‘Mummy, I Want A Pony!!!’

This assignment paper was written as part of my final year studies on the B.Sc. (Hons) Computer Game Design & Production course at Northumbria University. I have also included the marks and comments from the lecturer, Nicholas Lewis.

In this assignment, we were tasked with producing a task-based report that presented a proposal for a video game, adapted from one of three ideas. I chose the pony one.

The word count for each section was pretty tight, at 500 words per heading, so this one was especially difficult for me to cut down. I like to do what I would consider too much research, then fit as much of that in as relevant and possible. It paid off!


12038863 - CM0658 - Assigment 1 Task Based Report

Category Comment Mark Out Of
Game Idea A well-structured report. The game choice and justification present a good discussion, arguing for and against decisions, as well backing up assertions with effective referencing. 18 20
Legal Legal requirements are well presented, clear and justified. 17 20
Development The justification for software chosen is very concise, and bullet points a good range of features. The 2D software is particularly well researched, with each piece of software being well explained. 16 20
Data Security A very effective data security plan which outlines the legislation, vulnerabilities, and corresponding action to be taken. 19 20
NDA All incorrect clauses have been spotted. 10 10
Presentation 9 10
Overall: Overall, a very well presented and researched piece of work. 89 100

 

How Leveraging Business Models Levelled-Up the Video Games Industry

Today I would like to present the most recent assignment paper that I wrote as part of my final year studies on the B.Sc. (Hons) Computer Game Design & Production course at Northumbria University. I have also included the marks and comments from the lecturer, Dan Hodgson, in the hopes that any students who read this may be able to avoid the errors I made that were brought up in the feedback.

In this assignment, we were asked to write a paper, in the form of a position, a review or an investigation. This would be like an essay, but we were expected to write it to academic standards, similar to papers that are written for academic journals.

Since I had recently become enamoured with business models I chose to write an investigation on business models in the games industry.

An investigation paper is one which reports on some secondary research (drawing on other papers and sources to investigate some aspect). Typically this will ask a question (like the questions that those of you who have chosen an ‘investigative’ final year project are researching) but will not call for any primary research or experimentation in attempting to answer the question.


12038863 - CM0657 - Paper Assignment

Category Comment Mark Out Of
Presentation Clear structure, useful abstract. There are a few (not many) errors in grammar or spelling. The tone of the writing is mostly strongly academic, except it is at times a bit flamboyant and metaphoric – for example: “…eventually usurped these relatively ancient colossi and became the goliath of the entertainment industry…” 13 20
Referencing No issues with your referencing format. 10 10
Use of sources, examples and evidence Outstanding breadth and depth of sources. 17 20
Quality of discussion and conclusions This is outstanding work. There is depth and understanding, and a thorough grounding in literature and sources. This reads like a report on emergent business models in the games industry to businessmen in other industries, highlighting not just that actual practices, but the strengths and pitfalls involved. 47 50
Overall: Excellent work. In this final comment, I like to highlight the most obvious route for improvement. In your case, I would say that this is to pull back a bit on the metaphoric language. The reason for this is clarity, especially for readers for whom English is not their first language, which is often true for academic publications. 87 100

 

Why You Should Play Bloodborne, Dan!

Introduction

This is an e-mail I wrote over a course of correspondence with Dan Hodgson, lecturer on the Professional Game Design module at Northumbria University. We’d had a seminar where we focussed on horror games and he’d asked for feedback. It surprised me that during the lesson I was the only person to bring up Bloodborne and its horror elements. Especially in a room full of game design students, where every one of them views the Dark Souls trilogy as sacred.

With a friend recently converted to the cult after picking up and finishing the game last month when it was offered as part of the PlayStation Plus subscription, I thought it may be time to bring up my argument for the genius of Bloodborne’s horror.

The e-mail in its entirety follows…


Hi Dan;

Sorry for being late this week but thanks again for the lecture. I had great fun breaking down the horror elements of one of my, if not the top games. While I was fine doing a design exercise again in class I would have liked, much like everyone I would imagine, to have made an argument for the merits of the game title I played for the homework/research – Bloodborne (PS4, 2015).

It’s a phenomenal game that really takes the Soul’s series of games to new heights in regards to the design, ‘gameplay feel’, setting and themes. I was gutted to hear that no-one had really played this game, especially since it seems every game design student would unanimously attest to the brilliance of the genre-defining landmark title, Dark Souls. So, in addition to literally no feedback on the lesson (just kidding, see the post-script), I have chosen to write up my research notes into a short (warning, turned into almost 900 words) review of the elements that make Bloodborne such an A-tier recommendation when it comes to horror.

