Rio Caraeff’s job is to see that there is enough fun and engaging stuff on the Magic Leap One Creator Edition augmented reality glasses. Caraeff, the chief content officer at Magic Leap, took to the stage during the three-hour keynote speech at the Magic Leap L.E.A.P. conference in Los Angeles this week to tell developers that his company needs them to pioneer “spatial computing,” or apps and games that blend the physical world with the digital world in a way that makes use of 3D spaces.
Caraeff said Magic Leap needs the creativity of small developers and lone creators to come up with the new ways of using spatial computing that the bigger companies might never dream about. He said that games would be important to the platform, as they are on every successful new technology. Magic Leap created demos like the digital human, MICA, to inspire developers to shoot high. But it also wants to take in the feedback and designs that those developers can offer.
Of course, Caraeff didn’t do what others have urged him to do, like pulling out Magic Leap’s checkbook to underwrite more development. He said that Magic Leap would do so, but he didn’t attach a figure to that, like Facebook did when it said it funded $250 million in Oculus apps and was making $250 million more available. Because Caraeff didn’t pull out a number, you can bet that it’s not going to be all that impressive.
At the L.E.A.P. event, I talked with Caraeff about the company’s efforts to bring unique and killer content to its platform.
Here’s an edited transcript of our interview.
GamesBeat: Are you happy with how things have gone so far?
Rio Caraeff: I am. I haven’t had a moment to gauge sentiment, but I’m happy with how it went. I have a new appreciation for how hard it is to do these things. Some companies make it look easy. This is the first one we’ve produced, and it’s a ton of work.
GamesBeat: What was the key point you wanted to get across in your part?
Caraeff: For me the most important message was that we recognize how important independent developers are. We’re not solely focused on big companies or mature developers with hundreds of people. We recognize that there’s a large community of independently-minded developers and creators. They all have different backgrounds in different geographies and different points of view. For those that believe this is what comes next, whether we do it or not, we know that’s an important community.
We announced the independent creator program, which is really about–essentially it’s a grant program that offers hardware, financing, marketing, hands-on engineering, and other forms of support. We want to support more developers, more independent developers. That was the key message for me. Anything that expands the market for developers and applications and content is our most important focus.
GamesBeat: Microsoft’s HoloLens is out there. They seem to have an enterprise focus. You guys have all that and consumers too in mind. Do you have a more complex problem as far as how to stoke developer interest?
Caraeff: It starts, philosophically, with what makes Magic Leap different. We’re not slavishly focused on sales channels. We’re focused on people: people who have families, people who have jobs, people who go to work, people who come home from work, people who need information to be smarter and more informed about the world around them, people who need entertainment, people who need to be productive. When you’re focused on people, not on sales channels, I think you can better see the use cases and better understand the customer, compared to when you’re thinking about how better to sell to the IT manager at a Fortune 500 company.
We know businesses don’t buy technology. Businesses buy solutions to problems. They buy access to opportunity. We’ve had a lot of interest from enterprise customers, enterprise developers, various types of agencies, consulting firms, everything in between. We’re in this learning mode: put Magic Leap out there, serve developers and creators, and get feedback for the first time. Who’s interested in this thing? What do people want to make? Let’s chase that interest and throw fuel on that fire.
Instead of saying, “We’re consumer-focused” or “We’re enterprise-focused”–that’s not how Rony thinks about the market. That’s not how I think about the market. We’re all people at the end of the day. We’re people who have certain things that everybody on the planet needs to do every day. How does Magic Leap earn its place at the table by allowing you to do things as a person that you could never do before? How do we give you superpowers? How do we activate your inner 10-year-old? How do we make you feel as if you have X-ray vision? That’s how we look at it. Sometimes that can be construed as a consumer focus, but it’s really–the heart of it is people-focused.
GamesBeat: When you’re curating thing s for the platform, it doesn’t seem like it’s always natural. It’s almost like you have to put extra belief in it, or extra effort, to make indie developer support happen.
