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Update #38 - Flipside Studio Release Candidate 1

- by Lux

Please note: This update includes some big changes which we wanted to give everyone time to test out safely and adapt to their projects, so to try it out you'll need to opt into our Beta release channel. Instructions on switching between release channels can be found here.

Flipside Studio

Release Candidate 1 is here

We're excited to announce that today's release on the Flipside Studio beta release channel is our first release candidate for a new stable version of Flipside Studio.

What this means is we're holding off on any major new features to focus on fixes and usability improvements until we feel it's ready to move over to the stable channel for everyone to use. If there are no major issues with this release, we'll move it over (along with any fixes we make in the meantime) to the stable channel after a couple weeks of general use.

Once we go stable, it will also complete our migration from Unity 2017 to 2019, so now's the time to update any assets that haven't been updated to Unity 2019 yet.

Bug fixes

  • Fixed remote users not unloading a recording when it's cartridge is removed from the player.
  • Fixed an error that could occur on users rejoining a multiplayer session.
  • Fixed remote users not always seeing new users in character on first joining.
  • Fixed a bug that could cause ToggleElement components not to properly record their current state at the start of a recording.
  • Fixed the Ghost Mode button not working on the camera switchers while in Set Builder mode.
  • Fixed a bug that caused the Recordings palette to disappear and not refresh itself with newly-added recordings.

Flipside Creator Tools

Click here to download the release candidate of the Flipside Creator Tools (2020.1.0-rc1).

Improvements

  • Added wrist settings to AvatarModelReferences so you can adjust the wrists to reduce twisting. The new settings let you adjust the Twist Weight, Parent-Child Crossfade, and Twist Angle Offset values. Assigning multiple twist bones is coming soon too.
  • Improvements to our Mixamo auto-import detection and our CC3 expressions.
  • CC3 importer auto-fixes the jaw bone hierarchy on imported models.

Bug fixes

  • Fixed a bug that was causing parts of faces with multiple blend shapes mapped to one expression not to move.

A change to our version numbering

With this update, we're also moving to a new calendar versioning-based version numbering system, which is described in more detail here.

This release of both Flipside Studio and Flipside Creator Tools now share the version 2020.1.0-rc1.

 

Update #37 - Stream directly to Zoom, Skype, etc.

- by Lux

Please note: This update includes some big changes which we wanted to give everyone time to test out safely and adapt to their projects, so to try it out you'll need to opt into our Beta release channel. Instructions on switching between release channels can be found here.

Flipside Studio

Stream directly to Zoom, Skype, etc.

We've added a plugin that creates a "Flipside Studio" virtual camera device in Windows, so you can select Flipside in your camera list in any video chat software, including Zoom, Skype, Slack, Whereby, etc.

To turn the virtual camera device on, press Alt+D in Flipside Studio. The first time you do, Windows will popup up a notice requesting administrative permission to install the virtual camera device. Give it permission and you should see "Flipside Studio" in your camera options the next time you launch your video chat software of choice.

Note: If you don't see "Flipside Studio" in your camera options, you may need to restart Windows for the change to take effect.

Also note that you will need to press Alt+D to enable the virtual camera each time you run Flipside Studio while this feature is still considered experimental and not enabled by default.

Improvements

  • Added a Re-Sync button under the Recordings palette menu which does a complete re-sync of your multiplayer session should things fall out of sync for any reason.
  • Improved default microphone selection logic when multiple microphone devices are available.
  • Improved audio playback performance.

Bug fixes

  • Fixed voices going out of sync on added parts.
  • Fixed a bug that caused eye rotations to go in the wrong direction.
  • Fixed a bug causing sets to fail to load if they share the same bundle name as the previously loaded set.
  • Fixed a bug in how character bundle version numbers are compared.

Flipside Creator Tools

Click here to download the latest version of the Flipside Creator Tools beta (v0.33).

Duplicate characters and sets

Duplicating the scene file for a character or set can lead to issues building bundles because Unity gets confused when more than one scene file has the same asset bundle label.


