Innovator of the Month Interview by Eleni Batzianouli and Caterina Bigoni
— Photo Credit: Alejandra Garzón, Club Photo EPFL
OZWE Games is one of the most renowned companies in VR gaming worldwide. A true pioneer in its field, it is the first Swiss company to be placed at the top of global sales with its game Anshar Wars 2 in the Samsung Gear VR Store. OZWE Games has also been lobbied by two giant VR companies, Oculus (now owned by Facebook) and Samsung.
Having a long record of achievements, Stéphane Intissar, CEO of OZWE Games, was nominated by Innovation Forum Lausanne as the Innovator of the Month for March 2017. On March 16, Stéphane and Charlotte Maréchal, the Head of Press Relations & Communication, welcomed us into the OZWE Games offices. We had the great opportunity to speak with them about entrepreneurship in the VR world, as well as play Anshar Wars 2 on the Oculus Rift and Samsung Gear VR – controlling a spaceship by simply moving our head!
IF Lausanne: Can you tell us something about the history of OZWE?
Stéphane: OZWE has had three different lives of which OZWE Games is the third one. Founded in 2008 by Frederic Kaplan and Martino d’Esposito, OZWE worked on creating robots that can be controlled by hand gestures. At that time, before Kinect existed, this idea was quite innovative. However, once the market seemed to have shifted its course in a different direction, OZWE promptly reacted by moving towards the development of digitized books applications for iPad and iPhone. This initiative, targeted to the cultural industry, was marked by the great success of Bookapp.
IF Lausanne: How did the switch to games development happen?
Stéphane: I have always been passionate about videogames and in 2012, when I was the Director of Production at OZWE, my simultaneous engagement with Leap Motion gave me enough money to buy my first Oculus Rift. Over one weekend, I then developed a game and brought it together with the OZWE team to Oculus… They were crazy about it! All of a sudden, we were working in a “secret group” at Oculus, which 6 months later became the Samsung Gear VR. Since then, our team has collaborated with remarkable individuals, such as Jason Rubin, now VP of content at Oculus, and John Carmack, CTO at Oculus, who is a well known programmer for the video game Doom.
Over one weekend, I then developed a game and brought it together with the OZWE team to Oculus… They were crazy about it! All of a sudden, we were working in a “secret group” at Oculus
IF Lausanne: What is the common thread of these three OZWE facets?
Stéphane: Throughout the years the devotion to high technologies can be considered the common point at OZWE. We have always looked for the latest technology.
IF Lausanne: What are OZWE Games biggest achievements?
Stéphane: As OZWE we are very proud to have been thanked by Oculus for the « Pioneers VR development » in 2015. Anshar Wars 2 won the « Best VR Game » indie prize award in February 2017 and we have also won the « Best European Pitch Night » at GDC San Francisco in 2016 . In addition, we have been nominated « Best VR Game » at Mobile Gaming Awards 2016 and « Best Game Art » at the Casual Connect Berlin 2017.
Anshar Wars 2 won the « Best VR Game » indie prize award in February 2017
IF Lausanne: What is the biggest challenge you have encountered so far as a CEO?
Stéphane: Managing a large number of people has been the most difficult part as well as the most rewarding one when we achieved worldwide recognition as a team. Getting to this point was very hard and there are many steps and ways to fail.
IF Lausanne: How do you manage to keep a prosperous ambiance in your team and at the same time lead a competitive and successful path for the company?
Stéphane: The main challenge is that the VR market is relatively small and quite new, which makes it difficult to predict how consumers will react to new products. Today, the VR industry has reached a good level of recognition and we often hear on the news about how VR technologies are used in many different applications. However, back in the day the public believed that what we were doing was just a gadget. As the CEO, I had to make critical decisions based on my personal opinion, rather than experience or historical data. The team had to trust me and my vision.
IF Lausanne: What are you working on right now?
Stéphane: The upcoming project is the most ambitious game we have been working on since Anshar Wars 2. We really hope the public will appreciate it!
IF Lausanne: How do you see VR games in 5 years from now? May OZWE expand to other VR markets in addition to the gaming field?
Stéphane: VR is a very special technical field: any kind of interactive application in VR requires 3D gaming technology. Being a company with a strong background on VR games, gives us easy access to other markets that require VR technologies, such as the medical or the architectural industry. 5 years from now I could envision OZWE using its technology and expertise to access broader fields.
IF Lausanne: Which assets does an entrepreneur need to have? What is your advice for the young generation of researchers and startuppers?
Stéphane: You always have to be optimistic about what you are doing and to not get upset if you encounter difficulties somewhere on the way. It is important to learn from ones’ own mistakes and understand what went wrong or right. What really keeps your motivation high is telling yourself that next time you will be “more right”.
Being an entrepreneur is really similar to running a marathon. The longer you stand, the better it’s going to be, as you get a lot of experience and feedback on the way.
Be “obsessed” about your projects, this is my advice!
Don’t miss the opportunity to meet Stéphane and his team at IFL Annual Conference on Virtual and Augmented Realities.
On April 3rd at Forum Rolex at EPFL, OZWE Games will bring their demos, giving attendees the opportunity to try out their game and enjoy first-hand the experience of a VR environment!