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I moderated a panel on “digitally native creators in the metaverse” at the recent East Coast Game Conference during my recent trip to Raleigh, North Carolina. It was easy to see that most of the people in the audience were young game developers or those seeking to get into the industry, as well as young people who wanted to make a living as creators of video game content.
And they seemed hungry for advice about how to break into careers as digital creators. They were also curious about online game worlds and the metaverse, judging from their questions. I try to be careful to offer straight advice without hyping things too much. But it reminded me of getting a job as a younger game journalist, where I could say I was basically paid to play games. There is a lot more to this job as a game business journalist than doing that, but I was part of a small circle of lucky people. And in the past decade, the dream of getting paid to play games went on steroids as Twitch livestreaming and TikTok videos and YouTube content creation took off. Now more people are getting paid to play games.
That’s why it was interesting to moderate the panel with Ashely Hopkins, chief creative officer at House of Blueberry, and Katherine Manuel, COO at House of Blueberry. They talked about the rise of user-generated content and how they’re taking their digital fashion creations across many platforms like Roblox, Fortnite Creative, and The Sims 4.
Emily Eitches, head of business development at the House of Blueberry, will also be a speaker at our GamesBeat Summit 2023 event, which takes place on May 22-23 in person in Los Angeles and on May 24 online. (You can get 40% off the ticket price with this code: GBSDEANNEWS).
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Here’s an edited transcript of our panel.
GamesBeat: Our session is about the influence of digitally native creators in the metaverse. Creators are something very interesting. It’s been relatively new in the industry. I’ve been covering the game industry for about 27 years, working at a lot of different publications. I used to be one of those people who was lucky to be paid to play games. These jobs didn’t exist not so long ago.
We’re here now in a new world. There are so many creators out here now. Roblox has 8 or 10 million of them now. That’s our subject for today. How can you get paid to play games? All the things that come with that like user-generated content.
I’m happy to be here with Katherine Manuel, the chief operating officer of the House of Blueberry, and Ashley Hopkins, the chief creative officer.
Katherine Manuel: I’m the COO at House of Blueberry. My background has always been in technology. I started at Accenture doing large-scale tech implementations for Fortune 100 companies. I got my MBA and worked at Thompson Reuters, which is a big data and information services company, where I was the senior vice president of innovation. I took a bit of a U-turn and wanted to do something much more in the startup space. Also, I’m very interested in the gaming industry. Watching my own children find connection and community in games made me realize that it was a place that was growing exponentially as well as an environment where kids are learning a tremendous amount. I wanted to understand it, and there’s no better way to understand anything than to roll up your sleeves and be in it. I’ve had an incredible opportunity to be at House of Blueberry.
Ashley Hopkins: I’m the chief creative officer for House of Blueberry. I have a less corporate, tech-savvy background, but I’ve been creating in the metaverse for 15 years. I’m at House of Blueberry in charge of all the pretty things, is what I like to say. I’m in charge from concept to marketing, promotional imagery for everything we create with all of our digital platforms.
GamesBeat: Can you spell out a bit more about what you were doing 15 years ago? I take it that wasn’t all that corporate back then.
Hopkins: About 15 years ago I entered into a metaverse platform called Second Life. I found this platform watching CSI one night. I saw that someone got murdered and they were using their online character to figure it out, and I thought, “What is this? This looks really cool.” I looked into Second Life and I figured out that the clothing there was really horrible. I had no design background, no interest in being a fashion creator. I was going to be a nurse. I was going to school for this. I hated blood, though, so that was the first red flag that I was not meant to be a nurse.
I started creating clothing for my Second Life character, and eventually for other people, because I was pretty good at it. I started out doing that and it went from doing 2D clothing in things like Photoshop, where I watched tutorials to figure out what to do, and then eventually, as mesh or 3D clothing came out, I started figuring out how to do that. Again, completely self-taught. As it became a successful opportunity for me, I decided to make it a career move. That’s how it started.
GamesBeat: When did this move from a solo hobby to something more like a career?
Hopkins: I was doing it by myself for a long time. I met my husband in the space. He was doing the same thing, so we teamed up and started working together. A working relationship became a personal relationship. We ended up married and now have three children.
