On today's exciting episode, we're privileged to feature Josh Loveridge, an extraordinary talent who's trailblazing new paths in the gaming and tech industry.

Guest: Beau Button, Atlas Reality

Beau Button from Atlas Reality merges digital and physical worlds, creating a metaverse for gamers. Their platform combines virtual goods and real-world retail through a card-linked rewards system, motivating players to shop at physical stores and revolutionizing experiential marketing.

Transcript

00:00 Intro Welcome to the Player Engage podcast where we dive into the biggest challenges, technologies, trends, and best practices for creating unforgettable player experiences. Player Engage is brought to you as a collaboration between Keyword Studios and HelpShift. Here is your host, Greg Posner.

00:16 Greg Posner Welcome to the Player Engage podcast. In this episode, we’re speaking with Beau Button from Atlas Reality, a trailblazer revolutionizing the retail and gaming industries. Beau introduced us to his innovative platform that merges digital and physical world, creating a metaverse where players can find, collect, and own virtual goods. What truly stands out is how this technology is breathing new life into brick and mortar retail. By incorporating a patent-pending, card-linked, real-time reward system into their games, Atlas Reality motivates players to shop at physical stores, thereby enhancing the customer experience and redefining marketing. So we’re titling this episode, Revolutionizing Reality, the digital overlay to transforming reality in gaming.

00:59 Beau Button So first off, Bo, thank you so much for joining me today. You want to give yourself a quick intro? Yeah, no, that was the most succinct, brilliant way I’ve ever heard our business described, so I’m going to have to lift that from you. Yeah, I’m Beau Button. I’m one of the co-founders of Atlas Reality, formerly Cerberus Interactive. We rebrand it. But my background’s in tech, not video games specifically. I’ve been in this industry about seven years now, but prior to that, just enterprise software. And this is where I find myself, mobile location-based video games. Hey, I love it. And first of all, thanks for that. I’m not going to take all the credit for the intro. I’ll give a little bit of credit to ChatGPT and great technology. I use ChatGPT for job descriptions. And when these people get on the actual interviews with me and they talk to me, I’m like, yeah, it’s a letdown, isn’t it?

01:48 Greg Posner I’m nowhere near as articulate as this, that job description or post was. It’s fake it until you make it. And ChatGPT is making it a lot easier for everyone there. And it’s funny, you said you’re not a gamer, which is great, right? Because not everyone in gaming needs to come from gaming. But do you play any games? Are there any games that excite you on the horizon?

02:05 Beau Button It’s weird. So I don’t identify as a gamer in the traditional sense where I sit in front of a console or a PC and play the games. But if you look behind me, I obviously have games. I have gaming consoles. I like to think that, you know, there’s different angles that people can have or different perspectives of any tech, not just gaming or any hobby. I was like, I’m not a competitive sports person, but I will watch and have no desire to play it. A lot of people who like football, they’ll play football like me. I appreciate the machines. I appreciate the energy that goes into the games. And I’m really inquisitive. So my take from games is I just want to know how they work. I have leveraged some of those lessons I’ve learned on how these old consoles work and what we’re doing today at Atlas Reality. But I don’t really play a whole lot of games. I think it’s pretty sad if I said my favorite game is Excite Bike on the Nintendo. And I don’t mean like racing the dirt bikes. I like building the courses. That’s all I liked. I remember as a child just going home and building courses. I’d run through it once or twice and say this was great. And then I would just forget about it. But there is one game that’s a modern game called Teardown. It’s available on Steam. I don’t know why it resonates with me, but I’m hooked on it. I have a little Steam deck that I bought for my son, but he’s a PC gamer. He said he couldn’t figure out the controls, so I started playing with it. But no, I don’t play a lot of games.

03:28 Greg Posner That’s fair. In our previous conversation, you mentioned that you’re into hardware. And for those of you who aren’t watching our stream, behind Beau is a bunch of old games in the cabinet. I feel like I see some Genesis, some NES, and on top of that you have hardware. You have the Jaguar, which we talked about last time. It’s a unique system of its time. You got a meta quest. So you really are that hardware person that made a transition into video games.

03:52 Beau Button How did you go? What made that happen? How did you find that calling that way? It’s not sexy. The truth is, if my current business partner and our CEO, Sami Khan, would not have reached out to me and said, look, I want to start building video games. Do you want to help me? I would have completely just bypassed. I would have never thought of video games. It was not on the horizon for me. I would have stayed in building custom enterprise software for small to mid-sized businesses. But Sami is the proverbial marketer and he has a knack for finding customers. And he basically set up a website, found a bunch of video game development clients. And that’s how I got into it. It’s like, where’s the money? So I did. It was naive of me, but I did think that building games would be more entertaining than building ERP, CRM, BPMs, like fill in all the enterprise acronyms you can for other people. I was woefully wrong, though. Even though games are fun, building games for other people is not fun. And hence the reason we pivoted from server-centered interactive to house reality, where we started building our own games. But no, that’s how I got into it. It wasn’t like I had this lifelong dream of owning or operating a video game development company. I did dabble with game engines. I was always curious on how games were built, but never really sat down and said, you know what, I’m going to start a company. We’re going to build games.

05:19 Greg Posner I think a lot of people probably start with that mindset. I know myself, right? I didn’t go to school and think about, I want to be a coder. I want to be a coder. I did take a coder class and quickly scared me away thinking, hey, I can’t work in video games anymore. But with your extensive technology background, you’ve had a number of startups where you worked with or for where it was tech-based, right, but not gaming. But were there any learnings there? On this show, we like to talk about the customer experience. So anything you’ve learned about customers in other verticals or other industries that played a role when creating the role of Atlas games?

