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How Corey Rosemond aims to grow digital tabletop gaming firm Roll20

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How Corey Rosemond aims to grow digital tabletop gaming firm Roll20

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Tabletop games are going through a renaissance now, and many of them are going digital. That’s why veteran gaming executive Corey Rosemond has joined Roll20 as its chief operating officer.

Las Vegas-based Roll20 was started in 2012 to take tabletop games digital. But it doesn’t turn them into video games. Rather, it gives game masters the tools to help immerse players in the world of the games. Rosemond has more than 20 years of experience in interactive entertainment

Roll20 specializes in role-playing games and it has added 25 employees in just the past couple of years. During the pandemic, the opportunity has grown dramatically as friends could no longer play tabletop games in person and had to move to online play.

Corey Rosemond brings a wealth of experience in gaming hardware and software to the tabletop industry. As the company continues to expand, Rosemond will help Roll20 improve its offerings and increase user acquisition. CEO Nolan Jones and his college roommates created the company to let people play their tabletop campaigns while away at school, and now there are more than eight million users. Rosemond will help the team figure out better ways to serve that audience with innovation.

His priorities include the development of a mobile app, continuing to expand and enhance Roll20’s marketplace, and investment in quality-of-life improvements — all projects that will continue to Roll20’s growth. I spoke with Rosemond about his new role.

Here’s an edited transcript of our interview.

Above: Corey Rosemond is COO of Roll20.

Image Credit: Roll20

GamesBeat: What was appealing about the job? Could you talk more about what you’ll do for Roll20?

Corey Rosemond: Roll20 is a leading virtual tabletop company that’s enabling and looking at taking especially tabletop role-playing games online. It’s a platform that adds in features and capabilities for people to be able to enjoy their tabletop role-playing game experience, both online but also, very important to note, to be able to have companion applications that allow people to bring an enhanced tabletop experience to physical, in-person games as well.

As you know, tabletop gaming is something that–I want to say it’s the less flashy aspect of interactive entertainment. One of the things that makes tabletop gaming special and unique is the requirement of human interaction. The game master, if you will. That human interaction, that human dynamic creativity, is something that has allowed and enabled tabletop games to continue to evolve and show an appeal even as video games have completely advanced and increased over the last 20 to 30 years. There’s still this appeal for tabletop role-playing and tabletop gaming in general.

Roll20 started in 2012 as a way for three University of Kansas students to continue their tabletop gameplay even as they moved off in different directions. They did it for themselves. People said, “Wait, that’s pretty cool! I’d like to be able to do that too.” There was this new crowdfunding platform called Kickstarter, and they decided to do a campaign for about $5,000. They raised approximately $40,000 and said, “Okay, I guess we’ll do this.”

The rest has been history. It’s a bootstrapped, profitable company over the last nine years. Roll20 has built that audience, built the community, provided a platform for various creators in the role-playing game space to have that virtual platform that allows people to play their games through an online, browser-based forum.

GamesBeat: How does it compare to other digital tabletop companies like what Asmodee is doing, or some newer ones like Gameboard? You have the augmented reality folks, a variety of productions out there.

Rosemond: What makes Roll20 different is we put a priority on where we feel like the creators meet the players. I think about it in our marketplace, the conversion in the support services we provide to more game creators, to actually create this dynamic experience on the Roll20 platform. That experience is unique compared to a lot of our competitors. We always strive to go above and beyond just taking PDFs and putting them online. We want to create differentiated and unique experiences representing the game online.

When you think about it, we were one of the first platforms to target the fact that the GM/DM is the source of the overall player experience. In many respects what Roll20 has been focused on is building out various tools and various features that enable the GM to enhance their experience, if you will, in terms of setting up the game adventure, having that continuity of interest going on for weeks and months, and in some instances years. We have some games that have gone on non-stop for several years. Knowing that it all starts with those game masters. That attention to prioritizing them, and in conjunction prioritizing creators. They’re creating these experiences and these expansions to the game systems that go on and allow those audiences to have this continuity that you don’t find in any other format of interactive entertainment.

roll20 desktop 2

Above: Roll20’s interface

Image Credit: Roll20

GamesBeat: Is this the first time you’ve had a COO role?

Rosemond: This is my first time in a COO role, yes. Previous to this I was VP of operations for the American subsidiary of Nacon. Nacon is a French hardware and software company, primarily in console and PC gaming.

GamesBeat: What felt like you were ready to take on this kind of role?

Rosemond: A couple of things. One, I felt as if taking on a global role at the COO level was something that presented a lot of exciting opportunities for me to apply the learnings from my 25 years in the interactive entertainment industry. Primarily on the video game side, but also both software and hardware. Two, what lay ahead in terms of disrupting and growing the tabletop side of the business.