About 10 years ago I met House of Blueberry’s CEO. She was creating clothing for her Blueberry brand. I did shoes, so we decided to team up and do some collaborations. Those were very successful. Almost three years ago we decided–we were doing collaborations, and the collaborations were doing better than our solo releases. We decided to formally merge and work together. That’s when I joined House of Blueberry.
From there we grew. It started from the two of us, and now we have an entire team of executives and more creators. What was Blueberry is now House of Blueberry, with an entire team of moving parts that expanded from Second Life to more platforms. Now we’re going on our fourth platform.
GamesBeat: How many of you are there now? What are some milestones for House of Blueberry?
Manuel: We have 12 full-time employees and about another 10 contractors. We’re on a few platforms now. We’re on Second Life, which as Ashley talked about is really the roots of the company. We launched into Roblox last year, where we also did a partnership with Overwolf, which is involved with Maxis and The Sims, and we have a partnership with them as well. We’re about to soft launch into Zepetto. We’re on four platforms, and we’ve sold more than 20 million assets.
GamesBeat: Can you explain Overwolf? I understand it’s like a modding platform.
Manuel: I think of it as they create the pipes to allow for user-generated content to happen. A game company will come to them and say, “We want to use the capabilities you have to enable UGC, enable creators to build and customize in games.” It works great with The Sims, because Overwolf has now allowed Sims 4 to create this UGC capability and platform, and they’ve attracted a ton of creators who are now able to build and sell single items into The Sims.
GamesBeat: Where did the audience come from? When you think of UGC and modding, you often think of battle royale, first-person shooters, traditional male-oriented gaming content like that. Fashion is far different. Where are these people coming from?
Manuel: I think it’s all the players. Even in first-person shooters–keep me honest here, but you think about people wanting to wear armored vests and accessories that go along with that in shooters. If you translate that, that easily translates into fashion. It can translate into backpacks and hair. The idea of expressing yourself in any gaming environment, any online environment–people want to bring their self-expression. It’s a pretty interesting parallel, if you compare fighting games and socialization games, or even–so many of the Roblox games. We’ve done a partnership with some big game studios in Roblox where Ashley and her team can customize clothing that plays into the game experience, the game environment, and the culture of that game. Those assets are very popular.
Hopkins: Going back to your question, when you’re talking about battle royales and first-person shooters, girls play those games too, and we want to be fashionable in those games. We’ve talked before about how I can go into a game like Call of Duty and there’s one character for me as a girl. She’s not very fashionable. Her outfit is horrible. Or they give me a bloody wedding dress, something like that. That’s my option as a woman playing a first-person shooter. There’s a huge market there, because there are girls playing these games, and there are girls who want to be fashionable within these games.
GamesBeat: Can you talk about the style of art that you have here? What is the approach to the art style? What works? That’s not photorealistic 3D that looks perfectly human. Do you want to get to something like that, or is what you have today what people want?
Manuel: Each platform has a different aesthetic. When you go to a platform like Second Life, it’s very hyper-realistic. The characters are more realistic. The bodies are realistic. They’re very human. The clothing is what you would see in everyday life. And then this is something that’s for Roblox. It doesn’t look like Roblox to most of you, probably, because most people equate Roblox with the really blocky, square characters. But we’re changing that. Blueberry aims to be a trendsetter in all of these platforms that we come to. We know what’s there, but what can we add to this space? What can we give the community that they don’t already have? All of these platforms are community-based, and you have to appeal to the community.
We’ve created our own bodies, our own heads, and we bring our aesthetic into the space. This is not a hyper-realistic look. Roblox has more limitations on the detail you can bring in. Each mesh has a certain amount of vertices that’s limited. But how can we stylize things within those limits in a way that’s very uniquely us?
GamesBeat: Where do you think we made some kind of transition between wanting to own physical stuff, real fashion, as opposed to digital fashion? That’s a pretty big leap, for people to see value in things that are digital.
Hopkins: It could be a bit of a leap if you’re not someone who’s really immersed in this space. But to those of us that are, our digital identity is just as important as our physical identity. If I’m going out to buy jackets and dresses and shoes and hair products in the physical world, I’m going to do the same thing in the digital world. I’m going out with my friends tonight. If you’re hanging out with people and you’ve created a social presence for yourself in these digital spaces, you want your avatar to be a reflection of you.