05:51 Beau Button You have Atlas Earth, you have Atlas Reality, you have the racing that’s built into it. Yeah, I mean, I’ve learned a lot. How do I condense that into something useful? I do subscribe for the most part to the customer is right. The customer is always right, but not always. I do find myself as a co-founder, I’m very invested for better or for worse what the customers are saying about our delivery, our product, our customer service. That’s how I learn. So, you know, I am even though I’m a co-founder, we’re a 30 person company, we’re not that big. But like I have a lot of friends that are involved in startups that have 12 people and it’s like, well, he’s the CEO. Why would he ever check his own email? And I’m like, aye, aye, aye. Sami and I are very hands on to the point where I do manage the discourse or I’m a moderator in our subreddit community, but I’m listening. I’m everywhere on social media and people are sometimes shocked when I like I’ll respond to a question. I’m just bow button on Facebook. They don’t know that I’m part of the business, but I’m in every one of our community groups, which there are about 40 of for pretty much every state. Just listening and responding. The bad part of that is I know the truth on like why things work certain ways or why we miss deadlines. And I think I take it a little too personal sometimes because I know the sweat that the team and the effort that the team put into those things. And when people like this is a scam, these people should be fired. I’m just like. I wish you could just come here for a day and I’ve actually gone as far as to offer and people have actually responded to this. I said, would any of you like to set up a call a video call? I’m here. Let’s get on the call and let me learn and let me teach you. And it has helped. Sometimes it doesn’t help a whole lot, but no, I mean, just I listen. You know, so it’s like, you know, a circuit. I’ve got inputs and then outputs and I do for better or for worse, leverage social media and like the sentiment in the community to kind of steer the company. Not not like I unilaterally steered to influence the areas of the company that I have kind of my hands in. But yeah, just I’ve learned a lot from just listening to people quite frankly. I’m not a micromanager. That’s the other thing that I don’t do. I operate off a trust for better or for like everything I do honestly is for better. More often than not, it’s for the better. But I’ve learned and as I continue to evolve my experience, I’m learning more and more about you can’t trust everybody. You know, at the surface you feel like you can. But yeah, just I trust folks. I stay out of their hair, you know, hire really smart people, really dedicated people and let them do what they do best and not try to like influence them unless you know that, hey, I’ve been down this rabbit hole and you haven’t. So I’m going to help you out here, guy.

08:35 Greg Posner You brought up a few interesting points and I want to tap on a few different ones. The first one is that you’re saying the user is always right. Right. And I get that. I worked in retail. I was a call center. That’s what they tell you. Right. But the idea is to collect that feedback from users. Right. And how do you leverage that feedback and what do you do with it? And then the other side is that you’re managing your discourse server. You’re managing your Reddit subreddit. You got your game. Right. How are you collecting this feedback and how do you process it internally? Are there different teams that handle it or what do you do once you get that feedback?

09:06 Beau Button I wish we had a formal process. I execute my own internal sentiment analysis and determine is this worthy of bringing it to the team? One thing I have learned in the last three years post launch of Atlas Earth is not most of the players aren’t looking at the big picture. Quite honestly, they’re not aware of what our big picture is because it’s not public. So they’re thinking very micro and sometimes they’ll suggest something that when you read it, you’re like, man, that makes a lot of sense. But then you look at like your business objectives. It’s like, well, those things are incompatible. But generally, I literally just if it’s something I feel like the team needs to address, I’ll bring my partner, Sami, and we’ll talk about it and then we’ll task it out. Like if it’s something that’s a UX thing or a customer service thing. No, we don’t really have a formal process. We do have a community manager and I am slowly but surely from my own mental health stepping away from both Discord and Reddit. It’s that early stage where I just need to know who our audience is. You know, you’re marketing to people. You have an idea of who you’re what your demographic is going to be. But in that first like zero to six months, I learned a lot about who our actual audience is. We’re in the play to earn space, so we’re attracting folks who probably aren’t only interested in games. You know, these are folks who are genuinely in need of passive income. And we kind of knew that. But so, yeah, there’s there’s no formal process. But I take it and we get it into the hands of if it’s an engineering task, it goes into the sprint planning process. If it’s a customer service task, I do manage customer service. I manage customer service and the reason you and I, you know, the way that we know each other is through help shift. But I don’t necessarily sit on it for very long. If I feel like it’s something that will make a difference, I try to put it into action as fast as possible.

11:02 Greg Posner It’s interesting. You know, I sit kind of on the opposite side of you, right? We’re typically selling this technology, but it’s interesting to hear that many people don’t account for feedback, even when they’re launching a game. You tell them, oh, we didn’t even really think about that. And I would think it would be the number one priority, maybe not the number one priority, but really high up there because, again, I don’t believe that the customer is always right. And I know you don’t. But we say that right. But at the same time, if you’re not listening to your audience, Reddit’s a great place. Discord’s a great place. And I think you’re probably pulling out at the right time. You have a game. The game is working. You have an audience. Now the toxicity is going to come. You’re probably going to want to step back and let the community managers handle the escalated stuff. But it always shocks me that no one’s really not no one. But it shocks me that people aren’t listening to that feedback more often or doing something with it. I think it makes sense to probably think of more formal processes to build into that. Yes, it’s probably a minor thing to think through, but it’s that’s how the game gets used to grow.