When I look at the future, when I do my own analysis of what the next generation, call it Gen Z or digital natives–I almost feel like they’ve come full circle, where they want personalized, human touch experiences. Maybe as almost a passive rebellion against the AI everything. They want to go beyond the bots, if you will. They want interactions with other people, by other people. When I think about the entire tabletop space in the tradition of GMs, in the tradition of having that dynamic engagement with someone that will adjust and balance out the gameplay from a human perspective–I believe there’s so much growth to take place there going forward. That’s what led me to look at the tabletop space, the virtual tabletop space specifically, and that’s what led me to role-playing.

GamesBeat: Are there some skills that you think you need particularly in this kind of role?

Rosemond: For the role of chief operating officer, I bring a couple of things in particular. I’m just completing my first 90 days, so I think I can speak to this now with solid first impressions. I feel as if, first and foremost, I go back to my core function, which is product management. I look at how owning the product and looking at defining the product going forward and working from that context, based on my history. Being able to work across the people and the technologies, looking at where we want to take the industry, the segment, via the company and our strategy. Bringing all of that together, supporting the CEO, and also working hand in hand with the leadership team to get the best out of us as a functional unit is the core to the job.

That’s my own personal definition. No two COO roles are ever exactly the same. That’s the one piece of feedback from a number of COOs I talked to across industries, but more than a few video game companies. Almost to a person, they said that it’s a job that wears many hats, so be prepared to wear as many hats as required. For me, like I said, I look at my strategy, biz dev, and product backgrounds, combining those along with the rest of the leadership team. We have an amazing team here, with people from the video game space, the tabletop space, and a number of other industries. But primarily board games, tabletop. Intuitively, they’ve been working at Roll20 so long that they’re truly virtual tabletop veterans. Plus myself and at least one other leader from the video game space.

Roll20 Mobile Desktop

Above: Roll20 has both mobile and desktop interfaces.

Image Credit: Roll20

GamesBeat: How many people work at Roll20?

Rosemond: Right now we’re right at 60. We’ve been growing significantly. We’ll grow as appropriate in terms of bringing on additional people. We’ve grown quite a bit in the last year, year and a half.

GamesBeat: Has the company raised money multiple times beyond the Kickstarter, or was that the only instance?

Rosemond: The company is proud to say that beyond the initial Kickstarter campaign in 2012, it’s been completely self-funded, bootstrapped.

GamesBeat: Do you talk about revenues or any other indicators of size?

Rosemond: We’ve not talked about revenue, being privately held. We’ve shared that we have a membership north of 8 million. We’re looking forward to being able to announce, at least on our Roll20 blog, when we hit the 10 million mark. We’re approaching that milestone. But I can publicly state 8 million as of today.

GamesBeat: As far as guidance for people in a similar career track, what sort of advice would you have?

Rosemond: My advice would be–as we look here in 2021, there’s a lot in terms of social consciousness and justice. There was a lot of attention that I, at least, heard about in the Kotaku article where Phil Spencer talked about the dearth of black leadership within Xbox historically. That one hit home, frankly, because I used to work at Xbox. I had to think about that.

What I can say is, acknowledgement that there have been people from a variety of underrepresented minority groups–not just black, African-American, but Hispanic, Native American, others–there have been challenges for women and for the LGBTQ community within the interactive entertainment space. I can tell you, from my 25 years, it hasn’t always been the straightest path. There have been a lot of challenges, some overt and some covert.

The good news is that for me, I remained committed to this industry, because I love it. I absolutely believe that the interactive entertainment industry is one of the best in terms of what we provide end users, which is true entertainment, on their terms, in an interactive capacity that’s not just passive, like watching TV or going to the movies. You get to engage yourself. That’s what’s kept me in the industry despite great opportunities to go elsewhere. Given that experience, given a collective of experiences, that’s why I’ve stayed in it.

But at the same time it’s why, for me, at this point, coming into a virtual tabletop company was a great evolution for me. I have a lot of video game experience, having worked at Microsoft and Xbox, having worked at Plantronics in creating the Rig brand, having worked at Dell with the XPS gaming platform, and HP with gaming there. I’m able to see what I feel to be another hyper-growth segment of interactive entertainment. Right now that’s tabletop. I look at where mobile was 10 or 15 years ago, where PC gaming or casual gaming was 20 years ago. I’ve been part of all of those hyper-growth situations.

I’ll face up to it. The pandemic got a lot of people to re-evaluate how they engage with gaming overall. That combined with Gen Z and digital natives wanting more personalization. It’s quite significant. We’ve all talked about this. I’ve attended the last couple of GamesBeats. As we think about the metaverse, I think about it as lending itself to where we’re at with GMs and human-led adventures, human-led interactions within interactive entertainment. What I mean by that is, as we look out now at role-playing games, that’s going to lend itself quite well to the metaverse in my opinion.

It’ll be one thing to have players versus the environment, versus the environment’s AI, which is traditional in most video games. But to actually have that GM-led experience, that episodic content, something more like taking a true adventure with someone, following someone’s adventure, being part of that with the human on-the-fly dynamic. That’s the exciting part to me.