To make this less error-prone, we've added a new Duplicate Selected Scene menu option under the Flipside Creator Tools menu which duplicates the scene and also changes the asset bundle label at the same time, making it easy now to create alternate versions of characters and sets for testing.

Bug fixes

  • Fixed an orientation issue with the VR teleporter. It now behaves more consistently like Flipside Studio's teleporter.
  • Fixed a case where the Chair component wouldn't initialize properly for some users.
  • Fixed CC3 character importing to correctly map blend shapes based on names.
 

Update #36 - Auto-scrolling teleprompter, update saved setups

- by Lux

Please note: This update includes some big changes which we wanted to give everyone time to test out safely and adapt to their projects, so to try it out you'll need to opt into our Beta release channel. Instructions on switching between release channels can be found here.

Flipside Studio

Auto-scrolling teleprompter

We've revamped our teleprompter controller to support auto-scrolling with an adjustable speed slider. You can play, pause, rewind, fast-forward, or advance one screen of text at a time.

Saved setups are now editable

Last update we added the ability to delete your saved setups. This update adds the ability to update them as well, so you can now dress your sets exactly how you want them, save your setup, then come back and make further refinements at a later time.

Other improvements

  • Improved finger positioning when grabbing props with physics hands.
  • Added Unity's constraint components to the list of supported component you can use in custom characters and sets.
  • Further improvements to the expressiveness of lip syncing.
  • Improved error handling and reporting during initial load as well as character and set loading.
  • Your controllers now stay visible at all times instead of showing only when the user interface is visible.

Bug fixes

  • Fixed lighting issues going from sets with lightprobes to sets without lightprobes.
  • Prevented getting fingers into strange hold positions grabbing props with physics characters.
  • Fixed camera switcher not scaling with you in ghost mode.
  • Eye rotation fixes on additional characters.
  • Keep the "Press Esc to exit fullscreen" overlaytext hidden if any 3rd party capturing software is open (list includes: OBS, Streamlabs OBS, Xsplit, Twitch Studio, Mixer, Caffeine, VLC, Camtasia Studio, Bandicam, LIV Client, Mixcast).

Flipside Creator Tools

Improvements

  • Added resting position threshold to the Blink All setting on AvatarModelReferences to make the natural eyelid resting position customizable.
  • Added Unity's constraint components to the list of supported component you can use in custom characters and sets.
  • Initial support for auto-setup of imported characters from Character Creator.
  • Added a Resource Usage panel in the Inspector window for AvatarModelReferences and SetInfo components, giving visibility into the resources that your assets are using. The panel also includes recommended maximums for each resource for both PC and mobile. The mobile numbers are the current numbers we're targeting for Flipside Studio on Oculus Quest (still in closed beta testing).

Bug fixes

  • Fixed FlipsideActions.OnHide events not firing correctly.
  • TargetElement now works even if there's no ScoreboardElement in the scene.
  • Calls to FlipsideActions.ChangeSky(id) now change the skybox while testing in the Unity editor.
 

Update #35 - Eye realism, camera switcher improvements, texture-based expressions

- by Lux

Please note: This update includes some big changes which we wanted to give everyone time to test out safely and adapt to their projects, so to try it out you'll need to opt into our Beta release channel. Instructions on switching between release channels can be found here.


More realistic eyes

Eye movement has been improved in the following ways:

  • We've improved the range of motion to feel more natural when looking at eye targets like other characters or the handheld camera.
  • We've added procedural animation when not looking at eye targets that mimics focusing on different points of interest. We keep the gaze on a point within a small range of head movement to add more realism, so eyes don't feel so locked to head movement.
  • We've made blinking feel more natural too.

Camera switcher now found under Set Builder > Show Tools

We've moved the VR camera switcher to the Set Builder menu under Show Tools. This also means you can have as many VR camera switchers as you want!

This means that the desktop camera switcher going fullscreen doesn't open the VR camera switcher any more. Instead, it works totally independently. Press Alt+F to go fullscreen, and press Esc to exit fullscreen.

