we focus investment around this one area.  But perhaps it’s a bad idea too.

Tonight we want to know what you think. What ideas you might have as to how we go about doing something like this.  Or is it crazy?  To get some initial ideas surfaced, we have a panel here to give us their insights. We’ll hear from them first and then open the discussion to you on the floor.

Our panelists volunteered tonight in order that they could help others in this community and for that, we’re extremely grateful that they have given up their time to be with us tonight. 

Rich Reagan moderated the panel discussion and opened the conversation to the floor for comments and questions.

Overall, the panel and the room were in favor of adopting one core technology to be the unifying force.  VR seemed the obvious choice, no-one proposed an alternative that could achieve the same objective.

  • Lanie was concerned about whether the tech was really ready for mass market yet, especially with usability concerns - she mentioned motion sickness and the speed at which people became physically ill if the frame rate was not 120 or higher
  • Chris mentioned that the high-end systems such as Oculus Rift or Vive were performing at that high-end, believing that the social potential is huge for improving the quality of life for people
  • Price was mentioned as a concern: today you need a high-end PC as well as the head-mount display and some controllers, easily $3000 to begin.  This is a barrier.
  • Roger was very much in favor of VR as a unifying platform, mentioning how it is being adopted in a big way at the GApp Lab at the University of Utah for healthcare purposes, and that increasingly students on the Master Games Program are creating virtual and augmented reality applications.  He pointed out that you don't need high-end technology to use VR - Google Cardboard costs around $10, works with mobile phones and is more than adequate; indeed he believes mobile is where the future market is
  • Jarom talked about the potential VR has to bring innovation to film and marketing activities, noting that the creative and technical talent we already have in the state would be well suited to unify behind VR technologies

Networking

The meeting concluded with networking.  This is an important facet of our meetings

Maybe you want to ask more questions of our panelists 1:1? Perhaps most importantly, you can find other people here that are also interested in starting up, so you don’t have to do it alone.

If you’re wondering how you might go up to a stranger an start a conversation, I’m going to give you an ice breaker to use:

•     Approach that person and say: “No! This is not my VR avatar, I really look like this!”

Pictures from the event:

UDEN #12 - Sundance

UDEN's first meeting of 2017 was held during the Sundance Film Festival on January 25th.  We were graciously hosted by our terrific partners the Utah Film Commission at their event space in Park City, UT.  Despite the snow and the cold (well, Park City in January - it's what you expect!) , more than 200 people came to network, share ideas, share a beverage and partake in some delicious snacks, courtesy of our other sponsor, ChAIR Entertainment. KCPR  broadcast live during the event and interviewed many of the luminaries gathered, including UDEN co-founder Clark Stacey.  Plus we showed some of the new signage that was donated to us and some cool info cards demonstrating a more professional image for the group.

UCDA Digital Summit

UDEN was a sponsor of the UCDA Digital Summit held at the superb Park City Film Studios on Dec 1st and 2nd 2016; this is my recap of what happened there which I want to share with the wider community.  If anyone, attendees or otherwise has additional insights or comments, please do add them below.

The purpose of the summit was to invite a handful of leaders from the film, TV, media, gaming, educational, finance and government to come together and discuss digital entertainment in Utah.  I know, I know, feels like we’ve been here before, right?  What was different about this Summit was the focus:  how might we prepare ourselves for the future – to be ready for where the industry is going, as opposed to playing catch-up with where it is today?  Plus, the Summit was interactive, with the participants working together in groups to problem solve, as well as in the larger group for discussions.  Overall I came away re-energized about the potential of this sector and truly impressed by the quality and talent of the people we have here in the state.  Unfortunately, there was no time for my karaoke session!

Here are the outcomes:

·         The highest-level goal would be a sustainable community across the entire state of the creators of content and technology, known for the expertise of the people here, delivering industry-leading quality output for global audiences.

·         The community, along with external stakeholders, need to agree a road-map with some key objectives and commit to moving that plan forward; this is a way of working known as ‘collective impact’ and has been championed by organizations such as United Way of Utah (who we heard from at the Summit) and is being used to address the difficult homelessness challenges in the State (from which we gained insights into the steps and process of collective impact)

·         It was agreed that the outcomes of the Summit would be written up by the UCDA as a report for the Utah government to consider;

·         The collective impact process will take time to work through and deliver results, not least we – the community – will need to figure out the ‘how’ and the ‘who’ of managing the process;

·         Rather than be seen as an industry sector constantly with its hand out for tax dollars, we, as the industry, need to figure out a way to build a sector investment fund, which could help finance initiatives that help us meet our collective goals;

·         Potentially have all sectors align around one future technology and become renown for our expertise in this area; the idea is not to exclude other areas, but use it as a focus, branding and alignment tool.  VR/AR was discussed as such a possibility, as it applies not only to gaming or film, but also TV, simulation, education, medical etc – with a wider connection to the existing tech strengths here in Utah

·         Figure out how to make Utah a more attractive location for creative talent; it was recognized that the state is especially attractive for young families, but could be more vibrant for single people in the way that, say, Austin is

The Summit wrapped up with a list of the wins that we had already achieved during the two days, which we can use as a starting point while collective impact gets figured out:

·         We self-identified as creators of content and technology, which we should all begin to refer to ourselves as;

·         Connections have been made to the wider technology sector, including Silicon Slopes, which we need to now embrace as a stakeholder for mutual benefit;

·         UDEN offered itself as a possible foundation for the wider community to embrace now, open to reconstituting for success as may be required; www.utahden.org

·         Cosmic Pictures offered anyone that was interested to join with them in putting together compelling promotional material to help promote our collective efforts in digital entertainment chris@cosmicpictures.com

·         Access SLC offered the use of its premises downtown SLC to the community for meetings or gatherings as needed www.accesssaltlake.com

·         The VOID offered that, once it has its first virtual entertainment center live in Utah, they would make it available to educators for field trips during daytime hours

·         Shaleane Gee, Special Assistant to Mayor Ben McAdams, advised the Summit that the plans we had discussed made a good fit for collective impact

·         Joe Gabriel from the VOID setup a SLACK channel for discussion and communication about furthering the goals www.theutahcollective.slcak.com

·         There were several meeting opportunities offered by way of further networking, these included:

o   A meeting at Access Sale Lake on January 17th (with a party next day!).  Details from joel@accelerantbsp.com  

o   Invite to the 3rd Annual Innovation Summit on January 25th – details at http://www.innovationsummit2017.com

o   UDEN invited the entire community to network together and continue the conversation at its event during Sundance www.utahden.org/sundance17

Let me close by offering the services of the UDEN social channels to you as a means to share information to our fellow community of creators and technologists!  

I'm very excited.  I hope you can join with us to make the future of entertainment bright for us all!

Being “Let Go” – Part III: The Manager’s Perspective

However unpleasant, firing someone or letting people go is something that you, as a manager, need to be prepared to do.  The way you handle yourself at the time you tell someone it’s time to move on makes a big difference to them.  This blog helps you be prepared.

So You Want To Be A Game Designer / Programmer / Artist etc?

I'm frequently asked for the 'inside track' on how to break into the games industry.  Sometimes it's a parent whose teenage offspring wants to be a game designer and they want to know what to study; sometimes its a random person I meet at a party who loves (--insert name of mass market game here--) and thinks they could do better.  The following is a version of how I respond -- I hope you find it useful if you are pondering this also