11:56 Beau Button Right. Yeah, it’s most definitely a blessing and a curse. You know, like I said, about macro versus micro, oddly enough, and only oddly because I’m the person who loves listening to the community. Whereas Sami, you know, his his approach is he’s a game designer. He’s a user acquisition expert. He does marketing the way that we’re engineering and designing features. Yes, we’re trying to balance. Is it enjoyable? But we’re also building a for profit business. So if you listen to the feedback from the community, they’re just they’re gamers. They’re not necessarily concerning themselves with monetization, retention, etc. You kind of you get inundated with these people who are, again, just very narrow, like focusing on, well, this is not fun. Why would anybody do this? And then, like, well, the reason we’re doing it is because we were able to, you know, move the needle that we needed to move to stay viable by, you know, 200 percent. But yeah, I do believe there is a half life where me as a founder and someone who’s like in head or in charge of engineering, etc. needs to just claw back. It became like you said, when that toxicity because it’s play to earn, we’re not crypto. There’s just so many things like so many headwinds that we’re facing because of the type of game that we’ve built or the platform we’ve built. But no, if you’re building a product and you’re not establishing what we refer to, like when agile software development like sort of became the de facto standard was a customer feedback loop. If you’re not establishing that feedback loop, a short feedback loop, you are doing yourself a disservice. And that’s not just about the game or about the product. It’s like the usability of the product. So this is very, you know, very heavily leveraged in UX. Build a model. Don’t build it. Don’t write code. Build an interactive model. Give it to the end users. Get feedback. It just saves time. And honestly, we haven’t done a great job of that, but we just recently, well, we’re in the process of hiring a dedicated UI UX engineer who can help us do that because we’ve learned once it’s in prod, it’s relatively rigid. So if we can get that feedback prior to us building it, shipping it, going through QA and all of that, we could save ourselves a lot of time and money.

14:09 Greg Posner I think a lot of that is it’s not just game related. I think it’s any SaaS platform, right? Once you build a SaaS platform, it’s hard to pivot once you’re there. And if you need to make a change, sometimes it’s easiest to just create a whole new system on the side and do a migration. And yeah, it’s a pain in the butt. But I mean, at the same time, then you kind of create that narrative that you want to and create that platform that you want just hard.

14:28 Beau Button Yeah. And it sounds like it’s a no brainer, but like I’ve also learned in the last 10 years, there’s kind of the only two phases of the business that I’m really experienced with is that guerrilla warfare. Just get it out the door. We’ve got to ship a product. Building software is not hard. Shipping a product, a software product is very hard. So I’m learning that the way that we think about designing the product and just basically articulating its requirements during that initial phase is very different than the way you need to do it when you’re in that kind of like it’s a growth phase, growth phase, sustainability phase. Like it’s just there’s a transition and what we haven’t perfected even in this venture is that transition from, oh, we got to get it done tomorrow to like, all right, we can’t keep doing it that way because quality is suffering, etc.

15:19 Greg Posner So yeah, it’s crazy, man. I’m still learning. Obviously, I’m 40 years old and I’ve been doing this for probably 30 years, which is crazy. But every day I learn something new about it. I think it’s going to make sense and I don’t want to make this really a game focused podcast, but I want to explore the metaverse and Web3 and everything that’s being done. So maybe do you have an elevator pitch that you normally get when you talk about Atlas Earth and how it works and how you have the game?

15:44 Beau Button Yeah, I mean, first and foremost, I rarely, if ever, introduce Atlas Earth and mention blockchain, Web3, crypto, decentralized. Like we’re not that. We are heavily inspired by some of the core tenets of what Web3 promised, but failed to deliver. Not decentralization. We are a standard Web2 game, mobile only right now. So if you think about in Web3, we went from Web1 was access to information and knowledge. Web2 was kind of the social web. And then Web3, my partner kind of described it as like people want equity. They want ownership. And it’s kind of hard to describe what do they want to own? Well, obviously, every Facebook user would like to own a piece of Facebook. I mean, I wouldn’t mind as well. But it’s about having skin in the game and kind of owning your data. So, you know, the NFT smart contracts that, you know, proof that’s what I enjoy about the Web3. But all of these other things that have kind of popped up, these pump and dump cryptocurrency, you know, scams, et cetera, and these NFT games that aren’t games, they’re technological showpieces and not fun. Like none of that really inspires. But what was the inspiration for how our business model works in essence was the virtual real estate platforms that were built on chain. And I never thought that there would be like where why just why would someone demand a desire for real estate? But it was very obvious that people were looking for this because they were selling millions of dollars of virtual real estate that wasn’t anchored or related to the real world. It was a completely fictitious, you know, video game map. And the only real reason people were interested in it, at least the only real reason I saw was FOMO, fear of missing out. You know, it’s like this speculative. Well, Atari just built this and Snoop Dogg just built this. Well, I want to be his neighbor in this world because I clearly can’t afford to be his neighbor in reality. You know, we took some of those things like, well, what’s driving people? But we also like we weren’t ignorant to the fact that that play to earn mechanic was also very instrumental. People want to earn something now, obviously, in these Web3 games, they’re earning a cryptocurrency or a crypto token. And, you know, what that value is like, it’s crazy. You don’t know. So we took all of that and said, let’s build it on standard Web to rails. Let’s use Fiat and let’s build a play to earn game where, in essence, it’s a revenue sharing opportunity. We’re just not a greedy game studio. We make money. You obviously buy things in the game using in-app purchases. You watch ads or like you had mentioned when you open the show, we have our Atlas merchant platform, which allows us to actually drive business to brick and mortar, you know, restaurants, gas stations, whatever. And we monetize that very well. But at the end of the day, the money that the players are actually earning is coming from our revenues. This is not like we have not found some magical way to just mysteriously pull money out of thin air. It’s just we’re not being greedy about how we basically use our revenues, our profits.

