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Virtual pioneers in virtual reality Alex Schwartz and Cy Wise has started a new company called Absurd joy to make telecommuting more pleasurable through an app they call Tangle. They have collected 5.5 million.
Hang out with your colleagues at Zoom (unless you play poker) is not happy. But Absurd Joy has created Tangle as a platform for remote collaboration. It’s meant to be playful, joyful and fun, Schwartz and Wise said
They know fun. Schwartz and Wise founded Owlchemy, the creator of the fun Job Simulator VR title, and sold it to Google in 2017. They eventually left, traveled the world, and started a gaming company just in time for the pandemic. To make teleworking more fun, they started creating some tools to boost office morale. And it turned out to be so good that they turned their business around to focus on the tools.
The Cambridge-based company spells its name “absurd: joy”, which is a crime against our style guide, so we call it Absury Joy. Dissatisfied with the virtual office platforms currently available, the team decided to build their own from scratch and Tangle was born.
When they started their remote study, Schwartz and Wise would return to a world where telework, if done with care, can promote a truly wonderful work-life balance while supporting human hearts in their natural environment. They would not be silent faces in boxes or chatting in an impersonal Slack feed. They started working on the Unity game engine and created Tangle, mainly for their own team.
“Our new company was focused on this era of experimentation. And we wanted to find the next big problem that we wanted to solve as a team, ”Schwartz said. “We put together this band of experts who had previously run companies and designers and programmers, and we started working on a couple of prototypes. And immediately we looked a little at our technological solution to just get together from a distance. ”
He added: “We were all remote. You would think that these tools would have gotten better and better and better. But it turned out that you are pretty much just a rectangular face within a black background. As if nothing had evolved since Skype. There were so many use cases it did not support. ”
Tangle is optimized for creativity, natural serendipity and the revolving moments that are so difficult to achieve in a virtual / remote control, while focusing on user agency, privacy and comfort. For example, you can work all day in your connected external video conference, but you can easily mark yourself as busy or away from the keyboard or locked in your office.
“We could just start from scratch and imagine how people communicate externally,” Wise said. “We thought, ‘Let’s make rooms with doors.’ They can close the door. And this paradigm emerged. And immediately we told some friends and they said: I need it. And I need it yesterday. How much money can I throw at you right now to get this tool? And that was a bit of our moment where we said:
Oh, maybe it’s actually our company.
Tangle uses a metaphor for an online platform divided into individual offices. You can jump into an office for a meeting and the owner of the office will host the meeting.
“We created Tangle for ourselves,” Schwartz said.
You can listen to the sound of the whole group talking to each other in their meetings. You can turn it up if you want, or turn it down so you can think.
“You can tell for the next five hours I’m going to work in my room,” Schwartz said.
The animations are fluid and are designed to run at 60 frames per second, or as fast as a shooter.
Another may interrupt you in your office, but when they click on your closed icon, you will hear a thumping sound. If you can be interrupted, you answer the door and have an impromptu meeting. That way, Tangle allows you to have unplanned meetings – the kind needed for teams to repeat and renew, Wise said.
“What’s really fascinating about our situation is that many of these apps are made with the idea of the calendar in mind,” Wise said. “Like where are the slots you have where a meeting goes. But many meetings do not actually happen on one screen. They do not fit into a calendar. And that’s one of the problems we’ve seen with existing tools. We are looking for those frightening moments where people can just meet naturally. ”
You can also easily interrupt from a large meeting and have a side conversation with someone. If someone is not available, you can leave a note on their “door” so they can take care of the case when they return, Wise said.
Teams can share boards with each other. They can also integrate any site inside Tangle (a Trello table, a Google document, a Miro table) and crawl around it and collaborate with your teammates (even edit those documents, not just view them). It has been super helpful for both the team and the early pilot customers, Schwartz said.
March Gaming led the round with the participation of Dune Ventures, WXR Fund, Gaingels, David Helgason and others. This round follows their pre-financing from Ed Fries at 1UP Ventures and WXR Fund. If you recognize some of these investors, they are truly investors in games. But Absurd Joy has swung from games to fun remote work.
Tangle is currently in closed beta and has been in use for the past eight months by over a dozen pilot customers, including Bad Robot Games, Squanch Games, Lightforge Games, Skymap Games and more. Anna Sweet, CEO of Bad Robot Games, said in a statement that the team’s VR background and games helped the team think of ways to disrupt the way we work and create.
Companies can apply for access to beta her. The goal is to launch Tangle for Everyone early next year. The company is selecting companies and teams for its closed beta now.
Schwartz and Wise previously founded, built and operated Owlchemy Labs. They made games like Job Simulator, Rick and Morty: VR and Vacation Simulator. They sold the company to Google in 2017.
Schwartz plays an active role as an advisor to various gaming events and the gaming and VR communities. Wise spent 15 years in the gaming industry, and she is an expert in VR design, people-centric play, and building and maintaining a culture in organizations and communities. They have 10 people on their team.
Learn from VR and games
Schwartz said they learned from games and VR.
“Both VR and telecommuting are budding technical spaces,” Schwartz said. “VR was a paradigm shift in technology, and as we approached it at Owlchemy, our lesson was that we should design from scratch specifically for the medium. Remote work is in a similar place, where we are currently relying heavily on tools that are not built into this process – instead, we utilize software that is built exclusively for meetings, which is a small part of the work culture. Because we are used to this for VR, we applied the same mindset and set out to design the next generation of software that is specifically tailored for remote work. ”
He added: “We also learned a lot about the value of spatial concepts in VR, so we integrated a number of spatial elements into Tangle. When you have a sustainable world where rooms are anchored to different places, you can really get a sense of space that feels lively and co-created. Getting into Tangle in the morning means you can see documents, notes, pictures posted on the wall, and it really feels like a team home. Even the sound is spatial, which helps both delineate conversations and provide a good coffee bar atmosphere when you and your team have multiple conversations around the room. ”
On top of that, he said the team built a new way of thinking about teleworking and bringing people together in a space.
“Like VR, it really needs to be experienced to fully understand how helpful and natural Tangle feels in action,” he said.
You can also use your game-like avatar to give you more privacy if you do not want to be on video.
“We are super excited about the potential of our avatar system to bring more privacy, less fatigue and also the nuance of non-verbal communication to remote communication apps without having to use your camera,” Schwartz said. “It’s a feature that’s directly inspired by our VR roots (especially since we’re adding tracked avatars), and we’m very excited about this space.”
The team did it game-like in different ways. Tangle gives the teams a lasting space where they can interact and make their mark on the space, so it has a great game feel.
Sticky notes, rooms, drawings and memes are stuck in your clutter, giving it a real sense of space, and the overall vibe of the app is fun, Schwartz said.
“After all, it’s built with a game engine (and built by game developers), so we build it in a playful, juicy, fluid way,” Schwartz said. “We think collaborative tools should be fun, and the design of your tools can actually evoke more creativity.”
As for the money part, Tangle will be a paid subscription product when it launches early next year, with an eye toward a free level for teams looking to experiment with Tangle and see if it’s right for them.
“We are not charging money at the moment as the product is still in beta and we are pleased that our early teams are able to provide us with valuable feedback and bug reports,” Schwartz said.
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