I love going to conventions. While I may now live in North Carolina, I used to be a New Jersey resident. I always found the lack of conventions there to be rather weird. Thankfully we have Playcrafting, giving many smaller expos where developers can bring their projects and show them off. They also run Play NYC, a large two-day gaming convention in New York City for anyone to attend. I got a chance to attend it last year, and thoroughly enjoyed it. Now Playcrafting is offering up a new partnership with Bose and entering the world of audio AR. I got a chance to speak with Playcrafting's founder, Dan Butchko, about how it got started, his biggest success, the future of audio AR gaming, and more.
TechRaptor: Dan, first off, thank you for taking the time to talk with us. Now, you run Playcrafting. Can you just, for those that don't know, give a rundown on what Playcrafting is?
Dan Butchko: Sure, sure. Playcrafting got its start ten years ago, originally as a meetup group of just 10 people, and over the years we've become full fledged organization - one of the largest game creator communities in the U.S.- in the service of game developers, those looking to become game developers, and just broader fans and streamers. It's built around that community. So we offer more than 200 events, conventions, classes, and establish partnerships all in the service of growing the community of game developers, fans, and the broader community in New York and as well as a few other cities around the country.
TechRaptor: Why did you start Playcrafting? What gave you the original idea?
Dan: So I was originally a meetup member of the group that preceded the official Playcrafting organization, and I remember walking into my first event and just being blown away by all these game developers, creators, industry professionals in my own backyard in New York. I remember being astonished by how many games were being made in the city.
A lot of folks would tell me if I wanted to work in games I had to move to the west coast. That was part of why I wanted to build Playcrafting in New York and then branch it out from there.
TechRaptor: Now that you've been running Playcrafting for a couple of years, what would you say is your biggest success coming from it?
Dan: I'd say with the launch of Play NYC, the biggest, two-day game convention in New York, which is now going into its third year. That would probably be the biggest success. It took Playcrafting, the local community, and our industry partners really working together to put it on the map across the country and around the world. From there we've grown and grown in our partnerships and our community, but that really was the turning point. Folks can visit play-nyc.com for more detials. Tickets are actually now on sale here. Developers can apply here to become an exhibitor, and press passes are available here.
TechRaptor: Recently you guys announced you were doing this big collaborative project with Bose AR. How did that come about?
Dan: We have been getting partnerships like this since 2017. The first one of its kind was with Schick Hydro, the men’s shaving brand. In partnership with Schick, we commissioned 20 game developers in New York to create games around the brand’s theme of "protect and defend" and those games debuted on stage at the Game Awards in 2017 in LA. So that really opened up the floodgates for us in terms of how we started to work with different partners. Since then, we've worked with a number of technology and consumer brands to help them make deeper, more meaningful connections with the gaming community.
We were connected to Bose in October of last year. Their AR platform was recently announced and the company was putting a lot of effort and personnel behind. So it actually turned out that my colleague at Bose that really built this out with me, we originally met at PAX East a couple years ago, he had remembered and came by our Playcrafting booth. When he joined the Bose team he said "wait a minute, we should do something with Playcrafting if we want to go into games."
So that was really the start of it. We've crafted this 2019 year-long plan in late fall into December of last year for launch in January. It’s just been a really exciting and transformative project.
TechRaptor: I guess I should ask, since you mentioned you partnered with Schick Hydro. Were you behind the Schick Hydro Robot at the Game Awards?
Dan: [Laughter.] No.I believed the robot happened in 2016, then we worked with the brand in 2017 to put together the “Schick Hydro Indie Arcade,” which featured the games that were created as part of our game jam in New York.
TechRaptor: So, speaking of jams, you guys are doing a game jam with the Bose AR technology. How do you encourage and get developers to want to develop with these new tools?
Dan: We're actually doing a series of game jams all year long in multiple cities with Bose. Playcrafting, being one of the largest communities of game developers in the U.S., we have a really great network of folks that we reach out to to gauge interest, availability, et cetera. We’re working with Bose to empower game developers and enable them to create brand new experiences with this exciting new platform, and then we're also working with them to showcase those games at some of the year's biggest events, including PAX East 2019, Play NYC and PAX West 2019.
