Paul Furio had a big job at Amazon, managing teams that built the gaming software development kit, sample games and 3D Toolkit for the Fire Phone, helping the Seattle company make its entrance into the smartphone market.
Late last year he left his job as a software development manager at Amazon to pursue a new idea in gaming. Furio wanted to bring the same episodic narrative quality of television to the world of video games.
He launched SyncBuildRun to do just that. Furio describes the nascent Seattle-area startup as “leading the way in delivering interactive entertainment with weekly story-and-character based content updates.”
Furio has worked in software development for nearly two decades. During his career he’s shipped over 20 games including Forza Motorsport and Harry Potter and the Sorcerers Stone.
Meet our new Geek of the Week and continue reading for his answers to our questionnaire.
What do you do, and why do you do it? “Building Episodic Entertainment is my passion because it’s an untapped field in gaming. There are already plenty of splashy, binge-play AAA titles. The Mobile Gaming space also covers the 30 second experience, or the 5 minute experience. The middle range, however, hasn’t been fully explored, especially with regards to story-based content that is delivered at a regular cadence. Television shows are great at this, but not games. TV understands the dynamic of anticipation, and the power of story. I think with games, we can build on this by demonstrating a growing market based on a story that expands over time, as well as offering the opportunity to more rapidly integrate player feedback and play metrics into future episodes and content. Television can’t compete here, because there is so much planning that goes into every shot. But with software, if we’re smart, and our content is just data, we can pivot rapidly to delight or even surprise our players with what’s in the episode next week.”
What’s the single most important thing people should know about your field? “Too many people think that games are just for kids, or are a waste of time. The data backs up that both of these are untrue. Moms and adult women make up the largest percentage of mobile game players, even though they don’t consider themselves gamers, and adults of both genders make up a huge portion of players. Games are teaching tools. They help us learn about teamwork, strategy, planning, forward thinking, problem solving, and they can educate about a broad variety of topics. Many players have commented that Kerbal Space Program, an indie game about running a space agency and launching rockets, taught them more about physics and orbital dynamics than any textbook or NASA video ever had before. So there’s a massive potential to use games to teach, communicate, and sharpen the skills of players of all ages.”
Where do you find your inspiration? “Our first title, V.Next, has a female protagonist, so we’re looking at how women interact and succeed in the technical field. Topics like GamerGate, articles about Marissa Mayer and Sheryl Sandberg, as well as personal interactions with women in technology roles are shaping some of the topics that we want to cover in our game. This is also why we have Megan Gaiser, the former CEO of Her Interactive, as an advisor to our company. She’s a huge inspiration.
In terms of story quality in an episodic format, we’re largely looking to the best that television has to offer, including shows on AMC like Mad Men, Halt and Catch Fire, and Breaking Bad. How can we match or exceed that level of quality of writing, of drama, in an interactive format? Those are the questions we ask ourselves.”
What’s the one piece of technology you couldn’t live without, and why? “My iPhone 6. I was a relatively late adopter to the smartphone scene, but now it’s invaluable. It offers the opportunity to communicate anywhere, take notes anywhere, research anything anywhere. Last week I used it to take reference video of a friend riding a motorcycle, as we have a riding mode in our game. The ease of being able to take a high quality video with something that fit in my pocket, and then have it in the game mere minutes after returning home, it’s something I couldn’t have dreamed of 20 years ago.”
What’s your workspace like, and why does it work for you? “I split my time between working from home and working out of Office Nomads, a coworking space on Capitol Hill. Office Nomads is great because it gets me out of the house, and I’ve made some valuable connections for talent and brainstorming there. The home office is good for heads down coding, or handling the multiple phone calls I need to take as the owner of a business without worrying about disturbing other people.”
Your best tip or trick for managing everyday work and life. (Help us out, we need it.) “I like to keep to-do lists, but I keep them focused with very specific exit criteria, and very specific dates. The Amazonian in me is still very date-driven, so getting a date for every commitment from myself or my contractors, is critical to keeping on schedule. If we don’t know a date, we do the Amazon thing of a “date for a date”, so we always know our next checkpoint. The exit criteria is also important, so we don’t fluff over a commitment. There’s no “good enough.” It’s tough to pick the right criteria to hold ourselves to high standards, but it keeps us honest so that we don’t keep slipping milestones.”
Mac, Windows or Linux? “Mac for development, but the lion’s share of the market is Windows, so we’ll launch there.”
Kirk, Picard, or Janeway? “Picard. He was also Professor Xavier. Kirk just moonlighted as TJ Hooker. No contest.”
Transporter, Time Machine or Cloak of Invisibility? “Transporter. We only have so much time, and that limit drive us. The Invisibility Cloak has an air of dishonesty, and that’s against our company values.”
If someone gave me $1 million to launch a startup, I would … “Do what I’m doing now, immediately hire a larger team, and start production now on the second title to spread out risk.”
I once waited in line for … “Hockey Tickets, in college. It was a fraternity tradition. I don’t wait in lines anymore. It’s not a valuable use of my time.”
Your role models: “J.J. Abrams and Joss Whedon for their incredible storytelling abilities. John Blow for his technical prowess and ability to build a really great, unique game. Jeff Bezos, who I met numerous times at Amazon, for setting high standards and building a hugely successful business with a very long term vision. Kim Swift, who I also met while at Amazon, for being visionary, creative, and most of all incredibly humble in the face of her success.”
Greatest Game in History “I’m working on it right now. That’s what I’m supposed to say as a CEO, right? Otherwise I’d say Poker. I’ve learned more from playing Poker than from any other game.”
Best Gadget Ever: “Coffee Machine. Through this, all things are possible.”
First Computer: “Commodore 64.”
Current Phone: “iPhone 6.”
Favorite App: “Facebook. I use it to talk to my advisors.”
Favorite Cause: “Championing Reproductive Freedom, and Women’s Rights.”
Most important technology of 2015 “Apple Watch. It’s not even out and it already has a dozen me-too competitors.”
Most important technology of 2017: “Autonomous Vehicles. This should be the tipping point for this tech.”
Final words of advice for your fellow geeks: “James Cameron gave some excellent advice a few years ago at the World Business Forum, and I try to live by it. Paraphrasing, ‘Aim really high. Higher than everyone else. This way, even when you inevitably fail at a few things and drop down a few notches, you’re still failing at a higher level than most other people even dared to dream.’ It’s great advice in a world of fast-follows and safe bets. All the biggest payoffs are from the giant dreams.”
LinkedIn: Paul Furio