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USA 2014Video Coverage

Mark Gazecki Keeps Having Start-up Ideas | Casual Connect Video

August 26, 2014 — by Catherine Quinton

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“Over the past few years, a bunch of things have changed,” Mark Gazecki said during his session at Casual Connect USA 2014. “For one, the classic TV demographic has become gamers. This wasn’t the case five or ten years ago. The other thing is that there’s mass market reach, true mass market reach, just like prime time television. Social games have started to be just like that, with the same kind of reach.”

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Mark Gazecki, Co-Founder & Executive Producer, MegaZebra

Mark Gazecki has always loved video games, right from the first Atari and Commodore 64 games, and he has never lost that love. Years later, while working in venture capital, he looked at many online games companies. With the growth of browser games, he decided to leave venture capital and founded Game Genetics, a game distribution business for online and mobile games. Then he started MegaZebra, a developer for cross-platform games, and HoneyTracks, which he describes as a company that does interesting things with data for games companies. Gazecki has an MBA from Harvard Business School and feels it was truly amazing to be able to spend two years in an incredible environment with extraordinarily talented people.

Filling Some Friends’ Needs

It just happened that he ended up in the games industry, and Game Genetics was his start. Then he kept on having startup ideas. MegaZebra started after Game Genetics was out of the gate when a few friends, who were running social networks at the time, asked if his company could provide them with social games which leverage social graph functions. Since Game Genetics was a distribution business without any such games, he asked them to wait a couple of months. He then looked for co-founders, and soon after, MegaZebra had developed their first social games and was putting them up on Facebook and other social networks.

It is the creative process that keeps Gazecki intrigued with games. He finds the work intellectually stimulating because these are complex entertainment products which bring together many disciplines. And he finds the people in the games industry passionate, driven, and humble.

Gazecki believes the next important trend in the games industry will be games that incorporate TV type experiences. MegaZebra is already trying this with their new game, Suburbia.

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Gazecki believes the next important trend in the games industry will be games that incorporate TV type experiences, like what is done in their new game, Suburbia.

Loving The Cross Platform Experience

These days, Gazecki is playing a lot of Suburbia. As well, he tests many games on Facebook, iPad, and iPhone. Some of these are Farmville 2, Hay Day, Disney City Girl, and Surviving High School. He especially likes gaming on his iOS devices because he enjoys both their interface and Airplay connectivity, which allows him to connect music, video, and games with speakers and large screens. He says, “I feel that the cross-platform experience is starting to be awesome!”

He also still enjoys using his PS3, mainly for sports games, but also the occasional game of Assassin’s Creed or Red Dead Redemption. He insists that consoles deliver the best big screen experience, and he enjoys sports games most on a console. And he says, “Just like in the old days, recently we got a group together again to hook our controllers up to one Playstation and get the game on.”

When he is not involved with work, he likes DJing and producing music, mainly hip-hop and funk. These are also the music genres he listens to, as well as Kraftwerk, the German electro pioneers. He would love to have a startup idea in the music sector, but that hasn’t happened yet. If that doesn’t happen and if it wasn’t for more work in the games industry, he claims he would produce hip-hop music and drive cabs to actually be able to earn a living.

 

USA 2014Video Coverage

Nick Berry: Living in a Knowledge Economy | Casual Connect Video

August 7, 2014 — by Gamesauce Staff

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“Testing always beats guessing,” Nick Berry told his audience during his session at Casual Connect USA 2014. He continued on, providing his view on growth hacking.

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Nick Berry, Data Scientist, Facebook

Nick Berry has come full circle. As a kid, Berry loved loved playing with computers — including programming games. However, like many boys, he also loved rockets and airplanes. When the time came to enroll at a university, he faced a tough decision between his two passions. While a degree in video games or video game programming was unheard of in those days, degrees in computer programming and aeronautical/astronautical engineering did exist.

“I solved the problem with the arrogance that only youth provides! I humbly decided that I already knew plenty about computers and that it would be a waste to go to college to be taught by some professor about something I already knew about!” Berry says. “Also, technology was moving so fast that all the books about computers at the time I read seemed to talk about paper tape and punch cards. Why learn about those antique things?”

Settling on engineering, Berry eventually emerged from university with a master’s degree. He was all set for a career as a research scientist at the UK Ministry of Defense when an old friend invited him to join a software company he was starting.