You'll see the instructions "Press Esc to exit fullscreen" appear on your monitor when you move your mouse, but it only shows up with a deliberate move of the mouse so it won't pop up if you accidentally bump your desk while in VR.

Other Flipside Studio improvements

  • Pointing no longer sticks with trigger presses on SteamVR, instead it points while you have the index finger trigger pressed and stops pointing when you stop pressing.
  • Improved the feel of texture-based facial animations by holding each expression for a minimum number of frames.
  • When you connect Flipside Studio to OBS, your OBS "Mic/Aux" sync offset is set automatically to ensure audio is in time with lip syncing.
  • Added a Delete Setup button to be able to delete previously saved setups.
  • Added the Trails FX Unity plugin to the list of supported components.

Flipside Creator Tools improvements

  • Auto-hide overlay text in the Flipside Creator Tools unless you move your cursor over the Game window.
  • Added a button to the SetInfo component to apply the Flipside skybox to the current scene outside of play mode.
  • Added buttons to SetInfo to copy lighting settings between SetInfo and the Lighting window.
  • Added a gizmo in the Scene window that shows where your Center Eye is located.

The latest version of the Flipside Creator Tools (v0.31) can be downloaded here.

Bug fixes

  • Fixed an issue with the Combo Textures facial expressions having the open/closed mouth textures backwards.
  • Fixed an issue with Textures lip syncing being affected by facial expressions and blinking.
  • Fixed TwitchActions to trigger events for everyone in the multiplayer session, not just the Twitch streamer.
  • Fixed one cause of characters with body physics to end up in contorted positions.
  • Fixed a cause of Twitch chat messages not appearing on the panel.
  • Fixed menu never stopping if your play area is too small.
  • Fixed multiple GunElement components all sharing the same bullet pool.
  • Fixed GunElement occasionally not firing.
 

Update #34 - Twitch interactions in sets, choose-your-own-adventures

- by Lux

Please note: This update includes some big changes which we wanted to give everyone time to test out safely and adapt to their projects, so to try it out you'll need to opt into our Beta release channel. Instructions on switching between release channels can be found here.


This release focuses primarily on the Flipside Creator Tools, but includes several important fixes to Flipside Studio as well. To download the latest version of the Flipside Creator Tools, (v0.30), head over to the installation and setup page.

Trigger events from your Twitch comments

We've added a new TwitchActions component that lets you define custom Twitch commands (e.g., "!vote") that can trigger actions in your custom sets and characters.This opens up a ton of new possibilities for interactions with your audiences on Twitch!

See the FlipsideCreatorTools/Examples/Example-TwitchActions scene in the latest Flipside Creator Tools release to try it out for yourself and see how it works. There are three commands, "!ding", "!bloop", and "!vote" that are connected to different sounds. "!vote" is combined with our TriggerCounter component so that it takes 5 votes to trigger the event.

Build shared choose-your-own-adventures

We've added a new GroupChoiceElement component and prefab that lets you create decision points that all users present must vote on to determine the chosen outcome. This makes it possible to build shared choose-your-own-adventure experiences.

See the FlipsideCreatorTools/Examples/Example-GroupChoice scene in the latest Flipside Creator Tools release to try it out for yourself and see how it works.

Other improvements

  • GunElement has a button in the inspector to test fire the Fire() method, and the method is now public so you can attach it to events, not just direct user interactions.
  • GunElement and ThrowableElement now have an AssignUser(#) method for assigning to separate users. Guns and throwables are automatically assigned to the correct user on being grabbed, but there are cases where you may want to design gameplay that doesn't involve grabbing a "shootable thing" and this is the start of making that possible.
  • Added TriggerGameEnd() and TriggerLose() to the ScoreboardElement, so you can trigger different end states like ending on a timer, or automatic failures.
  • PooledAudioElement now has OnVolumeChange and OnVolumeOff events you can attach things to.
  • Added ObjectPoolElement component for creating object pools with no coding required, for things like short particle effects.
  • Added ignoreEyeTargets option to AvatarModelReferences, since animating the eyes on some characters can look off if the eyes aren't perfectly aligned.