Caraeff: The independent creator program came from customer feedback. It came from a large outcry from people. Independent developers are not big companies. They’re sole proprietors. They’re students. They’re hobbyists. They’re people who believe. They’re more missionary than mercenary. Whether we do it or not, they believe this is what comes next. They’re drawn to it. They can’t help but be drawn to it. They see around a corner to a world where a billion people can do this every day.
They want to be there. They want to tell their story. They want to make their app. They want to do something cool and interesting. They just need a bit of help getting on track, making it happen. It’s an investment in content and developers and the market. But I think it’s one of the most important investments we can make. We didn’t start out saying, “Let’s invest in this community.” The customers spoke and we have to listen.
GamesBeat: Mica was very interesting. I got to try it yesterday. It’s something to see her set in the real world and see the eye-tracking. In some ways eye-tracking seems like only a small part of the problem, but when it works, it’s almost mesmerizing.
Caraeff: Just like we are right now. If you think about it, head pose, where my head is at–eye tracking isn’t the same as head pose. Where my head is going isn’t the same as where my eyes are looking. Gestures. We’re multi-modal creatures. We don’t just do one thing. We don’t just talk. We gesture. We look. We point. We’re inherently multi-modal communicators. That’s what comes naturally to anyone.
Human-centric computing, spatial computing, all of these things–we think this amplifies who you are as a person. It’s not divorcing you or disconnecting you from that. Something that sounds as simple as eye tracking is a really natural and powerful thing.
GamesBeat: Epic, with the Unreal engine, is putting a big priority on creating digital humans on all the platforms they’re on. They’ve had a number of demos in VR. But do you think there’s something about AR, mixed reality, that makes it more of an achievement?
Caraeff: People tend to come at it from two different approaches. On one side they look at it as, how do I create bits that are indistinguishable from atoms? Or photons that are indistinguishable from atoms? They’re focused on skin texture and reflections and real time ray tracing and all of these things.
Other people come at it a different way: what is the body without the soul? What’s a perfectly rendered representation of a human being with no intellect or emotion? It’s an empty vessel. I tend to appreciate both. I can appreciate how hard it is to create incredible rendered digital characters. But to me it’s an empty vessel without the soul. It’s more about the embodiment of the AI behind it. I look at it that way.
GamesBeat: Do you think that with the talk about human-centered AI, you would want to create something like this, or would you like to just inspire other developers?
Caraeff: I think it’s both. We formed that team because it’s about both sides of the coin. You can’t have the body without the soul. You can’t have one without the other. MICA is a proof point to validate the thinking and get feedback on it. MICA will be shipping next year, but also, in an interesting way–we want to see what other people make. MICA may not be for everyone. You may want a companion droid rolling around to be your MICA. I might want a little dragon flying around with me and lands on my shoulder. You saw in the presentation from ILMxLAB, they had a companion droid there. That’s another interesting idea.
MICA might not be for everyone, but that’s not the point. The point is that the digital world can exist in your physical world. You can embody digital characters with personalities and intelligence. You can tie them into a variety of machine learning networks. It could be one from Magic Leap or one from another company.
GamesBeat: What do you think about the mix of games at this point? On the iPhone, for a long time 80 percent of the revenue came from games. Do you feel like you should prioritize that?
Caraeff: The first thing to understand is there’s a one-to-one correlation of skills and tools between game developers and building for spatial computing. They’re already building in 3D. They’re already building in volumetric arenas. They’re already creating open worlds. They’re already using the engines and the lingua franca of the medium. They’re familiar with occlusion. They know about shadows. They know about spatial audio. They know about six degrees of freedom with controllers.
Some things are new. How do they deal with environments? Everyone’s living room is different. How do they deal with eye tracking, head pose, voice, or other things they’re not dealing with yet? But 90 percent of the time they’re ready to go. It’s not always as simple as “We prioritize games.” Game developers are already Magic Leap developers. They don’t have a learning curve.