When I think about where we’re headed next, right now we’re starting with virtual tabletop. We’re looking at companions with the physical space, because we still do believe–there are people who just want to go have that physical gameplay interaction. We want to be able to support that as well. But looking to the future, and by that I mean five years and more, I see a place where this genre of gaming is going to lend itself to what today is being described as the metaverse. We’ll see if that name sticks in five years.

The prerequisite, always, when I look at the space Roll20 is in, is the human interaction. It’s all about how we provide the best possible platform for those creators and GMs that want to establish these adventures, establish these experience, for those one to five or however many players are going to participate within that adventure.

GamesBeat: When it comes to diversity, what is your hope for the industry? How can it get better?

Rosemond: I’ll be frank with you. My hope with the industry is that a lot more interactive entertainment companies can look and act like Roll20. When I look at it from an underrepresented minority perspective, we’re approximately 25 percent diverse in the organization. It’s very high. It’s diverse both from underrepresented minority perspectives, from a woman’s perspective, much more than I’ve seen in the game industry.

Most important, it’s across disciplines. As I look across the organization, we have truly diverse representation across the board. Dev, finance, operations, customer experience, HR, program management, QA. We have a truly inclusive and diverse organization across functions. Not just in one or two traditional functions where there’s been more diversity than in other parts of organizations.

That’s something that attracted me as I went through the interview process. This is a company that gets it. This is a company where, frankly, people are self-aware. They’re constantly, continually working on how we can be both more inclusive, but also successful and productive and competitive as a company. It’s not something here that’s just being done to hit a metric, to be able to raise a flag and say how woke we are as a company. It’s something that’s truly working, something the company believes in. It gives us a competitive advantage.

roll20 desktop

Above: Roll20’s desktop interface.

Image Credit: Roll20

GamesBeat: Where would you like to go with Roll20? Where do you think there’s room to grow or room for improvement?

Rosemond: In terms of room to grow, I want to enable and unlock the potential for us to delight and to train the imaginations of all the untapped people, in my opinion, that haven’t understood the full experiential value of what tabletop and role-playing games represent. A lot of people only think about role-playing games through the lens of Dungeons and Dragons, to use one example. It’s the leader, so I use it. That’s so far removed from what is offered and what’s available within tabletop role-playing games.

I’ll give you an analogy. That’s like saying the entire video game world is based on World of Warcraft. For a time it was revolutionary, and it was predominant in many respects, but–I use that because when I think about the mainstream, given the South Park episode, or a couple of other sitcoms that brought up video games–in that time, in the 2000s, they only talked about World of Warcraft. That’s what video games are about, that one game? There are literally millions of games out there, but everyone thought, that represents a video game. Or Halo. Or Madden. Or Grand Theft Auto. GTA is probably an even better example. People thought, “That’s video games.” When politicians talked about video games they’d bring up five examples, max.

Now mainstream people have figured out, primarily due to mobile games, but also due to casual PC games, that gaming is much more diverse than that. I’ll never forget people telling me that they’re not gamers, while they’re literally on their phone playing Candy Crush. That’s a game. You’re a game. “Yeah, I guess so?” In much the same regard, you have role-playing games and tabletop games, and people don’t even realize that many of them have nothing to do with a fantasy world that resembles Game of Thrones or Lord of the Rings.

Mind you, those are very popular. But I just played a game called Alice is Missing on our platform. The best way for me to describe that game is almost like Riverdale meets 90210. Or Dawson’s Creek. Playing this game, it’s meant to be a four-hour game, and at the start I’m thinking, “What are we going to do for four hours?” Next thing I know three hours and 30 minutes have passed, and we’re in the middle of this. We’re caught up in the adventure. You find yourself having a great time. I just flies by. I had a lot of fun with this game, and there are no weapons, nothing like that going on. But it’s a truly engaging adventure. It reminded me of watching an extended version of something like Dawson’s Creek or Riverdale. I found myself having an experience I’d never had before through other types of interactive entertainment. I’d venture to say that with more than 900 gaming systems on Roll20 today, right now, that there’s a tabletop game for everyone.

Going forward I see us expanding that. We’ve been working with a lot of role-playing game creators to enable them to get their games and their creative endeavors out to a broader set of people than ever before. If you think about it traditionally, to make a board game you need a lot of up-front cash. You need a publisher to get that game printed and positioned in a Target or a Wal-Mart. Then, fingers crossed, your marketing is spot-on and you find an audience and you’re able to grow from there.

What Roll20 represents is the best possible way for those developers and content creators and designers to get their games out to the audience online, right now, without depending on the physical side of the business. We will keep growing the better we can connect the untapped millions of tabletop gamers out there — or unknowing soon-to-be tabletop games out there — with these great creative endeavors that designers and creators are coming up with on an almost daily basis.

One more figure I can give you. More than $230 million of Kickstarter money that’s funded projects has been for tabletop games. There’s a lot of creativity out there, a lot of games being created, that are traditionally more tabletop games. We enable those games to be played online. If you look at some of the leading Kickstarter campaigns out there, we participate. If a game is funded, you may be able to play that game sooner than the physical version arrives on Roll20. That’s something we’ve done with a number of publishers and developers of tabletop games.

