Marc chatted with ePawn Arena leads Christophe Duteil and Valentin Lefèvre to learn more about their smart gaming board Kickstarter project
Traditionally, video games and board games have observed each other from afar, hardly ever crossing the dividing line between to interact. However, there is a new project on Kickstarter that intends to bridge the gap between digital and analog gaming. I had the opportunity to sit down with ePawn Arena’s chief executive officer Christophe Duteil and chief technology officer Valentin Lefèvre for a demo and chat about the rollup smart gaming board.
“The idea is to renew the gaming experience by mixing together physical objects and digital applications,” says Duteil. Through the combination of dedicated smart phone apps and the gaming board’s own piece tracking technology, ePawn Arena seems like it could do just that given the proper audience.
Duteil notes that ePawn Arena can be particularly effective at introducing new players to already existing card and board games with complicated rule sets. While demoing a digital version of Wings of Glory he tells me, “You can see that this is something super easy to play. Just focus on the tactical stuff, you don’t need to know the rules… just like in a video game.” Without having to break out the ruler and measure distances, the game goes much more quickly and puts a stronger focus on the action playing out.
Similarly, this can be applied to RPGs like Dungeons & Dragons to improve game flow. With a mobile app tracking things like unit placement, character sheets, and even dice rolls, players can spend more time considering their hero’s next actions while the DM is freed up to focus more on guiding his or her stories.
Further, this opens up the possibility for playing pen and paper RPGs with friends across the country; a task which until now usually involves awkward camera setups and finding a proper online dice rolling system. Duteil cautions against playing more action-oriented games like Battle Bots from remote locations though, owing to the inherent signal latency that affects any online experience. “We do think that it is preferable to play the turn-by-turn games online. Because yes, you have less impact from the lag.”
It has been a long road for the ePawn team so far Duteil tells me. “We spent years to make this technology,” he says. “It’s pretty complex to make something that is working, that is robust enough to be working in the field.” But with all that hard work in the rear view mirror, Duteil and Lefèvre seem ready to tackle the next phase. “Now I would say… the next step is to move to the industrial phase.”
This next objective is where their Kickstarter campaign comes in. With an end goal of €150,000 (roughly 162,500 USD), they seem to be keeping their sights modest for the first wave of production, but this is, in part, out of respect for what they’re proposing. “When you introduce a new product like this, a new kind of game console, it is super important to us and complex,” Duteil tells me. The Kickstarter campaign isn’t about making money right out of the gates, but about setting ePawn Arena up as a legitimate choice for not only consumers, but for developers and publishers as well. In Duteil’s own words, “We developed some content but we want more and more content. This is why we are not making money on this part, but are allowing any kind of publishers, developers, indies… to make some content so that customers will be more interested in getting the hardware.”
ePawn Arena’s Unity-based SDK will be offered freely with the Arena board complete with command-sets, tracking options, and an emulation mode. Further, the ePawn team has no plans to ask for any licensing or royalty fees for those who develop apps for the Arena. “We won’t say that at some point we won’t change our business model, but for the time being the idea is to get a bit of money on the hardware side and to let other people make some money on the software,” Duteil adds.
With their Kickstarter already halfway complete, the campaign has raised nearly 50 percent of its necessary funding. As with any Kickstarter campaign, however, there is always the unfortunate possibility that the team may not hit its mark and the project fails. When I ask about this scenario, Duteil nods sagely and admits that it is something the team is prepared for. “This would mean we haven’t found the appropriate market for our product. More likely we’ll have to take that as a lesson and to analyze that. From a company perspective we have other options so far. You know we have a great technology and we want to have this product made by us on the market. We’re also talking with toy companies, device companies, video games companies, so that we can license our technology and they can make their own products.”
Duteil seems determined that if the worst came to pass, his team would still find the best opportunity in a bad situation. “[If this were to happen,] we are more likely to work on one with a bit of modifications to ensure that it fits the customer’s needs. It would be bad news, but that doesn’t mean it needs to be [a bad experience.]”
ePawn Arena’s Kickstarter has 16 days remaining at time of publication and has raised just over €70,000 (just under 76,000 USD) of its €150,000 (162,500 USD). The team is estimating that its product will be ready for shipping in July 2016 complete with board, games, and customizable bots.