The Horror of Bloodborne

– Narrative & Plot
– Aesthetics
– Gameplay

“Prepare yourself for the worst. There are no humans left. They’re all flesh-hungry beasts, now.” – Eileen the Crow, assassin and fellow foreigner to the region

Plot:
The main characters of the overall story don’t understand the power of the ancient blood they found in the catacombs beneath the city of Yarnham, the setting. However, they use it anyway and it eventually causes – after a period of it seeming to manifest a miraculous healing – an eventual blood sickness in its recipients and the rise of beasts, with the most common form being lycanthropy. By this point, blood transfusions using the blood were so common and the establishments centred around controlling its use have become so powerful, that the city was lied to by those in power as to the cause of this sudden ‘Scourge of Beasts’.

“These things you hunt, they’re not beasts, but people” – Old Hunter Djura

Narrative:
At the start of the game we receive a blood transfusion and after some debatable hallucinations, we meet a man that tells us that our job is a Hunter of Beasts and that we must slay them to cleanse the city of the scourge. Though we may actually be playing the role of an antagonist, as the ‘beasts’ that attack you see you as – now a Hunter – as affiliated with the group that is seen by some of the citizens as betrayers of the people. The optional revelation of this betrayal through various dialogue and exploration choices can trigger a hard-hitting feeling of disgust with your own actions as a player. We self-righteously murdered the former towns-folk so we could consume their blood and use it ourselves to become stronger.

“Aren’t you a sick puppy? You drink the blood of half the town, and now this? And you talk of beasts! You hunters are the real killers” – Suspicious Beggar (the betrayer who kills the NPC’s you’ve saved)

Aesthetics:
Frighteningly menacing and variably morphed human-forms of werewolves and other horrors in the vein of Bram Stoker – H.P. Lovecraft cosmic horrors; grim and macabre enemy designs that push the borderline into body-horror. The architecture captures finely the eerie dusk views from Charles Bridge in Prague and grand buildings echo the Gothic wonder of the Barcelona Cathedral.

Levels are designed vertically, on top of each other to show the city rose to power and grew too fast for its own good. Its layout makes no logical sense; frustrating dead ends, traps and pitfalls. They’re filled with strange objects/props and monsters that suggest an otherworldly and misunderstood plague-like menace; alien statues; thousands of haphazardly stacked and chained coffins litter the streets; grotesquely misshapen denizens; infested half-beast citizens of varying levels of sanity see the outsider (our charter) as a horrific threat to attack on sight; Lovecraft inspired bosses (‘Great Ones’), in name and appearance (‘Amygdala’; ‘Celestial Emissary’; ‘Ebrietas, Daughter of the Cosmos’; ‘Rom, the Vacuous Spider’).

“Back foul beast!”, “This city’s finished…”, “Cursed beast!” – various lines of the maddened inhabitants.

Sound design is unsettling with whispering, howling, crying (baby), moaning, heavy breathing, madness induced murmurs; mainly Foley sounds, no music in most areas. Where there is music it is subtly layered and used dynamically to keep your heart thumping during the most intense fight sequences. The original soundtrack is filled with slow, creeping strings that ramp and peak into a shocking crescendo. A definite recommendation!

Combat:
Enemies jump out, large beasts and creatures that move fast, keep up the pace, and oppress you. The rally mechanic – where you can regain a portion of your health if you counter-attack within a second or two – and lack of any shields encourages you to match and surpass the enemies pace to gain victory. This is how Bloodborne takes what it’s big brother Dark Souls seemed to have perfected and strips it down to the fundamentals before turning it to 11 in regards to action (i.e.: combat speed).

The player feels ever more powerful but still vulnerable the entire time; you still have to make split-second decisions while remaining thoughtful of your situation (health, stamina, positioning, etc.) the whole time; it brings out fear and panic through intensity and uncertainty

Losing a life means having to reclaim your resources (blood echoes) from, usually, the last enemy who just killed you! Forcing the player to fight an established threat ramps up the tension an order of magnitude, especially when you have to square off toe-to-toe with a cosmic abomination twice your size.

