State of the Union: 2016 in review

As we reflected on the year, the thing that jumped out was what an insanely busy year it’s been. Definitely our busiest year so far! And that craziness means lots of reasons to celebrate!

Welcoming baby Hazel

The first thing we celebrated in January was Rachael's newborn baby Hazel, who we quickly put to work as Campfire’s new “Youth Outreach Coordinator” haha. Hazel has been a huge source of joy and laughter for us, and we’re proud to have found our own (imperfect) balance between family and startup life.

Lost Cities launch

Shortly after celebrating our 2-year mark as a company, we released Lost Cities on the Gear VR. Not only was Lost Cities the first VR board game, but it was also the first 3rd-party title to be released on the Oculus Social Platform, and we were super proud to be featured by Oculus at GDC, E3, as well as Mobile World Congress this year as a result.

This also lead to Lost Cities becoming one of only 9 apps to be included in the initial Oculus Rooms launch just last week, and the Lost Cities logo being shown in the Oculus Connect 3 keynote! That makes 2 years in a row that we managed to sneak our way into Oculus’ keynotes (below is a shot of when Oculus threw Rachael into their keynote announcing the first Oculus Rift Consumer Edition).

Weaving a Better Future

Another major release for us was created in partnership with the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, which was a 360 video app based on our Scout 360 video platform, called Weaving a Better Future.

Weaving a Better Future transports viewers to Guatemala, where they learn about the lives, history, and culture behind the TRAMA Textiles cooperative in Quetzaltenango, and a shop in Antigua called Textiles Colibrí. These initiatives provide much-needed income for the women artisans who run them and who, with their traditional Mayan weaving techniques, create the textiles for sale there.

You can read about all the accessibility features we built into this project here, and all of these features are now standard in our Scout 360 video platform.

Winning $100,000

Lesley pitched our latest concept, called Flipside, at Manitoba’s Venture’Challenge pitch competition, which resulted in us winning a staggering $100,000 as well as a trip to MentorCamp in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. This has helped us focus more of our attention on our long-term vision and less on short-term work to pay the bills.

Other highlights

Many of you have already seen the ground-breaking mixed reality trailer for Fantastic Contraption by indie game trailer legend Kert Gartner. But did you realize that John, our CTO, was one of the players shown in the trailer?

This was super cool not just because it's a great game trailer, but also because John got to be a small part in a history-making moment for VR. People are seeing mixed reality popping up everywhere around the world, but the roots of it started right here in Winnipeg. It also created the opportunity for this gem to exist (thanks Graeme!):

Jason Bienia has been with us as a co-op student for the past four months, and it’s been really awesome having him here. Jason has been building his own tower defence game with the occasional help from various members of the team, and is a smart and highly motivated budding developer. We’ll miss you when you’re back in school next month, Jason!

For the past couple years we’ve worked with an amazing 3D artist, Liem Nguyen. This September, we were lucky to have him officially join our team as our 3D artist. We’ve been moving at warp speed since he got here and he’s really been a great addition.

With Jason and Liem coming on board, we quickly outgrew our office in our Albert Street co-working space. At the end of November, we sadly said goodbye to our tiny but awesome digs and moved in with the folks at Complex Games. We’re still getting used to not hearing all the laughter from the Lumo Interactive gang, the delicious treats and company from Parachute Media Lab, chats with Zanna from Duckwranglers and Blair from The Co-operative Housing Federation of Canada, but we do have all the great folks at Complex Games to keep us company.

Here’s a shot of the old co-working space crew (less Ryan, Liem, Zanna, and Blair) at our last office party.

Oh the places we’ve been...

This year was also the year for travel for the Campfire Union. We joined a Canadian trade mission to Barcelona as part of our Lost Cities launch at Mobile World Congress. We had an opportunity to demo Lost Cities with a number of media outlets while VR was breaking as the story of the conference. Then, on to Vision Summit in Los Angeles to learn about the future of VR at Unity, to New York to speak at Digital Hollywood, then to San Francisco to attend VRDC, all within 30 days. Whew!

We made our way to TechFestNW in Portland to attend our first pitch competition. Portland might be the coolest city in America. We had a ton of fun meeting other startups over the two day festival and we really enjoyed our time hanging out with the folks from Lagunitas.

We were also invited to the Montreal Startupfest this year as part of the festival's formal VR demonstrations. We showed off a prototype music app called Magic Synth. It was really well received. Big thanks to Bob Levy from Virtual Cove who coordinated the whole effort, and Alistair Croll who invited us down.

Finally, we made our way to Oculus Connect 3 in San Jose. The big highlight for us was being invited to dinner by Oculus with the rest of the Oculus Social Partners. We had a chance to meet the Oculus Social team and all the really cool indies making Gear VR games. It was an honour.

It was a busy year of travel, but the friends and connections we’ve made are lifelong and will lead to new opportunities. We can’t wait to reconnect with our friends next year.

Flipside, 2017 and beyond!

Flipside is our new stealth-mode project that you’ll be hearing a lot more about in 2017. In between all the other things we’ve accomplished this year, we’ve been secretly building out a really cool piece of VR tech that we can’t wait to show you.

For now, here’s a video we recorded in Flipside that shows off what we’re doing with our avatar system:

Stay tuned, because while 2016 was one crazy year, 2017 is going to blow it out of the water!

We hope you have a safe and relaxing holiday.

The Campfire Union

- by John Luxford

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