Q&A with Thomas Gratz - Senior Manager for Viveport Developer Marketing
In our Developer Blog Series, we sit down with many of our VIVE colleagues who work with developers daily to highlight our way of thinking and help developers best take advantage of all the opportunities available at VIVE and VIVEPORT. This month, we’re chatting with Thomas Gratz in our San Francisco Office.
Please introduce yourself. What do you do for Viveport?
My name is Thomas Gratz and I’m a Senior Manager here at HTC, leading Developer Marketing for Viveport, which is HTC’s content distribution platform and storefront for virtual reality. When I describe my role, I always split Developer Marketing into two sides. First, we try to reach as many VR developers as possible and bring their titles onto Viveport. We work hard to earn developer trust and participation in our programs like Infinity or Viveport Arcade. Second, we aim to provide the best marketing support in the VR industry by helping titles get discovered by VR users. We line up promotions and amplification of announcements, releases and sustainment after launch.
And you’ve been at Viveport practically longer than anyone else in the San Francisco office, right?
That’s true and a bit crazy to think about when you put it that way. I’m celebrating my 3-year anniversary at Viveport this month. When I joined, there was essentially Rikard Steiber who is our President and a few VPs. The VP of Marketing had been hired two weeks earlier and he quickly brought me on board as we needed to launch Viveport globally in just a few months. I was the first marketing hire at Viveport and it has been quite an experience watching the team and product evolve since.
What made you want to join the Viveport team?
I was at Microsoft prior to joining HTC. At Microsoft, I had my first experience with XR using the HoloLens. I got to take a device home for a few weekends for testing prior to the developer kit releasing. As soon as I had hands-on time, I knew I wanted to work in this emerging industry. I had my first experience with a VIVE when a buddy of mine gave me a demo of “theBlu” when he went to go work for a VR startup in downtown Bellevue. My experience at Microsoft also pushed me toward creator communities and empowering others. This role on the Viveport team checked all the boxes and it was an opportunity to get on the ground floor of a brand-new business unit at HTC. The Vive had just been released and developers were just starting to dig into VR content creation.
What does a typical day at the office look like for you?
It changes all the time and is hard to predict even 3 years in. I just came back from a trip to Europe where we filmed 3 different developers telling their story of VR development. My team has this Viveport Developer Story program where we produce a 3-to-4 minute video asset which can be used to market both the developer and Viveport. Our goal is to inspire other creators, provide interesting insights and recognize a growing community of VR developers across the world of different cultures, backgrounds and motivations. It’s one of my favorite parts of the job.
In a normal day, I’m speaking with a lot of developers – coordinating their release dates, collecting assets needed for marketing, etc. I’m working with our Customer Marketing team on store
programming, newsletter placements, making sure we’re highlighting great titles and talented developers. I work with our Content team so they everything they need to talk with developers 1-1. I decide which developer events we choose to sponsor and decide our messaging, logistics and outreach at events we do participate in.
And in quiet moments (not often), I work on our strategy as a team, sit on the greenlight committee for Viveport funding opportunities and share input on the Viveport leadership team on the direction we’re taking and goals we have.
How do you work with developers to promote their content?
Most of the time, developers are referred to the Developer Marketing team by our Content Operations or Content Acquisition teams. They either have submitted their title to the Viveport Developer Console and are expecting to release in a few weeks or are having conversations about coming to the platform. With the introduction, we’re usually called upon to look at the title and evaluate how much marketing support we may be able to provide, depending on the title, distribution plan and release date. After a call and some emails back and forth, we usually have a game plan in place – general timing and what each side needs to execute effectively. We outline all the opportunities to promote across Viveport channels and provide a list of needs from developers (most of the time, information and assets). Once we receive what we need, we turn it around as fast as possible and prepare internal teams to execute.
Post release, we remain in contact with all developers on the platform and let them know about future promotion opportunities we think their titles are well suited for. Of course, developers also reach out directly about their latest updates and plans and we do our best to support.
There’s no shortage of titles on Viveport from all the good work our content team is doing (check out last month’s blog with Kris Severson, Director of Content Partnerships). How can developers prioritize themselves and make your job easier?
Ha, it didn’t used to be that way. We launched Viveport with roughly 75 VR titles. The service has grown so much since then. We’re over 2000+ titles now including high quality games and apps across all territories that Viveport supports. You are correct that we can’t support everyone now in the way that we used to and there are things developers can do to be prioritized and get our attention.
