Community Interviews

Interview: What is it like working on open-source game development?

I had a chance to speak with Liam Arbuckle, the acting CTO of the game/web development studio/collective (100% open-source) called Signal Kinetics. Liam is based in Australia. 

What is it that you’re working on?

Right now, we’re working on a citizen science game engine (sort of like Project Discovery in Eve Online, but integrating other games as well). We’re aiming to increase science discovery/contribution for everyone through gaming by allowing people/players to: 

1. Contribute to real-world scientific problems/experiments  

2. Help train ml/dl datasets/algorithms (sometimes through their actions in-game) 

3. Engage with users, especially those in the scientific community (we’re working on a service called Arcadia which is basically a fork of Buddypress that will implement features similar to services like Steam & Facebook Games) 

So you are targeting citizen scientists? Is there a particular age range you are targeting?

I believe information should be free, when I was younger, scientific journal access was expensive, also, there is a lack of engagement with the science community in Australia. I want to create something that can’t restrict a person from the science community due to their age, gender, spending ability etc.

What inspired you to create your Game Engine?

I attended Science hackathons, science and gaming, made mars rover, most recently I contributed to the Open Source Rover by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

What else are you working on?

We’re also working on our own game (with potential partnerships with Savy Soda, as an example, in the pipeline) and hoping to make our experience with Arcadia modular:

 1. Users can contribute to scientific research through playing any game in the world by installing a custom add-on designed by the Arcadia developers for the game.

 2. Users can have a “bank” (similar to the Pokemon Home system) that shows their games library, achievements and item list/screenshots in the Arcadia web app.

There’s no real large gaming community to play games online. I want to build a community, where gamers can share screenshots, there’s an overlay to watch people playing games, I want to make mini-games too, there’s no real limit. I used to game on a Samsung phone which had a play status, I could stream to Discord. I want to expand this idea to non-Samsung games, add a community with no limits – basically information freedom, with no blockage or limits.   

3. Users can choose which games to play.

What are your immediate goals?

Get industry connections.

What type of connections are you looking for?

I’ve made contact with Melbourne-based game companies so I’m on track with that. I’m looking for grants, an investment to work on the blockchain element, get connected with a marketing team, get a few 1,000 players to start off with, and then connect with more on social media.

Right now I don’t have the money to finance, we’ve had people come online to help with the open-source. I’d ideally like to get some consistent engagement rather than have contributors that do the occasional work.

If it wasn’t for Covid-19  I would have moved out of Australia, there are huge problems with setting up in Australia, no grants, no infrastructure for tech companies.

I want to start contributing to established games and engines to gain experience, connections, contribute and potentially expand my team’s vision.  

Are there any particular games that you have in mind?

Minecraft, l would love to contribute to that, I Love that you can make mods. I think Minecaft is crying out for more integrations, so I would love to get connections with Mojang. I’ll take any company that has a level of open-source ethos.

Continue working on the game, however, this requires money. A lot. And I’m not rich! I’m primarily focusing on a media kit that will later be used as the basis for a Kickstarter campaign.   

When do you plan to run the Kickstarter campaign?

I won’t have the game finished before the campaign starts, I want to put together a media kit, assets, I’m going to an incubator to learn how to market the game, understand which social media do we target, and which niche users. I have been involved with other Kickstarter projects and know I can’t be too broad with who I target at first. I think in  3-4 months we will be ready to launch the Kickstarter campaign.

I’ve got a team of about ~20-30 people (with most being external/outside collaborators, there are around 10 people that run the show and contribute on a consistent basis). These people have varying levels of experience in game development, design, and web app construction (among other things).

Are you actively looking for more contributors? If so, what level of experience are you looking for?

I’ll take anything, I won’t say no to anyone, I find that the science community say no, if we say no, we’re just defeating the purpose of the project.

We would prioritise people who have c#, and website building experience. Once you get your base established, then start with junior developers. We don’t want to be too closed, but also we don’t want to be too open and not get work completed. 

We are also working on a partnership with the Swedish Power Metal band Veonity to contribute with us on officially licensed songs for our games and the Arcadia platform  – recording is due to start in July which is very exciting!

Did you know that 34% of game developers use C#?

Interview with Liam Arbuckle

When did your interest in development start?

I love Star Wars, at 12 I went into robotics, and in 2016-2017 I worked to build a physical R2D2. In year 10 I started a computer science class at school. Unfortunately, computer science investment in schools is poor, but I had a good teacher that encouraged younger students who were not yet at the age to attend a class to learn in their breaks. I learned Python, and in year 11 I started working on GitHub, learned Ruby on Rails, Gem. 

I ended year 11 and decided I wanted to start developing. There are no astrophysics courses near to me. You can build games and tell stories from computer science.

How do you make decisions when it comes to your next self-improvement step? Do you look at data, attend conferences?

I attended the recent Atlassian conference. Also, there are 20 of us that meet at a bar regularly to talk about problems, I have joined a few teams and am developing professional skills. 