If you come from a web background or an enterprise cloud background, this is not what you do every day. It’s a bunch of new concepts. There’s a lot of new things. You’re not optimizing GPUs every day. At the beginning, you do tend to over-index, proportionally, on game developers or games. All of the tooling and skills are there. There’s no ramp to get there.
We’re welcoming all the game developers. We think games are fun. We think games inspire other people to create. Games also teach you how to use the system. I always fall back on, when I got my first Nintendo Wii, I liked playing Wii Sports. But aside from being fun to play, Wii Sports taught thousands of developers how to use an IMU controller they’d never used before. That inspired developers to do other things. We look at Create and Dr. G as stand-alone experiences that are fun, but they also inspire others to do things we couldn’t anticipate.
GamesBeat: Are you encouraging them to think in a different way than they do today?
Caraeff: Seedling from Insomniac is a good example of a classic triple-A game developer that didn’t just want to make a game. They wanted to make something that inspires an emotional response. Seedling was the first title I played that I felt was alive. It followed me around the room. As I got closer, it started to get defensive. I was moving too fast toward it. I trimmed a leaf and I felt it shudder and direct energy elsewhere. The creatures that live there came to seem me — they were curious — but not too close, because they don’t know whether I’m a friend.
I know it’s not real. I know it’s an application. But I felt very quickly that it was real, because I was having genuine emotional responses and reactions to it. It was growing toward the light of a real lamp in my room. It knew about the lamp. It knew about the table. It knew where I was. That was a powerful thing for me. It’s not a game, but it’s an emotional experience.
We’re not prescriptive. We don’t tell what people to do. We want them to empower them to do what they want to do. Supporting artists–every developer is an artist and a creator. Supporting them is about giving them access to the tools to tell their stories. It’s not about saying, “This is what we want from you.”
GamesBeat: In Angry Birds, I could see that one of the birds had its own shadow. But it’s created in the game part. How tough a problem is it take real-world lights and have them cast shadows off the animated characters?
Caraeff: It’s a real challenge. It’s not unsolvable. It’s something we’re working on. We look at depth and light as leading indicators of reality. Magic Leap supports multiple depth planes. The real world is not just in one plane in front of you. If something doesn’t have depth — and not just volumetric depth, but rendering where something is in focus and something is not in focus in your field of view — how can it feel real? It doesn’t behave the way the real world behaves.
A lot of that is down to the optics of our platform and the way we tie it into the underlying software. Developers can build stuff and then the platform decides how to render it based on where you’re looking. Depth, for me, is the leading indicator of reality. Digital shadows from real-world light is not something we do today, but we think it’s a very cool thing to do.
GamesBeat: Do you think that you might have some future form of Alexa tied in to this? A smart speaker combined with a visualization?
Caraeff: Mica, as I say, is a proof point of the embodiment of a digital character with the intelligence of an agent. But there’s no reason why Amazon couldn’t make an Alexa on Magic Leap that was tied in to its Alexa service, but also embodied in a digital way in your physical world. We’re open to all of those things. We don’t think the world is homogenous and everything will only come from us. We want to enable others to make things as well.
GamesBeat: What you showed here today, is this an indication of what you want more people to make?
Caraeff: We’ve had a lot of pent-up energy. We’ve been busy for a while. We’ve not spoken publicly about a lot of things we’re doing. The messages we wanted to get out today are very much about–we support independent creators. We have a range of developers across a number of industries who are working on the platform. We have a long road map in terms of the vision of a Magicverse and how that ties in with what Neal Stephenson and John Gaeta were talking about, how it ties in with AT&T.
There’s vision and audacity, but it’s backed by execution and what we’re shipping today. And what we’ll ship next quarter and what we’ll ship the quarter after that. It’s about turning the corner to have more trust and transparency and better communication, serving developers and creators. That’s the message we wanted to get out today.