Thoughts on International Women's Day From a Woman Founder

I don’t talk publicly about what it’s like being a female co-founder of a tech company very often. I’m torn about it. Sometimes I wish no one would notice and other times I want the world to know. Today, being International Women’s Day, and to show support for #daywithoutawoman, I thought I’d share a bit of my experience.

In the past, when asked about what struggles I feel as a woman business owner, my answer usually is that I feel the same struggles that any business owner feels - the pressure to succeed, the fight to be seen and heard, and the weight of the responsibility to your business partners and employees. I sometimes dismiss the subtle differences I feel because they are in fact subtle.

Sometimes I feel that people have an easier time talking over me in meetings, sometimes people are surprised that I’m one of the founders, sometimes I feel that I need to scream to be heard, sometimes I hear things that are sexist and I have to think about whether or not I should say something. I don’t know if it’s because I’m a woman and I worry that if I say something I’ll be seen as a complainer or feed into the stereotype of women being overly sensitive.

About a year and a half ago, I really started to think about it in a deeper way. I was quickly edging my way into my mid 30s, the company was just into it’s second year, and my partner and I found out that we were having a baby. Immediate feelings of excitement turned into worry - How will this affect the company? Will the other co-founders be resentful? How much time should I take off? Where will I find the time for a family and a business? If I don’t drop work and devote my entire self to my child, am I a bad Mom?

I’m one of the lucky ones, though. My business partners are people I’m friends with. They are supportive, encouraging, and we share a lot of the same views. I talked to them about my worries, we shared our excitement and the potential struggles, and we came up with a plan that worked for everyone. I felt good and I thought that would be the end of my stress about it. It wasn’t.

I was still burdened with the feeling that I was letting them down, that I should be doing more, that others would judge me for not dropping everything to focus on being a Mom, and that being a business owner automatically means I have to miss out on spending time with my daughter. I want to meet all the unspoken expectations that are put on men in the workplace because I want to be held to the same standard, but I also want to meet the expectations that are put on mothers because I want to be the best Mom I can be.

Even though I considered myself to be in a best-case scenario, I still felt an immense amount of pressure to make everyone happy.

My daughter and I.

My daughter is now a year old and I’m still feeling the same struggles, but I try to act in a way that might influence change:

I make my opinions known, regardless of how loud I have to be and how uncomfortable it can sometimes make me feel.

I seek out other women to work with which can be hard because there is an obvious gender imbalance.

I bring my kid to work so she can see what I do and so my co-workers, who I spend a great deal of time with, can also build a relationship with her.

I talk openly about my partner being my daughter’s primary caregiver, about the work sacrifice he made to stay home with her, and about the judgement that he sometimes feels.

I have it easier than a lot and I still feel torn. I can’t help but think, especially on a day like today, about what women in less than ideal situations have to go through when trying to balance work and family. So, to all of the working Moms out there - I am grateful for you. Your choices are making it easier for all women that follow. It’s a hard path, and it shouldn’t be. Normalizing our presence, especially in the tech industry, is important. You are helping things change for the better.

- by Rachael Hosein

 

We've been accepted into Boost VC!!!

Boost VC is the premier startup accelerator for virtual reality and other frontier technologies, having invested in such VR pioneers as 8i, JanusVR, TheWaveVR, and Kite & Lightning. So it is a huge honour to be able to announce that we're part of Boost VC's Tribe 9 family of companies.

With Boost VC joining our team, we're getting world class mentorship, the ability to expand our team and network, and to focus exclusively on Flipside.

This means Les is now in San Mateo, California for the next 3 months doing tons of learning and business development, while the rest of the team works feverishly on getting Flipside into the hands of content creators.

For those that don't know what we've been up to (since we have been a bit secretive about it), Flipside is a new content creation platform that records both 2D video and VR versions of animated shows, just by live acting in a shared multiplayer virtual studio space.