GamesBeat: Sounds like fun.

Rosemond: It’s been good trouble in terms of the work and getting myself onboarded. I’m looking forward to the future.

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Magic: The Gathering’s Adventures in the Forgotten Realms delves into Dungeons

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Magic: The Gathering's Adventures in the Forgotten Realms delves into Dungeons

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I once feared Magic: The Gathering would kill Dungeons & Dragons. Wizards of the Coast ended up saving it, and now, the granddaddy of trading card games is heading to the Forgotten Realms of Faerûn — and its Dungeons.

Today, Wizards of the Coast is showing off more cards from the Adventures in the Forgotten Realms set, which launches July 8 on Magic: The Gathering — Arena and July 23 in paper. In addition to bringing the likes of Drizzt Do’Urden, Tiamat, and Lolth the Spider Queen to Magic, Adventures in the Forgotten Realms introduces Dungeons to the card game.

Senior game designer James Wyatt (who also worked on two of my favorite D&D books, the 3rd Edition City of the Spider Queen and Draconomicon) and worldbuilding designer Meris Mullaley showed off a handful of the set’s cards to the press last week. And the three Dungeons and their Venture mechanic showed how the Magic team is approaching fitting Realmslore into the set.

Dungeon delving

Above: The dungeons of Adventures in the Forgotten Realms.

Image Credit: GamesBeat

The Dungeons are adaptations of existing D&D modules and campaigns that have appeared in 5th Edition (among others):

“Whenever you have a card that tells you to Venture into the Dungeon, what you do is you pick one of these Dungeons, and you put a marker at the very top room. And every time you Venture, then you can move down a level — farther into the Dungeon — by one room,” Wyatt said in a video briefing.

Each player has their own Dungeons, so they could be exploring the Lost Mine of Phandelver at the same time (so, two people could be doing so in a 1-on-1 game, or three of four players could be in a Commander match). You can have one, two, or all three active at once. When you Venture, you could either go deeper into one or begin exploring another.

These Dungeons offer choices. You choose which one you want to delve into and which path you take. The Tomb of Annihilation has you sacrificing cards, artifacts, and life to gain a horrific benefit (which fits the theme of the lich Acererak’s deathtrap). I also find adding this dungeon interesting because Acererak was a card in Spellfire, which was D&D‘s failed answer to Magic back in the 1990s.

Halaster’s dungeon gives you more choices, but it takes longer to get through it (as befits the numerous levels of Undermountain).

“If you choose Dungeon of the Mad Mage, you’re really in this dungeon for a long time exploring the holes of Undermountain,” Wyatt said. “You need seven Ventures to get all the way through, but you have lots of choices to make as you go along the way.”

Dungeons are a neat way to capture the flavor of D&D within Magic. Undermountain has been a mainstay of the Realms since The Ruins of Undermountain boxed set in 1991; since then, TSR or Wizards of the Coast has published several campaign sets, adventures, game books, and even a board game about these halls.

The Magic team is using its existing combination of creatures, artifacts, and spells to take advantage of these Dungeons.

FR Venture Dungeon cards

Above: These cards work with Dungeons, giving you benefits or helping you get through them.

Image Credit: GamesBeat

“There are a variety of cards that interact with Venture in interesting ways, including all the way down to Common [rarity] with things like Shortcut Seeker, hitting that classic trope of ‘look, there’s a trapdoor under the rug,’” Wyatt said. “Venture is a strong theme across all rarities, so there’s lots of opportunity for players to experience the thrill of exploring Dungeons.”

I asked if the Dungeons had special loot attached to them, such as a Sphere of Annihilation for the Tomb of Annihilation. A Wizards spokesperson on the call said we’d have to wait and see on that.

Give me land, lots of land

Another way to capture the flavor of the Forgotten Realms is with lands. The Basic lands all have some art or text reference to Faerûn, even if it’s not obvious at first glance.

What’s really interesting are some of the alternate land cards. One example is Evolving Wilds, a Magic staple. This treatment captures the style of classic D&D modules such as The Keep on the Borderlands (it even has the lavender-ish coloring).

FR lands

Above: The Basic lands reference the Realms in their art and their text.

Image Credit: GamesBeat

The set will have nine of these lands, eight of them with new names.

“We’re calling this the Classic Module land frame. These are borderless module lands featuring art that is reminiscent of the cover art from classic Dungeons & Dragons adventure modules,” Mullaley said. “They’re all lands. There’s nine of them. This one is Evolving Wilds, but the other lands are new, with names that were created to sound like adventures.”

Seeing some of the Basic lands did raise a concern. The Forest doesn’t scream Forgotten Realms to me, and the text doesn’t add any flavor; it looks like it could fit into any other Magic set.