I pitched to investors last year and got 10,000 AUD but it doesn’t last very long in a startup.

I like to see people in the physical world, go to Python global conferences, learning what’s the newest feature with the project that I can use to my advantage.

Has it been a benefit to have online conferences due to Covid-19?

I would never have been able to afford travel to conferences until this year when I’ve started making money, the online conferences are more accessible.

Before, if you are not fully embedded in a developer community, there is not much incentive to go to in-person conferences, there is a huge cost to fly overseas for a conference, and no guarantee that project of interest will be discussed, no guarantee people that people will help you there. There are more frequent conferences now, by more teams, not just big companies doing them.

Do you have a mentor? Or are you mentoring someone else?

I’m a mentor at the University Codjo, mentoring 14-15-year-olds with Autism / ADSD. For me, the computer sciences teacher was a mentor at school, but I don’t have anyone mentoring me right now. I wouldn’t need a mentor right now for teaching me, rather someone who can structure how I do things, I’m not the best, I’m not perfect, people with experience have given great advice to me.

Do you have any words of wisdom for others thinking of building their own games or game engines?

1. I echo the words of “information wants to be free” if everyone open sources and has no barriers, that would be my ideal world!

2. If you want to make any media, games are great, they engage people, I lose interest in reading novels,  in games, there is so much you can involve other people with, everyone can make their own stories. There’s engagement.

What’s in your toolbox?

  • Unity for most of my games stuff
  • Starship, customisable prompt for my terminal – makes everything look so much cooler. I love customising my devices.
  • GitHub
  • Keybase for communications, encryption and there are git integrations.
  • Notion 
  • Visual studio code 
  • Jira by Atlassian – more of an industry-standard than what I was using before.
  • MacBook M1 for on-the-go stuff, I duel boot with Linux when testing.

How do you work as a distributed team? What tools do you use?

Keybase is the main tool, git commits can be seen in there and there are cool bots and tools you can use. It was also acquired by Zoom which shows that things will be great for global teams.

We also use Facebook messenger or WhatsApp for casual talk.

Git commits can be sent there, cool bots, and tools you can use. Was acquired by zoom, shows that things will be great for global teams.

What do you need right now?

Right now direct partnership with companies is needed, funding is so important. Everyone in the team is paying out of their own pockets. The best way we can succeed is with funding so the Kickstarter will work, with partnerships, it will give our Kickstarter legitimacy. 

If you’re interested in joining forces with Liam and his team either as a developer committed to open-source, or a partner, you can reach Liam via his GitHub profile.

We love to hear your development stories, get in touch to share yours.


AR/VR Trends in the Ecosystem – Part One

Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) have captured the public imagination for decades; from the Holodeck in Star Trek to Ironman’s Heads Up Display, this technology is synonymous with visions of the future. Recently however, AR & VR processing has become commonplace on smartphones and companies like Oculus & Sony have released consumer-quality headsets. In this post we take a look at some of the AR/VR trends in the ecosystem, focusing on the main differences between developers and non-developers active in this space. Let’s look at those AR/VR trends.

AR & VR are the smallest individual software sectors

Considered individually, Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality remain the smallest software sectors out of the ones we research (the others being mobile, desktop, web, games, backend, industrial IoT, consumer electronics, data science & machine learning). Even when combined, AR and VR (AR/VR) are only marginally bigger than Consumer Electronics, the next smallest sector. Only 0.4% of people are involved solely in AR or VR, the rest are involved with at least one other development area.

AR/VR trends – Only 0.4% of developers are involved solely in AR and/or VR

Of the 9% of people involved with AR or VR almost half (46%) are involved with both AR and VR. This shows that there is a significant overlap in the skills needed to work in these sectors. There are more people involved solely with VR (31%) than with AR (24%). AR is slightly less mature than VR and there are some technical challenges in AR (occlusion, optics & object registration, for example) which are still being resolved, this also means that there is a smaller market for AR products, as the technology is less established. This results in a slightly higher barrier to entry and subsequently a smaller number of people involved in AR than for VR only.

AR/VR Trends - 46% of AR/VR practitioners are involved with both AR and VR

AR & VR trends – practitioners are mostly hobbyists

One of the defining features of AR & VR practitioners is their diverse involvement in different development areas. As previously discussed, the number of people involved solely in AR & VR is very small, but in fact, many of them are also involved in multiple development areas. Over 60% of practitioners involved in AR and VR are involved in 5 or more sectors in total. This is a large contrast with respondents who don’t work in AR or VR, where only 9% only are involved in 5 or more sectors.

Most people who are involved in AR or VR are hobbyists, and not just in AR & VR. These people are more likely to be hobbyists in every other sector than people not involved in AR or VR. They are technology enthusiasts who like to experiment outside of their professional duties, and are currently experimenting with AR & VR, potentially with a view to incorporating AR & VR into their existing development projects.

