I recently had the pleasure to be interviewed by Rafi Cohen for Faultline Magazine. Please find the full piece below.
In its pursuit of the mobile gaming market, PubNative, a German app-focused supply-side platform (SSP), is tentatively exploring the possibilities of VR. Speaking to Faultline this week, the company’s founder and CEO, Ionut Ciobotaru admitted that his “interest is just exploratory.”
“For now, VR just doesn’t have the critical mass to be monetizable for ad companies,” he added.
The company has set gaming as its next key market for growth in the world of mobile ads, announcing in April that it was expanding its offering to include ads in VR games. But with only a handful of VR games currently live on its platform, the company is simply testing the waters in terms of consumer demand.
There are a few barriers to VR games becoming a keystone of PubNative’s revenue. Small margins mean the company must operate at scale, only working with apps that have over 5 million users. Many VR games simply do not have those numbers yet, with huge growth inhibited by the need for users to purchase a headset to play.
Secondly, most VR games are expensive to develop, and often opt to make users pay, rather than risk making a return on ad revenue. While excited by the creative potential of the platform, Ciobotaru admitted, “We’re a few years off.”
Founded in 2014, PubNative’s first focus was supplying ad inventory for social media and messenger apps, before quickly moving on to what Ciobotaru called “content” and “entertainment” apps — uses like weather forecasts, drawing, music.
It was not until the company was acquired by Media and Games Invest (MGI) last year that it began to focus on advertising within mobile games. MGI is the holding behind large games developer, Gamigo, as well as owning smaller companies such as WildTangent and Aeria Games.
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Ciobotaru argued the move has served PubNative well, telling Faultline that gaming is currently the fastest growing sector in mobile advertising, “we’re expanding into gaming, it’s our main focus area for growth.”
Ciobotaru explained that PubNative’s existing mix of clients were well suited to in-game ads. Brands make up around 80% of ad inventory, with the other 20% being “performance” advertisers.
The latter is a term used to describe companies that want an immediate consumer reaction — be that a click or an app download — as a result of the impression, rather than a brand that just wants to boost its awareness among the general public. Ciobotaru argued that brands that simply want “eyes” — rather than immediate responses — are better suited to gaming, as they can be creatively embedded into gameplay.
To meet the new technological demands brought by the gaming sector, PubNative acquired the development department and ad technology of fellow Berliners, TVSmiles, in December 2019.
Aside from VR and gaming, recent activity has — unusually — centered around CTVs. PubNative is about to launch AdCast, a software development kit (SDK) that allows advertisers to alter mobile app ads if they are being streamed to a TV via Chromecast, Fire Stick, or similar technologies.
Ciobotaru explained how AdCast was developed after PubNative noticed a gap in the market. “We were already working with app developers and saw that no one was monetizing the process of streaming the phone to the TV. Mobile is the hub for nearly every connected device”, he explained.
On the impact of the pandemic, Ciobotaru said that growth had been slowed, but had not stalled completely. “Most reports say brand budgets have been slashed by around 20%. We’ve seen more like 30%, but it has been minimized by good growth year on year.” The lull has yet to pick up and Ciobotaru expects it to continue for another two or three months as economies slowly accelerate.
Luckily for a company that is setting its sights on mobile gaming ads, gaming of all kinds has exploded under lockdown. Labeling the sector a “safe haven” from the turbulence experienced by the rest of the ad industry, Ciobotaru said that gaming companies he knows have not seen a dip in users, with many seeing a slight increase.
While more eyes on screens certainly is some light relief, we could not help but point out that this is creating its own problems. With 30% fewer buyers, there is far less competition for ad inventory, but far more inventory available due to the rise in gamers. As a result, surely the cost per thousand impressions (CPM) has shot down?
Ciobotaru accepted that CPM has sunk in recent weeks, but that its impact has been largely offset by an increase in volume in the marketplace. It sounds like a small hit has been taken, but nothing to deter long term growth in the market.