“We did a full concept push for this set, like we do for any Magic set. Obviously there’s already a ton of art exploring what the Forgotten Realms looks like. There’s not necessarily a ton of of art or color art establishing the look of specific geographical regions like the Evermoors, or the Spine of the World, or the High Forest,” Wyatt said. “So all of these lands — almost all of these lands — do actually point to specific places that we developed in the world guide, though I think that forest right there is an example of elven architecture, rather than a specific place, so that was also one of the areas we explored in the world guide.

“If I’m remembering right, the cycles of lands include one of each land type in the Underdark, one that shows a settlement of various peoples of the Realms, one that is just a wilderness area, and one that includes some ruins of ancient civilizations. So there’s definitely a lot of Realms flavor, sometimes not obvious in there, but in there.”

Who’s the set for?

FR card treatments

Above: Card treatments for Adventures in the Forgotten Realms include borderless art cards, special art cards that look like D&D stat blocks, and illustrations that hark back to 1st and 2nd Edition styles.

Image Credit: GamesBeat

As Mullaley and Wyatt showed off this batch of cards, I wondered (as did others on the briefing) who this set was for. Is it for Magic players, enticing them into something new? Is it for Realms fans who Wizards wants to push into Magic? Or folks like me, who enjoy both of Wizards’ big properties?

“I think that for someone who is familiar with Magic and not familiar with Dungeons & Dragons, it will be like encountering a completely new plane that we’ve created for the first time for a Magic set,” Mullaley said. “It’s for Standard play, so it’s built to work with all of the other sets in Standard. And while we created a few new mechanics that were kind of inspired by Dungeons & Dragons play for this set, for the most part, it plays like a Magic set, and it’s got the creature types you’ve come to expect and be the Standard exciting Magic gameplay, and the flavor of the world happens to be Dungeons & Dragons.

“So we’re hoping that, as you’re playing this, what might be a deep cut reference for a friend of yours might be something that sparks a bit of curiosity for you.”

One card that worries me is a Legendary character, the Dragonborn knight Nadaar, Selfless Paladin. They’re a character created for this set. But why would you need to make characters when you have official material going back to the “Grey Box” set of 1987 and Realms fans want characters they’ve come to love over the years, such as The Simbul, the dastardly wizard Manshoon, or even gods such as Bhaal?

“Hopefully, we can do both,” Wyatt said on mixing known and new characters together. “We have a lot of goals, putting Legends into a set, including hitting nostalgia, but also hitting various diversity milestones, trying to make sure that that we’re reflecting our audience and the game as it is now, not as it was 25 years ago. So, yeah, we definitely trying to do both.”

Yesterday, Magic head designer Mark Rosewater posted a blog with a number of hints and teases that addresses my concerns. These include:

  • a Legendary creature that makes a Legendary Hamster creature token (this must be Minsc & Boo, the beloved duo from the Baldur’s Gate games)
  • a card that creates a Legendary creature token named Vecna (while Vecna is more associated with Greyhawk than the Realms, the lich is a popular figure in the D&D community and was part of Critical Role’s story)
  • a creature with a death trigger that makes an equipment token (this could be a Gelatinous Cube, with the remains of an adventurer inside it)
  • Spend this mana only to cast Dragon spells or activate abilities of Dragons (this could be from an Orb of Dragonkind)
  • Creature — Bird Bear (this must be an Owlbear)
  • Creature — Elf Spider (this must be a Drider, the drow that Lolth curses to be part elf, part spider, and all horror)
  • Legendary Creature — Devil God (this must be Asmodeus, who’s been playing with the Realms for some time now)
  • Legendary Creature — Beholder

Also yesterday, Wizards of the Coast put out a list of folks who will have card previews and the date they’re showing them off.

GamesBeat

GamesBeat’s creed when covering the game industry is “where passion meets business.” What does this mean? We want to tell you how the news matters to you — not just as a decision-maker at a game studio, but also as a fan of games. Whether you read our articles, listen to our podcasts, or watch our videos, GamesBeat will help you learn about the industry and enjoy engaging with it.

How will you do that? Membership includes access to:

  • Newsletters, such as DeanBeat
  • The wonderful, educational, and fun speakers at our events
  • Networking opportunities
  • Special members-only interviews, chats, and “open office” events with GamesBeat staff
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  • Introductions to like-minded parties

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Tech

Tonkean raises $50M to expand its workflow automation platform

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Tonkean

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Tonkean, a software startup developing a no-code workflow automation platform, today announced that it nabbed $50 million in a series B round led by Accel with participation from Lightspeed Ventures and Foundation Capital. CEO Sagi Eliyahu says that the proceeds will be put toward scaling up the company’s hiring efforts across engineering and go-to-market teams.

San Francisco, California-based Tonkean was founded in 2015 by Eliyahu and Offir Talmor. At age 18, Eliyahu and Talmor met in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), where they spent four years working on software technologies and challenges. Before founding Tonkean, Eliyahu was the VP of engineering at Jive Software, but many of Tonkean’s R&D early hires in Israel came from Eliyahu’s and Talmor’s IDF unit.