It harks back to earlier horror games I enjoyed and feared in equal measure. Alone in the Dark, Eternal Darkness, Resident Evil and Silent Hill – spring to mind. Games where you must use bravery and a dash of cunning to face down your fear and overcome adversity…not just run and hide in a cupboard until the horror passes.

Hopefully… “Tonight, Dan joins the Hunt.”
(720 DanPoints for you if you get the reference)

Regards,
Dan

P.S. Wish we had time to discuss more the different types of horror at the front of the lesson, which I think may have helped some people articulate their answers with a bit more common reference.

P.P.S.
Music fans MUST check out this chilling live version of the main theme:
Bloodborne – Suite (Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, 2016)

Architecture fans check out this article:
Understanding the Sublime Architecture of Bloodborne (Barzan, 2015)


post-post-post-scriptum?!

Additionally, Bloodborne fans should check out this recent article, which brought me back to the hunt…
Bloodborne and the Beast Within (McGeady, 2018)

New Look

The blog has a new look which ties in with the theme used on the main site, infinity27.com.

With this change I’m also going to be taking the opportunity to blog more frequently, starting with a series of articles where I publish or re-publish a bunch of my past work and writings. I’ll be trying to publish the most recent work every Tuesday and then old works each Thursday until I run out of material. These will be announced via social media channels but will be placed in the archive chronologically where it’s appropriate.

Had to take some time to focus on my studies and family as it’s my final year and we’ve just had our second child in February. It’s good to be back!

End-of-Placement Report

Last month was the end of my placement at Northumbria University’s Business Start-Up Hatchery. To conclude my time there I was asked to complete a series of tasks, which included writing a reflective report as well as creating a poster to encourage other students to consider the option. What follows are the finished articles.



In reflection, my time on placement has made me encounter some significant achievements and difficulties. As a mature student of Computer Games Design & Production, I was interested in the possibility of exploiting the new wave of interest in virtual reality (VR) and how a start-up could fit into the industry landscape.

It all began with reading The MOM Test (Fitzpatrick, 2014); getting into customer conversations and applying what I’d learned about lean start-up. The approach given in the book helped me overcome my personal anxiety of seeking validation for my idea. I made sure to get perspectives from customers, but also from people working in the industry, to be able to compare as many perspectives as possible. Insights from these conversations gave me a few ideas I could consider and this first practice of asking customers questions without leading them has served me well throughout the placement.

I began systematically and proactively approaching businesses with my market researched proposals. Reached out to every business associated with the VR and games industries. This gave me my first interested parties, in the form of a games retailer and a computing college. Then I moved on to building experiments that would prove or disprove the routes to market I had hypothesized through the business model canvas exercise. Two of the significant failures were with the retail and education focused business models.

Despite being able to organize and run a successful promotional event, I was perhaps too quick to put this together, as it seemed retailers were not interested in paying for such a service – either outright or through commissions – which left me with experience under my belt but having wasted a week of time. I would recognize this while reflecting upon the venture in my personal blog. This was critical as it helped me plan to avoid this type of mistake in what would be an upcoming seminar and workshop work for a college.

This, while being a great experience, more planned, communicated and thought-out than my first attempt; would too be a failure masquerading as a success. After many months of rescheduling and reworking planned material for the three-day event, it was finally postponed until the following academic year by the client. This time it wasn’t that they hadn’t agreed ahead of time to pay for the service, no. They were very keen to, but uncertainty around their availability and access to equipment for the group sizes they wanted caused them to cancel at the last minute. What I did learn from this was not to invest so heavily in one project, as this left me without that expected source of revenue at a time when I would need it to invest back into expanding the business.

At that point, again, I had realized that I had not executed the true lean methodologies that I had been studying and instead had let a desperate confirmation bias guide my decision making. I needed to do deeper market research and revise the focus of my business model. I felt there was something there and that I had gotten close, but perhaps I was looking at the wrong customers.

While I needed to take time out to hone my idea I found some success with freelancing contracts from the university. After completing one pro bono I was soon after offered multiple paid assignments. This was a result of my initial networking and gave me the promise of a stable, reliable source of income while I worked my idea. However, further down the line I would find that my client had delayed paying my invoice and so I had to begin chasing the outstanding amount. This, along with a freelancer not doing work he was contracted to, has created a well of uncertainty which has affected my ability to grow the business and delayed my plans to begin testing my now refined business model canvas.