There are people who dress up as cats. There are people who are maybe half fish and half human. You can be whoever you want in these spaces. But they’re going to purchase these digital fashion items because they want to be able to identify themselves however they want to. They want to be able to represent themselves however they identify in the digital space. They get to be more unique because they have so many options from brands like us that put out a different style.
GamesBeat: Do you want to weigh in on the business opportunities here? What do you think this idea of the metaverse is heading toward?
Manuel: We can see it in the numbers right now. If you look at Roblox, there are 270 million monthly active users. For a lot of large companies, large brands, what’s interesting is being able to reach a market that tends to be–especially with Roblox, the ages are between 6 and 25. It leans young on that spectrum, but the older market is growing fast within that spectrum. When we think about 270 million players in this space each month, it’s incredible when you then look at the companies that want to reach those eyes, reach those markets.
If you look at just the advertising space, when you look at the Super Bowl or TV advertising, there are big opportunities there. But this is capturing more attention from an audience that feels more authentic in that space. Our head of business development is here. She does deals and collaborations with brands like Leah Ashe and Natori. We’re working on a number of different marketing opportunities with some of these big brands who say, “We want to authentically be in front of that audience that Roblox has built this massive universe for.” There are authentic ways of doing that. Because we have a team of creators like Ashley, we can help those brands do it in an authentic way.
Those ways tend to be very playful. They tend to spotlight the creators and the art and artistry of our own brand, but in collaboration with these other brands. There’s a huge opportunity there, and more and more people are finding–even just from a business perspective, people are on Zoom and Google Meet and all that. We’re all getting very comfortable with digital environments. People want to look good when they’re doing that.
GamesBeat: We’re talking a lot about digital natives. The behavior there is so different now than it used to be. Some people are resistant to advertising, traditional advertising. They don’t watch television. How do you reach them? That’s become a big question. If they’re all online in digital spaces, that’s where you have to chase them. I do wonder if you’ve figured out–is doing deals with well-known physical world brands is the right thing to do, or is your own original work what’s taking off?
Manuel: I think our own original stuff, it does better. We sell more of our own brand, because we are a fashion house in and of ourselves. It does help us, though, in some ways, to get more press and publicity. Even if we just did a round of fundraising, because we are a startup. Because of that, it helps to get the credibility of real-life brands, to show that we really do have a fashion sense and incredible creators on our team. For us it’s a combination of the two.
Moving forward, we would much prefer to build our own fashion house. But doing these collaborations–I think also, getting the design inspiration from some of these other big brands is exciting. Our creators always seem challenged by it. How can we make different brands come to life in this digital space?
GamesBeat: And it will also make them appear authentic as well? That seems to be one of their big problems. Everyone views them as brands that are very corporate, that are not authentic to the digital space.
Manuel: I can tell the Josie Natori story. Josie Natori has had a clothing line in her own name for 45 years. Her customer base is predominantly older women. When she met Ashley, didn’t she say, “Thank you for making me cool”?
Hopkins: Yeah, she said, “Thank you for making me so cool.” And I said, “I don’t know, you’ve always been cool. I’m just showing the younger generation how cool you are.” The challenge with Natori–when we took on a brand like Natori, where it’s notoriously known for lingerie, sleepwear, things like that, I’m coming in as someone who’s wondering, how do we bring this to Roblox? How am I going to make it relatable to the kids in Roblox?
It’s like what you’re saying. You bring in these big companies and we have to take these items and put that Blueberry spin on it. We have to make it authentic to the platform. We have to make it something that they’re going to identify with. We’re experts in that space. We know what’s going to sell. We know what they’ll go for. We’re able to take a look at something like a Natori skirt and say, “We’ll put your iconic pattern on this. We’ll give it this cut. We’ll make it look like this. They’re going to love it.” And they do.
It’s a little different when they team up with a digitally native group like Blueberry, versus trying to do it on their own. They get that level of expertise where we can say, “We know what the community wants.” We’re very community-driven. We can do things a bit better than they can on their own because of that.
Question: You mentioned earlier that Roblox has an age range around 6 to 25. You look at Natori, that’s the older end of the boomer demographic. How do you bring that together?