Eliyahu argues that the value proposition of Tonkean’s platform is twofold. It gives businesses and teams within those businesses the ability to tailor workflows to systems, employees, and processes. At the same time, it solves challenges in a way that doesn’t require many customizations.

“As [Jive] scaled, [we] encountered problems that large businesses often see as inevitable: a tech stack that balloons to include hundreds if not thousands of applications and inefficiency that ran rampant throughout the organization,” Eliyahu told VentureBeat via email. “Tonkean was built to solve the fundamental challenges of enterprise software to allow department and operational experts to actually deliver software with the flexibility to streamline business processes without introducing yet more apps.”

Workflow automation

Tonkean’s workflow designer features adaptive modules that can be added or removed in a drag-and-drop fashion. Customers can use it to proactively reach out and follow people via email, Slack, or Microsoft Teams to deliver data and actions to them or to keep track and manage performance across processes, people, and systems. Moreover, they can automate manual steps such as triaging finance requests, routing items to team members, and chasing status updates. Or they can dive into live details of individual jobs and see aggregate views of metrics and KPIs like turnaround time, turnover rate, and cycle times for tasks.

“In many cases, Tonkean is reducing the need for internal custom development by IT and business technology teams or the need to purchase multiple packaged solutions to support needs from various business units,” Eliyahu said. “Tonkean operates at the cross-section of automation platforms like robotic process automation, integration platform as a service, and business process automation, often replacing but also often extending the value of these platforms by allowing enterprises to orchestrate more complex, human-centric processes and reducing the technical skill sets needed to leverage capabilities provided by technology platforms.”

Above: A screenshot of Tonkean’s workflow automation platform.

Image Credit: Tonkean

Tonkean says it already has “a few dozen” customers, mostly at the Fortune 1000 level — including Grubhub and Crypto.com.

“Tonkean’s AI-powered coordination engine can intelligently and proactively reach people by learning individual or team preferences, like what communication medium is preferred, and route alerts, data, or actions to the right place at the right time,” Eliyahu said. “Tonkean is the operating system for business operations, and as such can be used to deliver use cases in any business operations function including revenue operations, legal operations, HR operations, finance operations, IT operations, and more.”

Tonkean has raised $81 million in venture capital to date with this latest funding round, which also had contributions from Zoom CEO Eric Yuan, Atlassian co-CEO Scott Farquhar, former Google CEO Eric Schmidt, and executives from UiPath. The company, which has over 60 employees, plans to expand the size of its workforce to over 100 within the next year.

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Varjo Reality Cloud lets you virtually experience a real place via ‘teleportation’

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Varjo is unveiling its way to teleport to virtual spaces today.

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Varjo is unveiling its Reality Cloud platform for virtual teleportation. That means one person can capture the reality of a space in a particular location and share that reality in extreme detail for a remote person to experience, virtually.

The Varjo Reality Cloud shares the details of a room in photorealistic detail, showing someone remotely located a view of the room in real time. Yes, you heard that. Varjo lets one person scan a 3D space and another person experience it virtually at almost the same time, as it can transfer the necessary data in compact streams of 10 megabits to 30 megabits per second with almost no time delays, the company said.

It’s a pretty amazing technology that comes from the pioneering work that Varjo has done in creating high-end virtual reality and mixed reality headsets for enterprises such Volvo, which uses it to design cars in virtual environments. The caveat, of course, is if the tech really works as envisioned.

“We are introducing Varjo Reality Cloud, and this is something very different from what you’ve seen from Varjo before,” said Timo Toikkanen, CEO of Varjo, said in an interview with GamesBeat. “We have been working on a software platform that is the first in the world that enables virtual teleportation.”

The earlier VR and mixed reality tech that Varjo introduced in the past couple of years now uses cameras on a Varjo VR-3 virtual reality headset to capture the environment around a person. Then it transmits that slice of reality to someone else who uses a headset to experience the exact same physical reality, but in a virtual way. If Varjo can deliver the Varjo Reality Platform with the same quality it shows in its videos, then it will feel like you’re “teleporting” from your real location to a virtual location.

“You can you can be anywhere in the world,” Toikkanen said. “You can scan your surroundings, not just a 3D object or something like that. You can digitize the world around you if you like. And do that in super high fidelity, through Varjo Reality Cloud, so anybody anywhere in the world can join you in that location and see it exactly the way you see it, in perfect color, with lights and reflections, and so forth.”

It’s no joke, as Varjo has been working on this for years and it has raised $100 million to date from investors including Volvo (via the Volvo Cars Tech Fund), Atomico, NordicNinja, EQT Ventures, Lifeline Ventures, Tesi, and Swisscanto Invest by Zürcher Kantonalbank.

“It’s a sci fi dream come true. But we are fully grounded in reality. So we have been looking at the at the experience. How can we enable people to have similar interpersonal experience as you do in real life, and do that remotely,” Toikkanen said. “What really accelerated for us during last year was the realization how world will never be returning to the same after COVID and travel will forever be changed. And we saw that this is one of those moments when world is more ready than ever for the transformation of this nature in the way the communication and interaction is done. This is the right time to begin that change.”

