Create Your Own Video Game With Jumala; Interview with CEO Virl Hill

May 22, 2012

10:30 am

Deep down, everyone is a creator.  The proliferation of blogging has made millions of writers – so too has Instagram with photographers and YouTube with video producers. The technical skills required for an idea to manifest are rapidly approaching zero, and as we approach this diminished barrier, the number of media platforms available for creation will only continue to increase.

Virl Hill, CEO at Jumala, is attempting to build this platform for video games.

The Bellevue, Washington-based startup has created a new platform for video game creation – a game within itself.

“We envisioned Jumala as a place for gamers to create and share awesome-looking 3D games in a fun and easy way. Not everyone wants to be a game developer, so the core Jumala experience has to look and feel like a game, not like a tool. Even just noodling around creating has to be a lot of fun,” says Hill.

Hill compares Jumala to The Sims, whereby users play the game because it’s fun, not because they’re aspiring architects or career planners.

The Jumala gameplay is free. Users can choose from thousands of enemies, props, hazards and interactive objects for free in their Marketplace. Jumala plans to monetize by selling virtual goods – “Piper Jaffray predicts this will be a growing, global $6 billion market by 2013. We aren’t the only ones who will provide content to the Marketplace,” Hill adds. “We’ll eventually have a couple of different ways third parties will be able to upload their own original content to Jumala and sell it to our community.”

Hill, whose background includes a variety of roles at RealNetworks (where he worked for ten years) and Disney, is now taking the reins of the 18 person startup, Blade Games World (the creators of Jumala). I caught up with Jumala’s CEO to learn more about what learning lessons he has taken with him from his corporate experience, how to give a great pitch, and what the future of gaming looks like.

Tech Cocktail: Can you speak to the learning lessons you’ve carried over from your previous positions?

Virl Hill: Throughout my career I’ve been very fortunate to work with smart, passionate people to bring audiences new, fantastic media experiences. I love getting out of my comfort zone and tackling big, difficult challenges with talented, driven teams. I think that approach creates the best opportunity for success, whether you’re in a startup or a larger company.

Tech Cocktail: What is the biggest difference between your former roles and heading a 3D game company?

Hill: Biggest differences? Disney was a huge company. RealNetworks grew from about 300 people when I started to about 1500 at its peak. Even small teams at those companies had trouble being nimble because they had to use centralized backend platforms or follow other processes that just slowed their ability to innovate. We don’t have that problem here at Jumala. With a small team it’s critical to prioritize, of course, but once that’s done, we just do it!

Tech Cocktail: Biggest surprise?

Hill:  So far, the biggest, pleasant surprise has been the enthusiastic response to Jumala from the education community. University of Washington is using Jumala to teach an entry-level game design class. Schools from Seattle to Seoul to New Zealand have contacted us about using Jumala for summer camps, game jams, contests and a wide range of creative projects like geography assignments or making Christmas card games. Over a dozen schools at the March Game Developer Conference expressed interest in introducing Jumala to their students. I also think we have more surprises in store when our community uses Jumala to create interactive experiences that we haven’t even envisioned.

Virl Hill

Jumala CEO Virl Hill

Tech Cocktail: In your opinion, what is the most important element to giving a great pitch? How did you apply this to your presentation at DEMO?

Hill: Know your audience, craft the pitch to meet the needs of that audience, then practice, practice, practice. DEMO is all about new products. Jumala is a game changing, visually stunning and fun new product. No brainer: show the product! We immersed the DEMO audience in Jumala for five of the six minutes of the pitch while highlighting our key messages. Most importantly, we showed Jumala delivers on its core promise – we made a game while live on stage, in less than six minutes!

Tech Cocktail: What do you see for the future of gaming?

Hill: The future of gaming starts in a few weeks with the next major update to Jumala’s beta! Every industry panelist spouts the mantra “you gotta be mobile AND social.” While we completely agree, we also believe gaming will become more personal. Historically, creating your own experiences within a game like Halo or Starcraft was the realm of a few dedicated hard-core gamers using level editors.

Games like The Sims, Little Big Planet and, more recently, Minecraft showed that millions of people love to create within a game just for the fun of creating something and for the fifteen minutes of fame they get from showing off their creations! At Jumala, we are expanding on that idea and will eventually enable anyone to create any gaming experience they want, in any visual environment they want and on any platform they want with their friends. We think that will unleash a whole new dimension in gaming. That big vision really inspires our small, passionate team. We want Jumala to bring game creation to everyone, just for fun. We invite everyone to come join us on that journey.

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When Zach Davis isn't getting lost in the mountains, he is hustling from Boulder, CO as Tech Cocktail's Director of Marketing. He is the author of Appalachian Trials, a book chronicling the mindset necessary for thru-hiking all 2,181 miles of the Appalachian Trail, a feat he accomplished in 2011. Zach is a green tea enthusiast, die-hard Chicago sports fan, and avid concert-goer. Follow Zach on Twitter: @zrdavis.

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