Jed Merrill, Producer/Game Designer

Week 14

Monday, April 11, 2016.

CinechopperI sign up for CineChopper University, which has little to do with games but a lot to do with producing.  I call it Drone School.  This means I may also need to get an FAA license sometime in the near future, whether helicopter, small plane or hot air balloon.  Someone offered to sell me their drone business over the weekend including a $17,500 (when new) drone.  The business comes pre-FAA approved, though I would have to have a pilot on set with me if I am not one.  For now, drones are a hobby, but I have long wanted a helicopter pilot license and I grew up with hot air balloons floating outside my high school window during early morning AP Chemistry.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016.

We have a two hour chat with Mark and Brian, talking about our roles so far on B.E.S.T., what has gone wrong and right, and whether we should be Promoted, Retained or Not Retained, if EAE were a corporation.  They also bring up IP and how the university looks at our ownership. Mark thinks the university will take no stake in B.E.S.T., as they have not directly funded any of the research, even though three of our team members have worked for the university as either TA’s, teachers or in the GApp lab.  I request to get that in writing, as having a clear cap table is important before we raise funds.

Afterward, Ahmad, Eric, Nidal, Shahbaz, and myself have a talk about plans going forward and ownership percentages, which until now have been equal.  One team member would like to sell his ownership to another team member and says afterward he would like me specifically to have it, an emotional moment for us both. I would like him to stay on, but I know what his plans are post-EAE.  We all agree to stay on at least through the Imagine Cup World Finals in July.  I plan to continue no matter what.  I really want to see B.E.S.T. become more than a research project.  For the others, it depends somewhat on funding, but we all want to see B.E.S.T. become a commercial, life saving product.  Charlie is not present for the discussion, something to do with his “model, Asian girlfriend” says Nidal, so we will talk separately.

I finish answering questions for VRScout after Projects III, then attend Experimental Gameplay with Jose.  The final theme is Sacred, which Jose interprets broadly.  I am still working on the design.

I also fill out a survey from the program about my EAE experience, the best and worst of it.  It is mostly BEST.

Thursday, April 15, 2016.

Eric is no longer with us for the last two weeks of EAE, other than the thesis defense/presentation on Thursday, April 28th.  GDC and Imagine Cup took him away from his family and work a bit too long, and he will work remotely if at all for the next two weeks.  He did say he can join Shahbaz, Ahmad, and I Saturday to film our World Semifinal video.  Ahmad says one of his HealthX teammates says Microsoft says he can be part of our team again at World Finals, since only one of the three category winners (World Citizenship, Innovation or Games) goes on to World Finals.

Eric’s absence means I am the sole Producer again for the first time since Projects I.  I sit down one on one with Nidal and Charlie to talk about what needs to be added from an engineering standpoint between now and graduation, investor presentations, World Finals, and first use by police.  It is a lot like putting up building infrastructure.  We want investors to see visually where their money will be spent over the next year leading to launch and on subscription content for the following year.  We also want to demonstrate the scope of value to ultimate stakeholders like police academies and attorneys general.

We have donuts and non-alcoholic apple beer for breakfast and talk through eVerify, ownership, and H1B issues as not everyone on the team is a US citizen.  I show Charlie the list of investors I have accumulated for us to talk to.

Screen Shot 2016-04-15 at 8.29.24 AMTonight and tomorrow I will attend the Utah Governor’s Economic Summit, at least two sessions of which are dedicated to venture capital.  This evening’s event will include a tour of the still under construction Lassonde Entrepreneurship Center, which I have never been to in spite of being on the Student Advisory Board.  I hope they implement at least one of my dozen suggestions.

Brian pulls half a dozen of us into the conference room to talk about play testing.  He says he talked to one of the groups, asking when was the last time they had someone play test their game.  Crickets chirped, he says.  He wants to make sure each team is testing.

B.E.S.T. would absolutely not be a usable product if it were not for play testing, idea testing, and market testing.  It would not even have been selected as a thesis project if we had not run the idea by POST before the Industry Panel a year ago.  If BEST becomes a commercially valuable product, it won’t be because as Producers, Artists, and Engineers we pulled a rabbit out of our hat.  Our creativity and ingenuity is part of it, but is guided by reality, and the more in touch with market and police reality we get, the better the simulation will get.  In the context of other teams, play testing is where a concept car starts to become street worthy.  What is the gritty reality of the play experience?  How much are players willing to pay in time and/or money to participate in your experience, and for how long, how often?  If what they pay is not enough to pay for your operations, do you cancel operations, laying everyone off or reassigning them to more profitable projects, or find a way to add the value a player is willing to pay more for?

