Will Gee | Breaking Into the Video Game Industry, Landing the NFL and PayPal as Clients, and Innovating in Virtual and Augmented Reality
Smart Business Revolution

Will Gee is the Co-founder and CEO of Balti Virtual, a full-service augmented and virtual reality studio. Will and his team have designed augmented reality and virtual reality experiences for clients like Under Armour, PayPal, Stanley Black & Decker, Sagamore Development, and NBC Universal. He has also been honored as one of Baltimore Business Journal’s Tech 10. Prior to Balti Virtual, Will worked on a number of video game titles including “European Air War” and “Dungeons and Dragons: Heroes” for a variety of clients and companies. 

Will Gee, the Co-founder and CEO of Balti Virtual, joins John Corcoran in this episode of the Smart Business Revolution Podcast to talk about working in the virtual and augmented reality industry. Will also discusses how gaming software has evolved over the years, shares his experience working on a virtual reality project for the NFL, and talks about the future of the industry. 

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Here’s a Glimpse of What You’ll Hear:

  • Will Gee’s background and how he started programming at an early age
  • How Will entered the video game industry — and how the development of gaming software has evolved over the years
  • Will talks about starting a company, working on a virtual reality project for the NFL, and his experience trying an expensive virtual reality headset
  • How hard was it for Will to find virtual reality clients for Balti Virtual in 2015?
  • The future of the video game and augmented reality market
  • Where to learn more about Balti Virtual

Resources Mentioned In This Episode

Sponsor: Rise25

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Episode Transcript

Intro 0:14

Welcome to the revolution, the Smart Business Revolution Podcast where we ask today’s most successful entrepreneurs to share the tools and strategies they use to build relationships and connections to grow their revenue. Now, your host for the revolution, John Corcoran.

John Corcoran 0:40

All right, welcome everyone. John Corcoran here, the host of this show. If you are new to the show, go check out some of our past episodes in the archives. We’ve got all kinds of great interviews with CEOs founders, entrepreneurs, of companies ranging from Netflix to Kinkos’, YPO, EO, Activision Blizzard, and many more. And I’m also the Co-founder of Rise25 where we help connect b2b business owners so their ideal prospects. And my guest here today was introduced to me by a previous guest. Richard Palarea from Kermit introduced me to Will Gee. He is the Co-founder of Balti Virtual. It is a creative studio that he has designed augmented reality and virtual reality experiences for clients including Under Armour, PayPal, Stanley Black & Decker, Sagamore Development, and NBC Universal. He’s been honored as one of Baltimore Business Journal’s Tech 10. And prior to Balti Virtual, he worked on a bunch of different video game titles, including European Air War, X Common Forcer, and Dungeon and Dragons: Heroes for a variety of different clients and companies. 

Before we get into this, this is brought to you by Rise25 Media, where we help b2b businesses to get clients, referrals, and strategic partnerships with done for you podcasts and content marketing. If you’re listening to this, and you’ve ever thought, “Should I do a podcast?” We say yes. It is one of the best things I’ve ever done personally. And we specialize in helping b2b businesses with a high client lifetime value how to do that. So go to rise25media.com or you can email us at [email protected] to learn all about that. Alright, Will, a pleasure to have you here today. And you were talking beforehand, and you got involved in the video game industry pretty early. I think it was you said mid mid 90s or so you decided on a career in video games. What was it like when you came your family said Hey, guys, I’m gonna go make a career out of this. And I’m sure they were thrilled, right? Will, you forget law school, forget med school. I’m gonna do a video game all the way this is it. 

Will Gee 2:34

This is no first of all, thanks for having me appreciate the chance to come in and chat. Well, I mean, I think they blame themselves. You know, they bought me an Atari when I was young, and my dad read an article in the Wall Street Journal in the late late 80s, about this thing that was coming from Japan called the Nintendo and we went and got one. And so you know, it was all sort of set in motion at that point. You know, that

John Corcoran 3:01

your kid like he was playing Nintendo and Atari hours and hours on end. It

Will Gee 3:06

was a big part of my childhood. I mean, I love to go outside. I love sports, I love all the usual stuff. But also, this was right around the time when video games in the home became really became a thing for the first time. And so yeah, I kind of grew up alongside that industry.

John Corcoran 3:25

And were you already like tinkering and developing? I think Elon Musk, like developed a video game. Title, I want to say like 10 or 11 years old and sold it for like 500 bucks is like one

Will Gee 3:37

of the first things he did. I yeah, I didn’t, didn’t sell anything. But my parents got me. They put me in a computer programming class, I was programming basic when I was around 10 or so 10 or 12. And I of course, wanted to program a video game back then it was it was really hard. So the best thing I could make was like a really simple, you know, football where it’s like, you type in the play, and it’s like you incomplete pass, you know, they’d be all text base or something. But I always had so much fun. I think there was like a Commodore 64 magazine at one point that just had pages and pages of code that I tried to type in my mom helped me do it. And you know, at the end of the day, it like, ran some very simple thing. It wasn’t totally worth

