Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Guest Blog - Demoing VR Guide

We’ve been working with the Oculus VR headset since receiving our Kickstarter backer edition of the first dev kit, the DK1, through DK2 and the commercial version CV1, the fully labelled Oculus Rift. As such, over the past few years we’ve done more public demos of VR than we can remember but each and every time, we have seen someone do something new or unexpected. So here’s a handy guide to demoing VR to the general public, or [potential] clients to ensure they have the best first time VR experience and aren’t put off for life!

Prepare for queues - there will be queues of people waiting to play. We find that 9/10 people at events haven’t tried VR and so, it will be a big draw for crowds. Queues are good though as you have a steady stream of people eager to play and willing to listen to you whilst they wait, so prepare some queue chat subjects. So where possible, have as many demo stations as people / space / budget allows, remembering to allocate one person per booth with floaters for queue management and breaks.

People are less likely to want to try a headset sat there unused - we haven’t worked out why but if it’s just there as a weird looking bit of tech, people will be more hesitant to be the first to have a go. So if quiet (which is unlikely) have someone on the team play and have fun doing it. 

Seating for safety - unless you are demoing HTC Vive and using room-scale to full effect, ensure you have a seat available for people to park on so that they are less likely to feel nauseous, fall over or stumble about. First timers tend to over-react to the motion sensation and will throw themselves around!

Regular wiping - be prepared to clean the headset and lenses regularly; headset foam with natural baby wipes and lenses with a good cloth. Try to avoid alcohol-based anti-bacterial wipes unless you can make sure it’s dry without any residue before the next user, otherwise it might react with contact lens fluids and give people a nasty reaction (have seen this happen!) After doing events for many years, this is why we have a set of headsets that are only used by us for development, without x,000 human skin cells embedded in the foam.

Set defaults - most VR headsets and software offer options to tailor specific dimensions of the user for the optimum visual experience. However this is time-consuming and requires an understanding of how VR works and the technology, which when dealing with high volumes of people (see point 1.) you aren’t going to have time to tweak settings for each and every person. If you set to default average settings, you can still give a great experience and any comments about blurriness can be overcome with a request to “find the sweet spot”.

So that’s the basics for demoing VR to the public. The obvious point is to make sure everything works every time without any stutter or jitter at a stable framerate. If demoing to clients (to try and win work) you have to setup and ensure your introduction to VR is as smooth and simple as possible to ensure they are not distracted or put off by the amount of cables or technology involved. Good luck!

Sam Watts has been involved in interactive, immersive content production for 15 years, from learning development and simulation to AAA and casual games. Currently employed as Operations Lead for Make REAL and Game Producer for Tammeka, he keeps busy by evangelising the possibilities and real world benefits of immersive technologies like VR and AR to anyone who will listen. Tammeka’s first VR game Radial-G : Racing Revolved launched alongside the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive earlier in 2016.

Thursday, 5 May 2016

Guest Blog - Growing a business without growing a business

On a crisp December day in 2014, I sat in a tiny cafe on Golden Square, eager to sample the pastries declared by my friend Tracey* as “the best cinnamon buns in London”. But while the aforementioned buns were one of the reasons I was looking forward to the meeting, it was another goal that was making me excited and trepidatious in equal measure.

My fledgling business was less than 18 months old but already I’d met a host of inspiring, friendly, supportive and thoroughly decent new friends and allies. Tracey was pretty near the top of that list, and I had an important question to ask her.

Working for myself after 20+ years in bustling offices had proved liberating and isolating in equal measure. I loved the freedom to follow my passions, but missed the perspective and sanity-checks that only come from trusted colleagues. But I’d decided on the perfect solution – I needed a mentor.

Luckily for me, Tracey immediately agreed to take on the role, but with one caveat – I had to do the same for her in return. And so it began.

Fast forward another six months and I’m sitting nervously in another eatery, just around the corner from the aforementioned pastries. This time I’m waiting for another fellow games PR who’s also vying for a chart position on the list above.

My first couple of years in business had gone better than I could have hoped and I’d quickly got to the point of having to turn people away. While it’s always a nice problem to have, I’d never enjoyed what felt like the counter-intuitive process of turning work down. Luckily I’d run into Sam** from Decibel-PR a little while after I’d started up, and had been able to send work his way when I couldn’t take it on myself.

Plenty of people had told me to expand or hire someone else, but I wasn’t in any rush to take on the overheads and risks of staff and premises. Talking to the ever-wise Tracey at our regular mentor meetups, and after a year of hearing nothing but glowing praise about Sam, I slowly began to realise that maybe there was another way.