The model I have arrived at by this point is important, as it is an acceptance by me, because of the evidence and feedback I am getting, that the current state of the VR hardware available and its low market share means it would be too risky to develop applications and games only for that platform. For example, in my spare time, I continued to develop three prototypes and measured the barriers I would have to overcome in the design limitations of VR to create a groundbreaking prototype to break even – considering I could not afford additional resources or staff because of the pre-revenue state of the business. VR would become part of the business, not the central focus; that would become open source video games.

I gained more than that realization though. As I developed I found that I was furthering my skills in programming, a crucial component of work that is used in my course and invaluable in the industry I am in. I also got noticed, getting myself additional co-working space access at the VRTGO Labs, a regional center for emerging technology companies such as my own. Getting into VRTGO Labs and mingling with similar businesses has given me an advantageous position which should help me validate the new business model quickly, or at least give me opportunities to pitch myself as a proven developer and potential employee/intern.

Though I could have chosen to take a safer, work based placement with a game developer, I feel I have made the most of the placement year by taking this opportunity to test my ideas in relatively safe conditions. Having attended the placement seminar in the first week of my second year I knew that I was prepared to seek out further information and I knew who to contact for that. Along with strong messaging and easy to find placement website I had no worries that I could find a suitable for the year.

Despite being a student of a creative and technical course, with no background in business, I found that I could manage relatively easily with a few adjustments. The business aspect of a games company always seemed very different to the game design and production elements I was training for, but I managed to reconcile them as two sides of the same coin. With similar methodologies and tools, such as: lean and agile approaches being applied to iterate through ideas; project management and risk planning; and using customer feedback to create better products and services.

I am a mature student with a long work history. By having me look at the industry as a whole – discovering and analysing problems, then proposing solutions – I have a greater appreciation and understanding of how a game developer functions in both the creative and economic realms. Having had to summon, first-hand, the dedication, discipline and drive that is required to stay focused and motivated through the difficulties, I feel more adaptable, resilient and wise. This is crucial to my personal goal, which is to carry on developing the start-up I incorporated, so I can apply the knowledge I gained on my course, as well as that which I have gained through the learnings on this placement. Learning to communicate, network, problem solve and consider different approaches has not only helped me see the opportunities available in my chosen field, but also in the larger tech industry. I have a deeper understanding of how my chosen role interacts with the many, complex elements that make up a game development company. This knowledge strengthens the foundation of my previous years of study and gives me the in-depth, practical experience which I am confident has developed my professional skills beyond that of my peers.

What was not intuitive to me immediately was the guidance given on trying to provide services before creating a product. As I had the idea that I would be spending my year working away at producing a prototype which I could take to investors. This was not what I expected but I came to understand why this is done; as developing a product takes longer, whereas service-based businesses can be set up relatively quickly.

Other than this the placement did not fail to meet any of my expectations. In fact, the amount of support available through the mentors exceeded my expectations, as I did not envision so many links to successful and sage business advisors; especially not for free.

Weekly meetings with my supervisor, as well as completing the monthly and quarterly development logs, gave me a place to solidify my thoughts and really helped me maintain a velocity and direction that felt manageable. In contrast, the lack of co-ordination on the universities part regarding the assignment of my placement tutor, was frustrating. As I had to be assigned a different person after my original contact was unavailable for some reason. This was quickly resolved however and I was put in touch with an excellent visiting tutor who was, after the delay in the exchange, rather attentive and punctual.

I would like to see more resources being given to the Business & Enterprise Team by the university to support students who choose this option, and a greater promotion of this placement option to second year students who may have missed or forgotten the option for whatever reason. Since the placement is unpaid it wouldn’t hurt to perhaps raise some funding – or even, in some way, get the students to – so that students who encounter financial hardship can be supported. For me, I found that the risks and burden of running a business soon ate into my income and savings, especially when I was expecting a contract to pay at a certain time. Having to provide for my partner and baby boy exacerbated this, but I was left out in the cold when I asked the university if there were any support options.

This year has started me on the right path in regard to my career. The initial worries of setting up a business and failing have been addressed, as I have spent this time doing just that. While I have not been exclusively tackling video game related projects and tasks, I have been developing my personal abilities which if not directly related are in some ways valuable in their transferability.

Identifying the need to drop VR as the central idea through rigorous revision of the business model canvas and was the result of a year-long journey exploring how this nascent technology is being used by businesses to create value for its customers. Every step I have taken to get here has – including the set-backs and difficulties – in some way, exercised and expanded my skills, given me a taste of what running a business is like, made me more humble, honest and realistic in my approach to the final year of study.