As developers, we often start by making a game that we would pay to play, but how much stronger is it when you go to a publisher and can say, this game I love also resonates with these 100 people who represent this demographic group?

Lots to think about, and who knows, maybe future employers of those in the room will ask what a developer would do with another six months to work on their game.  Play test feedback can help empower a specific creative direction, or help answer that question.  Testing VirTra last week also told my team what the weaknesses of that platform are compared to our own, and where a bit more investment on our part can really set B.E.S.T. apart.  VirTra is a video based police training simulator that does not focus on de-escalation, but does a good job helping officers think through “shoot or don’t shoot” choices like hostage situations.  It does not begin to solve the national problem we address with B.E.S.T., but some might consider it competition, at least for state dollars.

We think states should invest as much as possible in prevention rather than pay $750,000 to $1.5 million per incident on the back end for investigations and burials, not to mention wounded community trust.  All fifty states had at least one person killed by a police officer in 2015, and at least thirty-five lost officers.  How did your state do?


Friday, April 15, 2016.

The Utah Governor’s Economic Summit goes well!  Thursday night we hear from Pierre Lassonde, who donated $25 million to build the $50 million Lassonde Center.  I also take a VIP tour of the building, which is about two-thirds finished.  I hear from Governor Gary Herbert, who extolls the virtues of Utah capitalism, and from my old “Intro to PR” teacher Val Hale, who now heads the Governor’s Office of Economic Development.  The evening closes with a panel discussion by two VC’s and two CEO’s of Utah companies that raised more than $100 million on the way to becoming multi-billion dollar companies.


Get-Seeded-logo-standard-horizontal-092215_small-LRAfterward, I network in the halls of the business building, where I meet the outgoing President of the Entrepreneur Club. He recognizes me and suggests I apply for about $2,500 in Get Seeded funding before midnight for B.E.S.T.  We plan to use the money on character models, shaders, and 3D objects to fill in areas of our current scenario that have too few assets.  We want the scenario to look as sharp as possible for investors and the Attorney General’s office demo coming up in the next 30 days.  With Shahbaz and Eric’s help gathering numbers, I get the application in about seventeen minutes before midnight!  The hardest part is getting each paragraph of our proposal to less than 100 words or 650 characters, the length of four Twitter tweets!


The Economic Summit continues today.

Pierre Lassonde talks about his adventures in mining, how a $2 million option generated over $10 billion for his company Franco-Nevada Corporation.

I attend three breakout sessions, including a panel on The Evolution of Entertainment starring representatives of UDEN, The Void, Wildworks, Chair, and the Utah Film Commission.  The other two workshops are called Venture Capital in Utah and Preparing for Venture Capital.

We have an excellent lunch, and I connect or reconnect with people from the Utah World Trade Center, Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program, the University of Utah’s Technology and Venture Commercialization office, the SBDC, and more.  Beth from the TVC suggests our group join a business model canvas program they put on to help get clear on market needs and interview potential customers.  We’ve done this in Utah, but definitely plan to do so in other states as we have more funding.  I also meet with John for the second time this month, and he gives some good legal advice.

Screen Shot 2016-04-18 at 10.54.32 PM

My favorite experience was stepping inside a red Tesla Model S P85D.  Tesla Motors is a sponsor of the event, and I sign up for a test drive at 5:00.  AutoPilot, self parking, gasoline free driving, “bioweapon defense mode”, and a variety of easter eggs sold me, and I put down $1,000 on a Model 3.  It will probably be three years before they can fill the order, but at least I have a place in line!  Maybe by then I will want the Tesla Model S P90D remodel instead.  Red, white, blue or black?  Today, I lean red, though black is said to be most popular in the US, and white in Europe.

Buying a Tesla has been the plan for a while now.  Every time I buy a new car, I try to get double the gas mileage, and it pretty much comes down to Tesla or Elio at this point.  Given that Elon Musk started out a game designer, this is not a tough choice.