ABOUT: Andrew Borodko, game designer and AR/VR solutions mover and shaker at Softeq. Started off as a passionate game idea creator and stepped onto the VR playground with the advent of Oculus Rift. Today Andrew continues to design true-to- life game virtuality, as well as help businesses scope and map out AR/VR solutions, and incorporate extended reality into their daily operation. A nonchalant skater, tattoo art connoisseur, and a laid-back tattooee, Andrew is also the driving force behind one of the first tower defense games for HoloLens – HoloDefense and first-person zombie VR-shooter Deadlandz – a hit in the Epson app store.
How did you guys get into VR?
– At Softeq, we try to be among the first to get our hands on tech novelties and anticipate possible use cases, implementation challenges, and limitations of new devices and technologies. Back in the day, when revolutionary new AR/VR headsets and eyewear started hitting the market, we already had a well-defined set of skills that ideally mapped onto rising opportunities in the AR/VR fields: Unity, 3D imagery, video processing and analytics, computer vision algorithms, hardware acceleration. That was a logical step forward and a natural choice for us to go and get some XR projects. We were in the first wave of developers to sign up for Microsoft’s HoloLens Developer Program, obtain Oculus Rift, tinker with Google Glass and HTC Vive, and toy with Epson Moverio.
What is it like working with you guys? What can I as a customer expect in terms of communication and collaboration?
– We make project progress traceable and always keep our clients in the loop. If any risks arise during a project, we immediately escalate them and discuss with the client. In order to observe timelines and keep expenses under control, it may be necessary to re-assess and re-prioritize the project backlog. All of this is enabled by tech tools, in our case such as Confluence, Jira, and manifold voice and video conferencing solutions. The client in our case is not just a client. We extend our engagement from us being a mere implementation partner to peer collaboration with the client. Both sides equally
care about the ultimate success of a final product. That’s why from the get-go we take active part in the conception process and seriously take a look at customer suggestions and change requests along the line. If new ideas coming in have the potential of becoming key differentiators of the product, we’ll find a way to blend them into the final release.
How would you describe your company culture?
– We are up for exploring new tech challenges and are not held back by the yet-unknown. We are ready to invest our effort in “cracking the code” to make the impossible possible. Within our team, we strive to abandon any prescriptive approaches. We spitball opinions openly, yet open discussions are then concluded by two-three decision-makers who set the final course. For game projects, by a game designer, tech lead, and project manager who approves of such ideas in terms of timelines. We also play the games that we build and love sharing our first-hand experience with fellows. That’s when crucial improvements to game balance, its mechanics may appear.
Can you show me something you’ve done that you are extra proud of?
– HoloDefense is one of our first forays into the AR realm, and is the brainchild Softeq team still holds dear.
What area, geographically speaking, are you available to work in?
– Softeq has a global footprint in terms of clients. Not tied to the location from the day one, we’ve fine-tuned our remote collaboration process over the years in the app development business. Tools that tech market offers in spades help to set ourselves for smooth communication flow in different time zones. Apart from that, Softeq has local presence both in the US and Europe. We arrange face-to- face meetings in our office or at our client’s location to better grasp the essence of their business and operation, and to fast-forward research and decision-making processes.
What is your company’s core expertise?
– At the moment our main focus in AR/VR is developing apps for business and the gaming playground. That is, basically, real-estate and design companies, corporate training software and solutions for an industrial setting, sports, events and gaming industry. Now we are leaning towards designing technical solutions rather than towards the production of VR video content itself. And obviously, games remain one of the application areas of our AR/VR expertise and our true passion, and we have a couple of in-house XR projects that stoke interest of our team.
Money is a big issue. Can you give some examples of what you can do for a small company with limited resources?
– Virtual reality, at least these days, is mainly first-person experience with rather simple mechanics, and is enjoyable when it remains relatively short-lived, since it puts some physical constraints on users. Wearing headsets and eyewear currently available on the market for long time periods is not a very pleasing activity because of their weight. In big doses, it’s also tiresome for your eyes. A good VR app doesn’t require a complex scenario. Instead, the paramount criteria here, especially for consumer-facing market, is the wow-effect that it produces and ingenuity of the idea that triggers a strong emotional response. Given that and the fact that art usually “devours” the lion’s share of a customer’s budget for a project with rich computer graphics, we can offer to our clients to opt for inexpensive 3D assets available on Unity asset store and the likes instead of pricey custom art, and get our assistance with polishing the idea, creating 3D VR locations form such inventory, and with actual tech implementation. This is a perfect option for a straightforward promo project with the requirement of a short TAT that will have an arresting emotional impact. To someone who has limited resources for a business project, we can offer help with development of a proof-of- concept app or MVP. Their final cost will be way less than that of a full-fledged app with implementation of its major functionality. Yet, PoCs and MVPs are arguably something much tangible than just a slide deck showcased to
investors, when seeking funding for your idea. Such solutions can be also a good way to scratch the surface of your potential market and saleability of your product.