On the bright side, Ciobotaru said that the standstill brought by Covid-19 has in many ways eased the recent merger that is Verve Group. Unifying MGI’s recent acquisitions, PubNative is now grouped with Verve, an American location-based mobile marketing platform, and Applift, a Berlin-based mobile growth performance marketing company.
PubNative started with native advertising — advertisers provide the assets (logos, designs, script) and then publishers decide how they are integrated into the user experience. This is still most of the company’s business, and it is one of the largest SSPs for native mobile advertising.
Although based in Berlin, Ciobotaru explained how when the company started, his first aim was to infiltrate the US mobile market. Picking up clients such as Tango, Skype and Pinger within the first two months, the company was able to scale easily in the uniform market of the states. He admitted that scaling in Europe proved much more of a struggle, inhibited by both GDPR and the variation in markets between countries.
The company has grown each year, with this year’s most recent quarter seeing a growth of 30% year on year. PubNative now employs over 60 staff and serves clients in over 120 companies.
PubNative’s SSP is connected to hundreds of demand-side platforms (DSPs). At any one time, there are tens of thousands of advertisers competing to buy real-time impressions on mobile applications.
Ciobotaru estimated that PubNative’s SSP processes a few hundred thousand impressions per second, with adverts reaching a few hundred million users per month, creating impressions in the billions.
This interview was originally published on Faultline, May 21st 2020 by Rafi Cohen.
AR For Remote Assistance: A True Game Changer
🔴 Sometimes, the biggest obstacle preventing a customer from receiving a service is not cost or availability, but rather distance. Even in our highly interconnected world, situations occur when customers live in remote regions with no option to get service quickly, or even when the service is quite rare and not represented in all cities where customers reside. Such circumstances might seem hopeless at first glance, but can often be counteracted with remote assistance, or even better – remote assistance through AR.
◈ How do remote assistance and AR work?
Remote assistance traditionally refers to the provision of support and service through various forms of communication – voice and video calls, text messaging and chat, mobile apps, and web platforms. The listed approaches are far from perfect, but they can be improved with augmented reality (AR) technology, which allows digital elements to be projected on real visuals (e.g. live camera footage) with certain devices (usually smartphones, tablets, or smart glasses). Let’s take a look at how and why the technology is being used in this field. 👇
◈ Benefits of the AR Approach for Business
Many businesses are already using online and mobile tools to support their customers and employees, but AR makes the service superior through multiple benefits:
1. Faster data analysis
AR technology focuses on analyzing footage and identifying objects in a camera stream. Applications of this type often have pre-programmed markers (images of an object) that it will detect in a photo or camera stream, and the process often happens much faster than a person looking at their surroundings and identifying a particular detail. Consequently, someone can just aim their camera at a piece of equipment, and their AR app will provide information and/or digital visuals in seconds as opposed to sharing the image via message and waiting minutes for an expert to identify it.
2. More relevant and informative visuals
🗨 In addition to speed, the tracking systems of AR apps do a much better job of providing accurate and relevant information. To begin with, remote specialists are quite limited in their approach to identifying objects and issues affecting them. They might ask for descriptions, photos, or a video to get a grasp of the issue, and even they sometimes make mistakes. On the other hand, a well-crafted tracking system will analyze many factors around an object in a live camera feed and can make a more accurate judgment about the situation. Accordingly, the information and/or visuals that the AR app then displays will be more relevant and better tailored to the user’s surroundings.
3. Improved automation
🎯 Given the advanced tracking and visualization systems present in AR apps, they can take on many of the functions typically delegated to support specialists. The application can include step-by-step support for dozens of situations and scenarios, so users are able to resolve issues by themselves. However, it is unlikely that this type of solution will replace support staff entirely, as not every problem encountered by users can be prepared for, and there are also times when the hardware and software fail to make the right determinations.
4. Ease of development
👉 Just 10 years ago, AR was an unknown concept to most businesses and developers, with only a select few companies (like Layar) paving the way for the technology to thrive. Today, AR development services are thriving with thousands of developers working in this field. Furthermore, Android and iOS have embraced the technology and provided the tools (ARKit and ARCore) to build such software for their platforms with no hassle. Thus, the creation of such solutions should not be thought of as much more complex than ordinary app development.
