How a culture of innovation helps New Moon Studios dream up virtual worlds

18 Sep, 2017

Standing still in the fast-moving world of tech isn’t an option for businesses that want to stick around – and few know this more than Andy Nye (pictured above centre, in the blue shirt), MD and founder of software company New Moon Studios. From educational CD ROMs to Flash, technologies have come and gone for the pivoting entrepreneur during his 20-year career in digital.

“Somebody said to me that I was jinxed as every time I started working with a technology it died,” says Nye. “But I didn’t kill CDs, or Flash – I was just there for the funeral.”

Having “been burned a few times,” the entrepreneur entrusts his team, based out of York Science Park, to dedicate a few hours each week researching upcoming tech trends should the company need to change direction.

“I didn’t kill CDs, or Flash – I was just there for the funeral.”

Keeping one eye on the horizon has helped New Moon Studios – which specialises in virtual reality and augmented reality content, in addition to games – innovate while staying ahead of the curve. According to Nye, in 2013 his decade-old company became the first in the UK to run an on-pack promotion using an AR app with “high-quality game graphics”.

As part of a tie-in with soft drinks manufacturer Emerge and the film Pacific Rim, it developed an app that let people use their smartphone’s camera to scan a can’s packaging and see one of the blockbuster’s robot characters burst out of it in 3D.

“At the time that sort of thing had only been done with flat video superimposed onto packaging,” says Nye. “The cans were cylindrical making what we did much more complex.”

Monster hit

New Moon Studios captured the zeitgeist a year later following the worldwide success of Niantic’s AR hit Pokémon Go, a mixed reality mobile game where players use a smartphone’s GPS and camera to hunt down and “capture” the titular monsters.

Working with Vodafone, a digital agency called Tonic asked Nye and his team to develop a graduate recruitment tool using map-based AR, which tasked students with running to on-site locations marked on a virtual map. Upon arrival they would use their smartphone camera to view and tap on Vodafone logos dotted around the landscape, racking up a high score in the process. The project went from commission to launch in just six weeks.

“They called a lot of people and many said it couldn’t be done in that timeframe,” says Nye. “We got it onto the iOS and Android app stores just in time. It was very well received and we now get map-based VR requested a lot, so it’s nice to have as part of our toolkit.”

Feeling the love

Leeds-based company Love Bomb Cushions saw an opportunity to add value to its plush toys business after a chance meeting with New Moon Studios in 2016.

Love Bomb Cushions, which holds the UK license for selling official emoji-themed cushions, commissioned a mixed reality app that allows its customers to interact with its products – from taking selfies to popping animated bubbles on the screen. Content shared externally through the app is watermarked to raise visibility of what the company is doing.

“There’s definitely a story in how they’re using AR as a form of marketing,” says Nye. “There’s a curiosity factor too as you wouldn’t necessarily put cushions and technology together – it’s novel without being gimmicky.”

Love Bomb Cushions founder Sarah Agar-Brennan, who recently secured £80,000 investment on Dragons’ Den, was looking for an “innovative” way of engaging with customers.

“There’s still a lot of scope for what we can do with the app and how it works, but for now I’m really pleased with what we’ve achieved,” she says. “It’s been part of a massive publicity push and I firmly believe that interacting with your customers via this method is the way to go. Andy’s team have been brilliant.”

Virtually instant

To speed up the process of deploying AR, VR and mixed-reality solutions to its customers’ users, New Moon Studios developed a cloud-based content delivery platform called Artifact.

Accessible to consumers in the form of a smartphone app, it lets companies push their content to a wide range of smartphones. Nye says that this cuts deployment time and costs because there’s no need to build a comparatively complex bespoke app each time. It also democratises access to AR and VR for consumers.

“We wanted to show our customers that consumers don’t need to spend several thousands on VR setups – a Google Cardboard headset for a fiver will get you something in terms of an experience,” says Nye. “They work with current-generation smartphones, so another advantage for our customers is that the installed userbase is enormous.”

Though mobile projects take up much of the company’s time, Nye and his team aren’t ignoring the desktop. They’re currently developing a multiplayer VR combat game called One Man Tank, which sees the player pull various levers to control a tank’s movements and fire projectiles at opponents.

Combining Job Simulator’s frenetic hands-on appeal and Battlezone’s cockpit view, the game is indicative of New Moon Studios’ desire to develop more original IP and release titles on the Steam platform.

“Out of necessity we must go where the money is and take on projects when they come in, but it’s nice to be selective sometimes,” he says. “We’ve been very lucky and worked on things that have been really challenging, which has informed our future direction.”

Whichever direction that is, you can bet that New Moon Studios will already be considering its next move.

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