No Regrets: Leaving Games To Join The VR Industry

Justin Manning, Executive Producer, REWIND

The games industry has grown massively in the 23 years I have been working in it. When I first started out, it wasn’t a mainstream career choice; now it’s a destination career for many. With the profusion of freely available tools and middleware, it is now easier than ever for those that want to make their own games and get the much-needed experience, while the plethora of university courses provide a structured learning path and cement the legitimacy of gaming as a career.

In the 90s, choosing gaming as a career was met with much scepticism. It wasn’t a respected career path and gaming wasn’t mainstream; gaming was for kids. Then PlayStation broke out and changed things — suddenly, gaming was cool. From 2000 onward, companies grew, teams grew and so did budgets. The need for exceptional content also grew. The creation of AAA games required highly skilled people, specialists, long project cycles and big budgets. Although things have changed in recent years with the flourishing of the ‘indie dev’ scene, the AAA games remain the same.

I learned a lot and grew both professionally and personally during my time in games, but I wanted to continue to learn and, 23 years into my career, be challenged again. I had worked in VR for the last few years and could see it, and AR, being technologies that permeate through every facet of our lives, far beyond entertainment. It is rewarding to please and entertain people, but even more rewarding to educate them, make them think and see things in new ways, or even to make parts of their lives easier.

I took the plunge and joined REWIND. Three months in, I’m 100% sure I’ve made the right choice, and here’s why:

Different length projects

From 12 weeks to 12 months, the projects we deal with are never the same. Each requires a different approach to planning and execution. For discipline leads and project managers, this means that you are always adding new tools to your box or using them in different ways — in short, it keeps you fresh and on your toes.

Different clients, different needs

REWIND has worked with automotive companies, broadcasters, Hollywood studios, lifestyle brands, and artists. The breadth of clients that we work with, and the range of industries they come from, ensure that their diverse needs are constantly challenging us to think about what VR and AR can be and how it would work for them. As creatives and engineers, this is hugely stimulating. Yes, it can be challenging too, but that’s actually the exciting part. We are working on the bleeding edge of tech and forging a new path. The rule book is still being written, and I get a buzz out of being part of it all.

Reigniting that creative spark

In the many years I spent in games, I worked for different sized companies and with highly talented people, and shared knowledge across disciplines. It was a creative business which constantly changed, and it kept me interested. But working on the same franchise year-to-year, iteration-to-iteration, could sometimes lose its appeal and make me feel like I was losing touch with my creativity.

At REWIND, it is all about the creative. The creative is what our clients come to us for. The way we deliver that creative is in the technology we use and we choose the right tech for the job; we are hardware and software agnostic. For VR, we aren’t limited to PSVR, Oculus, Gear VR, Daydream or VIVE — we can combine other technologies with these core platforms that might not be possible in the business model of games.

So, whether you are a creative director or an engineer, the challenges come thick and fast and really force us to be aware of everything going in the wider technology, creative and entertainment spaces. It’s hugely satisfying to be able to deliver a project that no one has attempted before, to set benchmarks and drive innovation.

Take, for example, the launch of Jaguar I-PACE. REWIND delivered a first-of-its-kind global, social virtual reality experience at the 2016 LA Auto Show. Supported by HTC and Dell, the launch showcased the new, all electric I-PACE Concept car. It was a technical and creative feat — 66 connected Vives delivered a multi-user experience over two continents with three live-streamed presenters. It was a huge social VR launch for Jaguar and believed to be the largest live and connected VR event of its type to date.

Expanding knowledge

One of the last reasons — and an attraction for somebody who has been in games — is that you build up a wealth of knowledge. From my project management background, there have been a whole bunch of process methodologies, business models, tools, pipelines and workflows that are of value to a company like REWIND, that is rapidly growing. Joining at a time of growth, to help bring all the best practices and learnings from a long career to a company eager to learn and grow, is both exciting and rewarding. Now is the time for people with engineering experience, technical art and animation to really make a difference to both the quality and the process of the entertainment medium of the future.

There was a time when I didn’t feel like there was another industry to go to — a place with the rate of change and creativity that the games industry had — and also a place that would need and value my skills. REWIND has shown me that there are some other options — some that I would highly recommend to games industry professionals looking to shake things up and challenge themselves.

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