Hopkins: Natori just launched a children’s line. They’re looking to capture that younger audience. Plus, a lot of times the buyers can be older, but they would encourage their children–they want to be younger and hipper and cooler. They want to stay relevant. They need to trend to a younger audience. This is a great space for that. Most all fashion brands right now are trying to figure out how to tap into these metaverse spaces. This is an image of Josie Natori as an avatar with her in-laws’ dog.
Question: What tools do you use to build your avatars?
Hopkins: Blender. Most of these–this was very early on in our Roblox phase. These would be traditional, more traditional styles of Roblox avatars, where they have the blocky arms and the Lego hands. We were using these for a little while until we figured out how to adapt a little and put our own spin on it.
GamesBeat: Do you have some tips for digital natives who want to be creators, who want to make a living doing this? What are some things to watch out for, or things that are worth investing your time into?
Hopkins: This is a question I get asked a lot. My typical answer is to just keep going. Everyone starts out somewhere in this space. When I joined Second Life I had no idea how to make digital clothes. I started watching tutorials. From there it grew. Then you get people who–maybe they’ve been creating Roblox clothing for a while, and they’re doing a great job, but they’re not really making something of themselves with it. And you get a lot of times where they’ll try to join up with game studios. They’ll create UGC for game studios. My biggest advice to the ones who come to me and say, “I’d really like a job with Blueberry,”–we don’t have a lot of space available yet, but also, don’t go to a game studio not knowing your worth.
That’s really common in this space for creators. They end up getting taken advantage of by bigger studios that don’t pay them what they’re worth, that don’t really understand the work that goes into what they do. They’re intrigued by that because it feels stable to them.
Manuel: One thing that I find refreshing in this space, something that’s very different from other industries–I would tell any creator to keep their name on all of their designs. That’s something we pride ourselves on. We have cSapphire. We have Bunny Blossoms. We have a couple of really well-known creators that are endemic to Roblox. We also work with endemic creators on our other platforms. There’s something on these platforms that shows that we’re authentically supportive of the creator community there, which we are. I always feel like, for anyone, keep your name on your work. It’s your own thumbprint.
GamesBeat: Is it a mirror of the fashion industry in the real world in that way? Do you see digital fashion moving in some very different directions?
Hopkins: It’s a little like real life, but not at the same time? You can see a big fashion house in real life, like say Gucci. You have several designers and creators, but do we hear about them? And in digital fashion we’re very much about giving credit where it’s due. This item is coming from House of Blueberry, but created by cSapphire. It’s very much about giving our creators their own identity and their own props. You created this, you did a great job at it, and it’s being sold by House of Blueberry, but you’re responsible for it. It’s important to give them that voice and that stage.
Manuel: You can also click on an avatar and see what that avatar is wearing. That’s one area where this space is much more transparent than real fashion. I’d say they rhyme. They’re not exactly the same, but there’s definitely a rhyme there.
GamesBeat: It’s like the old TV commercial fantasy. “I want that. I’m going to buy that right now, buy the shirt off your back.”
Manuel: And in digital fashion you can. You can go to my profile and see the items, see my character, and right next to it see what I’m wearing. You can click that and buy it right there to wear yourself. If I could do that in real life I’d be so broke.
GamesBeat: I mentioned that I’ve been covering the game industry for 27 years. The Second Life era was a very interesting one. I’m a big fan of the metaverse concept. I read Snow Crash when it came out 30 years ago. The funny phrase that Will Wright used back then, the creator of The Sims, was that the business plan for every startup in Silicon Valley at the time was a dog-eared copy of Snow Crash. There were about a hundred virtual world startups that opened up after Second Life came out and was successful. But they all died. World of Warcraft was the one that survived.
There was a sort of false start for the metaverse. Everyone was talking about how the metaverse was just about to happen 20 years ago, and then we all forgot about it for a while. Then, probably within the past eight years or so, it started to get more real again. People like Tim Sweeney here in Raleigh started to talk more about the notion that we could build an actual metaverse, a collection or a universe of virtual worlds all connected together in some way.
That, to me, is one of the biggest questions for everyone here. How real is the opportunity? How mainstream is it going to be? What you’re doing is great, but is it only a niche? Is it only reaching a small audience? What is the way you think this can finally go everywhere and reach everyone?