We’re also working with the participating developers to help them get their apps directly out to the app store and launch them in conjunction with events like PAX East, Play NYC and PAX West, that have the attention of thousands to millions of people around the world. That really helped us get the excitement going in the community. With the connections that we have with all the developers in the community and, you know, phone calls, e-mails, et cetera, lining up to make sure we have all the right studios and the right people in the right places so that we can empower developers to create unique experiences on this new platform.
TechRaptor: Is there any projects you're aware of for the new platform that you're really excited to share?
Dan: For sure. During our first Bose AR Game Jam in February in Boston, we united 20 local game developers to create five games on the Bose AR platform.
All of them were standouts in their own way, but I think that, for me, one of my favorites is a game called OverHerd. Basically it's kind of like a Monty Python skit where you are an Englishman and you are trying to infiltrate this castle that's filled with French aristocrats.
All through spacial audio you hear around you, these really funny insults hurled at you and then, using spacial audio, you have to determine what direction they're coming from. There's eight points around you from which they could be insulting you. When you think you found the direction it's coming from, you aim with your head using either the Bose Frames or one of the QC over-ear pairs of headphones, tilt your head up and down to determine trajectory, and then you double tap the device and that shoots a cow at them. Using spacial audio, that's how you got there, then using audio cues, you can tell if you hit them or not.
All through that you have this squire in your ear telling you "a little to the left, sir" and give you really fun, helpful, hints if you're a little bit off. When I tried that game, it just blew my mind, and it showed me what’s really possible when you take this concept of completely audio-based games and put it in the hands of developers. It's something that really has to be felt to be understood and appreciated. That game really brought that out in me personally, and it’s been a blast to see other people be able to try it as well.
TechRaptor: When will someone in the public be able to get their hands on this?
Dan: You can get it right now. OverHerd is now live in the app store in iOS. You will need either the Bose Frames, which are the glasses with the technology in it, or the Bose QC, that's the Quiet Comfort, over-ear headphones. Bose announced that, as of October of last year, all of that line of headphones has the technology baked into it. So all you would need is an iPhone and one of those devices and you can play it right now.
The other games created during the New York Bose Game Jam can be downloaded at https://playcrafting.com/paxeast2019/.
TechRaptor: You have these Bose Game Jams coming up for the AR games. You said you're going to be doing multiple of them. Are you guys going to also be encouraging developers to work with the AR stuff outside of the game jams?
Dan: Yeah, absolutely. We're inviting and recruiting people directly for the jams themselves, but Bose is also a community partner for Playcrafting throughout 2019, so they've been a sponsor of our biggest events so far. The Global Game Jam site in New York, which was in late January, is the biggest Global Game Jam in the U.S. and we had Bose join us on site with a free workshop for folks to actually learn about the tech for the first time. Bose joined us as a sponsor for the 3rd Annual Bit Awards ceremony, which is our annual award show in New York. They will also be joining us as in Play NYC, our biggest convention on August 10th and 11th at the Metropolitan Pavilion. So those are sort of three of the big community events that we're doing.
Bose AR’s mission to empower developers, especially smaller teams and solo devs, is just so in line with what our community is and what we're all about. We want to make sure that we are providing the tools, and making the information about new technologies and resources as accessible and known as possible for developers that want to try it out. Working with Bose to plug into our community across the country and throughout the year is helping us to do that.
TechRaptor: Doing AR things through audio is pretty different, since usually it's a visual thing. What kind of opportunities do you think this will provide that a simple visual AR would not be able to?
Dan: There's a lot that I can see, and we're really at the start of what I see as this new frontier. On one hand, with the games being what we call "heads up hands free," there's an opportunity here for people with certain physical disabilities to enjoy games without having to actually sacrifice any of the experience. So it levels the playing field a bit for all game players and enthusiasts. That part of it is really exciting to me.
