CastAR is ready to put the fun back into funding, securing more than $15 million from Playground Global and the company's seed investors to accelerate the development of its augmented reality headset. We spoke to CEO David Henkel-Wallace about why fun is such a guiding light for the company, and who he sees as the device's audience.
"When we say a consumer product, we mean a consumer price point. The Oculus headset is only a few hundred dollars but then you need a $1000 PC to run your games. That's not a consumer product, that's not something you're giving to your kids," he told GamesIndustry.biz
"I can tell you, Grandma is not buying a thousand dollar product for the kids"
"Our vision is that Christmas day Grandma has bought these for the kids, they tear open the paper, they open the box, they're eight and ten years old, they put down the game board and within a minute they're playing. That's where we want to get to. Well I can tell you, Grandma is not buying a thousand dollar product for the kids."
CastAR thinks key to adoption is making "a fun product that's accessible to people," as well as a product that is more robust to the virtual reality headsets you might have seen at trade shows. Henkel-Wallace points out there's a difference between a headset used reverently in a development studio and something that children will play with, drop on the floor, smear with jam.
"That's my dream! That kids are so engaged in it that they get jam on the lenses."
CastAR started life as Technical Illusions in March 2013 and was founded by Jeri Ellsworth and Rick Johnson. It raised over $1 million on Kickstarter the following November and has already started delivering hardware to pledgers. This $15 million will allow the company to build up the infrastructure it needs, the personnel and systems required to finish off the development for the bulk of the Kickstarter product.
"This money really marks an inflection point from being just a raw startup to actually allowing us to become a really fully functioning company."
He said talking to investors was made much easier by having a product that could force a smile from anyone that tried it on.
"I've raised money for other companies I've started where we just had an idea and we need the money to turn the idea into reality. In this case a lot of the questions in people's minds - what does this product do? - they can put it on and see right away.
"This money really marks an inflection point from being just a raw startup to actually allowing us to become a really fully functioning company"
"And it's a fun product, and fun is no joke here. In fact we have written on our whiteboard in the engineering office 'fun' with a box box around it and it says 'do not erase.' So that's really compelling because there's a lot of technology companies that are just a piece of technology."
The experience of the team, which boasts a pedigree that includes Valve, Raven Software, Gearbox as well as heavy hitters from the technology side, was also a factor. It was enough to impress Playground Global.
"I was really intrigued by David, Jeri, and Rick's approach to tackling the problem of how to drive mainstream adoption of AR," added Andy Rubin, MD of Playground Global.
"They're the only company I found to be simplifying the utility and application of augmented and virtual reality technology into a fun, accessible, and portable system that will wow kids and adults alike."