Stay tuned for more Flipside updates, as well as our first show release which will be out in the coming weeks. We can't wait to start showing you what we've been up to, and where we'll be going with the help of Boost VC.


And the obligatory Drake reference (we're so Canadian right now):

- by John Luxford

 

State of the Union: 2016 in review

As we reflected on the year, the thing that jumped out was what an insanely busy year it’s been. Definitely our busiest year so far! And that craziness means lots of reasons to celebrate!

Welcoming baby Hazel

The first thing we celebrated in January was Rachael's newborn baby Hazel, who we quickly put to work as Campfire’s new “Youth Outreach Coordinator” haha. Hazel has been a huge source of joy and laughter for us, and we’re proud to have found our own (imperfect) balance between family and startup life.


Lost Cities launch

Shortly after celebrating our 2-year mark as a company, we released Lost Cities on the Gear VR. Not only was Lost Cities the first VR board game, but it was also the first 3rd-party title to be released on the Oculus Social Platform, and we were super proud to be featured by Oculus at GDC, E3, as well as Mobile World Congress this year as a result.

This also lead to Lost Cities becoming one of only 9 apps to be included in the initial Oculus Rooms launch just last week, and the Lost Cities logo being shown in the Oculus Connect 3 keynote! That makes 2 years in a row that we managed to sneak our way into Oculus’ keynotes (below is a shot of when Oculus threw Rachael into their keynote announcing the first Oculus Rift Consumer Edition).


Weaving a Better Future

Another major release for us was created in partnership with the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, which was a 360 video app based on our Scout 360 video platform, called Weaving a Better Future.

Weaving a Better Future transports viewers to Guatemala, where they learn about the lives, history, and culture behind the TRAMA Textiles cooperative in Quetzaltenango, and a shop in Antigua called Textiles Colibrí. These initiatives provide much-needed income for the women artisans who run them and who, with their traditional Mayan weaving techniques, create the textiles for sale there.

You can read about all the accessibility features we built into this project here, and all of these features are now standard in our Scout 360 video platform.

Winning $100,000

Lesley pitched our latest concept, called Flipside, at Manitoba’s Venture’Challenge pitch competition, which resulted in us winning a staggering $100,000 as well as a trip to MentorCamp in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. This has helped us focus more of our attention on our long-term vision and less on short-term work to pay the bills.


Other highlights

Many of you have already seen the ground-breaking mixed reality trailer for Fantastic Contraption by indie game trailer legend Kert Gartner. But did you realize that John, our CTO, was one of the players shown in the trailer?

This was super cool not just because it's a great game trailer, but also because John got to be a small part in a history-making moment for VR. People are seeing mixed reality popping up everywhere around the world, but the roots of it started right here in Winnipeg. It also created the opportunity for this gem to exist (thanks Graeme!):


Jason Bienia has been with us as a co-op student for the past four months, and it’s been really awesome having him here. Jason has been building his own tower defence game with the occasional help from various members of the team, and is a smart and highly motivated budding developer. We’ll miss you when you’re back in school next month, Jason!

For the past couple years we’ve worked with an amazing 3D artist, Liem Nguyen. This September, we were lucky to have him officially join our team as our 3D artist. We’ve been moving at warp speed since he got here and he’s really been a great addition.

With Jason and Liem coming on board, we quickly outgrew our office in our Albert Street co-working space. At the end of November, we sadly said goodbye to our tiny but awesome digs and moved in with the folks at Complex Games. We’re still getting used to not hearing all the laughter from the Lumo Interactive gang, the delicious treats and company from Parachute Media Lab, chats with Zanna from Duckwranglers and Blair from The Co-operative Housing Federation of Canada, but we do have all the great folks at Complex Games to keep us company.


Here’s a shot of the old co-working space crew (less Ryan, Liem, Zanna, and Blair) at our last office party.


Oh the places we’ve been...