John Corcoran 4:21

  1. Yeah, I don’t know if you’ve played around with like Kodable or any of the kids programming apps. Now if you have kids, I have my my eight year old is played with it. And it is truly amazing to make, you know, an interactive way to teach kids how to program kind of the basics

Will Gee 4:35

of programming. Ya know, I’m familiar with with a lot of those different platforms they are. It’s it’s this trend you see in technology where things become more democratized, easier, more accessible, and it’s one of the most exciting forces in that world where before in order to write a program, you’d have to download or buy some very expensive compiler, you know, Turbo Pascal or Visual C++ back in the in the late 90s, early 2000s, that would be 1000s and 1000s. Dollars and set it up on your machine and configure a bunch of libraries and whatever. And now they have these online editors where you can just go in type code, see the results in real time change it, it’s, it’s so exciting to see those types of

John Corcoran 5:19

Yeah, so tell me is the early days. So mid 90s, late 90s, when you’re working on some of these different video game titles, what were you working on then? What was experienced, like at that point in time?

Will Gee 5:31

Well, I really got into the game industry at pretty much the ground floor. I had been tinkering with writing my own games and 3d graphics, things at that time. And so I was hoping to get a job as a programmer. And it came in, I found out that there was a company just up the road for me, that kind of literally flipped over a box of one of my favorite games and saw the address. I was like Hunt Valley, Maryland. Wait a minute, that’s just down the street. So I started pestering them to give me an an internship.

John Corcoran 6:01

And did you like show up? Are you calling you’re calling, calling, calling

Will Gee 6:05

calling? And they said no, you know, we don’t have any internships. We don’t need anybody just leave us alone. And I said, Well, I’m willing to work for free, and then that suddenly got their attention. And they start we’ll come in, we’ll hear about what you can do. And they needed me and I actually got paid right away, I still have my offer letter where I gotta think 8.50 an hour. Nice. Yeah, hey, goodbye, is basically doing just kind of menial digital tasks. Like I had to edit videos, World War Two footage, I had to recreate a map of Europe by placing these little two kilometer tiles like whether it’s grass or river or forest, over this entire landscape. But it was, it was actually really fortunate because I got to understand the industry, without having any huge amount of stress or demands on me personally, the work I was doing was very simple. And so to do a good job at that, and then look for opportunities to say, hey, what can I program this little thing here, this little thing, and I was very fortunate that the team I was on was open to that. And I went from essentially being non technical intern to a programmer, a junior engineer, an engineer, a senior engineer lead over about a six year period, it was it was really exciting.

John Corcoran 7:25

Now by 2003, you were working at a studio and back then the model was much like producing a feature film. So everyone works really hard for 18 24 months, create a big product, and then it was released on cartridges or discs or something like that. And you actually have the experience of your studio closed. After that, and everyone was laid off. Take us back to that time. What was that experience like for you?

Will Gee 7:52

Yeah, it was very different. I mean, especially now in the kind of Live app model where people are sending updates, or they’re tweaking the way that games play every single day, based on how players are engaging with it. Back then it was much more, you get one bite at this, you, you get your final version ready, you hit publish, it goes out into the world, and it was really it. At the end of that time, you know, early 2000s, we’re just starting to get the ability to, like post a patch for your game. So if somebody new to type in microprose.com, and look for your game, maybe they could download a file to patch it. It couldn’t be very big. It couldn’t, it wasn’t seamless. But really, you had to get it right and whatever you put on the desk. And so that was a just stressful from a development testing, kind of code perfection standpoint. But also from a game design perspective, where really the the original designers concept either worked or didn’t. And now I think there’s a much more latitude with sort of adjusting and tweaking things you see in all these different live ops games

John Corcoran 9:07

where Yeah, and that’s fascinating to me. So, you know, you said that Zynga really pioneered this model, where it’s much like software software went from being shipping on disk to now we have more of a SaaS model where software can be updated daily, or weekly, or monthly, or whatever. And they can, as you said, you can ship patches and fix errors and things like that. And it’s even gotten to the point of the data in the gaming industry where data scientists work on these games, and they look at what people are enjoying in the game to give them more of it.

Will Gee 9:41

Talk a little bit about that. Yeah, absolutely. I mean, Zynga kind of did this in two levels, a within the games. So exactly what you’re talking about, you know, looking at how are people playing the games? Are there any imbalances are there things that people are doing disproportionately that maybe need to be addressed? Are there essentially any balance bugs where you know what doing a certain action gives you a disproportionate return? You know, is there a way to kind of smooth that out and make it a little bit more fair and level. They also did in sort of a meta way where they would produce a bunch of different games, and then see which ones were going well, and which ones weren’t. And they shift their attention to whatever was popular and kind of kill off the less popular ones. Yeah, I mean, a very data first approach,

John Corcoran 10:32

like a Netflix model, right? Netflix kind of does something similar to where they I’ve noticed, you know, I get young kids and so I’ve noticed that there are certain titles, I’m sure they they find that you know, How to Train Your Dragon or something is being watched ad nauseam on you know, the movie version is being watched ad nauseam on Netflix. And so then they they go, and they create a TV version of it. And and, you know, maybe they do one or two seasons, but if you see six or seven or eight seasons, you know that people