The company, NextBase Ltd., was very successful and won numerous accolades for its work in mapping software, including The Queen’s Award for Technology, presented by Queen Elizabeth II in 1991. In 1994, the business was sold to Microsoft, and Berry joined the Microsoft team in America to continue work on the mapping products. Eventually, seeking a new challenge, he joined a small team at Microsoft tasked with connecting players around the world to online games.

After years and years, Berry was back in computer gaming.

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Nick Berry at Casual Connect USA 2014

Facebook and Gaming

Berry now works as a data scientist at Facebook, where gaming still plays an important role. Although Facebook doesn’t make games itself, “we love games (and their developers), and the scale is massive,” Berry says. “In 2013, we paid out over $1 million each to more than 100 developers.”

Currently, there are over 375 million Facebook-linked gamers across desktop and mobile devices. Facebook provides tools and services to help with login and authentication, help serialize and store game data in the cloud, tools and services for marketing and promotion, and mechanisms for players to share achievements and progress with their friends and family.

Berry notes that over 70 percent of people who use Facebook for iPad worldwide have played a Facebook-connected game in the past 90 days. There are over 260,000 apps built around Parse, Facebook’s solution to make it easy for developers to use the cloud to store data, and the Facebook ‘Like’ and ‘Share’ buttons are viewed over 22 billion times a day.

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Berry notes that over 70 percent of people who use Facebook for iPad worldwide have played a Facebook-connected game in the past 90 days.

Berry’s job involves picking through all the data Facebook accumulates for useful information. “There is an immense fire-hose of data flowing into Facebook every second,” he says. “This data has to be refined and concentrated to make it actionable: What games are people playing? Who is spending money? How many games are they playing at the same time? If people like one game, do they like another? … and hundreds of other questions. I help boil the ocean, looking for statistically significant trends and patterns, and turn raw data into more refined and digestible summaries.”

Trust and the Knowledge Economy

Being a data scientist gives Berry a unique perspective on data, and he is an advocate of data “trust,” which he feels is a better term than “data privacy.” “‘Privacy’ is the wrong word to use these days,” he explains. “We should be using the word ‘Trust.’ We are living in a knowledge economy, and the value many of us add in this industry is in the manipulation of information — not in the creation of some tangible hardware product. We take raw data (often customer data), and add value to it. We should use this data respectfully. People trust us with it. Without trust, people will not share, and data is the fuel of the knowledge economy.”

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“We are living in a knowledge economy, and the value many of us add in this industry is in the manipulation of information — not in the creation of some tangible hardware product.”

He admits that “trust” can be hard to define, but that once it’s breached, it becomes clear. He notes that people handling data should “say what they do and then do what they say.” Transparency is extremely important — it should be made clear what a company is doing with a customer’s data and what that customer is getting in return for the data. That way, there are no surprises from people about what is being done with their information.

He adds that “sensitivities change over time, and so correspondingly, does what is considered ‘private.’ ‘Trust,’ however, is more constant. You either trust your bank, or you do not. You trust a friend, or you do not. When asked if you trust your bank, you base this on how they behave. You never hear a reply ‘Well, I read their privacy policy from cover to cover and agree with their fair information privacy practices.’ You trust your bank based on how they act.”

Away From the Datastream

Because of all the computer time involved with work, Berry spends his free time staying active and healthy. To that end, this year will be the fourth consecutive year he runs in the Seattle Half Marathon. “I’m a very slow runner, but I run the entire way without stopping. I do, however, find running incredibly boring, so I typically run and train with a media player and listen to audio books.”

Much of his free time is dedicated to his 10-year-old twins. However, when he gets the time, he does enjoy sharing what he knows in various ways. He’s an avid blogger, with his blog DataGenetics revolving around “data science, gaming and general geekery” — and he also mentors for the start-up/gaming community in Seattle. Two of his biggest accomplishments are also helping educate people: A TED talk on online safety which he calls a “very humbling, enjoyable experience” and a jet engine he built from scratch as the final project for his university degree — which, 26 years later, is still in use teaching new waves of engineering students.

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One of his biggest accomplishments was presenting A TED talk on online safety which he calls a “very humbling, enjoyable experience”.

The next feat he’d like to accomplish?

“I want to build a log cabin. I’ve got the land; now all I need is the spare time.”

 

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