This year was also the year for travel for the Campfire Union. We joined a Canadian trade mission to Barcelona as part of our Lost Cities launch at Mobile World Congress. We had an opportunity to demo Lost Cities with a number of media outlets while VR was breaking as the story of the conference. Then, on to Vision Summit in Los Angeles to learn about the future of VR at Unity, to New York to speak at Digital Hollywood, then to San Francisco to attend VRDC, all within 30 days. Whew!

We made our way to TechFestNW in Portland to attend our first pitch competition. Portland might be the coolest city in America. We had a ton of fun meeting other startups over the two day festival and we really enjoyed our time hanging out with the folks from Lagunitas.

We were also invited to the Montreal Startupfest this year as part of the festival's formal VR demonstrations. We showed off a prototype music app called Magic Synth. It was really well received. Big thanks to Bob Levy from Virtual Cove who coordinated the whole effort, and Alistair Croll who invited us down.

Finally, we made our way to Oculus Connect 3 in San Jose. The big highlight for us was being invited to dinner by Oculus with the rest of the Oculus Social Partners. We had a chance to meet the Oculus Social team and all the really cool indies making Gear VR games. It was an honour.

It was a busy year of travel, but the friends and connections we’ve made are lifelong and will lead to new opportunities. We can’t wait to reconnect with our friends next year.

Flipside, 2017 and beyond!

Flipside is our new stealth-mode project that you’ll be hearing a lot more about in 2017. In between all the other things we’ve accomplished this year, we’ve been secretly building out a really cool piece of VR tech that we can’t wait to show you.

For now, here’s a video we recorded in Flipside that shows off what we’re doing with our avatar system:

Stay tuned, because while 2016 was one crazy year, 2017 is going to blow it out of the water!

We hope you have a safe and relaxing holiday.

Sincerely,
The Campfire Union


- by John Luxford

 

Human rights & accessibility in VR

Today, we're excited to share that Weaving a Better Future, the app we helped create with the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, is now available on the Gear VR app store. Which means it's now available on all major mobile VR platforms.

Google VR users can download it on both iOS and Android. And all powered by our Scout 360° video platform!

About the project

The app is part of a larger exhibition at the museum, called Empowering Women: Artisan Cooperatives that Transform Communities, which invites visitors to explore and learn about artisan cooperatives run by women in 11 different countries, and runs from July 23, 2016 until January 8, 2017.

The Weaving a Better Future VR experience transports you to Guatemala, where you can learn about the lives, history, and culture behind the TRAMA Textiles cooperative in Quetzaltenango, and a shop in Antigua called Textiles Colibrí, that provide much-needed income for the women artisans who run them and who, with their traditional Mayan weaving techniques, create the textiles for sale there.

Accessibility in VR

Inclusive design is an important goal at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, which is committed to universal accessibility. With virtual reality being such a new medium, its present-day limitations present a number of accessibility challenges, and we're very proud of the collaboration with the museum that went into making this one of the most inclusive VR experiences yet.

Some of these features include:

Closed captioning

To implement closed captioning in 360 degrees, we placed the captions in three locations every 120 degrees at a comfortable but unobtrusive height within the content.

This was then tested and adjusted until we found the best text size, distance, and height for easy readability and maximum comfort to avoid neck strain.

Bilingual

The entire experience is available in both English and French. Canada is a proudly bilingual country, and everything in the app is consistent across both official languages.

We also created a Spanish version, so that the women whose stories are featured in the project could experience how their stories are being shared.

Testing for colour impaired viewers

The iconography that you see in the app comes from traditional Mayan symbols, called nahuales. These are vibrant in colour and distinctly iconic, but not all colour combinations can be distinguished easily by all viewers.

We tested and made adjustments as needed so that each icons stands out from the others, for all viewers. For testing, we used the Sim Daltonism colour blindness simulator software.

Here is an example of simulated colour blindness:

CMHR simulated colour blindness

Hands-free navigation

A gaze cursor is the VR equivalent to a mouse pointer that you control with the direction of your gaze, and is a very common input method in VR experiences.