Manuel: Again, this is an opinion, but I think that right now, the industry and the marketplace are very fractured. There are a lot of different platforms that you could consider a metaverse. Everything–if you really stretch it you could say Twitter is a metaverse. YouTube, in some ways, creates that metaverse. When we think about everything from every game environment, and now a lot of them that are enabling more customization through UGC capabilities, and we’re looking at various social media platforms as additional metaverses, this marketplace is very fractured.
I’d say that there will definitely be some sort of consolidation, but I don’t think there’s one winner and one world that we all choose. People are unique enough. We don’t like there to be too dominant a player. While there might be consolidation in some of these spaces, there will always be competition. It’s ubiquitous.
If we think of the metaverse in the way I just said, there are places where big corporations are creating meeting rooms for employees to come to all-hands meetings. You can look at each other and talk with each other and it feels much more real. In a world with so much more globalization–people want to live where they want to live, but they still want to work and be productive in some ways. This is here to stay. It’s going to continue to evolve and consolidate. There will be winners, but not one winner.
GamesBeat: How do you feel about the individual creators leading this, versus the big companies around them?
Hopkins: It’s always going to be important for the individual creator to be highlighted in spaces like this. The same way that you have people making a career out of Twitch streaming or YouTube, you have creators in spaces like Roblox and Second Life. They’re living out their dreams. As we see these spaces grow more, it’s just going to get more and more–we see hundreds of UGC applications coming through to Roblox every day. People are applying to get UGC. They’re learning. They’re self-taught. They’re not even really going to school for this. They can do it in a way that’s more authentic to the platform, because they are of the community that they’re trying to serve.
GamesBeat: I do like this idea that you’re getting ahead of where things are. You’re experimenting. But you’re also recognizing a certain reality, that these jobs didn’t exist 10 years ago. Yours didn’t 15 years ago. You’re one of the very few. But if you think about creating your own job versus going to college and studying a major that has been around for many decades, only to graduate and find that your biggest competition is going to be AI–how do you feel about that kind of transition that we’re heading toward? To me it sounds much more proactive to build your own thing that you want to do.
Hopkins: We literally have people creating careers out of their dreams. You just mentioned getting paid to play video games. Is this something we would have thought was going to be possible years ago? No. My parents would have said, “Why are you playing that game all day? You’re never going to get anywhere with that.” When I first started doing Second Life, my entire family hated on it. “You’re playing games all day! You should finish nursing school!” Really, Mom? Because I make so much more playing video games than I ever would have nursing.
If I can get paid to follow my dream, I have to do that. Even younger generations are figuring that out so much earlier on now. They want to do what they love. Why shouldn’t they? You can go to college and get a degree to do something, and you come out of college and that job isn’t available anymore. There are so many people with underused degrees out there. Some of them end up streaming video games.
This doesn’t necessarily mean a degree isn’t it. Education is still so important. When you come into spaces like this–if you’re going to team up with a company and you have a degree behind you, that still looks good. Even if it’s a degree in something unrelated, for me at least it would show a drive. It would show a motivation. You started something and you finished it. You’re going to stick with it. But at the same time, if you’re not getting a degree in something that you love, there are still options out there for you.
I do sometimes teach classes at Duke. I was actually giving a talk to the Board of Trustees at Duke a few years ago about innovation in general. I was explaining to them that most kids now have a side hustle. Kids realize that, yes, they might need or want a degree, but they’re also going to find that passion that they’ll use for something on the side. That’s where we find a lot of innovation coming from. Kids have to pay back their loans. Having something that they’re playing with, that they’re passionate about, and being able to connect the dots at some point in their career is very important.
GamesBeat: And you can’t get a degree in the metaverse. To my thinking the question is, “Why not?” Why don’t some educational institutions move faster? I did write a story this week about Coursera. They’re seeing the train coming at them. They just launched a bunch of courses related to AI, generative AI, how to make use of it, how not to get hit by it. I do think the self-taught way is going to be very interesting. It’s not crazy to move into some of this space.
There is something for everyone to consider, which is that the searches on the word “metaverse” are about half what they were a year or two years ago. The whole raising of consciousness around the word metaverse is when Facebook changed its name to Meta in October of 2021. Google searches for “metaverse” skyrocketed. Meta has been losing billions of dollars on the investments they’ve made so far into virtual reality and other metaverse-related things. Some people have been concluding that this whole metaverse thing is a fad. That’s something to address.