18:54 Greg Posner I think that’s such a genius thing. I thought about it and I’m familiar with the Pokemon GOs of the world that get you out of your house, get you moving, right? And it’s stuff. But then I saw what you were doing. You had gift cards to Jamba Juice, you had gift cards to Starbucks and other retailers. I was like, that’s genius. Like, I go to these places anyway, right? Why not play the game and actually get real rewards? And I don’t know if I’m a believer of the NFT side of things, right? Web3 is still a concept that’s trying to really formalize, I think. And I’m not sure that’s the right word to use here. I remember Web2 coming up with the social side. And no one knew what Web2 was going to be. And then a few months later, you’re like, oh, yeah, Web2, it’s been here now for a few weeks now. Like, oh, OK, it happens. Like, I must have missed it. But I feel like Web3 is going to be similar. I’m wondering if, you know, are you looking into anything Web3 related? Obviously, you’re taking bits and pieces of it here and you’re not going to say Frankensteining it, but you’re making it work, I think, in a better way than it is today. But do you have any predictions or do you have, I guess, do you believe in this concept of the metaverse and NFT and blockchain? Or is it things that you just think are fluff right now that people are throwing around as buzzwords?

19:59 Beau Button I mean, NFTs are not buzzwords. I’m intimately familiar with authoring smart contracts. I love, from a tech perspective, you know, how would I do that with just a standard relational database in a silo, in my own private cloud, like the transparency and the public scrutiny. That’s brilliant. If you’ve got something that demands that level of transparency and, you know, let’s say you do need the decentralization aspect of it, I’m less concerned about decentralization as it relates to, like, governments and foreign, you know, politics. I’m not a conspiracy theorist. It is what it is. But from a software development perspective, distributed computing, those two things make a lot of sense. To answer the question, though, is smart contracts, NFTs not fluff, blockchains not fluff. It’s legitimate. It’s just like when a relational database is introduced or a new NoSQL or document database, it’s a legitimate technology. You can use it in the wrong way. You can use it in the right way. I mean, we’re seeing a little bit of both right now. I’m not convinced that the way that games are being built on the chain right now is the right way. I’ve seen a few companies that I think are heading in the right way. And I’d like to think that Sami and I and our team are also heading in the right way because we spent probably the last nine months working on. And it sounds as a software engineer, as an entrepreneur, I like to just create things, but I’ve learned and starting and winding down businesses. You do have to protect it. So we’ve been working with several patent attorneys on patting like how we think NFTs should be leveraged in not just one game in multiple games like this promise of interoperability is just no one’s achieved it. And quite frankly, the approaches that we’re seeing are just unsustainable, unrealistic. So Sami and I have kind of come up with a way that I think is going to allow that to work. And we are going to introduce a game, not just as a showcase of how we envision it working, but it’s going to be the first of many games that do allow genuine interoperability of digital assets that will be minted on on chain.

22:08 Greg Posner Yes, I was browsing your website yesterday, and I love how you publish parts of your roadmap here. And one of them was like a MasterCard integration. So all of a sudden, it’s not me having to sell Fiat or Ethereum or whatever to be able to do this. I’m sorry, I could actually hook up my own my own card and it’s a I feel like you’re a gradual entry into Web 3, even though I know you’re saying you’re a Web 2 game and I love that aspect because you’re not throwing those words around. You’re you’re making it comfortable. No, hey, I’m playing a game, but all this stuff is still existing. But you don’t need to know about it. It’s just existing.

22:41 Beau Button I think most of the Web 3 projects that either failed or failing or maybe they have some traction would have found more success if they just would have been quiet about the underlying tech. The only thing I can think of that that would have provoked a co founder to start talking about Web 3 is investment. We had some of our investors were like, man, you guys should be targeting Web 3. And I’m just like, you’ve had a glass of the Kool-Aid. Can you tell me why? And they’re like, well, it’s really easy to raise money in Web 3. And it’s like, I get it. You know, I think the same reason Sami and I aren’t greedy with our profits is the same reason why I wasn’t jumping into Web 3. It’s like, I want to learn more about it. And I did that. I spent four months deep diving, just got my feet like it was just learned a lot. And I realized, OK, you know, this is something. But I think the way to do this is to just build a good game and then figure out how we can either transition. And to be clear, Atlas Earth will probably never be on chain, but there will be crypto off ramps in the future. So just like you said, you shop at Starbucks. Well, if you have a coin based wallet and you want Ethereum, well, why cash your money out into your checking account to go buy it? Let me just give you Ethereum. So there will be some dovetails into Web 3 or blockchain in Atlas Earth, but the next game will be 100 percent on chain. But yeah, it’s worked really well for us. The other thing like the elephant in the room here is onboarding users into Web 3. It’s getting easier, but it’s still terrible. And what Sami and I have learned from building games, our own two successful games, Atlas Empires and Atlas Earth, is first time user experience is everything, everything. If you get people in there and you’re spending, you know, X, Y, Z for user acquisition costs, but you lose them, what are you doing? So that first time user experience needs to be as frictionless as possible. So if you look at our first game, Atlas Empires, it has a really long tutorial that’s moving things and telling you click here and do this. And it’s like a lot of the games in that genre, the tower defense or strategy games, Clash of Clans like games. Whereas Atlas Earth is we’ve got a video. It’s about 40 seconds. We’ve got a real person. He’s talking real language and you get it and you get in the game and then boom, it’s stuck. We gave you what you need to get hooked and it’s proven to be very, very successful.

25:05 Greg Posner That mechanic or that approach. It’s an interesting take, right? Because I think, you know, again, as a sales engineer, I’ve been putting more videos out there to my team. Like people just want to watch short videos, right? Don’t go make a 15 minute video about a demo, right? Do a short, less than a minute clip on how to do something. And people eat that up, right? And I think the tip makes much more sense. Yeah, it’s that short form video. You mentioned user acquisition costs, probably retention. You must monitor all this. Do you use specific tools to be able to capture that data? Do you save it somewhere? How do you ingest all that?