On the other hand, I get really excited by some of the implications of tethering the tech to dropping GPS points on maps through the iPhone. Bose has had a couple of outdoor experiences. We're going to have one like that at Play NYC in August where you can actually walk around a physical space, or walk around a block, and the device will know if you are nearing one of these points. It's literally as though someone or something or whatever the sound source is is there in real life. Because, as your passing by it, you can hear it passing by you, you can hear it in the distance and you know to go to it or not. That sort of IRL physical game implication is really interesting to me.
Also, there’s excitement in what we don't know. I would have never thought that the first game jam we did with this technology could produce something like OverHerd or Dead Drop Desperado, which is another game that came out of that jam. In Dead Drop Desperado, you're sort of shooting at each other with bullets where you're tapping on the screen and using the gyroscope on the headset to dodge left or right Matrix-styled and you have to hear the sound source in order to dodge the bullet and see the results afterwards.
So there's all sorts of possibilities with the Bose AR technology. What really excites me is what we don't know yet.
TechRaptor: Do you think we'd be able to use the audio AR as a companion piece for another game? Say, as a recent example, Spider-Man. Would you be able to use the audio AR to assist in those games and flesh them out more?
Dan: Sure. I can only speak for Bose AR in particular, which is tethered to the App Store and iPhone as of now. More broadly, I think the technology has a lot of exciting possibility around enhancing that sort of surround sound experience, just with headphones. Certainly, at least theoretically, it can and should be applied to experiences like that. Especially experiences that are either solo games that are played by yourself, or online multiplayer. It's harder with something like couch co-op. It's certainly something that I think, taking that surround sound spacial audio piece, and applying it in a lot of different directions opens up a lot of doors. It's hard to see right now, because it's only on iOS and the App Store, but the implications of the technology are so exciting that I can see it going in directions like that for sure.
TechRaptor: You did just bring up the multiplayer stuff. Are there any multiplayer games being developed with this, or do you think that could be a possibility at one of the game jams?
Dan: Yeah! The game that I just mentioned, Dead Drop Desperado, that is a multiplayer game. With the jams themselves so far, we're not requiring single player or multiplayer. We just want to see what developers come up with. It's really exciting to see the developers from Petricore Games in Boston create Dead Drop Desperado, which is a 1v1 multiplayer game for the tech, without it being requested or required. Multiplayer is definitely there, folks are actively working on it, and I'm sure there will be more and more to come as we build out more of it this year.
TechRaptor: Since it is audio AR, there's different podcasts and radio stuff out there that already use regular audio technology to tell a story. Would you say this is a kind of evolution of that, and would you say there's maybe room for crossover?
Dan: Yeah. I think, from a cultural perspective, some of the content that we can see coming out can be an evolution of that, and is an evolution of it. The opportunity for something like, lets say, serial, taking a podcast experience like that and giving it full spacial audio with branching narrative pathways is certainly on the table. Using the headset itself, I mentioned the double tap before, there's also games that we've seen that require you to nod yes or shake your head no, so there's decision making pathways you can sort of take. I definitely see the potential for crossovers and evolution of where podcasts have come. They've already come a long way as well.
TechRaptor: Alright Dan, so all of this has been super interesting. Do you have any final thoughts or comments on where you think this will go?
Dan: I think that the most exciting part about the Playcrafting and Bose alliance is that we are fully putting the power and the control of these projects into the hands of the developers themselves. So this process has been really enlightening for Playcrafting and for the Bose AR folks because developers are showing us what's possible with the technology. We see time and time again through the partnerships that Playcrafting is forging specifically the kind of support that Bose is providing, that we create an environment, a community, an initiative where all of the right pieces are in place to empower developers to do what they do best, which is design, build, and execute.
Unbelievable and unexpected things are possible. So this developer-first approach, putting new tech into their hands and not having a direct middleman, is really exciting. It's rare to be able to have that immediate access and get to building right away with a new technology like this that has a lot of implications and is sort of an unexplored territory. I just can't wait to see what's to come.
TechRaptor: Dan, I'd seriously like to thank you for taking the time to talk with us. It's really awesome hearing about the new AR stuff. I'm excited to see more of it.
Dan: Of course.
We'd like to once again thank Dan for taking the time to talk with us.