Manuel: I have a theory on this. Historically, when we look at the late 1990s, early 2000s, it was when the internet was coming into its own. There was an enormous crash and a bubble bursting around every company that created a website. It was the dot-com crash. But it’s not as if the internet was dead. It just came back in a smarter way.
I’d say that’s what we’ll see from this downturn that’s happened over the last six to 12 months. Yes, the metaverse has retracted in some corporate spaces, but I think it’s going to come back in a much smarter way, in a way that’s much more profitable. And also, I hope it’s a way that casts a beautiful glow on creators, where they’re really able to make the money to live and thrive and survive and generate that progress for everyone.
GamesBeat: Just to convey a sense of the scale of things, McKinsey is a fairly credible consulting firm. They’re a worldwide firm with thousands of people. They predicted that the metaverse economy would be $5 trillion by 2030. Some people laughed at that, and in some ways it is laughable, but it does convey how much activity and how much opportunity there is. When you think of the metaverse, sometimes you think of games. Maybe you think of World of Warcraft on steroids. But games are far from the only industry looking at this.
Nvidia is a very big company. They’re worth hundreds of billions of dollars on the stock market. Besides their investments in AI, they also invest in games. They have something called Omniverse, a tool for making metaverse-like projects. Hundreds of companies use it across many different industries. BMW is using it to design a factory in Hungary that’s going to come online in 2025 as a real factory, but they’re going to open the factory this year to train the employees who will work in it through a digital twin, a version of the actual factory in digital form, down to every last detail. They’ll see how the digital twin works and modify it. When the real factory opens, it’s going to have enough sensors on everything everywhere so that it can feed back information to the digital twin and improve the design of the digital twin, figuring out what were false assumptions about how the factory would work versus how it’s really going to work.
This gets into a feedback cycle. These digital twins can be built and used in any industry, really. That’s the metaverse. That’s something that is going to get created. They’re going to build this giant pool of assets. The game companies could wind up using all these assets however they want to use them. In that sense, the metaverse to me is far beyond a single industry. At some point these things are all going to complement each other.
If you could start predicting what is going to happen in the next few years, not just where your business is going, but where all this metaverse stuff is going, do you have any thoughts? What is the road map like?
Hopkins: It’s hard for me to have an opinion here, because I’ve been doing this for 15 years. I’ve been in a space that they said didn’t even exist 15 years ago. Someone says, “How long have you been doing this?” I’ve been in the metaverse for 15 years. People say, “Did it exist then?” Yes, it did, didn’t it?
For me, when people talk about how metaverse searches are down, or how Meta isn’t doing so well, it doesn’t matter to me. For me, as long as there is a world where someone wants to be something different, do something different, there is going to exist a metaverse. You can go into that space and be who you want, look how you want. You can meet people from across the world in ways you couldn’t before. As gamers we all have friends in other countries. You can meet up with those friends in a different space.
I see it only evolving more because people are doing more online every day. I rarely walk into a store to go shopping anymore. I do it online. If I’m going to have a meeting, how many in-person meetings do I have each month anymore? I feel like everything is moving online. As far as the metaverse phasing out, I don’t see that ever being a possibility.
Manuel: For House of Blueberry in particular, we’ll be a fashion brand on every platform where self-expression and digital identity matter. That’s our big vision. The same way that you would know Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hilfiger, when you go into a digital space, you would know House of Blueberry. And there would always be something for everyone to express themselves.
GamesBeat: Are you going to have your own chain of physical stores?
Manuel: That’s not our plan. But I think there are cooler things we could do. There might be some experiments we could run, where we’ll be able to 3D print things that have been designed by our team in the metaverse. I don’t know. We talk to a lot of our partners about supply chains and all the nightmares they have dealing with that. It doesn’t sound all that much fun.
Hopkins: Physical fashion has so many limitations that we don’t have in digital fashion. I can make jeans with flames at the bottom of them, and when you run there’s fire behind you. I can’t do that in real life. What’s the draw to doing physical fashion for me? I can make a shirt and if you press a button, a rocket pack comes out so you can fly across the world. There are so many limitations to physical fashion. The only way I’m going into physical fashion is if we can eliminate some of those.