Looking at this from the other side, 28% of VR professionals also consider themselves to be hobbyists in the same sector. Out of AR professionals, 24% take on AR projects in their spare time as a hobby. This is higher than most other sectors, with machine learning being the next highest at 26%, then games at 25%. This shows that AR & VR practitioners are enthusiastic about the sector, often having passion projects on the side.

57% of AR & VR hobbyists work professionally in at least one other development area

We also see more diversity in the type of roles that AR & VR practitioners do. Because AR & VR sit at the intersection of arts and technology, practitioners often fulfill hybrid (both technical and non-technical) roles. In fact 35% of AR practitioners fulfill a hybrid role. Subsequently, people involved in AR/VR are less likely to be ‘Pure Developers’ (people solely fulfilling developer-type roles) than those involved in other sectors. This difference is especially pronounced for respondents working in VR or in AR and VR, with only 34% and 38% respectively working solely in developer roles, compared with 50% of respondents working in AR only.

AR/VR trends - practitioners often fulfill hybrid roles

Practitioners who are involved in VR only, or VR and AR are more than twice as likely as their counterparts who are only involved in AR to be in non-developer roles. This shows that non-developers tend to favour working in VR in some capacity.

Drilling down into the roles, we see that 49% of AR practitioners work as programmers or software engineers, compared with only 37% and 32% respectively for VR practitioners and those who work in both AR and VR. Many AR practitioners are also involved in web & mobile development and machine learning. This suggests that these coders are interested in AR from a technical point of view, looking to challenge themselves by using the latest technology or to implement AR in their projects.

On the other hand, VR practitioners and those involved in both AR and VR are more than twice as likely as AR practitioners to be game designers or work as product managers. The popularity of these roles reflects the quick uptake of VR by the game market – moving from being an emerging technology to generating revenue.

Not only do AR & VR practitioners hold different roles compared to people involved in other sectors, but they also wear a lot of different hats. More than 20% of people involved in AR or VR take on 4 or more roles, compared with only 12% of people involved in other sectors. We already know that AR & VR developers are often passionate hobbyists, but it’s also clear that they have diverse interests and skills. This diversity comes from the fact that as AR and VR development technology matures, tools are appearing which require fewer technical skills to create an AR or VR product. This attracts non-developers who can more easily realise their vision.

AR & VR practitioners take on more roles than people working in other sectors

What other AR/VR trends are there?

Almost as many AR & VR developers use 3D animation software as use IDEs

While there is some overlap in the technologies used by developers and non-developers involved in VR, none of them have a strong appeal for both audiences. The Oculus technology suite comes closest to being the go-to platform for both developers and non-developers, with over 35% of each audience using the platform. Playstation VR, Windows 10 Mixed Reality & Google Daydream all attract a good proportion of non-developers (36%, 28% and 26% respectively), but fail to appeal to VR developers. This landscape creates an opportunity for a technology vendor willing to invest in widening support and access for one (or both!) audiences, as a unified tech stack would provide large efficiency benefits to integrated teams by integrating with other tools and platforms, streamlining training needs and reducing the variety of tools being used.

AR/VR Trends - Oculus leads across all practitioners, but PlayStation VR is equally popular among non-developers

Unity Mobile AR, AR Core and AR Kit lead the pack of software tools for people creating AR products, but all of these tools are favoured more by developers than by non-developers. This suggests that there is space in the AR software market for a tool which allows non-developers to more easily realise their creative vision.

AR software tools appeal more strongly to AR developers than non-developers

Over half of developers use game engines and 48% use 3D modelling and rendering software. The high uptake of these technologies amongst AR/VR developers is testament to the powerful efficiency gains available from the abstraction they offer, as well as that AR, and especially VR, lend themselves to game development.

Over 50% of AR & VR developers use game engines

We’ve already seen that practitioners that undertake developer and non-developer roles (hybrid developers) make up a sizeable proportion of those involved with AR & VR, and this is validated by the popularity of 3D animation software (39%) and designer tools (30%) amongst the technologies used by AR & VR developers. In fact, almost as many AR & VR developers here use 3D animation software as use IDEs!

Backend-as-a-service, ML APIs and app store analytics are all used by less than 15% of AR & VR developers. The usage rate of app store analytics for AR & VR developers is 3 percentage points lower than for game developers, and 10 percentage points lower than for mobile developers. This suggests that AR/VR developers are focusing on getting the basics right, rather than trying to extract maximum value from their apps’ marketing funnel.

Graph depicting technologies used by devs and non devs

We see some overlap in the tools used by non-developers; 49% use 3D modelling and rendering software, 43% use game engines and 42% use 3D animation software. The high usage rates of the more artistic technologies is to be expected, given that these people are, by definition, not developers.

The Adobe toolset is the most popular software tool amongst non-developers, but the next three most popular software tools are all SDKs used by 24% of AR non-developers (ARCore, ARkit and Unity Mobile AR). This begs the question, do non-developers involved in AR & VR know how to code?

What are your biggest pain points in getting into AR/VR development? You can share your experiences in our AR/VR survey.

You can read more AR/VR trends in our State of the Developer Nation report.