25:40 Beau Button Yeah. So in Atlas Empires, we had to build out our own analytical pipeline. So we ingested all of our ad spin, all of our ad revenue, all of the kind of performance data that we needed. We used a product called Apache Spark, which is just a big data platform. We actually used a managed version of it from a company called Databricks. But thankfully, the MMPs that we use for tracking user acquisition, install attribution, they’ve gotten very intelligent. So we do track all of that. So down to the creative, the campaign, the network, we can track lifetime value of cohorts. And we didn’t have to write any of that, which I was very thankful for because managing the game, managing the live ops, and then having to manage all of these analytical things was just it was a bit much. But yeah, we do use I’m pretty sure I can say we are at Adjust customer. Adjust is a pretty big MMP out there. And they’ve really innovated in the space of revenue tracking. It’s all in the dashboard so we can see everything. We can see everything. And Sami’s the he’s on the user acquisition and marketing side. I do I stay out of that. I’m from I know how to poke around and look at things, but I don’t I don’t personally concern myself with that. We do synchronize every day and he kind of shares the progress, but that’s not my life.

27:03 Greg Posner Thankfully, do you when you when you look at these data, when you look at this data, right, you have concept of VIPs, right? Do you do any communication with some of your top players to get an understanding of what they’re liking, what they’re not liking to kind of,

27:16 Beau Button again, use that feedback to make decisions or at least think through? No, unfortunately, right now we don’t actually we could identify there’s obviously characteristics of a VIP. We know who our whales are because they’re on the leaderboards, but we haven’t really tailored anything specifically to gather feedback from them. I kind of think of our Discord server as our VIPs. These are the diehard, just hardcore gamers, generally more technically inclined, better at articulating like why or how a problem came about. But no, not right now. It’s probably something that, you know, again, Sami’s going to come up with something in the next couple of months. We’ve started to do a lot of we built journeys, so there’s a lot of automation now as you navigate and progress through the game. Whereas, you know, previously we just get you in the game and then we’d send an email or we’d send a text message or we’d send a push notification. But we’re using a platform called OneSignal that lets us kind of map out, you know, where a player is and what they should see next from a messaging to kind of provoke them to do more in the game, et cetera. But no, we haven’t really done anything with our VIPs. We’re in touch with the president of the United States in the game. He’s a YouTube kind of sensation, but that’s basically it.

28:42 Greg Posner OK, we work with OneSignal quite a bit. It’s interesting to hear how the different tool sets that we work with. I love OneSignal being able to push notifications, push messaging to the appropriate people, get the right data from it. It’s funny when you start looking at this whole tool set that exists in not just the gaming world, but we focus a lot on gaming, obviously, like adjust something we deal with a lot. OneSignal, there’s so many different platforms. It’s someone that likes technology, right? It’s a fun place to see what can speak to what, what stories you can tell.

29:09 Beau Button Yeah, the interoperability is really what I’m excited about. A lot of these tools are starting to operate in a more open fashion instead of these walled gardens. So the data like when a player does something in our game, we basically synchronize with OneSignal. So if they opted in to push notifications or SMS about a year ago, we purchased the short code so we can directly message at high rates to our customers. The open rates on SMS or text are way higher than push, obviously way higher than email. So they’re way more effective at getting people into the game at specific times like when we have events. But yeah, I’m a big fan of OneSignal. Their journey plot journey product is a visual, it’s a canvas. And basically someone like Sami, who’s reasonably technical, but he’s not an engineer. He can go in there and basically design whatever he wants. He doesn’t need to come to me and say, hey, when somebody buys their 10th piece of land, I want to send them a push notification or I want to send them an in-app message that directs them to the shop or anything. He can do all that himself, which is really helpful because it allows him to experiment without kind of distracting the engineering team.

30:19 Greg Posner Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. Backing up a minute, right? You managing your Discord server, managing your subreddit. What kind of toll does that take on a human, right? Obviously, there’s some good stuff on there. You see all the good stuff. But like, what’s a day like? You just monitoring the flow, see what’s coming. If someone seems pissed off, you go work with them.

30:38 Beau Button It’s a lot of data, right? And how do you handle that? So I’m sitting in front of a Samsung Odyssey Arc. I think it’s a 57 inch curved monitor and I’ve got it broken out into nine individual screens. So there’s Discord, there’s Reddit. I also use a desktop client for it’s hard to describe what it is. It’s called Ram Box. Basically, it allows you to use web mail or any web application in a way that makes it feel more inherently desktop oriented. But it does take a toll. I’m not going to lie. My attention span, like having all of this information in front of me is useful. But like I mentioned a moment ago, I’ve had to claw that back. There was about nine months from launch until, you know, when we had traction out the door, which was great. But like we were still troubleshooting. We had a lot of performance issues. So I just needed to know what the community was saying so I could be on top of it. But it really did. I can’t say it put me into a depressive state, but I also can’t say that it didn’t. I was going through a phase where I was just like, I know something’s wrong and I can’t quite pinpoint what it is. And I’m pretty sure it’s the emotional roller coaster that having all this information just thrown at me. I designed the system where it was a push system. So all of these alerts and notifications, I had Discord on my phone. I was just like, holy hell, like I just I need to take a break from this. And I did. And honestly, my mood, my energy, everything just kind of came back to where it was. And I was like, I would have never thought that could create or manifest itself as a physical health issue. But it certainly did. So yeah, it’s not for the faint of heart. I don’t necessarily suggest everybody go in there and just own those things. It was important to me to own it. But now I know for the next kind of, I guess, game rebuild, I’ll be involved to a certain point when I start to get that sensation.

32:39 Greg Posner All right, I’ll back away from it. If you look back in your history, right, you again technologists moving to gaming, if you could look back at yourself, Bo, in the last six months to year, would have you done anything different? Would have you approached a problem that you had differently? Would have made a different decision or do you just live with your choices and then pivot from there?

