June 11, 2024

Mikayla Macfarlane

Serving technology better

PreviewLabs helps studios make game prototypes quickly

6 min read
PreviewLabs helps studios make game prototypes quickly



PreviewLabs has built a business helping game companies and other startups build their prototypes quickly.

And the company is announcing today that its rapid prototyping tools helped Squido Studio raised $1.1 million for its upcoming virtual reality project. The company said that’s a testament to rapid prototyping technology, which is sometimes something companies handle all by themselves.

Squido Studio raised money from the Canada Media Fund.

For over a decade, PreviewLabs has been at the forefront of offering a convenient work-for-hire prototype development service, catering to game developers, startups, research institutions, and R&D departments worldwide.

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The company’s prototypes serve as essential tools for evaluating, improving, and pitching concepts spanning virtual reality, augmented reality, console, computer, and mobile games.

Squido Studio teamed up with PreviewLabs to delve into the intricacies of its upcoming physics-based VR multiplayer game. A hallmark feature of the game is the ability for players to spectate ongoing gameplay sessions while waiting for their turn, assuming the role of giants looking down on the action.

Once inside the game, PreviewLabs’ work empowers players to collaboratively manipulate virtual objects of various sizes and weights, delivering a tactile sense of these objects’ weight as they lower them towards the virtual floor. All this occurs within a seamlessly immersive multiplayer environment.

Bernard François, the founder and CEO of PreviewLabs, said in a statement, “Physics-based gameplay in a multiplayer context is complex and requires a lot of experimentation, especially in VR, where you feel you are holding the objects with your own hands. Our team worked tirelessly to overcome the complexities of creating an immersive environment where multiple players can interact simultaneously with the same objects.”

The prototyping work undertaken by PreviewLabs laid the cornerstone for Squido Studio’s journey, leading them to develop a compelling demo and pitch for various investors.

Over the years, PreviewLabs has emerged as a pioneer in leveraging game technology to serve a diverse range of clients. The portfolio includes collaborations with industry giants such as Disney, Wargaming, and Google, along with numerous startups like Fortress Games.

Moreover, the company’s expertise extends to partnerships with research institutions, including prestigious universities like Yale and Harvard. With a track record of over 200 prototypes, PreviewLabs has solidified its position as a preferred partner for those looking to bolster their teams with robust prototyping.

PreviewLabs started in 2010 in Wetteren, Belgium, a town near Ghent. In 2022, New Haven Connecticut became the company’s official headquarters. Now it has offices in the U.S., Canada, Argentina and Belgium. Francois started it with Cronos Groep, a Belgian group of IT service provider companies. In 2022, after they decided it was time to part ways, Francois became the sole owner of the company. The company has nine people. In July, PreviewLabs joined with a Canadian partner to open a business in Montreal under a license to work as PreviewLabs.

Origins

Bernard Francois started Preview Labs in 2010.
Bernard Francois started PreviewLabs in 2010.

Francois founded the company after working at other game companies as a programmer and game designer where projects typically lasted six to nine months. Meanwhile, he also participated in various game jams, including the first edition of the Global Game Jam in 2009. He found it very exciting to build a game in 48 hours from scratch. Francois liked this stage in the early months where the gameplay is taking shape and technology choices are still being made.

“After this initial stage, the game needs to be developed further and extended with more content, following by a stretch of bug fixing. In these phases, the impact that can be made is less fundamental, so he found these parts of the development process less exciting than the early stage,” Francois said.

He thought about the excitement of game jams and wondered, “How can I turn every day into a game jam?”

Since he assumed one couldn’t just be jamming all the time and then making a living of selling games made in only a few days or weeks, he hypothesized that such a company would have to develop prototypes, tailored to its clients’ needs (note that it was 2009, before the advent of hyper casual games).

So together with a friend, Francois came up with a company name, a website, logo, business cards, and made a few prototypes to show what the hypothetical company would be capable of – and set off to Casual Connect in Hamburg in February of 2010 to meet with people in the industry to see if they would be interested in the services. The demand was there.

How it works

Asked how it works, Francois said it’s a work-for-hire service rather than a specific tech. It can do work for startups, academia, as well as R&D departments of larger corporations.

The types of projects they take on include prototypes for rapid iteration on features, more elaborate pitch and vertical slice prototypes, as well as technical proofs of concepts in which they implement a technically challenging aspect of a project and demonstrate how it works within the limited scope of a prototype.

The prototypes are typically developed in an iterative way, which means starting with a limited feature set, and gradually adding features or adjusting the concept, one iteration at a time. Each iteration is defined in advance and is discussed to determine the optimal course of action for the next iteration. It’s like a scientific method in which each iteration holds a hypothesis which is tested. This is especially true for earlier iterations. In later iterations, the focus may shift towards creating a polished experience for a pitch, for example.

The prototypes focus on the important features and assumptions, allowing a better understanding of how a concept works and what it may need to reach a higher potential.

The work of PreviewLabs combines consultancy regarding the approach to prototyping and choice of features to focus on, as well as the implementation of the prototypes themselves. Prior to starting prototype development, PreviewLabs often facilitates brainstorm sessions or carries out technical feasibility studies to help clarify the gameplay / user experience or technical aspects respectively.

In doing so, PreviewLabs allows its clients to compare multiple concepts and select the most promising one, avoiding wasting a tremendous amount of time and resources on the wrong idea. Combined with iterative development, This helps its clients build better products, Francois said.

Tech agnostic

While PreviewLabs is platform agnostic in their rapid prototyping work, it is all for interactive software and involves game engines including Unity as well as Unreal Engine.

PreviewLabs has also a proprietary tuning system which allows its client to easily adjust the gameplay by experimenting with various settings and turning certain features on or off. It integrates this tuning system in most of its prototypes.

Rather than combining modular library of prototype components, which some may expect, the prototypes are actually developed from scratch, using a more lightly structured programming style. This style of programming makes it faster to make changes to the gameplay. PreviewLabs has been specializing in this since its foundation in 2010.

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