5. Standing out from the competition
🗨 For service providers competing with other companies for market share, the elaborate level of support provided through remote assistance with AR could be the game-changing factor that puts their business ahead of the rest of the pack. Besides outshining competitors, this approach should also impress users and give them a better experience more closely tailored to their circumstances.
Where can AR Remote Support be Used? 👈
Given the broad capabilities of AR, it can be used in nearly every industry – even support for online services. Still, certain industries lend themselves to the technology best, and some examples are below:
Helping drivers make repairs or learn how certain features work. Making the jobs of mechanics/salesmen easier with quick scanning and information
👥 Customers can use their devices to navigate stores more easily and find needed products faster. Employees can train to quickly identify where products are located and how goods are organized.
Patients and their caretakers are guided through medical tasks, medical readings are made clearer and visualized. Medical staff can quickly interpret results and provide recommendations.
Workers at utility plants and stations can quickly troubleshoot issues, share relevant footage and data, preview changes to facility functions.
Servicemen can learn how to work with equipment properly, scan gear and objects for potential dangers, and get accurate descriptions of various items.
👉 And many more
These examples are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to creating AR experiences.
Where is AR Already Being Used for Remote Assistance?
With thousands of businesses already using AR in their operations, it is safe to say that hundreds have applied it to remote assistance. Some prominent examples include: 👇
1. CITIC Telecom
The CITIC Telecom company has a massive amount of infrastructure that must be kept in working order, and AR is helping with this. Their field engineers and maintenance staff are using AR devices to troubleshoot issues with equipment and boost productivity by over 50%.
2. Scandinavian Health Ltd
With the recent lockdown and quarantine measures, many auditors are not able to come to work. However, the company has invested in smart glasses, which are worn by employees that do visit their facilities and allow the auditors to see the data crucial to their work visualized.
Renault is a French automaker that integrated AR devices to improve cooperation with dealerships. Using the special software and hardware, Renault engineers can cooperate with dealership technicians to resolve warranty issues, reducing the need for engineers to visit the dealerships.
The giant food corporation Nestlé is applying AR technology to improve collaboration among its various production and R&D sites. Specialists in the facilities are linked with the software and can easily share photos and video streams, files, visualize systems and processes and therefore work more efficiently.
📖 Conclusion 👇
At the most basic level, AR-based support answers the biggest demand that people in need of help have – show, don’t tell. Though voice and video support are helpful in many situations, augmented reality apps provide can resolve most troubleshooting situations much faster and more accurately, as long as the proper care and attention to detail are invested in their development. As the approach grows and grows in popularity, we see a rising number of businesses use it to their advantage.
🗨 In case you are interested in the implementation of AR technologies to enhance your business processes or accomplish other goals, you can contact any of the numerous companies that provide AR services. One of the leading companies presented in the matrix above is Program-Ace – an AR development company that has worked with immersive technologies since they first appeared on the market. Whichever company you choose will be lucky to have you, because the implementation of new tech in your business will allow you to stay a few steps ahead of your competitors.
↘ Source: 👤 Mikhail Shcherbatko is a creative writer, translator, movie buff, and fantasy book fan. Writing guest posts for Program-Ace, he strives to bring useful insights to the masses. 🔚
Digital Catapult’s Augmentor Programme Reveals 10 new XR Startups
Now in its fourth year, during the summer Digital Catapult’s Augmentor programme announced an open call for UK-based XR startups. They’ve now been chosen, selecting 10 companies working across the immersive industry spectrum, from training platforms to augmented reality (AR) books.
They will now begin a 12-week programme to help grow their products and enhance their business model, meeting and learning from leading industry mentors and investors to attract more financing in a bid to scale.
The teams selected for the 2020 Augmentor programme are:
- Emperia – “Is creating virtual reality experiences that boost sales and customer engagement for businesses in art and luxury fashion.”