Spring Report

For this series of entries I will be explaining the steps I take in developing my startup during my placement year at the Northumbria Business Startup Hatchery. This entry is a reflective summary of my achievements and the difficulties I have encountered, in the form of a quarterly report. This includes identifying new skills or competencies I have acquired as well as explaining which existing ones I have applied or developed. To conclude I will end this series with a general action plan for the future, which I will use as the basis of my activities going forward.


Achievements & Difficulties

My main goal for this final quarter was to generate my first revenue. The most promising way to do so was to work towards the milestones of the Virtual Sunderland project.

I worked on communicating my ideas with my client, Northumbria University‘s VRV department, as well as their client who commissioned the work, Sunderland Council. This meant getting storyboards and draft renders complete, so we could reflect on the creative direction of the work and make adjustments as necessary. In particular one part of the project, a site on which I had limited information, would need reworking to cover a larger area. I re-budgeted my time for this and found that I would need to seek additional help to realistically meet the clients final deadline, at the quality level I was aiming for.

Looking at my list of contacts I knew one person in particular would be suited to the task. Though while initial talks went well – he had the skills, experience and time – I would find out a month later, after slowly losing touch with him, that he was unable to work on the project for personal reasons. This was an unexpected setback and has made me re-evaluate what I need to look for in a freelancer. Despite having an agreed budget with targets, as well as an open line of communication through the chat app Slack, I was unable to keep him on-board.

Prior talks with the councils Urban Design Team Leader, Idris Balarabe, led me to consider presenting the data in an interactive, VR format. However, due to the setback of losing the freelancer, I would later have to drop this to focus on another project I was offered at around that same time.

The other offer of work came later in the quarter, with Emine Thompson of Northumbria University‘s VRV department briefing me on Newcastle Council‘s Digital Economy project, part of the Great North Exhibition . The budget was not finalised, but I had reached a milestone on the Virtual Sunderland project, so thought little of taking the risk of increasing my workload. This would give me two paid projects that could fill a working week. However, I knew I would need a freelancer or two working on these to be able to focus on expanding my business.

Getting dedicated, reliable people to work on these projects for me. That is what I needed to address, if I wish to be successful in my second goal for the quarter; building a team.

This would come to be a secondary concern however, as once I had invoiced my client to open up funding for the payment of such help, I found myself battling to get a payment authorised. A back and forward between my client and their finance department has left me without a clear date as to when I will be paid and therefore seek those qualified to bring in to work for me.

As that remains outstanding it means that I have not been able to fully complete my objectives for the quarter. This has not dampened my spirits though, as I continue to run the business but focus on my own projects until this is resolved. However, I am very wary that outstanding accounts receivable is something that can destroy a business quickly. Therefore I have created a cash flow plan that allows me to continue working the business in the event of an unpaid debt such as this. This is one of the steps I have taken to ensure I meet and overcome the challenges and barriers to enable success; my third target.

It was one of the things I had learned from working with TyneMet College, who had been in long term discussions with me about hosting a three day VR event. I had planned to have this done early in the quarter, with: rooms and equipment being booked; software purchased; time given to creating custom presentations; tailoring the activities to the students skill level; testing everything in advance. I was called the weekend before the scheduled date and told that they would not be proceeding but may be interested in the next school year.

At that time I had planned to invoice payment after the event and knew when it would be paid. Receiving an unexpected cancellation made me think and act on having a plan in place that would mitigate risk in the future, if I was going to be relying on a clients payments.

Outside of this, I made sure I did not miss out on networking, events and workshop opportunities as they arose. Many of these were focused on the VR industry, such as the VRTGO events, though most were start-up oriented. I knew that I still wanted to learn from others, to avoid mistakes but also to get fresh perspectives. One such discussion at a business event led me to getting additional business coaching from an established director, Stephen D. Slater of RMT Accountants & Business Advisors Ltd.

This type of one-to-one coaching has helped me understand how I can get the startup ready for investment, what kinds of people I should look to bring in to my team and how to prepare for some common pitfalls that early-stage businesses can fall into. From this I took the steps to incorporate the business, consider a shares or incentive structure and outline some basic groundwork, open a business account, etc.

