THE MARVEL that is virtual reality (VR) technology can take users from the depths of the ocean to the stellar heights of space. And for years local entertainment company CariGamers has been creating unique VR experiences for its customers, from bustling Frederick Street to the serenity of Maracas Beach.
Business Day spoke with CariGamers' public relations manager Aneillio “Proto” Brazzier and human resource manager Chantell “CrimsonSnowAngel” Barry about the company during a recent interview in Port of Spain.
Brazzier, 27, explained the genesis of CariGamers was from the 21-year-old Gaming Association of TT (GATT), a non-profit organisation, which itself evolved from LAN gaming (a gathering of people with compatible computers for multiplayer gaming) and sweating in rooms.
“It evolved from a couple guys to 20, 40, 100 to now we have about 10,000 members – and half of them are active.”
Brazzier, also GATT vice chairman, explained CariGamers was established a decade ago and sought to unify gamers under one banner as well as include a health and wellness aspect to gaming.
“We claim the title of largest gaming association in the Caribbean because there is really no other group of our size in the Caribbean that does what we do.”
CariGamers began with providing and executing party spaces with gaming consoles and even board games in the past. The business evolved into to not only entertainment but marketing and, Brazzier pointed out, everything surrounded digital.
“We fully embrace a digital workspace. All our work is done online.”
The only reason they have a physical brick and mortar space is for maintenance or for meetings. Other than that, everything is online, including a focus on e-commerce. Their e-commerce activities include ticketing, party scheduling and a lot of digital marketing.
“For the last year we’ve fully dived into digital marketing, not neglecting what we do (primarily), but there is such a need for it and so few people doing it.”
CariGamers has done marketing for the TT Olympic Committee, Republic Bank through Decibel, and the very first virtual race with Land of Steelpan.
But CariGamers is popularly known for its VR services and Brazzier said the company was the first to bring it into the country in about 2015 and has steered it into what it is in TT.
“The overwhelming response to VR gaming is beautiful. Because it is no longer sitting down with a control in your hand but you are now part of the game.”
The slogan of Carigamers is “get in the game” and they wanted people to understand that with VR the player controls everything.
“So, if you don’t move the right way you going to miss out on the experience. There are games from boxing, to shooting, to football, and now with even more technologies being available like full-body force feedback suits, if you have seen the movie Ready Player One we are quickly approaching that.”
Barry, 24, and also GATT chairman, said one of her favourite VR games, Beat Saber, it is a lot more immersive than regular games and you also burn calories.
“Gaming has evolved into so much more than just what people think it is – what people older would think it is.”
Business Day tried out Beat Saber with its dazzling visuals and a boxing simulation with an impressive 3D environment.
Barry dismissed the belief that playing violent video games would make people want to commit violent acts and Brazzier chimed in that it is actually a stress reliever and allows people to vent.
VR has also been used to help with STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) teaching, especially on the engineering and science sides. On the older CariGamers system that they started with, they had “The Blue,” a full dive interactive experience where you go to the bottom of the sea. There are also games like ISS where you can traverse the International Space Station.
“With the mechanics of how you have to move you feel the weightlessness although you’re rooted to the Earth.”
VR is one of the pinnacles of man’s innovation, Brazzier said, and is helping in a lot of areas, including with research into Alzheimer’s, autism and ADHD and getting very positive results.
Barry stressed CariGamers is the only local company doing full 360 videos that you can see in VR. One of their projects was a VR simulation of walking down Frederick Street as a woman and being heckled.
“Now everybody would get to know that feeling and be a little more sensitive towards that because it’s not nice.”
CariGamers created also created an experience called “Behind The Wheel,” where you drive and have to deal with distractions and end up in an accident. Another customer requested that they create a virtual workspace tour for new applicants joining the company. The experiences are created by their chief VR engineer Kerron Joseph.
Carigamers offers full retail purchases of the Oculus Quest VR gaming system and Barry said their packages include local content such as a Maracas Beach experience. She said while other people may provide VR services, Carigamers provides full service include a chat support group for any concerns, complaints or queries.
“We are a full 100 per cent family. We care.”
The company provides offsite and onsite technical support and are very proud of their technical team.
“I can’t recall a time (the team) has gone to a job and not solved the problem.”
The Carigamers staff is about 50 people and is divided into different core groups. The company isn't a traditional business and employees do not work 24-7, but whenever necessary.
“One of our in-house slogans is ‘heroics’ because we realise there is a trope that ten per cent of the workforce do 90 per cent of the work. But we consider everyone on our team heroic because we always know that when the time comes it's 100 per cent, we get it done, get it out of the way. And you have time for yourself afterwards.”
The company also does charity work with school bazaars or fundraising for members’ major medical expenses. Brazzier said CariGamers also has close ties with MovieTowne and it is where they do a lot of their charity events.
The target demographic for CariGamers is 15-35 and in terms of their revenue streams Brazzier said while working for companies brings higher revenue, usually it breaks even with a lot of smaller gigs as well.
“Before we were not always the first choice but because when they called us we got it done we became the first choice.”
Brazzier said the five-year plan is for CariGamers to become an active e-sport company which will take a lot of work. But, he pointed out, e-sports has become a major revenue earner globally, with the winning team at a gaming tournament last year copping a US$10 million prize.
Barry said local players one day could be top e-sports players in the world. “We can do this.”
Brazzier said CariGamers wants gaming to lose the stigma associated with it and become more far-reaching.
“One of the greatest hindrances to progress is fear. So any time we do a VR execution, a virtual tour execution or a gaming execution it has three things in mind: to entertain, inform and dispel the fear. And with that we could grow.”