For this app, we created a timer-based gaze cursor. To select a video to watch, you simply look at the icon for that video for a few seconds and the icon will be "clicked" for you. This allows the experience to be explored completely hands-free.

The circle you see in the centre of this screenshot of the app is the timer around the app's gaze cursor:

CMHR timer-based gaze cursor

In our testing with CMHR, we found that the timer didn't make sense on Google Cardboard devices, since you have to hold the device to your head with one hand already, and orienting yourself in the virtual world on Cardboard can result in accidental "clicks". But the timer-based gaze cursor is available in the Gear VR version, both in the app store and in the museum exhibit as well.

2D view mode on Google Cardboard

Not everyone is able to wear a VR headset, and few people even have their own VR headset to wear. For this reason, we also designed a 2D view mode in the Google Cardboard versions of the app that enables users to experience all of the same content without the need to put on a headset.

All user interface elements as well as closed captioning were adapted to work in the 2D mode, so users of this mode can still fully experience the content in the app.

Sign language in the touchscreen version

Because playing 360 videos is fairly intensive on a mobile device, we had to leave out the ASL/LSQ sign language videos from the VR experience. But we did include them in the touchscreen version that is available in the museum.

The touchscreen version was built using the open source Apache Cordova project, Mozilla's A-Frame WebVR framework, and a custom Cordova plugin we wrote to support ASL/LSQ videos playing in sync with the 360 videos.

This custom plugin has been released as open source as well so that other developers can more easily add ASL/LSQ support to their video players, and is available here.

Empowering Women exhibit

The Empowering Women: Artisan Cooperatives that Transform Communities exhibit is open from July 23, 2016 until January 8, 2017, and we are very proud to be a part of it. Follow the above link for more information, and if you're in Winnipeg go check it out!

Virtual reality has the ability to help us share and understand other peoples' perspectives in a deeper way than any technology has before. This makes it an incredibly powerful vehicle for promoting important causes like human rights.

About Scout 360°

Scout 360° has already powered virtual tours for universities, sports promotions, and music festivals, but this marks our first publicly available app to be released on the platform.

If your museum is looking to experiment with 360 video content, Scout 360° can help you by providing a fully customizable, interactive, and accessible 360 video player for use both in-gallery and to release on public app stores to share your message the world over.

If you're a videographer and you're looking to get into 360 video, Scout 360° can help you by providing a branded cross-platform app, essentially your own VR video player. Whether you want to produce one video, or publish new content on an ongoing basis, Scout 360° can provide everything you need to get up and running fast and looking amazing.

- by John Luxford

 

We need some help from our friends!

We're looking for a variety of people who would be willing to test and give us feedback throughout our development of Flipside - an AR/VR performance platform.

We want to make sure we're making something that you will love, so your thoughts are vital.

What does this all entail? Glad you asked!

When we have something new to test, we'll call/email you, set up a time for you and a couple others to come down to our office (usually for about 1/2 an hour or so) where you'll get to have some fun in VR, share your thoughts about what you tested, and have some snacks!

If you're into it, please fill out this short survey telling us a little bit about yourself - Help us test Flipside features!

We'd also love if you could share this post around (so many favours, we know ;) The more people the better!

- by Rachael Hosein

 

The future of Virtual Reality...

What does it mean to you if we say the words “future” and “VR” in one sentence?

Do you suddenly become overwhelmed with a dystopian future where VR has overtaken our lives, or do you see a world where Virtual Reality is making positive impacts every single day?

We see the latter.

The future is constantly evolving for Virtual Reality, and when you delve in and take a look, it’s easy to see all of the great things to benefit from.

There are some that see VR as a simple gaming experience, just another alternative for their computer screen. However, its scope ranges so much further than just gaming. From the medical sector helping their patients and training their surgeons, to new architects being able to walk in their creations before it is even build, to having a little teaser of your planned holiday in 360 videos, or all the way to a completely new way of experiencing movies with all the upcoming VR cameras. Virtual Reality has something to offer everybody.

