Apple hires ‘playable TV’ game makers as its push into mixed reality hots up


UPDATE, 3/11/22: Investor Matthew Ball appears to have confirmed that Apple bought out Playdeo’s founders. Earlier today he tweeted a link to this report and said: “So excited for the Playdeo Team and deeply excited to see their next products”.

Ball’s LinkedIn profile also states that Playdeo exited to Apple. We’ve contacted him to confirm and are awaiting a response. We will update this story if we receive one. Our original report is below:

Mobile game developer Playdeo has effectively closed after Apple swooped in to hire two of its three cofounders. 

Several sources have told us that Playdeo’s Jack Schulze and Timo Arnall are now working at Apple, likely on mixed reality projects. The studio’s other cofounder, Nick Ludlam, has not joined the tech giant, we understand.

One source described the move as an acqui-hire, but according to Companies House filings Playdeo remains an active company. It is currently in the hands of its investors and no longer employs any staff.

However, the filings do confirm that cofounders Schulze, Arnall and Ludlam resigned as Playdeo directors in March 2022, and that the company’s debts were settled around the same time.

Persistent rumours suggest Apple could enter the AR/VR space as soon as next year, and it needs people with proven experience in mixed reality software development. You can see why Playdeo’s work caught Apple’s eye in the ‘making of’ video below, which tells the story of Playdeo’s debut title Avo, released in 2019.

This is not the first time Apple has hired Playdeo staff. Avo design lead and former Ustwo Games designer Jonathan Topf moved to Apple in May 2019. Topf works in the design and prototyping team in Cupertino, according to his LinkedIn profile.

It doesn’t end there; we understand that in recent months Apple has been in dialogue with another mobile game developer that specialises in interactive TV-style games, to discuss a similar deal. We were not able to fully verify those claims, so we have decided not to name the studio in question here.

Playdeo’s site says that the studio makes “Mixed Reality production easy”, and explains a little of its game-making process: “We use our own camera software built on Apple’s ARKit, that allow us to instantly record and experiment with game mechanics mapped into recorded video, as well as making remote production and instant editing possible.”

“On both Avo and Mystery Coast, the entire set and all props and objects were 3D-scanned, to add depth to video,” it continues. “When brought together in the Unity game engine they allow game characters, mechanics and interactions to sit and operate comfortably and convincingly in the 3D world.”

Playdeo was effectively wound down by end of 2021. At the end of September last year Playdeo’s senior creative producer Lotta Boman, lead programmer Geraldo Nascimento and QA tester Fred Cremin were told the studio was closing, and were made redundant shortly afterwards. Prior to that, Playdeo head of product Ivee Feria-Padua left for Jagex in August 2021 and 3D artist Sophie Knowles moved to Robot Turtle in September 2021.

Apple declined to comment on this story when contacted.

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