I own a bike factory and want to promote our latest BMX model. What sort of VR experience would you suggest for me? Money is not an issue.
– We can go big to amuse potential buyers and invent a virtual BMX-simulator to transfer riders to the world-famous BMX-tracks on certain promoted models, and possibly even give them an opportunity to take a vehicle for a spin. With sensors tracking movements of a potential buyer and a real-life simulator, we can try to break the 4th wall in perception and to square such an experience with the vestibular system laws. But that’s apparently requires additional research into subjects outside the VR space, for example, physiology, industrial design, etc, because BMX racing is a sport
rich in active motion.
I own an insurance company and we would like to promote our life insurance. What sort of VR experience would you suggest for me? Money is not an issue.
– Here we can take off from the opposite. Instead of creating a seemingly most obvious use case and re-enacting with the help of virtual reality often traumatic insured events that could have happened to policyholders, we can turn this potential trauma into fun. We can reconstruct situations with life-threatening potential, and give users carte blanche. They can act out the weirdest and craziest scenarios from kicking or throwing a bin at an armed attacker and juggling grenades to even self-harm. Playing out dangerous situations and tabooed scenarios like self-harm will give stress release and definitely leave users with a positive and memorable impression of a brand and such service as life insurance.
I own a sushi restaurant. What sort of VR experience would you suggest for me? Money is not an issue.
– This can be a solution to help patrons kill time while sushi are being rolled. The experience can be anything from crazy Yakuza brawls and nimble samurai fights with katana to watching or participating in the sushi-making process.
Can you explain to me why I should invest in a VR marketing campaign?
– Big companies and major market players are betting big on virtual and augmented reality, definitely, it’s not a random turn of events. This tells us that it’s the future of tech. Apart from that, such experiences leave a more vivid emotional imprint, and brands are all about a strong emotional response. These days no other tools on the tech market can offer more opportunities to trigger life-like first-person experiences of a kind. Finally, despite all the buzz, so far not many companies have managed to leverage VR for their business. This means that in terms of competition the market is not that tough yet, but VR use for your marketing needs undeniably gives you a competitive edge and helps to stand out from the pack of your opponents.
What are the risks and pitfalls of VR marketing?
– When going for VR, keep in mind that it still has some physiological and physical limitations. First of all, remember that if you put a person into a VR setting, physically they remain in the real world and won’t be able to detect real-life obstacles when fully immersed. Then, if you make a user move in virtual reality, while keeping them still in a real setting, you send wrong signals to their vestibular apparatus, which will make them feel unwell. There is also this uncomfortable eye strain when you look at a headset screen for a long time. And, of course, despite all tech excellence and amazing implementations that you may come up with, don’t forget about basic limitations of the human vision – for obvious reasons users may not be able to
appreciate all of the incredible boons that you offer.
How would you define a successful VR marketing experience?
– In my opinion, a successful VR experience is such an experience that is full-heartedly recommended by users. When this happens, it means the VR creators have nailed it. Such an experience may be rather simplistic in terms of technical implementation or graphics, but it will have some gameplay fad that hooks users. Personally, I think that very often this happens when a player is placed into a usual environment, but is given the possibility to act differently or in a way that they would hardly behave in real life. For example, being in an office space, they can pour a bucket of water over their boss on purpose or play not that innocent pranks on their colleagues. Such incongruence can be a lot of fun. Another example of a great VR experience, though pertinent to a business context, is the ability to perform control or operate other objects remotely by getting a real-time VR picture from the scene where such objects are placed. A user wearing a VR headset gets an instant 360-degree video from, for example, a hazardous spot and can
make decisions and manipulate things there accordingly.
What is it about VR that gets you excited?
– No doubt, that’s the possibility to live the moments I would most probably be unable to experience in real life – like having a space trip. It takes guts, physical health, and time spent on training to become ready for such an endeavor.