A realistic metaverse

Above: Varjo is unveiling its way to teleport to virtual spaces today.

Image Credit: Varjo

Toikkanen said that this capturing and sharing of reality is like a true-to-life metaverse, the universe of virtual worlds that are all interconnected, like in novels such as Snow Crash and Ready Player One.

He said that you will be able to see in real-time what your friend is seeing in another place through the cloud-based platform. One person can map their reality by looking around in a room, and that view is transported to the cloud and rebuilt as a room. The person that you share this reality with can view it and feel like they’re there, Toikkanen said.

“It’s a metaverse grounded in reality,” he said. “It really is like the science fiction, beaming yourself to the other end of the world and back. And we think we think this is a really big deal. If you think of the economical and ecological drivers in the world today, something like this makes travel unnecessary.”

He said it could pave the way for a new form of human interaction and universal collaboration.

“You can engage on a completely different level than you have ever been in the history of communications,” Toikkanen said. “It really does change things in a big way. Both for businesses as well as for private individuals. You can teleport to other people, to your family,  or you can teleport to a work project.”

The system lets anybody scan their surroundings, turning them into 3D imagery using a Varjo XR-3 headset and then transport that 3D space to another person. That person gets to see the exact physical reality, completely bridging the real and the virtual in true-to-life visual fidelity, said Urho Konttori, chief technology officer at Varjo in Helsinki, Finland.

“It’s super important that the latency is kept low enough so that you have you feel that the interaction is logical, and that you don’t have like motion-related latency,” said Konttori. “We have put immense amount of effort into making it so that human-eye resolution, fully immersive stream, from the cloud, can be sent in 10 to 30 megabits per second speeds.”

This real-time reality sharing will usher in a new era in universal collaboration and pave the way for a metaverse of the future, transforming the way people work, interact, and play, Konttori said.

For the past five years, Varjo has been building and perfecting the foundational technologies needed to bring its Varjo Reality Cloud platform to market such as human-eye resolution, low-latency video pass-through, integrated eye tracking and the Lidar ability of the company’s mixed reality headset.

The company has already delivered these building block technologies in market-ready VR products that enterprises use to design their products. And now Varjo is uniquely positioned to combine them with Varjo Reality Cloud to empower users to enjoy the scale and flexibility of virtual computing in the cloud without compromising performance or quality.

Using Varjo’s proprietary foveated transport algorithm, users will be able to stream the real-time human-eye resolution, wide-field-of-view 3D video feed in single megabytes per second to any device. This ability to share, collaborate in and edit one’s environment with other people makes human connection more real and efficient than ever before, eliminating the restrictions of time and place completely.

Dimension10 acquisition

Varjo has been working on the Varjo Reality Cloud for years.

Above: Varjo has been working on the Varjo Reality Cloud for years.

Image Credit: Varjo

To further accelerate bringing the vision for Varjo Reality Cloud to life, Varjo today also announced the acquisition of Dimension10, a Norwegian software company that pioneers industrial 3D collaboration.

“We’re big fans of the company and have been for a long time,” Toikkanen said. “They have been pioneering collaboration, 3D models. And we think collaboration is at the heart Varjo Reality Cloud and us joining forces with them expedites progress.”

The Dimension10 virtual meeting suite is designed for architecture, engineering and construction teams and will become a critical component to making virtual collaboration possible within Varjo Reality Cloud. Dimension10 adds 14 people to Varjo’s team.

Additionally, Varjo added Lincoln Wallen to the company’s board of directors. Wallen currently serves as the CTO at Improbable, and he is a recognized scholar in computing and AI.

Previously, Wallen has worked as CTO of Dreamworks where he transitioned global movie production to the cloud, including the development of a cloud-native toolset for asset management, rendering, lighting, and animation.

Varjo Reality Cloud will first be available to existing customers and partners in alpha access starting later this year. For more information about Varjo’s new cloud platform and its vision for the metaverse, tune into a live, virtual event today, June 24, 2021, at 9 a.m. Pacific time via varjo.com.

Tech demos

varjo Press Image for Varjo Reality Cloud 4

Above: Varjo lets one person scan a 3D space and another person experience it virtually.

Image Credit: Varjo

In a video tech demo, Varjo showed a simplification to show how the world can be captured and streamed in real time as a 3D representation. It shows a time-lapse capture of a scene captured in real-time from a Varjo XR-3 headset. The video is converted into a 3D space that someone with a viewer and access to the Varjo Reality Cloud can use to see that room from any 3D angle.

In the beginning of the video, the user scans the room and then stops to watch Konttori give a talk. While Konttori is speaking, you see the naturalness of the movement, captured with just a Varjo XR-3 headset in the room, no additional cameras or recording devices. The camera is able to move freely as it’s all in 3D and not a flat video.

In a second video, Varjo teleports Konttori to the company’s Varjo HQ in Helsinki in mixed reality. A user wearing the headset sees the teleported Konttori mixed into a physical space at the headquarters. Later they mix the teleported surroundings together with the physical space in the headquarters.

