Interview by Marija Butkovic @MarijaButkovic
Jessica Taylor is Managing Director of Preloaded, a games studio passionate about creating immersive experiences - games, VR, AR, MR, installations - that go beyond entertainment. Over the past 17 years, Preloaded has developed experiences based on subjects as diverse as neuroscience, drug addiction, mental health, ancient history, literacy, physical science, genetics, death and philosophy.
Prior to joining Preloaded, Jessica was VP, Digital Media at Antenna Internationall where she led a, 40-strong global delivering multimedia visitor experiences at the world’s greatest cultural institutions and tourist attractions. Responsible for overall creative direction for Antenna, Jessica managed a multi-million annual budget and launched Antenna Lab, described as 'Antenna International’s digital think tank: a hub for exchanging ideas and trend spotting in the cultural sector’. Jessica has also led digital projects for the public sector (Department for Education, Health and the BBC), and spent ten years as a television producer / director, creating content for international broadcasters such as BBC, Channel 4, Discovery, History Channel and PBS. She holds a degree in Classics and Philosophy from Oxford University.
Jessica, tell us a bit more about Preloaded, your roles and your background.
I’m Managing Director of Preloaded, a games studio passionate about creating immersive experiences - games, VR, AR, MR, installations - that go beyond entertainment. We want to use the power of play to solve problems and change lives. Our studio's methodology places the user at the centre of the design process and we collaborate with ambitious partners, such as LEGO, Google, Penguin, BBC, V&A, Tate and The Science Museum to balance business goals, audience need and content integrity,
Over the past 17 years, Preloaded has developed experiences based on subjects as diverse as neuroscience, drug addiction, mental health, ancient history, literacy, physical science, genetics, death and philosophy.
My background is content and storytelling. I spent ten years as a TV Producer / Director making documentaries about the arts, science, history and politics for international broadcasters such as BBC, Discovery, History Channel, Channel 4 and PBS before I moved into creating digital experiences for clients in the corporate and public sectors. Prior to joining Preloaded, I was VP, Experience Design at Antenna, a company working to create compelling and inspiring experiences for visitors to some of the world’s greatest cultural institutions, including MoMA, the Met, Vatican, Sagrada Familia, the Louvre and the National Gallery in London.
Tell us about other members in your team.
My principal partner at Preloaded is Phil Stuart, Creative Director and co-founder of the company. There is a fantastically talented team at Preloaded - who really believe in collaborating with and supporting each other to produce amazing work for our clients and partners around the world. We are very proud of the team we’ve built, which includes product owners, game artists (2D & 3D), producers, game / experience designers, developers. We believe that our clients return to work with Preloaded not because of the consistent quality of our work, but also because of the people themselves.
You just launched a new VR/Art Exhibition at Tate Modern. How did you prepare for that exhibition, and what were the challenges?
Tate had a bold plan for a curatorial flourish which would also be a museum ‘first’: to incorporate VR into their autumn blockbuster Modigliani exhibition at Tate Modern.
VR experiences have been created by museums and galleries but this instance would be different: this wouldn’t be a standalone piece of VR, it would be curated as part of the end-to-end visitor journey, providing a unique interpretative layer to the visitor experience, with the aim of creating empathy and connection with one of the 21st Century’s greatest artists.
It was an exciting challenge. For it to succeed, it would need to appeal to a mainstream - non gaming - audience. The target audience would likely be completely new to VR, and on average 45-65 years old, with another younger active audience still needing to be satisfied. It required a sensitive and thoughtful approach to use of the power HTC Vive technology, ensuring an experience that was both genuinely impactful, not gimmicky, and complementary, not overpowering.
Collaborating with the team drawn from across Tate, we quickly realised that our first challenge was to make sure that we were creating a ‘low threshold’ experience that would appeal to a full range of visitors to Tate, something that didn’t require a tonne of hardware, lots of VR knowledge and stopped the visitor flow at Tate.
Finally, the biggest challenge - and ultimately the greatest success of the piece - was upholding the requirement for authenticity and accuracy down to the final detail. The team worked very closely with Tate and historical researchers, to ensure that the piece met the quality and accuracy expected and required for any piece emerging from the Tate Modern.
What are your biggest achievements to date at Preloaded?
It’s very simple - our work and our people at Preloaded. I’m very proud of the work we produce at Preloaded, helping clients engage their customers / visitors / users and creating experiences that make a real difference through play. And I’m proud of the team that we’ve put together - people from all sorts of backgrounds - agency, education, product design, AAA games - who combine brilliantly to surprise and delight our clients every day.
Is #WomenInTech movement important to you and if yes, why?
The #WomenInTech movement has been tremendously important to me in my own career. I’ve spent lots of time professionally being the only woman in the boardroom and while I’ve always felt supported and very rarely judged for that, I’ve also really taken comfort in the fact that women can and do support each other to feel more comfortable in tech environments. At Preloaded, we have some great women on the team but I’m pretty open about the fact that we haven’t achieved a true gender balance yet - we don’t have any women developers, for instance but we’re working on it!
What will be the key trends in the VR/AR industries in the next 5 years and where do you see it heading?
At Preloaded, we are truly technology-agnostic but we are passionate about the potential to telling stories and engaging people through in ways that are compelling and inclusive.
The magic of VR is really about its immersive qualities, but it’s more than just a trick. I think we will see lots of cultural spaces - art galleries, museums, visitor attractions - using VR in permanent exhibits to help explain the context of an art movement or historical event to engender empathy.
The work of the tech companies to bring VR into the mainstream will bear fruit - sales of headsets are soaring and Google’s new standalone headset will be a game changer. There’s a lot of work to create content that shows off the technology to the max - and that can be amazing.
But what we’re really interested in Preloaded is working out whether these ‘wow’ experiences really work for the non-gamer sitting at home. We’re really keen to know what their expectations are and what would constitute a meaningful VR experience. We always aim to think about what will work for a mainstream audience, what will drive that mainstream take up - and VR / AR going mainstream, that’s something we are really excited about!
This interview was conducted by Marija Butkovic, Digital Marketing and PR strategist, founder and CEO of Women of Wearables and co-founder of Kisha Smart Umbrella. She regularly writes and speaks on topics of wearable tech, fashion tech, IoT, entrepreneurship and diversity. Visit marijabutkovic.co.uk or follow Marija on Twitter @MarijaButkovic @Women_Wearables @GetKisha.