The feature below on the Future of Virtual Reality by VR Bound covers the very best we have to look forward to.


Infographic: The Future of VR | VR Bound

We’ve already seen Youtube adapt its App to join VR (which is used by over 18 Million people globally) and many companies are now moving to develop their own short videos, advertisements and concepts through the power of Virtual Reality.

Along with this medical practices have already used VR to assist with exposure therapy to help patients overcome their fears and phobias.

As shown above through the hard facts and figures it’s clear that the industry is still fairly young. But as more and more consumers start to adopt the technology, we can expect endless possibilities to emerge and continue to grow.

Virtual Reality is approaching fast and we’re very excited in seeing all the different applications that come from it.

- by Rachael Hosein

 

Lost Cities is now available on the Gear VR app store!

After a year of development, we couldn't be more excited to share with you our first VR game, Lost Cities, now available on the Gear VR app store (sorry, you can't link to their app store just yet).

You can read all about the rollercoaster ride it's been over on the Lost Cities VR development blog.

We've been a little quiet over the last few months, mainly due to:

  1. Rachael had herself a beautiful baby girl
  2. Lux chose the worst possible time to go on a backpacking journey across Mexico, Belize, and Guatemala :P
  3. Lesley has been on a world tour of his own (the conference circuit)

Les's world tour included the Vision Summit VR/AR conference in Hollywood, a trip to Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, where Oculus included Lost Cities in their featured Gear VR games. From there he flew to New York City to talk about the Canadian VR scene at the Media Summit conference. That was sandwiched by two business trips to Vancouver, and followed up by a trip to GDC where Oculus again showcased Lost Cities as a Gear VR title.

All while trying to hold down the fort and pushing ahead to get the game to a finished state.

As you can imagine, it's been a bit chaotic around here, and we're looking forward to catching up on sleep – but not before we celebrate the launch of our very first VR game in style! ;)

- by John Luxford

 

Canadian Companies at Media Summit NYC

Digital Hollywood Media Summit New York is a two-day conference on immersive technologies and digital media that is held in LA, New York and Las Vegas. Nick DeMartino, an investor and key organizer of IdeaBoost , a Canadian Film Centre run accelerator, asked The Campfire Union to participate on a panel with other companies working in immersive entertainment from the North.

It was an honour to participate and connect with other leading VR and 360 video companies on the panel. It is amazing to see what is happening in the Canadian VR scene. Sometimes, when your head is down working on your own projects, you miss all the great work that is happening right here in Canada. All the people on our panel were doing great things so here is a run down on who is doing what.

I remember when all the buzz about the Sleepy Hollow 360 experience came out, but I didn't know it was made by Secret Location , a Toronto-based digital media company that produced the work and won an Emmy to boot. CJ from Secret Location shared some insight into their process and how his company uses an agile approach to filmmaking. They are working on adapting a book into VR and understand how to extend traditional media in the immersive space.

In 2014, I attended SXSW Interactive and they had a games expo, which for me was the highlight of the festival. At the time, we were just getting into VR and I remember seeing a captivating VR experience called Paper Dude. Using a microcontroller, a Microsoft Kinect and a DK1, Paper Dude was Globacore's take on the 2D NES classic Paper Boy, manifest into a real life experience. Using a bicycle to power the game and a Kinect camera, the player is fully immersed in the experience. That is the kind of work Globacore does. They create physical arcade-like experiences that use a blend of emerging technologies. They just finished a 4-person multiplayer spaceship co-op game. Super cool!

Ian Tuason from the Canadian Film Centre is a 360 video filmmaker who has managed to garner over 8 million views from four 360 shorts that he created. He crowdsourced feedback from his viewers and quickly began to build an understanding of 360 filmmaking. Now he is helping other filmmakers learn and transition from traditional single screen filmmaking to 360 video filmmaking.