- Evidential – “Has produced EVITA, an incident training platform which provides large scale environments where multiple training scenarios can take place.”
- Fracture Reality – “Developing an online mixed reality platform called Join specifically for engineering and data-intensive users that includes immersive 3D features like gestural sketching and avatars.”
- MagicBeans – “It has developed Roundhead, a platform for creating and delivering six degrees of freedom spatial audio experiences at scale, so users can create, share and listen to spatial audio across multiple devices.”
- MOONHUB – “Has created a high quality, immersive training product which uses virtual reality to convert e-learning solutions into interactive training scenarios to improve engagement in employee training.”
- Overview Ark – “Created a tool for production designers and event coordinators to build 1:1 replicas of a live show without the need of programming knowledge.”
- Percept Imagery – “Developed a unique augmented reality platform called Sprie that enables retailers to personalise online shopping experiences by allowing shoppers to try products in the real world before buying them.”
- Retinize – “An award-winning content studio based in Belfast, Northern Ireland, that specialises in the creation of cutting edge immersive VR content as well as interactive and geolocative AR applications.”
- Slanted Theory – “Through the power of 3D technology (XR) and immersive analytics, Slanted Theory has created “Alaira”, a cloud data analysis and visualisation platform which provides views of data unparalleled in 2D dashboards.”
- VIKA Books – “Using augmented reality to promote British Sign Language (BSL) as a language for deaf and hearing children alike.”
“At a time when access to entertainment venues is restricted, online shopping has soared, and remote collaboration for work is more important than ever before as many of us remain working from home for the foreseeable future, this year’s Augmentor cohort are providing innovative, commercially viable solutions to issues that are important to us all,” said Jessica Driscoll, Head of Technology – Immersive at Digital Catapult in a statement. “What’s more, because Augmentor has always been about bringing investors and industry along for the journey, the teams see tangible results, from business support all the way to investment. We’ll be watching the next three months very closely and look forward to seeing the results.”
In the past three years, 27 companies have taken part in Digital Catapult’s initiative, helping them raise a combined total of over £6.7 million GBP. These have included Somewhere Else which developed soft skills training platform BodySwaps, so it’s always worth keeping an eye on participants for the next big thing. For further updates, keep reading VRFocus.
Hands-on: Impressive PS5 DualSense Haptics & Tracking Tech Bodes Well for Future PSVR Controllers
The launch of PlayStation 5 is just a few weeks away and promises to bring PSVR support with it. While we’re excited to give the old headset a try on the new console, PS5’s new DualSense controller may give us an exciting glimpse of things to come.
If you know your game console history, you’ll know that Sony coined the name ‘DualShock’ for its first haptic controllers introduced all the way back in 1997 on the original PlayStation console. With 23 years of DualShock controllers on PlayStation consoles between then and now, you’ll understand why it’s a big deal for Sony to call its PS5 controller by a new name: DualSense.
DualSense isn’t just a name change… it really is a big jump in controller technology from its predecessors. Beyond being arguably the company’s most ergonomic controller yet, the DualSense controller is packed with impressive haptics and motion tracking—the same tech we’d love to see in a future VR controller.
I got to take the controller for a lengthy spin in the ‘Cooling Springs’ level of Astro’s Playroom, a non-VR spin-off from the same studio behind the PSVR masterpiece Astro Bot Rescue Mission (2018). The game was designed to show off everything the controller can do.
More Than Rumble
Let’s talk first about rumble haptics. While the prior DualShock 4 controller was no slouch, the DualSense controller really is next-level. Rather than old-school ERM (eccentric rotating mass) rumble motors, the controller features a pair of powerful LRAs (linear resonant actuators) which are capable of a much wider range of haptic sensations or ‘haptic effects’ like buzzing, rumbling, thumping, pulsing and everywhere in between.
And the LRAs pack a punch. There’s so much power behind them that at times it can feel like the controller is actually filled with something that’s jumbling around within its volume… and this is where I apologize for attempting the impossible task of trying to convey haptic effects through text.