32:56 Beau Button That’s a good one. I mean, I think most people who are familiar with the technical problems that Atlas Earth had, they probably would suspect I would say, yeah, I bet he would do something very different. To be quite honest with you, we wouldn’t be here if I would have gone back and done anything different. I’ll never second guess those decisions. I pride myself on delivering. I can’t say it’s going to be, you know, it’s like a pilot. As long as you land it, like you’re good. It’s not all going to be smooth, but I guarantee you I’ll land it. I’ve never missed a landing, but it has been, I mean, some of them are rocky, but like perseverance, like people, they lose a lot of faith. I’m not one of those people. Like obviously problems, they’re not good. The optics, they’re not good, but you just have to stay, you know, headstrong and say, all right, we’re going to work through this. Like this is yet just one more thing. So I just treat all of those things as lessons. You know, I’ve learned a lot. I’ve learned a lot from those painful moments where your production environment is literally on fire and Reddit is telling you that you should jump off a cliff. It’s like, yeah, some people might buckle under pressure, but I just took that as an opportunity to figure out, well, where did we kind of go wrong? And more often than not, it’s not so much that we could have done things differently because, yeah, if we would have started the game development lifecycle and we had a hundred million dollars, I would have hired more engineers. But the fact is, is we didn’t have a hundred million, you know, dollars in the bank. So I hired the people that I could afford that passed all of my checks and I interviewed. So I couldn’t have done anything different, honestly. So, yeah, I mean, now the next one, I will approach it slightly different, but I wouldn’t say I would ever go back and change anything. I’m here. As a CTO founder, how do you keep organization of your thoughts? Are you a OneNote user? Are you a Drive user? Do you take notes? You just keep everything in there and hope that you remember when it’s time. Is there a system that you have? I wish there was a system. I do. I’m very capable of keeping a virtual to-do list in my head. It’s a very long to-do list. If I include the things that my fiance wants me to do around the house that my children need me to do. I also have an ex-wife. I’ve got a mom who needs me. I’ve got sisters. Like it’s a very long list. But like I said, I always stick. I will deliver. I’m only one person though. I’m not. I’m not. I can’t operate in parallel. At one point in my life, I thought I could multitask. I was convinced that you can multitask despite every book you ever read saying focus on one thing, get it done, move on to the next, do it in serial. The truth is, you have to do it in serial. There’s just no way. I haven’t met anybody. I know some people are convinced. But yeah, I use, oddly enough, it’s a very simple application. It’s called Microsoft To-Do. It’s not sophisticated. It was actually an acquisition. I forget the name of the company that they acquired, but there’s a desktop app. There’s a mobile app on Android. And anytime that I think I need to do something that I might, maybe it’s not a significant thing that just like stands out. I’ll put it in that. But that’s as sophisticated as it gets for me. Right now, I’ve got about, there’s 27 to-dos on my to-do list. I’ll probably not get most of those done in May. But yeah, I do try to clear it out at the end of the month and go through and say, do I still need to do this? Because some things I put in there, then I realized, well, I didn’t need to do that, but I just didn’t want to forget. But no, I don’t really have a sophisticated process. I probably should start focusing on that because as I get older, it’s getting increasingly more difficult. Yeah, I like the concept of the to-do list. I remember when I transitioned from being a customer support agent where I would see how many tickets I closed a day to becoming more of a project manager. At the end of the day, it’s like, oh, I got nothing done today. In support, I close 50 tickets a day. Here, I do nothing. But once you have a check box or a list, you can start crossing things off or at least start attacking. I feel like you feel more fulfilled inside once you were able to start getting some of that stuff done. And I think there’s no ever growing list. Yeah, I actually read, well, I say I read, I listened to an audiobook that was about using checklists. And two thirds of the audiobook was about how doctors and the healthcare industry uses checklists for like surgical procedures. And it really enlightened me on how effective something as simple as a checklist could be, not only to make sure that you don’t forget an important step in a surgical procedure, but that closure, just knowing that I’ve done that. There’s like a dopamine hit, like you said, like it’s a sense of satisfaction that is, if you don’t have it, it’s missing. And I didn’t know I needed it, but I do need it. I love checking things off. Now, I don’t aggressively just go through the to-do list to just get those dopamine hits.

37:50 Greg Posner There are days, if not sometimes, potentially a week or two that go by where I’m just like, I don’t feel like knocking anything off the checklist. I need to fix that. But yeah, it’s useful. Yeah, we actually, we work with a company called Odin. I’m not sure if you’ve used Odin before. It’s an add-on for Unity. It’s called Odin Inspector. It basically builds lists directly into Unity. So like if you’re an engineer and you need to know what steps I need to do to be able to push this to release it, it will always show you the same thing over and over again. It’s basically an internal checklist for it. And they’re super popular. So it’s an interesting thing.

38:24 Beau Button I’ll have to look at that. We’re a Unity customer. I love Unity, but yeah, we do have our own project management. We didn’t build it. We use a project management application. It’s from Microsoft. It’s called Azure DevOps. It’s like JIRA or any Atlassian product.