All of these decisions were made with a new business model in mind. Using the business model canvas and my initiative I had worn down the problem statement, pivoted, tested, trailed and engaged all of the customer conversations and feedback I could find. The result of which was a lean business model I could act on, that focused on a variant of an open-source business model called open core.

Currently, I have commissioned artwork from a freelancer to help me gauge interest in this idea. From this work I created a landing page which is used to capture the e-mail addresses of consumers and developers who are interested. Going forward I will be looking at the reaction to this from the industry and public, then adapting my plans accordingly.


New knowledge and skills learnt:

  • Strategies to mitigate risk – how to develop a ‘risk mitigation plan’.
  • Setting up an incorporated business, share types and the importance of a founders agreement.
  • Different open-source software models and their uses, benefits and disadvantages.
  • Managing freelancers; workloads, deadlines and negotiating pay.

Existing knowledge and skills being applied and developed:

  • Creative media production: camera animation and lighting; rendering; video editing and production.
  • Conducting customer conversations, primary research and developing a business model canvas from real-world feedback.
  • Networking and seeking relevant contacts.

ACTION PLAN FOR THE FUTURE
  • Pursue the validation of an open-core video games company.
  • Build a team willing and able to grow the business.
  • Publish a polished prototype which can be used to attract investment.

May Activity Report

For the final entry in the series, I will be explaining the steps I took in developing my startup during the last month of my placement year at the Northumbria Business Startup Hatchery. Hopefully these monthly report-style blogs can be useful to someone in a similar position, who is looking to get started with developing their business idea.

ACTIVITIES UNDERTAKEN FOR May 2017
  • Incorporated my startup with Companies House, to be able to receive investment, transfer liability from myself and build the credibility of the business.
  • Engaged online game communities who gave feedback on the prospect of an open-source VR focused game development company, the current business model I am exploring.
  • Used the consumer feedback that was given to pivot away from having the business revolve around just VR game software to it being about ‘traditional’ – i.e. non-VR console and PC – game software, as the largest interest came from consumers who were not invested in VR, had a relatively lower income compared to those who were but were keen on becoming involved in the games industry either as a hobby or a profession.
  • Created a landing page, which captures email addresses, in order to collect evidence of public interest in supporting this kind of (open core) business model for games.
  • Commissioned a freelance artist for the landing page artwork, giving me more time to work on expanding the business and my second experience of outsourcing.
  • Produced draft renders for the Sunderland Council project and presented them in a discussion with my client, who was pleased with the progress and requested my first invoice be submitted.
  • Invoiced that client but ran into difficulty getting the invoice paid within the period I outlined, even after chasing this up for the whole of the month, so the arrears remain outstanding.
  • Applied for a startup bank account at HSBC, to separate my business and personal finances so that the company is ready for to receive revenue and investment, however the application was declined due to my personal circumstances.
  • Met again with Emine Thompson (Northumbria University‘s VRV department) in regards to Newcastle Council‘s Digital Economy project, after creating some concept sketches I was offered to continue working towards producing the final product which is to be part of the Great North Exhibition.
  • After speaking with Emma Whitenstall, of Generator Studios I was put in touch with Stephen D. Slater, Director of Commercial Services at RMT Accountants & Business Advisors Ltd.
  • Arranged a meeting with Stephen, who is part of a larger network of advisors, who can discuss how I can overcome some of the hurdles facing me, such as; investment options, hiring the right talent, growing the business and more.

April Activity Report

For this series of entries I will be explaining the steps I take in developing my startup during my placement year at the Northumbria Business Startup Hatchery. Hopefully these monthly report-style blogs can be useful to someone in a similar position, who is looking to get started with developing their business idea.