So as I sat in a Japanese restaurant in mid-May 2015, I asked Sam to become my ‘partner agency’. We both had established businesses and established clients, but we also both had finite time on our hands. By teaming up to share some clients, and pooling our collective skills, contacts and experience, we could both expand our empires, without expanding our overheads.

We were growing our businesses without growing our businesses.

Within a week, Sam and I had signed our first 12 month contract, pitching our shared abilities to a developer that needed more than either of us could have given on our own. We’re still working on that project today, and our collaborations and opportunities have continued to expand. But it didn’t stop there. Nine months later, the whole thing grew again when Tracey joined our merry band too. We still mentor each other but now we work together too.

The future of this industry is in working together and not against each other, but unless you get out from behind your monitor and push yourself to ask those scary questions in the first place, that collaboration won’t ever be possible. We can build our futures while maintaining our independence, all through the power of collaborating, not competing. If you’re open, honest, generous with your time and your support, and prepared to seek out what you need to hear and not just want you want to hear, then joining forces with others can be a powerful driver to success for you all.

Natalie Griffith, Press Space 

* Tracey McGarrigan, Ansible PR & Communications & ** Sam Brace, Decibel-PR - official partner agencies to Press Space Limited

Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Guest Blog - Going it alone without going it alone

As I sit with a thick pink milkshake whilst contemplating the choice of chips on the menu, there is something about the noise of the sports bar and grill just near Marylebone station that reminds me of the underlying chatter broken with occasional exclamations of joy or dismay that filled the huge open plan office I used to work in; an environment quite different to the calm and comfort of my home office. It’s not something I miss, but something I know I shouldn't forget.

Natalie* is the familiar face in the crowd and as she orders her milkshake, talk quickly turns to work. We share discreet updates on what we’re working on, we chat over industry news and events, then we pick over the similarities and differences of being in-house and freelance PR professionals whilst considering how we approach different situations and projects. Early on in our monthly mentoring meetings, it became clear that corroboration, and pooling our knowledge, our contacts, and our vision together made us more confident, and helped increase our ability to deliver great work.

This is more than two friends casually chatting about work; this is two industry practitioners mutually mentoring each other and sharing best practice so we can be better in our roles.

It was here in the grill that after months of deliberation and weighing up all the pros and cons, and of hearing what it was like from the other side, that I decided the time was right to go it alone. We all have people (and to some extent games and studios) who inspire us, but it was thanks to the power of mentoring that I finally reached a very personal point of knowing the exact nature of work I wanted to do in this industry, and more importantly felt empowered to go after it. I learnt in detail about the risks and challenges I would be taking on, knowing I had a support net of expertise, advice, and friendship beneath me.

This is going it alone without going it alone.
It’s evident in some of the more successful studios founded with people who are familiar with each other’s work, many of whom at one time or other have been part of AAA studios, and who have broken away to follow their own paths and hearts’ desires whilst committing themselves to helping each other through whatever lies ahead.

Knowing what you can do alone is just the beginning – actively finding the right people who can help you when and if you need it should become an important part of your work. Knowing those people WILL help you is the key to your success. This isn't just advice for start-ups. Bill Campbell, a sounding board to many of Silicon Valley’s chief execs sadly passed away this month yet his reputation and legacy as a mentor has, and will continue to have a resounding impact on the tech and games industry globally.

When I started my new company I knew I had mentors I could actively call on to help me get over any hurdles and I continue to call on them. Being elastic in what I can offer clients has already given my business a boost. Natalie is an expert at understanding and driving communications for community-led development, my skills lie more in delivering corporate and social communications for start-ups. Having the option of combining our skills has allowed us to offer a deeper level and range of expertise and support to meet our clients’ needs so we all benefit from this collaboration. I consider my mentors to be some of the most valuable assets to my business.

Let’s shed our thick skins here; the value of your reputation and skills is important, but combining your abilities with other talented people who are aligned with and can contribute to your business can have a dramatic impact – there’s a reason the Avengers assembled!

Mentoring and collaboration encourages future entrepreneurs and studios to create work within our industries and leads to an unrivalled matrix of expertise where everyone can enjoy success. Having a mentor should be one of the most important tools in your box. Plus, making your office a place where they serve milkshakes and chips is no bad thing…

Tracey McGarrigan is founder and CEO of Ansible PR & communications 

*Natalie Griffith, CEO Press Space Ltd