The stories behind the stories of 2022: Apple buys out game devs to build its AR/VR device

 

It’s the end of 2022, so let’s get self-indulgent: this week we’re publishing a few personal story highlights from the first year of mobilegamer.biz, and giving you a peek behind the curtain on how they came to be published.

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

Okay, so this story didn’t take off in the way I wanted it to. It happens.

In short, Apple effectively acquired a mobile game developer, Playdeo, to help build the software for its new AR/VR headset. This was later verified by one of Playdeo’s investors on Twitter. So I was fully expecting this one to blow up, but it just didn’t.

Playdeo co-founders Jack Schulze and Timo Arnall are now busily working on Apple’s AR/VR headset.

I first heard that Playdeo had closed and its founders were now at Apple from two different game developers over the summer. Over the course of the next few months, I did the usual stuff – sought several other sources who confirmed the information and added more colour, and had a look at Playdeo’s Companies House records for notable activity. I even got a friendly solicitor to give those Companies House documents a more detailed look to see if I’d missed anything.

I hadn’t. Playdeo had had its debts settled by an unnamed company and co-founders Jack Schulze and Timo Arnall had left Playdeo to work at Apple. Given their considerable expertise in AR game design – plus the fact a former Playdeo colleague was already working in Cupertino within Apple’s R&D team – strongly suggested they were hired to work on the forthcoming AR/VR headset. This part was later verified by a separate source.

The only puzzling part was the nature of the deal – Apple didn’t actually buy the company, it appeared to just buy out the founders, which is a little unusual.

You’d think a prominent figure in Silicon Valley verifying your exclusive about a stealth Apple acquisition would really blow it up, but no.

But once the story went out, Matthew Ball’s tweet and his updated (and then hastily edited) LinkedIn profile confirmed that this was effectively a Playdeo exit to Apple. Bingo.

I was pretty happy with all of this – I thought I’d broken a story that would spread far and wide around the web’s busy Apple rumour mill, and maybe even get the attention of influential figures like John Gruber or Mark Gurman. But no. It didn’t even warrant a thread on r/apple.

Around the launch of this site, an old media sage told me you can’t just be the master of the content – you need to master the distribution of that content, too. Clearly, I need to work harder on the latter. Also, maybe the headline was bad.

Playdeo investor Matthew Ball confirmed the exit to Apple on his LinkedIn profile. He later changed it to read “reportedly exited to Apple”.

A week later I spotted that Apple was hiring more game developers to build its AR/VR headset, right there in plain sight on its recruitment site.

I ran a story on that, too, and a few days later, Bloomberg’s excellent Apple reporter Mark Gurman referenced the very same job ads in his Power On newsletter, albeit with different spin and context. (Probably just a coincidence, but if you’re reading, Mark: love your work!)

Still, this was a worthwhile exercise in breaking a story that has potentially led to something more. And there is another loose thread dangling from this one – the identity of the other AR game developer that we heard had been approached by Apple, which only got the briefest of mentions in the original report.

I’ll hopefully have more on that and the Apple AR/VR headset in general soon, if what i’ve got brewing works out. Watch this space.