CEO Robert Anderberg and community engineer Ashley Koett sit down with Vince Pavey to talk about ControlZee’s online game development platform and what sets it apart from the competition.
How would you describe dot big bang to someone who is unfamiliar with it?
Robert: dot big bang lets people play, make and share games together in a web browser. One of the things that’s really not obvious is that a lot of kids don’t have access to a device that they can actually program on. They’ll have an iPad, or have a Chromebook. I think it’s very easy just to focus on like, skilled developers and advanced developers building games for money, and then only focus on ‘Okay, what’s the monthly active users,’ or ‘What’s the revenue per user,’ but I really wanted dot big bang to let people who previously hadn’t had access to game development and to game development tools, build things that were really cool and interesting.
The visuals for dot big bang are rather impressive. Were they a big focus for you?
Robert: Well, my first job was doing kids games. I often think ‘educational’ is a crutch word to just make bad stuff for kids. You’ve either got something like Scratch, which is nice, but limited, or you’ve got these other projects, which are like when I would go in to teach an hour of code at my kid’s school.
I distinctly remember a time there was a kid who had a gamepad on his shirt at the school. We did an hour of code, and I said, “Hey, we’re going to make a game.”, but at the end of it, he said, ‘I thought we were going to make a game!’ – From his perspective, what we had just made was this rubbish 2D nonsense! We wanted to avoid that and provide the tools so that people can make things to share with their friends without thinking it’s lame.
ControlZee recently hosted a Girls Make Games workshop. How many girls tend to be in a single workshop? Do the kids get one-on-one time with you helping them?
Ashley: It was the first workshop I’d ever hosted or anything like that. Since there were around 45 people, we had to structure it and we ended up using the breakout rooms that they have in Zoom. It started with a 30 minute intro as to what we were going to be doing and the template everyone was going to be using and how to use all of the different pieces. Then once everyone knew what direction they were going in, and what was happening, we broke out into four breakout rooms and then people just had work time, with a place where they could ask more questions.
If they didn’t know how something worked, they would have enough one-on-one time that someone could just explain it to them and take the time. We met up at the end and played each other’s games. That was super fun, because dot big bang has these instant shareable multiplayer links. Everyone was jumping into each other’s games. You could just see everyone running through obstacle courses. I liked all of the crazy different things that people did. One team made new voxel art. I didn’t even teach them how to do that!
So obviously, you want kids to use dot big bang – what sets it apart from Dreams or Roblox or competitors like that?
Robert: I’ve got a spreadsheet and it’s probably got 70 different projects in it that are all trying to let people make stuff. There’s some fundamental stuff. I think about it like YouTube for games. A lot of companies say that, but when you think about online video before YouTube, and online video after YouTube there was a fundamental difference.
There were other video websites, but you needed plugins. If I had a funny video, there was a chance that you couldn’t see it. Now, if I make something on Dreams, unless you’ve got a PS4 or a PS5, you just can’t see it. It doesn’t matter how good your game is. You see those posts on Twitter, and they’re amazing, but it’s locked away. With dot big bang, I can send you a link to something right now. It’s multiplayer. It’s instant. If you’re on Discord, trying to get your friends to play a game, it can be basically impossible. You’ve got to get them to buy it. Then they’re just like, oh, it won’t run. Oh, it’s going to take seven hours to download because the internet’s crap. So that instant access is a huge part. Even Roblox has a separate download.
We’re trying to draw this nice, easy gradient between, you know, messing about and dragging and dropping, and just putting stuff in and learning, all the way up coding. I don’t think anyone’s ever successfully done it. I don’t know if we’ll be successful. But we’re going to try. Also, people who do really complicated things for money, on Roblox, are losing up to 84% of their revenue. If I had started out in games, and somebody had told me someone else was going to take 84% of the money from an amazing game idea that I had come up with … I think seven year old me would have been less enthusiastic about getting into games in the first place. We really want to have an equitable relationship with creators and we want it to be fair.
You’ve said before that creators can make money through dot big bang in the future? How does that work if the majority of its users are kids?
Robert: You can only make money if you’re old enough to make money. Just like with YouTube. Somebody can make a YouTube channel as a kid and put a bunch of videos on it by kids, for kids. But in order to kind of pass that bar of making money, there are qualifications to meet. That’s what we’ll have. You can’t make money today. But that will be a thing that we’re going to do in the future. We need to be very transparent and straightforward. We’re going to start off with cosmetic stuff. Hats and skins and that stuff. As a creator you can list your stuff, and people can buy it. With a super transparent breakdown that’s going to be pretty straightforward.
So dot big bang has click and create features – do they teach kids how to think about coding in the same way that the logic gate mechanics would in something like LittleBigPlanet?
Robert: Yeah, so I think, you know, the way that we tried to do it is very different. Most platforms, I think, categorise things very roughly into educational tools. Most educational tools are focusing on explicitly trying to teach you coding.
This is a variable, this is a loop, and this is conditional. I think that the way people learn is actually pretty different. I think they learn because they want to do something. Most people learn, because they want to achieve a goal. I think what we’re trying to do here is pretty different, because everything in dot big bang is built using the same tools that we use to build the games that were building. The kind of high end games. When you drag something into the world, that’s drag and drop, but you can just mess about with it. So it’s just got some sliders.
But if you open that thing up, you can look inside of it. Then you can see that, ‘Oh, it’s built using code’, and then you can open the code, and then you can change the code and you can continue that way. In the future, we’re definitely going to add an intermediate stage, which is block programming like Scratch. The difference with our block programming is the kind of shape of that or whatever is the shape of a normal game engine. Whereas Scratch is very different to how games are made. It just feels completely alien. Because the way everything’s set up is completely different. dot big bang’s architecture is more like Unity and Unreal Engine. If you learn programming in dot big bang, it’s also a language that you can get a job with. It’s TypeScript, rather than Lua, which is the quite niche language used for games in Roblox.
Are there any challenges that you’ve spotted and want to address as you take dot big bang forward?
Ashley: Educational challenges. Bridging the gap from total beginner to being confident enough to start playing with tools. I think a lot of times people are scared to break things, or that if they try something new, it won’t work. Then they shy away from even trying. I’ve done streams for a long time where I’m making a game and dropping things on stream. Trying to make that more accessible. Showing that you can just open up new scripts and start writing and you could mess it up 100 times. It’s fine if you break things. It’s fine to just try things. I think bridging that gap for people who’ve never done it before is important. Especially with young people who haven’t written code before.
Getting into that part and making it not look intimidating, showing that it’s easy, and that you can just start with the basics is always a challenge. I’m always trying to think of other ways to bridge that gap for people who are making games and make sure that it’s obvious that you can just remix something and start adding stuff and you don’t need to feel any pressure. You don’t need to know all this stuff to start trying.
If you’d like to try out dot big bang for yourself, you can find it at https://dotbigbang.com/