ACTIVITIES UNDERTAKEN FOR April 2017
  • Researched the viability of an open source business model and used those findings to develop the business model pivot I explored at the end of March.
  • Conducted additional customer conversations around open source software to gauge demand for these types of products and used my findings to refine the revenue stream and value proposition sections of the business model canvas.
  • Corresponded and arranged a meeting with Emma Whitenstall from Generator Studios, discussing support options for digital presence, lean start-up, sales, marketing, business planning, and VR.
  • Sub-contracted my first freelancer help me achieve a higher level of quality with the client work I have and to free up my time to focus on expanding the business.
  • Created a communication channel using Slack, so I can assign freelancers to private group chats, communicate with them and centrally manage the day-to-day efforts.
  • Spent time cleaning up the data for the Virtual Sunderland project, which included getting it ready for the production of the showreel, as well as taking it into VR to see how I can improve the presentation by using the novelty of the VR to impress the client, while selling the benefit of the interactivity of the medium.
  • Given the opportunity to work again for Emine Thompson (Northumbria University‘s VRV department) on a creative media production for Newcastle Council‘s Digital Economy, part of the Great North Exhibition.
  • Attended the final Grow Your Business series of events, which gave me advice that helps me stay motivated, focus on the important tasks and avoid common pitfalls.
  • Corresponded with and subsequently visited TyneMet College to prepare their systems and run tests for the VR event I will be hosting at their for their students around the end of May, which was rescheduled from the start of April.
  • Booked two upcoming VRTGO Labs events : Introducing the Emerging Technologies Centre, 4th May at Baltimore HouseVirtual Reality in Gaming, 18th May at the Northern Design Centre.

March Activity Report

For this series of entries I will be explaining the steps I take in developing my startup during my placement year at the Northumbria Business Startup Hatchery. Hopefully these monthly report-style blogs can be useful to someone in a similar position, who is looking to get started with developing their business idea.

ACTIVITIES UNDERTAKEN FOR March 2017
  • Attended the VRTGO hosted VR Workshop with Jason Lovell (CaptivateVR), where he demystified the use of VR and AR as well as covering some of the best strategies and advice he knows for building a successful VR company.
  • Attended multiple, start-up oriented Grow Your Business sessions ran by the university’s Student & Graduate Enterprise, covering topics such as;
    • Key pitfalls that can kill a start-up
    • Investor readiness and business planning
    • Seed investment and what you need to do
    • Brands and brand protection
    • How to increase revenue from existing clients
  • Created storyboards and communicated my ideas in meetings with Northumbria University‘s VRV department, where we discussed their clients needs for a creative media piece.
  • Refined and presented those storyboards to the client, Sunderland Council, in a meeting between them and their contractors, which opened up further avenues to explore in their product.
  • Hosted a further meeting with the councils Urban Design Team Leader, Idris Balarabe, to discuss the key communications each part of the project must address, helping me solidify the overall story that needs to be told.
  • Gateshead College provided an opportunity to trial one of my services, giving feedback to students on their VR assignments, allowing me to test the viability and structure of my methods.
  • Made different arrangements and content for the VR seminar and workshop sessions at the TyneMet College work experience week, including:
    • Booking a room and equipment from the university to be able to host the event on the premises, as the college did not have PC’s that meet the minimum spec of the software I planned to use.
    • Working on producing content in the form of custom presentations, activities and software assets for use in the seminar and workshop.
    • Practising my delivery of the activities with a test group of similar skill to the target audience.
    • Rescheduled with the college when they encountered unforeseen problems in their students attending the event as planned.
  • Looking at my long term aspirations I went back to the business model canvas to re-evaluate my customer segments, problem statement and value proposition – leading me to pivot towards a different concept and revenue model.

Winter Report

For this series of entries I will be explaining the steps I take in developing my startup during my placement year at the Northumbria Business Startup Hatchery. This entry is a reflective summary of my achievements and the difficulties I have encountered, in the form of a quarterly report. This includes identifying new skills or competencies I have acquired as well as explaining which existing ones I have applied or developed. To conclude I will explore areas for improvement, plans and actions for further work (e.g. learning, tasks, projects, etc.) which will inform my action plan for competencies and activities for the following quarter.


Achievements & Difficulties

With the range of activities I undertook this quarter I have been unable to complete development of a client/public ready VR demo. This was one of my main goals from the end of my summer report, which has continued to roll over due to the scale of the tasks on the critical path.

I did put time into this in January, adapting one of my existing portfolio demos to include support for the Oculus Touch controllers. In the process I also reprogrammed my prototypes functionality in C++. One sticking point was the development of the enemy AI. This led to a discussion in February with Jiaojiao Zhao at Northumbria University, on how I can use tools such as Caffe and TensorFlow to exploit advancements in machine learning and AI (artificial intelligence) to create intelligent characters for my VR demos. I found that it is not a small task, so I look to tackle this area at a later date.

Reflecting on the progress of the development I can predict that I should have a demo’s, maybe two, ready by the end of summer at the latest. This is based on the length of time I have given to this task already and my current schedule which includes commitments to clients and this placement itself. While this is a set-back from where I wanted to be at this point, I would have had to of made sacrifices in the quality of my client work, which I feel is more important to me at this time.