Kim Davidson from Side FX are the creators of hugely successful 3D software package Houdini that was used on Star Wars and countless other big-budget films in Hollywood and around the world. They are working on stereoscopically rendered 3D experiences and also have a plugin that is available for Unity 3D and Unreal Engine. Kim was part of the digital effects industry right at its inception. Kim paid homage to the original View-Master as one of this first truly immersive entertainment experience, which for many of us, was ours too.

One of the revelations I took away from the conference is that Canadian companies are leaders in the immersive entertainment space and we hold our own against our US partners to the south. At the end of the day, it's about collaboration and sharing knowledge anyway, and borders have nothing to do with that.

- by Lesley Klassen

 

​Lost Cities at MWC and a Whole Lot More

Mobile World Congress (MWC) ended on Thursday and it was truly a whirlwind experience. The only other conference that I've attended that I can compare it to is GDC, which takes place at the Moscone Center in San Francisco. MWC is nine GDCs in size. That’s right, nine! I only managed to visit 5 halls of 9 because I didn’t have the time.

As a virtual reality game studio I wasn’t sure that MWC was the right fit for us, and in fact, I would say that this would be the only time I would go. Virtual Reality was the story of the conference and being a VR company at this year's conference was fortuitous. It's one of the times being a small fish in a big pond was advantageous. We also enjoyed the benefits of working with ICT West which represented a consortium of Canadian companies participating in the Canada pavilion. They were very supportive and connected us to trade commissioners with connections around the globe, set up meetings and provided us PR.

There were very few VR companies in attendance, and I suspect that this will change as VR becomes a bigger player in the mobile market. We attended the conference because Oculus had a media showcase that included Lost Cities. We knew it was an opportunity to garner some press for our game. While I was there I did check out the other VR offerings from Lenovo, LG and to see the new Gear 360 camera that Samsung announced.

LG360VR

LG360VR LG’s VR offering was really bad. I mean really bad. There was so much light leak that I was straining to enjoy the experience. On top of that, it was built on the Google Cardboard SDK which means that it has at least 100 ms of latency. The experience they presented was a rollercoaster ride that was synchronized to hydraulic chairs. I was having more fun bouncing around on the chairs than riding the virtual rollercoaster. There is no way someone could sustain a VR experience in these HMDs. The only innovation they brought to the table was individual focus rings for each eye making it accessible to people with an eye stigma. I think the Gear VR should adopt something like this.

ANTVR for Lenovo

It was awkward to insert my phone into this contraption but it's much nicer that the LG360VR. The one thing I couldn’t find was a button to interact with the content. Maybe I missed something, but from what I could tell it looks like you need a Bluetooth controller to use it. It's a very nice 360 photo and image viewer.

Free GearVR’s for S7 Pre-orders

Samsung announced that they will be shipping free Gear VRs with pre-orders of the S7 phone. This was an extremely important announcement for us because we are about to launch a Gear VR game and having a larger market to sell our first game will allow us to bring in more revenue. Whoo! There were 20 million pre-orders for the S6 so I anticipate there will be a similar number for the S7. According to Samsung, the free GearVR HMDs will be available while supplies last. I have heard from some credible sources that it could mean between 3 – 5 million Gear VRs in the market in 2016. It's a good time to launch a Gear VR game.

Gear 360

The big opportunity in 360 video is user generated content. Currently, there are limited options for capturing 360 content and Samsung made a big play at MWC by announcing their Gear 360 camera. It was under glass so I didn't get a chance to try it. I think all these early cameras will eventually be included with mobile phones. That will allow everyone to share 360 experiences, which will open the flood gates for 360 video content.

Press at MWC (Updated)

One the wonderful things for The Campfire Union was the press we received while attending the conference. It was very encouraging for us to know that people are interested in our game.

We hope that when we launch our players will feel the same way. Now I am preparing for the Digital Hollywood Media Summit New York panel and then off to VRDC at GDC. Then I get to sleep!

- by Lesley Klassen

 

Love is in the air - Happy Valentine's Day!


- by Rachael Hosein

 

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