38:40 Greg Posner But I wish all of these things could speak to one another or if there was just one consistent user interface, because I also use an Outlook when someone tags me in a Word doc, I get a daily feed, but they’re all just disconnected. So if we take a look at it again in the last six months, are there any major learnings? What would you say was a light bulb moment that maybe it was more than six months, right? What was that light bulb moment that went up and said, hey, this is a nugget I want to continue to remember or use, if any of that makes sense? It’s going to sound obvious. If anybody who’s listening is a software engineer, they’re going to just mumble under their breath. Duh. Going back to the two approaches to building a bit, you have to get the product out the door and then the team or maybe even the style of project management that you use to get to market is very different than the team or management style that you’re going to use to evolve the product and remain viable. But testing, software testing, I’m as an engineering lead, as a person who kind of steers the engineering team, I’m not against not testing extensively. There’s books, articles written about testing in production. So like how do you simulate load? Do you spend four months trying to build out virtual users that perform very differently than organic users just to find out that the four months you spent testing yourself? I mean, I think for software like stress testing was just inadequate because the way that players actually played the game was completely different. But the lesson I did learn from from not testing enough was that you need regardless if you have a date that you need to hit, you know, if there’s a timed event like some opportunity in the market that you’re like, if I don’t get this product launched before this day, we’re not going to make it or it’s just not going to be useful and you can’t include testing, you know, either from a time perspective or resource perspective, I could have had more people and I probably could have been able to test more, but we had a fixed number of people and we just didn’t have the budget time wise to test. But I learned that lesson the hard way, very, very hard way, especially with a game with this skill, we had no idea how successful it was going to be. But it was very successful, very heavily used. And we ultimately found out that we made some poor architectural decisions. So just focus on testing. And this is something that a lot of engineers, juniors don’t necessarily, I can’t say they don’t appreciate it, but like they’ll write code and they’re like, oh, QA will ultimately figure out if there’s any issues, but like really subscribe to like a hybrid, not entirely test driven development. But when you’re building the product, make sure that everything that you’re building, like specifically on the back end is built in such a way that you can test it. So if you have a third party dependency, build your component that consumes it in such a way that you can simulate. And then you’re like, well, if that third party is offline, how does my component, it sounds like a no brainer because it is like in the enterprise world, we would have never shipped anything without full test coverage. We were in this startup guerrilla warfare, get it out the door. And it wasn’t that we weren’t aware that we weren’t testing. It was above board. Hey, we’re cutting corners here. But that bit me in the ass bad. And I’ll never do that again. If someone says we have to hit this June deadline, but we only have four people and I do the math and it says I need seven people, we’re going to get seven people or I’m not involved with it. That’s it. I’m done. I’m out. Testing everyone that’s listening. Remember, always test. Don’t test the production even though it’s the easiest way to do it. We’re actually seeing a big spike in like live ops, I feel like in 2023. I know it’s been around for more than years and that but I feel like live ops helps kind of keep an eye on all these different metrics on what’s connecting, what’s working, what’s not working. We’re seeing more and more companies releasing live ops products such I think can help with stuff like that.

42:40 Beau Button Yeah, no doubt. I think for us, we, we didn’t put any energy into how our systems would behave. If other components that were out of our control went down or performed in less than ideal way. So there’s a, I guess you call it like an expression or an approach like graceful degradation. So instead of your software just coming to a screeching halt, are there ways for you to engineer your services in such a way that if a downstream service does go offline, that the game doesn’t go offline and players can still do something but maybe an element of the game is down. Amazon has this. I know I’ve used the Amazon mobile app where it’s like I click add the cart and it’s like, I’m sorry, the cart service is unavailable. I’m like, well hell, well I can still browse. But I mean, that’s a pretty essential component of an e-commerce engine is the shopping cart but it did kind of enlighten me a little bit. It’s like, I would have never thought about that if you would have tasked out, you know, 10 years ago like building e-commerce, it would have been so tightly coupled together. That if one thing didn’t work, none of it will work. But yeah, that’s it’s permanently etched in the back. Like when I think about how I’m going to approach the next game that we’re building, we’re going to spend a lot more time on building highly testable software. Are there any trends in the industry that are really exciting to you that you can’t wait to either get your hands on? I mean, I know you’re already dabbling with some of this, right? But is there anything else, whether it be a generative AI or anything like that, that you’re looking to, hey, how can I incorporate this? I guess what excites you? Yeah, so I’m in love with low code, no code, which is kind of ironic as an engineer, you would think that I would do everything within my control to make sure that the robot overlords don’t replace me. But I learned probably about 10, maybe 15 years ago that like what excited me the most about software engineering was not software engineering. It’s not that I can’t wait to sit in front of an IDE or a text editor and write code. What I love is solving problems. And it just so happens that my medium of choice is digital software. Like I could go build physical things. I’d imagine that the satisfaction of building like if you’re a woodworker or a metal worker, it’s the same. It’s like, are you in love with metal? Are you love with like the fact that you can build something that’s useful? So it was it was something I’ve always, you know, in the enterprise space, they use these tools called BPM, business process management. So it’s like drag and drop like when a new customer, you know, send an invoice and, you know, prior to me being introduced to BPM, we were writing everything from scratch. So when I saw BPMs, I’m thinking, good God, this would have saved me hundreds of hours. But then you look at the cost of a BPM, it’s like, wouldn’t save me any money, but it would have made my life easier. So low code, no code has evolved. And it’s at a great place. We have a lot. There’s a lot of room for improvement, but the intersection of AI and low code, no code specifically on like the generative AI, and I’m not going to pretend to be an expert with anything ML, AI, big blood. I know how it works at the most basic level, but I think where I’m really what I’m really excited about is being able to describe what I need for a boilerplate project in plain English, instead of having to click and do this and go to get over go to stack exchange. And I’m spending like if I were to create a mobile app from scratch that needs to be cross platform, I’d argue you’re at hundreds of hours of just not wasted time, you know, if you’re a consultant, you’re getting paid, but it’s just yet more things that you have to do that really aren’t fun. So I’m keeping track of where the generative AI and the low code, no code or software engineering specific are going to intersect because I think I had mentioned to you when we first started talking like if you’re not super useful now, these tools won’t make you super useful. But if you’re super useful now, you’re going to be a rock star. It’s going to be incredible. So like being able to provision, you know, a mobile app in 1015 minutes by just describing basically, I need a mobile app that uses dotnet C sharp cross platform, you know, Mali that has an RSS reader just in English and have the boilerplate code be generated for you. So then you can go in and add the layer that is unique about what what the idea or the app is. So yeah, that’s that’s something I’m I’m closely following. I haven’t done a whole lot of actual work with it. I do use chat GPT not for software engineering, but more like just writing things in very articulate ways.