Question: You talked about Blender among other software packages you use for this. Have you used other things like Maya or 3D Studio Max? How do they compare? When I was growing up, those were the options, but they cost so much money. Nowadays Blender is free. Unity is free. Anyone with a computer could technically get into this. What software applications have you found help with bringing your products to multiple platforms?
Manuel: We use Blender for some stuff, but we do use Maya. Some of our creators who have been doing this for a long time, they started out using Maya, and that’s what they’re comfortable with. Some of them have adapted to Blender, which is a free program. Some of the Blender work-ins and applications that they’ve added are so much better, and it’s free. We can teach any of our creators to use things with Blender.
We also use most of the Adobe suite programs. We use Substance Painter, Photoshop, Illustrator, all of those things. We’ve done some stuff in Unity and Unreal now. As we’re taking items, we’re creating the first item in something like Blender or Maya, whichever the creator prefers, and then we have to take it through a chain of steps to get it to multiple platforms. If it’s something that’s created and rigged in Blender for something like Roblox or Second Life, it doesn’t immediately work with The Sims, because with The Sims you have to use a different program – I think it’s Unity for The Sims – to get it onto that platform.
Just because we create in Blender doesn’t mean it always stays in Blender. It bounces around. It’s really a circus of all these different programs and whatever is going to be best for a given platform. But we can take something created in Blender and translate it to other platforms as well.
Question: How important is formal training in fashion design as well as digital design? How does that work?
Manuel: People mostly haven’t received a formal education around what we’re doing here, but it’s interesting, because the Fashion Institute of Technology, the Parsons School of Design, a lot of the large training grounds for people in fashion are starting to have classes around digital design. It’s getting incorporated into more formal training now that so many people are interested in it. I think we’ll see more of that emerging.
GamesBeat: How do you think about scaling? You mentioned you’re about a dozen people now. What kind of people do you hire? Do you see these self-taught creators as a pool of freelancers that you could tap to bring into the company in some way to get their stuff in front of a larger number of people? What is the talent model like for you?
Manuel: We have a couple of different approaches. One is, when we’re going to a new platform, we definitely want to hire people who are endemic to that platform. They can teach us so much. Ashley also has one or two people who are incredible scouts. They have such a breadth of capability creating themselves that they can go to new platforms, where they’re able to figure out how the designs translate to those platforms. They help us bring along a new team. We definitely hire new people that are endemic to platforms, and we also have a coterie of people who understand how to go out to the new platforms, almost like frontierspeople, and figure out how to do that in a Blueberry way.
GamesBeat: Are these college-trained people, or more self-taught people, on a different path?
Hopkins: A few of our creators do have a bit of a 3D design background through college courses and things like that, but a lot of them–I don’t want to say most of them, but a lot of our creators are just like me. They’re self-taught. They figured it out on their own. They were on these platforms. That’s a great thing for me, being an endemic creator, being a digital native. We look for the digital natives. We look for the kids who grew up on Roblox. They started creating things because they wanted them for their own avatars. It’s important to us to harness that energy, because those are the people who will stick it out with these platforms. They know what the community wants because they were part of the community.
Question: How many platforms do you work with today, and how do you go through the process of bringing on the new ones?
Hopkins: Right now we’re on Second Life and Roblox, and we create items for The Sims. We’re about to soft launch into Zepetto, which is a mobile fashion game platform. We have several others in the works.
When a platform comes out that’s something we’re interested in, it’s either me, another creator, somebody else on our team, they find it. “Hey, have you seen Hotel Hideaway?” Let’s look at this platform. Let’s see what the capabilities are here. And then the entire team dives into it. We look at what’s possible. Do they have UGC already opened up? Is it going to be opening up? And then my creative team will go and we figure out the process. What programs are they using? What do we need to do to get onto this platform?
Then we start building up a timeline. We create one item and we build out the timeline. This is how long it takes to get an item from concept to completion. This is what the timelines look like. It changes all the time. With Roblox there used to be an extensive application process to get approved for UGC. Once you were approved you had to upload an item and it would take up to a week to get the item on the platform. We have to build that timeline to figure out what our workflow is going to be like. Once we figure out the workflow we figure out how many people to assign to that platform. How many creators do we need to bring on from that platform?
