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Metaplay 3 - Interview with Shawn Whiting of Rec Room

Metaplay
Today’s Metaplay is an interview with Shawn Whiting, Head of User Acquisition and Marketing at Rec Room, a social game which bills itself as “the best place to build and play games together.”
I first discovered Rec Room back in 2016 when it was still limited to VR (they’ve since added versions for mobile, console, and desktop). Earlier that year I’d picked up HTC’s Vive headset and was checking Steam almost daily for new VR games and apps to try out. I had a handful of early faves (like Battle Dome, Tiltbrush, Google Earth VR, and The Blu), but when I discovered Rec Room I was hooked. The initial lineup was limited to a handful of friendly low-poly games like paintball, disc golf, and paddle ball that you could play against friends or strangers, but the vibe of the whole experience was exceedingly friendly and before long I was forcing everyone I knew with a VR headset to install Rec Room and play paintball with me. 
A few months after Rec Room’s launch I was chatting with my good friend Hank Vigil of Acequia Capital, who he told me he was investing in their seed round and that there was a little bit of room left. I flew up to Seattle a few days later to meet with Nick Fajt, Rec Room’s founder, and ended up investing after spending the afternoon playing paintball with the team in their office.
Anyway, it was great chatting with Shawn about the challenges Rec Room’s faced expanding beyond VR, how they’ve handled adding UGC to the game, and how they’re approaching their new Creator Compensation program.

An Interview with Shawn Whiting of Rec Room
Could you give a brief overview of what Rec Room is for those who aren’t familiar with it, as well as your role there?
Rec Room is an online universe of games and social experiences. In Rec Room players have built millions of different experiences: games, music venues, art rooms, escape rooms, spaces for education and language learning, hangouts, role playing, and anything else you can imagine doing in the metaverse. In the early days I lead our community team where I built out our support and moderation systems. After that I moved into designing our retention and social systems. Most recently I’ve been focusing on growth and user acquisition.
Rec Room has changed in two significant ways over the past five years:
  • You’ve moved beyond VR by introducing versions for mobile, console, and desktop users
  • You enabled users to create their own rooms and games within Rec Room
What was it like adapting a VR-first game for 2D screens? What challenges were there around designing Rec Room for mobile?
It was… difficult. Since Rec Room started as a VR app, everything in game assumed you had two 6dof hands and a 6dof head. Your watch was your primary interface to navigate everything in Rec Room and it was mounted on your left or right wrist. All of our early player tools and interactions assumed a VR level of spatial awareness and independent hand control. When you move onto something like mobile finding similar interactions on a touch device can be very hard to replicate. It took a lot of iterations and feedback from the community for us to get to where it is today. The first few attempts we had here probably weren’t super satisfying for players to interact with. But over time, and with a lot of UX testing, we slowly transitioned into a more intuitive interface for Rec Room on iOS, PlayStation, Xbox, and other platforms. Making the design shift from a spatial paradigm down to a 2D paradigm isn’t something many games have had to do. Most go the other way. Huge props here to our platform team who did all of the heavy lifting with this transition. 
Rec Room started with a set of high quality first-party games and quests. How did you think about opening up game creation to users? How do you guide creators toward making good games and rooms now?
In this case the community really pulled the features out of us. Our first party games were a hit for bringing people together and helping them make friends and find community. Over time players wanted to customize and mod our games in ways that we couldn’t support, so we had to build those features for them. Initially we let them change game settings or drop objects from the Rec Room universe into other games so that they could do things like play ultimate frisbee on the soccer field. That evolved into us adding the ability to save the state of those rooms and modded games. From there we let players use the Maker Pen to create their own worlds and environments from scratch. Then we added Circuits which let them add their own programs and visual scripting to their experiences. It was all an evolution that happened over time while working closely with our creator community. 
A ‘good game’ or room is highly subjective. There are many millions of games and rooms in Rec Room now and we’re sharing our favorites all the time internally. I’m impressed every day by these rooms even though most of them are not something I’d ever think to make. In that sense we could never guide creators towards making the next big hit room or game. I think its awesome that players can publish their own games, have them go live instantly on mobile, console, PC, and VR headsets, then iterate with community feedback to improve their experiences just like we did in the early days. Watching our players go on that same journey where they iterate to success and build a community and economy around their creations has been one of the most rewarding parts of my career. We do provide some creator educational resources like our ‘How To’ YouTube videos (http://youtube.com/recroom) and a wide range of in game creation classes taught by people across many different regions / languages: https://recroom.com/creative 
Can you discuss the new Creator Compensation program and tell us a little about how it’s going? 
The Creator Compensation program allows a Rec Room creator to collect Rec Tokens, our in game currency, from players who spend it in their game or experience. The creator can then cash out those Rec Tokens into their local currency. So far we have some players earning close to $10,000 USD a month in payments purely from their Rec Room games and creations. In the future I think everyone will know someone making supplemental or full time income from designing games, rooms, and experiences in Rec Room. I’d encourage people to get going with our creative tools now so that they can be early to the party. The people who get in early on this next wave of the creator economy that’s forming around immersive experiences and gaming are going to see the same benefits as the early YouTubers and Twitch streamers. 
For more info on how the Creator Compensation program works people can check out our FAQ page. We have an economy team at Rec Room that has been working towards this milestone for a long time and all credit goes to them for getting us to this point. 
How has Rec Room’s Junior Mode made the game safer for younger players?
Junior accounts are a very important part of the Rec Room ecosystem since they keep our youngest players safe. Junior accounts have restrictions on them that ensure players 12 and under are not able to share personally identifiable information like their name or address. This means restrictions on things like voice chat and in game text chat. 
Favorite user-made games? 
Some of these have games in them but I mostly use them as hangout spots or spots for our team scrums. Occasionally I use them to do RR interviews or podcasts :) 
Anything you call share about what comes next for Rec Room?
We’re doing lots of hiring at the moment. If you’re an engineer, designer, artist, PM, or in support or QA, give our jobs page a look. We’ve got almost 30 open positions. We’re always looking to bring Rec Room to new platforms so stay tuned there. Our UGC team is always pushing our creation tools forward and I think the community will be really happy with some of the upgrades we have lined up for this year. On top of that the economy team is ramping up to really start expanding all of our player economy and creator compensation efforts. I’m sure you’ll be hearing more from us soon in that area. I’m personally really looking forward to scaling up our events system this year. I’m starting to line up musicians, comedians, podcasts, talk shows, and other content creators so that they can come in and put on shows for an unlimited virtual audience across all gaming platforms. If anyone is interested in hearing more about our partnerships there they can reach out to me at shawn@recroom.com 
Links
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'Pac-Man 99' battle royale launches on Nintendo Switch
Fortnite users can now livestream gameplay to Houseparty’s social video app
Livestreaming report: GTA role-playing
This 'Valheim' Mod Lets You Play in VR, Motion Controller Support in the Works
Thank you!
As always, thank you for subscribing to Metaplay. You can find me here if you want to get in touch.
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Peter Rojas
Peter Rojas @peterrojas

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