Cool technology

Volvo is using Varjo headsets to design cars.

Above: Kia is using Varjo headsets to design cars.

Image Credit: Varjo

Varjo was founded in 2016, when other headsets like the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive first appeared. But instead of targeting entertainment, Varjo went after enterprises with no-compromise technology.

It debuted its first VR headset, the XR-1, in early 2019 with human-eye resolution, or 1,920 pixels x 1,080 pixels per eye and an 87-degree field of view. That headset cost $10,000, but the company followed it up December 2020 with its XR-3 and VR-3 headsets that combined VR and augmented reality in the same headset.

That generation had twice the performance of the previous generation, with “human-eye resolution” of 1,920 pixels x 1,920 pixels per eye and a 115-degree field of view. It was also cheaper, ranging from $3,195 to $5,495 and it was available for cheaper enterprise subscriptions.

Now these headsets can be the jumping off point for the Varjo Reality Cloud, as they can connect to the datacenter and upload the scanned environment that someone can see via the cameras that are on the headset. The quality of the headset capture enables high-quality imagery in the cloud, Konttori said.

“We have innovated for the last five years on making that high fidelity possible,” Toikkanen said. “It links directly to the investment we have made on the headset side into gaze tracking, eye tracking, if you like, because that enables innovation. We have also invested in transporting the data between the locations, to the cloud and back, so that we can do this ensure high quality or super low latency. So that’s essentially what we are. We think of it as nothing less than the next form of human interaction.”

The hard part

Varjo is targeting professionals such as product designers with its XR/VR headsets.

Above: Varjo is targeting professionals such as product designers with its XR/VR headsets.

Image Credit: Varjo

“Nobody else is at the place that they have the hardware even near the quality that we have, let alone the software stack that allows us to actually pull this off,” Toikkanen said. “And we have of course be developing this simultaneously. And now is the culmination of all that work.”

Gaze tracking is important because if you can track where someone’s eyes are moving, then you know what they’re looking at and you can transport that view with low latency. That allows the company to create foveated transport algorithms, which means it only sends the data that you can see and that you are looking at, rather than other data that isn’t needed in real time at that moment.

“It’s a huge undertaking, and so we developed a year and a half ago a new way of doing that transport,” Konttori said. “The video stream focuses at the place that you’re looking at. That’s where we have the full resolution in the video stream. And then the degrades gradually from that towards the edges of the screen. And does that very quickly. It means that we can send the data that we send at the moment on cables from the computer to the headset, which is running at like 20 gigabits per second, and we can send that with our new compression technology at 10 megabits to 30 megabits per second.”

That means it works that you can share imagery with someone 2,000 miles away, Toikkanen said.

Enterprise applications

Varjo's XR-3 and VR-3 headsets.

Above: Varjo’s new XR-3 and VR-3 headsets.

Image Credit: Varjo

It’s a level of quality that is 10 times the resolution difference of other headsets out there, Konttori said.

“You get real-time presence because when we’re scanning, we’re just not just making a 3D model of the surroundings that you’re in and make that a teleport location,” Konttori said. “We’re actually updating that in real time.”

You could have a manager on a factory floor put on a headset. They can create a teleport node, and people from other countries can join and see what the manager sees. It’s all updated in real time and people get a sense they are truly at that location. They can fix the things that the manager is looking at, and then take off a headset and be at home.

“If you want to visit your family, it’s the same thing,” Konttori said. “You can share that physical location and people can instantly perceive the world as if they were actually there themselves.”

Once you scan a place, you don’t have to scan it again, Toikkanen said. And you can use any headset to teleport to a location, or use a phone and still have the freedom of movement to look around. But the Varjo XR-3 is the only device that can be the teleportation node that broadcasts and streams the 3D space to someone else.

Toikkanen said it’s like moving from the telephone to a video conference, and moving from that to something that is even more transformative.

“We think there are going to be a billion people using this kind of service over the next 10 years or 20 years,” he said. “We are in the alpha phase with real customers and partners this year.”

A cousin of the Omniverse

BMW Group is using Omniverse to build a digital factory that will mirror a real-world place.

Above: BMW Group is using Nvidia’s Omniverse to build a digital factory that will mirror a real-world place.

Image Credit: Nvidia

I asked if this would be a way to scan the world into Nvidia’s Ominverse, the metaverse for engineers that lets them simulate photorealistic details in a virtual world to test how they will work in reality. BMW is using the Omniverse for creating a “digital twin,” or a car factory it can design in a virtual space before it builds an exact copy in the physical world.

Toikkanen said that both tools are useful for the metaverse and they are complimentary.

“They’re both part of the like, movement towards metaverse, and this teleport functionality is adding a completely new node into the sphere of discussion of a metaverse, which is that one part of that can be the real world itself,” Toikkanen said. “And we make it so that you get the benefits of a metaverse also in real world setting. And we think that’s at least equally transformative as the metaverse which is typically seen only in virtual reality.”

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