It gets more technical from there. But it’s all about figuring out how our designs translate to a new platform. What’s the aesthetic of the space? Is it a space where we can use things we’ve already created? We have a huge asset library. Can we take these things we’ve already created and put them on this platform, or do we have to start from scratch? That all goes into the deciding factors about what platforms we go to next.
GamesBeat: I wrote a story about Electronic Arts bringing on their UGC store for The Sims. They’re starting out pretty shy, dipping their toes in the water. What opportunity do you see there? What more could happen as these platforms do more to start embracing UGC?
Manuel: For a platform like The Sims, you’ve always had people creating custom content. They can sell it on places like Patreon. There are a couple of other websites where you can download UGC. It’s a little different. I think their approach to a marketplace is going to be–really, what’s interesting to me right now is Epic’s announcement of their marketplace. I think it’s going to lead the way for other marketplaces, because Epic is–they’re coming out strong. They’re going to make sure that the creator is rewarded. I think it’s 88 percent that they give to the creator? That’s different than any other platform we’re seeing right now.
When you have The Sims working on their marketplace, if they’re going to put out something where it’s not just free resources to download–take something like Overwolf. With Overwolf, you go there and download the resource. The creator gets a point that goes toward something like an Amazon gift card. But if they’re going to create a marketplace where creators are listing their items to sell, then they’re going to have to follow the lead of marketplaces like Epic’s to be able to reward the creator. That’s going to be the most important part of getting creators to want to create UGC for their platform.
GamesBeat: What is the traditional share for creators up until now?
Manuel: If you create a world, an environment, you can make more selling your items through that world. A lot of times in something like Roblox, they will advertise that they only keep 30 percent while the creator keeps 70. But one thing that was sort of shocking to me is that then there’s the currency conversion. Everything happens in the local currency, which is Robux in the case of Roblox. Then there’s a currency conversion on top of that, where they take a further cut. It ends up that the creator makes anywhere from 25 percent to just shy of 10 percent, with 10 percent being the most common. Roblox is doing very well.
Question: We’ve been talking a lot about metaverses and how this idea has been around since the early ‘90s. Should metaverse and gaming be conflated, and if not, how do you separate metaverse from gaming?
GamesBeat: Strauss Zelnick, the CEO of Take-Two Interactive, the company that owns Grand Theft Auto, he says that GTA Online is already here. What more do we want? Gamers are pretty happy with it. There are hundreds of millions of people going into these gaming worlds. They’re quite happy with what they can do there now.
When I think of the metaverse, I think of Star Trek, things that aren’t here yet, like the Star Trek holodeck. How you could go into a lifelike world and not know the difference between what’s real and what’s not. Snap your fingers and you could switch the world to another world. We’re a long way from that kind of metaverse. I think that’s what a lot of people, in particular science fiction writers, have in mind for what we want to get to.
You can have a realtime Call of Duty: Warzone match where 100 people fight it out. But could you ever get to something like Lord of the Rings battle where you’re just one alongside tens of thousands of others in the same environment, still in real time? And everyone can make a difference in how that turns out? Again, we’re a long way from getting to some of the things that we think about when we think of the metaverse.
In terms of interoperability between different worlds, where the stuff you can collect in one world can be taken to another world–right now you can’t even own the stuff that you buy in a lot of games today. You can’t take it with you. If a company shuts down you’re out of luck. But in the metaverse you might expect to hop to one world and another world seamlessly and carry that stuff with you. That’s how I look at what’s going to be the difference between the world we have now, a very gaming-centric world, and a metaverse world where a lot more people would have access to all these kinds of things.
Question: Are there any new or emerging platforms you see right now that you’re excited about?
GamesBeat: On the VR front, I think they’re getting close to having a viable 1.0 product that a lot of people can enjoy. Things like the mixed reality that’s built into the Meta Quest Pro. HTC’s latest headset as well. You have a much better experience. It’s faster. It’s not going to make you quite so sick. The ability to grab and hold something in a VR setting now is pretty good. The problem is that it’s $1,500. When that technology gets down to $400, then I think we have a real mass-market opportunity. That’s going to be a baseline for VR.
If you can add in other things, like better 3D audio, better haptic feedback, better sense of touch–they’re even experimenting with sense of smell in VR. If you bring in all these things it becomes a lot more immersive. In a consumer product that’s a few hundred dollars, that’s going to be very compelling for a lot of people who are currently just happy with their game consoles.
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