The bottom line here is that the LRA-based haptics are capable of delivering a far wider range of haptic effects compared to the ERM of yore. You can think of LRA as increasing the ‘haptic resolution’ the controller is capable of; the difference and complexity of the effects is instantly noticeable with the DualSense controller.
Augmenting the LRA is a small speaker on the controller which not only adds an extra channel of ‘close’ audio to the overall feedback, but the speaker’s high frequency micro vibrations actually contribute further still to some of the haptic sensations. In Astro’s Playroom this was used for things happening directly to the character, like the ‘tink tink tink’ sound of their little feet walking on metal or glass, or the sound of rustling through foliage.
Triggers That Communicate
Then there’s the adaptive triggers which offer dynamically-controlled spring strength. While the trigger normally feels no different than your typical controller, the force required to pull the trigger can be adjusted on the fly, ranging from the default strength to something much harder—an effect which makes it feel like the game is ‘resisting’ your intentions. In Astro’s Playroom this is used, for example, to give a sensation of ‘crushing’ an object.
And the triggers can do more complex effects too. Rather than simply being harder to pull, it’s possible for them to be harder to pull up to a point, and then suddenly ‘let go’ after that point. That can make it feel like you’re ‘struggling’ through something until it gives way. The reverse is also possible, where the trigger can feel easy to pull until a certain point and then become harder to pull, as if you’re ‘run into’ something along the way.
Being able to change the trigger pull force on the fly allows the game to communicate far more information back to the player through one of the most important buttons on the controller. Opening up pathways for communicating additional information to the player is what haptics is all about, and it adds another layer of immersion.
For instance, in another game you could imagine the trigger suddenly becoming very hard to pull once your gun is out of ammo—to intuitively indicate that the current trigger pull is ‘invalid’ without needing to flash text on the screen.
It should be pointed out that, while the adaptive triggers are quite impressive, they don’t support what you’d call ‘force feedback’. That would be where the triggers don’t just resist your pull to a greater or lesser effect, but can actively push back against your finger.
And then there’s the DualSense tracking, which has astounded me. To be clear: the tracking in the DualSense controller is only rotational (3DOF) right now, but Sony seems to have found some ultra-precise IMU because, even without any external reference point, the DualSense controller seems almost devoid of drift.
That’s counter to my experience with PSVR devices in the past. Even with external tracking from the PS4 camera, I’ve noticed plenty of drift from the headset, PS Move, and PS Aim in various games.
While playing in ‘Cooling Springs’ in Astro’s Playroom the game allowed me to ‘inspect’ an object I found by rotating my controller in space, which would then rotate the object on screen. This gave me a good chance to test out the DualSense motion tracking.
No matter how violently I tried to shake and twist the controller, the on-screen object never lost its ‘forward’ direction—even without an external camera aiding in the tracking. I even sat the controller down in a random orientation for 30 minutes, and then compared the position of the object before and after, and found hardly any change. This shows that the controller’s IMU has very little internal drift and noise.
Little known fact about VR tracking systems: the IMU does the bulk of the tracking work, even for 6DOF tracking. While an external frame of reference—like a camera for inside or outside tracking—is important for correcting drift over time, it provides comparatively infrequent updates (on the order of 60Hz) compared to the IMU (typically around 1,000Hz).
That means that a good IMU is essential to a highly accurate 6DOF tracking system. And from what I’ve seen with the DualSense controller, Sony has picked a darn good one.
– – — – –
All told, the tech Sony is showing off in its DualSense controller on PS5 is really impressive and would be a perfect fit if realized in a PSVR 2 controller, whether that be a PS Move 2 or something else. Haptics are all about increasing immersion, and it’s not hard to imagine how even the existing PS Move controller would benefit from LRA rumble, adaptive triggers, and a much better IMU for tracking—culminating in a much more immersive VR experience.
The good news is that Sony has already deemed this controller tech good enough, cheap enough, and power efficient enough to stick into its standard controller. That bodes very well for potentially seeing the tech come to a next-gen PSVR controller.
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