First and foremost, developers who can consistently lock in their release dates and hold to them are a rare unicorn in my experience. A lot of marketing must be planned prior to builds getting submitted or finalized and developers who can deliver on their initial plans that we work towards are easily prioritized. If dates slip, our bandwidth and inventory changes and it could mean the marketing scope of our campaigns are impacted. The importance of quality marketing assets can’t be overstated. A quality asset has art that is both unique and conveys immediately what the VR experience is like. It catches the eye and is easy to digest at a glance. It is often a user’s first and only impression of a title and bad assets will ruin a good game’s chance to be discovered. Titles that distribute to all available territories make our lives a lot easier as we can plan for universal messaging across all our channels without worrying about some customers not having access. Compatibility across all the headsets that Viveport supports is also very helpful as we’re pushing to audiences with any VR device, not just VIVE.
Finally, titles that opt-in for Viveport Infinity are always prioritized over non-Infinity titles. Most Viveport customers today come to Viveport as subscribers and we want to highlight the titles relevant to them. Infinity is our key differentiator as a content platform and titles that opt-in to the subscription service are guaranteed increased marketing support.
For those developers considering submitting to Viveport, what is the best way to get connected and work with the marketing team?
As mentioned, most developers get in contact with marketing through our Content Acquisition and Content Operations teams. Of course, I’m always happy to hear from developers coming or considering coming to Viveport and you can shoot me a message over LinkedIn. I can also be found at a decent number of industry events (I’m kind of short so you’ll need to keep a good look out).
We have several program opt-ins / business models for developers to participate in like Viveport Infinity and Viveport Arcade? If they participate, does this change how you go about marketing their title?
Definitely. Viveport Infinity can be used as a dedicated marketing channel. We’ve seen Infinity give a second life to titles as they get rediscovered by those who may have missed these titles when they first came out. Our Infinity members aren’t worried if a title is brand new or 3 years old, just as long as it is an enjoyable experience. They are an engaged audience looking to discover and sample new titles every month. And as I said, we prioritize our titles in our Infinity catalog for marketing opportunities.
For Viveport Arcade, our position is to market the title to operators so they choose to feature the best titles fitting their venue. We focus on custom-built arcade titles that have thought out the flow for a user such as 1) easier, quick tutorial 2) high-action/fun 3) 10-15 minute session lengths with replayability 4) fun to watch with a social element.
One program that we work on together is the Viveport Developer Awards or VDAs. For developers who don’t know, what is it?
The Viveport Developer Awards is our annual program to recognize and reward some of the best developers on the Viveport platform. Winners and finalists can earn prize money, VIVE hardware, trophies, tickets to GDC, and a Viveport Developer Story video. It’s one of the coolest things I get to work on.
Why do we have Viveport Developer Awards?
We know we’re asking a lot for developers to build for VR and for our platform. It’s an emerging market and they could be spending their effort on traditional or mobile gaming platforms with a much larger audience. They are taking a risk on us, with us. We want to encourage developers to build for categories that don’t often translate to the highest sales but show off some of the greatest potential of VR. As one of the leading platforms, it’s our responsibility to give back to this community of developers. Our recognition through the VDAs can really highlight some of the amazing things developers are doing and also legitimize their work.
Do you have a favorite experience working with developers so far?
Personally, I had a great experience earlier this year at GDC 2019. We sponsored really late but the show somehow came together in the end. It takes an excellent team to pull something off at the scale we did and I’m fortunate to work with such talented folks. We had our first ever Developer Day with 6 different speaking sessions for developers running back-to-back. We also featured 13 of our own invited developers & internal teams at the VR Play area in the Expo, the highest number of featured developers I’ve ever had at an event I’ve ran. It all came together to be a great platform to connect with existing developers on Viveport and meet new developers who are VR or Viveport curious. For me, we kick off GDC with one of the best developer mixers for VR, open bar and all. We invite all our Viveport Developer Award winners and the wider developer community. It’s honestly a blast and I just love connecting with everyone over a drink (or two) and delicious food.
And finally, if you could tell all VR developers out there one thing, what would you tell them?
Right now is a great time to be developing for VR. This is still early days. The most important thing developers should be focused on as a studio is building an internal skillset for VR and iterating on that skillset with each project, slowly increasing the scope of projects over time. At the same time, build a brand around your studio and titles. New brands/IP are difficult to establish in mature markets so now is a great opportunity to accomplish that. The studios that create a reputation of quality with a focus on VR today will ride the incoming wave of mass VR adoption at the highest point in the future.
Thanks for taking the time to chat, Thomas! And thanks developers for reading! You can connect with Thomas Gratz at LinkedIn here and if you want to get started with Viveport, head off to the Developer Console. Next month, we’ll chat with another member of our developer-facing team
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