47:39 Greg Posner But yeah, I’m excited about where that’s going. Yeah, I think it’s a great point, right? It’s not gonna make an unsuccessful worker successful. It’s someone that can understand how can I layer this on what I do for my daily job to make it better. And everyone I talked to I say if you’re not using either chat GPT or one of those tools on your daily basis to help enhance your work, it’s not going to do your work. You’re going to fall behind very quickly, right? It makes my emails go from an okay email to a great email. It makes my process easier. It makes my presentations go from a crummy presentation to a smart like, just tons out there. And yeah, being able to become the composer who can put all this stuff together. I think that’s that’s where you’re going to succeed if you can start to learn how to use these tools now. And I think people I think coding is a great example of it, right? I can’t code. But if I type this stuff in, I can elaborate what I want to do. It builds it for me. It’s not gonna make it successful, but at least I can get started with that, right? It’s a starting spot for everyone.

48:36 Beau Button It’s also very useful for learning. The few times I did leverage chat GPT for tech related stuff. I was, let’s say for instance, there’s a language that I’ve been dabbling with. I’m a dotnet developer, I program in C sharp. That’s pretty much the only language that if someone asked me, what are you an expert? It’s C sharp. I know PHP, I’ve played with Ruby, I’ve played with Python, I can obviously I can read all of these programming languages. But if you said write a program in this language, I wouldn’t even know like, well, what tools do I need to install? I have to go Google it. So I’m trying to learn Rust. It’s a language that’s very popular nowadays, very lightweight, very safe. And I was like, you know, let me go ask chat GPT how Rust compares or like how would one who’s a C sharp developer, you know, we live in a world in dotnet, it’s a managed language. So we’ve got garbage collection, I don’t worry about memory. And you know, maybe I’m a little spoiled. But it’s a language that’s also that comes with a certain amount of overhead. And that’s a lot of overhead in some instances. So I went to chat GPT and it described to me in a way that made sense to me as a dotnet developer, the way that things work in Rust. And I was like, well, hell, I there’s no article on the internet that was written that did it that well. So I’m using it as an education tool on the engineering side, I don’t necessarily like you said, wanted to do my work. But I’m learning quicker, because it knows all of this and then put

50:06 Greg Posner it in the database. Now you do have to fact check it. But thankfully, with code, if it doesn’t compile, there’s clearly something wrong with it. And for anyone listening, fact check anything chat chat GPT tells you yes, yes, it may make you sound smarter, but you need to fact check that to make sure that that it’s right or else you’re just gonna look like a fool.

50:25 Beau Button Yeah, on the flip side, what trends and I think I might know your answer are keeping you up at night? Are you nervous about? Oh, man, trends that are keeping me up. I don’t necessarily lose sleep over trends. But I know you threw around that metaverse word and like this illusion, I’m looking at my Oculus meta quest pro, whatever they call it nowadays. I don’t see it and I certainly don’t want to contribute to a future where people are at home with their VR goggles instead of going out and interacting with humans and brick and mortar. But I am concerned for society as a whole, like the current generation. If you grow up or growing up with a VR headset or an AR headset, or even take a step back, like we just had some family in town. And it was brought to my attention that the children born during the pandemic didn’t really know how to so they weren’t socialized because a child that was born five years ago, if I wave to them, they get all giggly and smiley. But I’ve been seeing more babies and I’m a baby fanatic. I’ve got three kids and it’s just it’s an odd thing. I love children. And it’s like, you’d wave to these these kids that were born during this bubble and they just don’t know how to respond to it. But like, you can’t we can’t we can’t let go of that. We can’t, you know, not not socialize. So like the metaverse, this illusion where we’re going to walk down virtual shopping aisles and go look at virtual goods, just have Amazon ship it straight to me. I don’t like it. I don’t think that’s going to stick. I hope I pray whatever I need to do a rain dance. I don’t want that. I think what we’re doing is we’re trying to make it a reality. I don’t want that. I think what we’re doing in Atlas reality, which is building that kind of collaboration between or that what we call that virtuous cycle between the real world and the virtual or the alternate reality is the way to go. But yeah, the metaverse and, you know, 3D environments, that’s that’s the one thing I’m just like, I don’t get it. And maybe I am wrong. But Jen, generally speaking, like historically, when those things don’t make sense to me, they don’t stay around for very long. So, you know, and some people thought the same thing about Web3, because I was very if you’re if you are a follower of mine on LinkedIn, I was talking a lot of smack about Web3. But I never said it wasn’t going to stay as a tech. Blockchain is here. It’s a really great tech. But this this idea that everything needs to be minted on the blockchain. No, get out of here. Well, Bo, that’s all I have for you today. I appreciate you coming on. You had some great stories to tell for anyone listening. Check out Atlas reality. Check out Atlas Earth. They’re all available iOS Play Store. Is there anything else Beau you want to share with where people can find you or anything in general? No, don’t be shy. I’m a LinkedIn person. I don’t post much on any other social network. But yeah, you can add me. Follow me. I do share a lot of lessons learned. I’m talking a lot less about Web3 now and talking about remote work and, you know, engineering from afar kind of stuff and building teams. A lot of people ask me, what’s the most difficult thing you do as a technologist? And I’m like, hire, hire. Like, everything else has been solved. But like, no one’s really solved. The hiring problem. But no, that’s it. Thank you for your time. It’s been great, man. Yeah, thank you, Bo. And I hope you have a great rest of your day. And thanks for listening.

Greg Posner

Avid gamer with a passion for storytelling. My goal is to unpack the narratives of customers, partners and others to better understand how industry-leaders tackle today's challenges.

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