One of those clients, TyneMet College, wish to have me run two workshops and three seminars for their level 2 and 3 Computing students. This involved taking time to make a proposal for a bespoke workshop, details of my services and their pricing. It meant drafting my own freelance contract, which would allow me to submit an invoice for the work.

However, at the end of the quarter I found out that they do not have the necessary facilities to run the workshop I had planned. At the moment I am looking to see which alternatives are most suitable, given the needs of the college and the limited resources at my disposal. I hope to borrow a room at the university, instead of hiring the equipment at extra cost, but must wait to see if my personal lecturer can arrange this. Having not considered such a situation, I find myself with a difficult problem that impacts how I plan these types of activities in future and the size of my potential customer segment for this service.

My creative media service however, has not met any barriers so far. Infact, I have a returning customer, Northumbria University‘s VRV department, who wish me to collaborate with them on a project for Sunderland City Council. At this stage I have been creating storyboards, which will be used to explore certain development sites in their city. It is a more significant value job but it is stretched over a longer period of time and is generally outside of the scope of the business I wish to focus on. However, I am looking to change this by discussing with them the possibility of using VR as a medium through which I can also deliver the project. Talks are planned and I am looking forward to seeing how interested they are in such an idea. If it goes ahead this would be my first external VR assignment. It would be very important to me and a significant milestone in the development of my startup.

Outside of my client work I have been making moves to increase my exposure across my services customer segments. For example, I have been contributing to my online presence through including my business in freelancer networks, such as Upwork and Freelancer. I found these websites are too competitive, as a lot of BRICS countries are able to consistently underbid me on proposals.

I have also been maintaining my website and blog with regular posts, which help improve my sites ranking on search engines. Thought I had wished to launch an AdWords campaign during this time, I have found this is currently too expensive to maintain to gain any significant impact.

After passing my driving test I have been contacting more colleges with the full details of my services and pricing, to try and increase the area covered by my services. I have not received any responses at this time, which signals to me that the service may not be scalable as I had hoped.

Secret Sauce were also looking for speakers at their VR in Education event in February, but after initially agreeing to speak I had to turn down this opportunity as it ended up clashing with an important client meeting. This wasn’t a complete waste however, as it opened a door at an upcoming meeting I arranged.

As I began planning the short and long-term goals for my startup – to become a virtual reality game design studio in the local area – I reached out to Gateshead Council, who offered me access to VRTGO Labs co-working space until their Center for Emerging Technology becomes available later in the year. They were interested in my work and were connected with Graham Batey, my placement mentor, and the management for Baltimore House and VRTGO Labs.

As a result of my efforts I now have a place where I can continue to develop my business outside of my home, after my hatchery placement ends. I consider this a great win as it surrounds me with the most active, local companies involved in the VR industry, with prominent businesses such as ChroniclesVR, Hammerhead VR, Vector76, and Wolf & Wood. I had wanted to get more involved in the VRTGO cluster and this is the perfect opportunity to do so. Giving me the chance to work around and possibly with some of these big names.

It seemed like perfect timing too, as the NU Enterprise seemed to deliver a new opportunity for me every day. Further Grow Your Business events that provide expert advice and guidance on topics such as what a scalable idea looks like, investor readiness and business planning. As well as the upcoming Santander Universities Entrepreneurship Award to start preparing for, I am not short of things to do and learn in the next quarter.

This period has been the most productive in terms of networking and contract work. Besides the conversations I’ve had with the likes of TEDCO Ltd and the Sunderland Software City. I am again happy with my progress, despite the setbacks, and am going to start honing my services into one cohesive vision moving forward.


New knowledge and skills learnt:

  • Advanced programming (C++) techniques used in game AI and how I could implement them.
  • How to write a contract terms and what is necessary and relevant for my purposes.
  • Using digital channels to find customers, their strengths and limitations.

Existing knowledge and skills being applied and developed:

  • Valuing the cost and worth of my services then making proposals and negotiations based on this knowledge.
  • Networking, discussing my needs and identifying useful opportunities to develop my startup and ideas.
  • Using digital channels to find customers, their strengths and limitations.

ACTION PLAN FOR THE NEXT QUARTER
  • Generate my first revenue.
  • Meet and overcome the challenges and barriers to enable success.
  • Attract more people to my idea, getting them onboard to help raise the profile of the business and allow my startup to grow.