Hardware Studio Helped Spatial Gaming Get Funding
Founder Kerry Shih sits down to chat IoT, product development and AR
If gaming 1.0 is analog board games and gaming 2.0 is video games, then Spatial Gaming is solidly 3.0—merging face-to-face interaction with high quality graphics using augmented reality. Holographic gaming without requiring a headset is the kind of technology that can shake up the entertainment and media industry. However, it’s also an innovation that’s hard to pull off.
That’s why Spatial Gaming founder Kerry Shih engaged with Avnet, which he considers part Fortune 500 company, part agile technology developer, to help move him from idea and rough prototype to a successful Kickstarter campaign.
Kerry sat down with us to talk about the idea for the game—and how having Avnet as an end-to-end partner helped make that idea a reality.
Avnet: How’d the idea for Spatial Gaming’s mixed reality video game system come to mind?
Kerry Shih: The idea came from wanting to mix what we love from mobile games—the great graphics and mechanics—with the awesome venue and social experience that tabletop provides. The always massive, always anonymous gaming thing can get tiresome. We think people naturally want a more interpersonal experience these days and tabletop has always had that. The question is: How can you mix both without putting two screens between each other and without wearing headsets? So for us, Spatial offers Projected AR which creates a context for face-to-face vs face-to-screen gameplay through holographic projection. When you add the play piece tracking that integrates with the games you then have the hands-on, tactile appeal which is the major draw from tabletop.
Describe some of the games. What makes this different than other gaming systems?
Spatial games are ones where piece play and markers are a fundamental part of the game. The games, while new, feel familiar. That’s because we are taking the great, and well-known, style of mobile gameplay and mixing it with a physical, even more familiar, style of playing with markers and pieces that people have played with for thousands of years. For example, HoloCraft allows players to create worlds like the opening scene of Game of Thrones on your tabletop using one of our play pieces that acts like a sort of Photoshop brush. Another game is Onslaught, which is a protect-the-payload-style tower defense game. The player uses the joypad to run and gun with a hero while using play pieces to move and update towers to thwart a horde of bad guys that try to wreck your day.
How did you get the idea to do a Kickstarter campaign?
To us, Kickstarter offers three things: 1) it’s a product launching platform, 2) a pre-order function, and of course, 3) a great form of social validation. It acts like a litmus test to see what the first batch of technology centric folks say about your product. If you do it right, you get yourself some pre-orders but you also get yourself a great set of early fans; it’s a pretty democratized, mass scale pitch of a product.
That leads us right to Hardware Studio. When and how did you get involved with the Hardware Studio Connection program? How has it helped you?
I was introduced to the program through an entrepreneur friend. The idea is simple: have a massive company get behind you and get you in fighting shape for production. Get a hyper specific bill of materials and work with a smallish team within a big organization that is there to make you succeed. Without Hardware Studio, you would have really loose ranges on the spreadsheet. For a consumer gadget company, that could kill you right out of the gate. Plus, the people are nice at Avnet—and are often makers themselves. And the units we have access to through Avnet are super competitive to the point where I haven’t found a cheaper price.
But, as we know, hardware is hard. Did you run into challenges getting here?
The challenges really were about how fast we could productize everything. Sorting out your key messages, company positioning, support information, warranties…the list goes on. Hardware Studio was key in making that happen. Now, I just have to come to grips with putting my baby out there and just letting it be judged!
How does this product development experience compare to others in your past?
I've done several hardware-software combination companies, all of which could be camped within the IoT/video market. So the mix isn't new for me or my team. But from the first day we decided to go for this, we knew we wanted to make it extremely accessible—and that means price more than anything was a huge factor. That led us to Avnet because it is one part Fortune 500 company, one part agile product developer. Avnet can get us to scale inclusive of custom integrations faster than anyone else—and have the wherewithal to help with early runs. It's a great time to be a maker with this kind of quality partner here.
Any advice that you would have for makers looking to follow in your footsteps?
For those that just like making stuff? Just do what you like and have fun. But, for those that want to crowdfund and then parlay into retail, here’s my top 3:
- Go for it: If you can find the right initial group of fans, you can establish yourself and grow into several products that grow both within that market and widen it out. If you are raising money, you can use that group to help them understand how the target you are going after will become more mainstream which is right where great investments are made.
- It’s more than features: It’s always best to be thinking of something you make as having some impact or point that’s bigger than the features. For instance, we make a mixed reality gaming system but we talk about it enabling face-to-face, hands-on gaming. Once you have that bigger idea it can inform all your basic decisions. Should we add this feature? We’ll does it fit our purpose or no? What does your product do and what kind of impact can it have?
- Know your costs: Today, you are building a prototype with off-the-shelf components, but be aware of the cost range of the components at scale. That’s where partners can come in, especially Avnet who is happy to talk to you long before you actually buy 1 million units. It’s the early days where you can’t access that data that that advantage becomes huge.
See Spatial Gaming’s Kickstarter campaign and learn more about this evolution in AR gaming.