Building a team to explore the future of entertainment

Viacom NEXT was Viacom‘s emerging technology content studio focused on building immersive experiences, interactive music videos, narrative worlds, and video games. In a little under 3 years, it created over 20 projects which was exhibited at over 23 different festivals; launched over 6 pieces of content on Steam, the Oculus Store, the Apple App Store; and clinched major awards including the prestigious Cannes Lions Grand Prix in Digital Craft.

Based in New York, the studio was one of the first innovation groups in a media company to double-down on real-time game engine VR/AR production, employing and incubating developers, creators and artists with expertise in 3D modeling and animation, storytelling, and experience design. 

Viacom NEXT’s explorations ended in early 2018 after a company-wide restructuring at Viacom.

The beginning

In early 2015, I joined Viacom Lab, Viacom’s centralized innovation lab, to help GM Chaki Ng as the resident ‘play designer’, a role that bridges game design and experience design across mediums, with a focus on intrinsically motivated delight. 

By mid-2015, it became clear that a dedicated prototyping/exploration group around VR became necessary for Viacom’s continued R&D efforts in novel and emerging media.

Viacom NEXT was spun off from Viacom Lab by late 2015. A newly formed, independent entity from Viacom Lab, we reported directly to the Chief Technology Officer.

Supervised by Chaki and managed by Rob Ruffler and myself, we began as a team of 3 but by late 2016 grew to a team of 12, as our projects, work, and accolades developed traction in the industry.

Our Core Missions

1. To educate, evangelize and assist Viacom’s business units needs in all things spatial computing.

2. To build, grow, and nurture an internal team to prototype use cases for spatial computing.

3. To expand and develop spatial computing literacy via collaborations with external partners and developers, and in some cases taking on the role of a publisher.

Which translated to...

1. Over 7 projects with MTV, Paramount Pictures, and many more pitches and concepts with BET, Comedy Central, and many other Viacom business units.

2. a 12-person internal team capable of taking on two prototyping projects in one cycle.

3. A series of Viacom NEXT VR Fellowships, in tandem with the NYC Media Lab, as well as collaborations with partners such as Titmouse Animation, Tyler Hurd, Cabbibo, Isobar and Billy Corgan.


A Matrixed Organization Designed for R&D

In creating our organizational structure, we had to borrow from two other known business structures: that of the video game publisher, and that of a lean game jam team. 

Acting in a similar capacity to A&R folks and talent scouts, Rob Ruffler and I sought and took meetings with independent creators from across real-time animation and independent games as we matched their talents with our strategic needs internally to experiment with different aspects of spatial content.

In growing our internal team, I took a cue from lean game development teams and built project teams that consist of at least one designer, one software developer, one artist, and one producer. In time, we scaled up the team such that we could do up to 2 projects in one 3-month cycle. As our projects were all meant to be prototypes and experiments, Rob and I managed taking all projects to market. As we developed more mature products that required a full product life-cycle, we had planned to add product managers to scale.

Following our mission to bring in a diverse group of collaborators, and to invite external voices and perspectives from beyond our circle of technologists, game designers, and linear content creators; we also partnered with our friends at the NYC Media Lab to operate an annual Viacom NEXT VR Fellowship – a program where we paired talented creators from any of the university programs around New York City with mentors from throughout the Viacom organization. This program also had the bonus effect of discovering talented creators that we would eventually hire as full-time employees.

Supervising us all was our leader Chaki Ng, who managed our internal stakeholders, presented our work and findings to senior leadership, and helped us fight the constant battle of getting more resources to do even better work every new financial year.


Team Members

Senior Vice President / Founder
Chaki Ng

Vice President / Co-Founder
Rob Ruffler

Creative Director / Co-Founder
David Liu

Matt Hanson
Mac Lotze


Bryan Collinsworth
Ross Houston
David Palumbo

Software Engineers

Sarah Chen
Hill Lo
Justin Ouyang
Karen Singer

Olivia Bae
Tina Liao
Maya Mahalingam
Tomonari Michigami

Production Support
Mariela Cherry
Andrew Kennedy
Carson Ward

2017 Fellowship Playthrough
Playtesters enjoying a VR fellow's asymmetric multiplayer VR experience.
Participants of our inaugural 2016 Viacom NEXT VR Fellowship
Participants of our 2017 Viacom NEXT VR Fellowship