Sometimes, a change is needed in order to move a creative direction forward. Many people in the industry can feel this way, and depart from a cushy job in favor of something that would provide them the opportunity to work on a dream project. A roll of the dice, if you will.
That’s the case with Bill Trost, who previously worked as a lead designer and co-creator of Sony Online’s massively popular EverQuest, as well as creative lead on the ambitious online game component of SyFy’s Defiance series. He broke away from all that to work on his new venture, a mobile project called Graphiti, which will make its debut this weekend at the SXSW Startup Spotlight event.
The [a]listdaily managed to catch up with Bill to chat about his new project, as well as what drove him to step away from a major role in bigger franchises to work on something more independent.
What prompted you to make the move from such high profile projects (Defiance, EverQuest) into working something on your own in mobile?
While I love creating big projects like EverQuest and Defiance, this is actually my second foray into mobile. I was co-founder of a group called The Blimp Pilots that developed the #1 selling app for 2008, Koi Pond, and a really unique app that hit #3 on the app store called Distant Shore. We also did an app for the San Diego Zoo and got to meet elephants!
I enjoy working in mobile because of the speed you can operate at. Ideas are conceived and executed and then on to the next idea. I like exploring new things, wherever they are. This time was the cool tech and people that excited me and inspired the idea of a new, expressive way for people to share things with friends. Graphiti is actually a bigger idea than it might first appear.
What do you think are the necessary steps when it comes to creating a proper team for development, not to mention the groundwork for putting together the ideal studio for them?
Team building from scratch is super challenging, and I like to avoid it if I can. Throughout my career I have been fortunate to initially work with people I already know and trust as core team members. When teams expand, practical experience with shipping products is the most important thing I look for.
But that doesn’t mean you never take chances on a passionate person, even if they are a little green. Just be aware of what you are doing in those cases and attentive to what you need to do to ensure the success of the team and the professional development of the person.
Tell us about Graphiti, and how the concept behind it came about.
Prior to my involvement, our talented group of engineers, led by Steven Shen, had developed a core piece of tech that enabled the mark-up of live web content. My job was to figure out how to best use this technology within a consumer application. I am a classically trained painter and have always had an interest in street and outsider art.
So the idea of Graphiti, using street art tools, like spray paint, and stencils to bomb up the web just like you would a wall in real life came to me nearly instantly. To be able to boldly express your ideas directly on the content with a slash of dripping paint, instead of buried beneath it in some comment thread, sounded exciting and like something people would enjoy doing.
We also realized we couldn’t just call something Graphiti without embracing and respecting the culture and history of street art. We are fortunate to have hooked up with a fantastic non-profit group in San Diego called Writerz Blok that operates a huge graffiti park and give the youth in their community a safe place to express themselves and learn about art. Jose Venegas and Sergio Gonzalez, both of Writerz Blok, have really helped us refine and legitimize our vision for Graphiti.
It sounds like you have a number of experienced folks on board from the likes of Intel, Verizon, Kyocera and Zeebo. Were they looking for a change of pace from “big business” as well, eager to try out a new project?
The team we have built at Graphiti has an entrepreneurial spirit for sure, but I think the vision for the project is what brought us together. We feel confident swimming in either pond, big or small.
How long has Graphiti been in development?
Primary development, leveraging some existing technology, began in July of last year. I joined the team in August.
You’re making a big push with Graphiti at the SXSW Startup Spotlight event. Are you hyped about what kind of response you’re looking to get out of it?
I’m very excited. I’ve been to E3’s, PAXs, GDCs, and Comic Cons but I’ve never been to SXSW so I’m looking forward to the event and can’t wait to see what people think of Graphiti.
How is your team approaching Graphiti from a marketing point of view? Obviously it’s a different kind of beast from the previous products you’ve been working on.
Marketing is a big part of the mobile business these days and we are fortunate to have very experienced people working with us to develop a plan that makes sense for us. SXSW is our first focus and we are bombing that event with the world-renowned graffiti artist, Chor Boogie. We have plans for other events throughout the year in addition to other creative marketing efforts.
How will Graphiti work in terms of monetization and opening up experiences for new users?
Graphiti is a free app. We will be ad-supported in a unique and unobtrusive way that provides not only a service for the advertiser but cool rewards for the Graphiti user.
Finally, with the launch of Graphiti quickly coming up, what’s next Optimization for this app with new features Perhaps a new project?
We have big plans through the end of the year with Graphiti, both expanding the feature set in cool new ways and bringing it to additional platforms. We hope enough people enjoy what we are doing that we can start to make plans for 2016 as well.