Bug fixes

  • Fixed SteamVR controllers not always initializing properly in the Flipside Creator Tools.
  • Fixed set builder not saving your changes if you quit the app while in set builder mode.
  • Further improvements to the lip sync quality to be more expressive.
  • Added a noise gate filter to reduce background noise affecting lip syncing.
  • Fixed eyes so they ignore ghost mode users.
  • Fixed internal handling of SetTargetCount(#) and ResetCounter() methods on TriggerCounter.
  • Fixed camera previews falling out of sync between the handheld and POV cameras.
  • Fixed PropElement gravity behaviour in the Unity editor to better match the behaviour in Flipside Studio.
  • Partial fix for lighting consistency issues caused by light probe settings carrying forward between sets.
  • Colour settings in SetInfo display as HDR to better match lighting settings.
  • Fixed smoothing on FollowElement components in Flipside Studio.
  • Fixed issue with users joining multiplayer sessions while in ghost mode.
  • Fixed issue with users rejoining multiplayer sessions not receiving the current scene state.
 

Update #33 - Major improvements to the Flipside Creator Tools

- by Lux

Please note: This update includes some big changes which we wanted to give everyone time to test out safely and adapt to their projects, so to try it out you'll need to opt into our Beta release channel. Instructions on switching between release channels can be found here.


We're excited to be able to share some major improvements to the Flipside Creator Tools in terms of improved testing workflow to save you time building interactive elements in your sets, as well as introducing a number of new types of interactivity that can be built into custom sets.

To download the latest version (v0.29), head over to the installation and setup page.

Test your interactions in VR without leaving Unity

In order to test the custom interactions in your sets, just press play in Unity and hop into VR. All of the interactive elements provided by the Flipside Creator Tools package are now fully interactive for testing right inside the editor. Grab and pick up any PropElement, throw it, or press the trigger to use it just like you would in Flipside Studio. Teleport around using your right-hand joystick and trigger, just like in Flipside Studio.

Flipside Creator Tools - Interacting in Unity in VR

To try it out, open the Assets/FlipsideCreatorTools/Examples/Example-ScoringSystem scene after installing or updating and press play.

Pro tip: You can also test the facial expressions of your custom characters using the left-hand joystick, just like in Flipside Studio.

New ways of triggering events

We've introduced a number of new components that let you trigger events in different ways, including:

  • Trigger an event only once using the new TriggerOnce component.
  • Trigger an event every frame or at set intervals of time using the new TriggerEvery component.
  • Trigger an event after a counter is reached using the new TriggerCounter component.

Flipside Creator Tools - TriggerEvery component

Other new components like FollowElement let you attach objects to the user's hand, or teleport an object back to its home using the new TeleportObjectTo and TeleportObjectsOnContact components, and the PhysicsEstimator component even lets you seamlessly switch control of an object from a Unity animation or other kinematic movement to Unity's physics engine taking it over.

Click here for a list of core interactive components.

Scoring system, guns and targets

We've also introduced several new components for creating mini-games and interactions that require keeping score. These include:

  • ScoreboardElement keeps track of scores, in competitive or cooperative mode, and can optionally display a basic scoreboard on a TextMeshPro component.
  • GunElement and BulletElement enable an object to fire projectiles that can hit other players or targets, including awarding points to the user that fired the gun.
  • ThrowableElement enables objects to hit other players and targets, including awarding points to the user that threw the object.
  • TargetElement assigns points to the correct multiplayer user when hit by a bullet or throwable object.

Flipside Creator Tools - TargetElement Component

Everything has been designed to work over multiplayer as well as in Flipside Studio recordings, opening up many new storytelling possibilities. To get started, after installing or updating to the latest Flipside Creator Tools release (v0.29) in Unity, open and inspect the Example-ScoringSystem scene in the Assets/FlipsideCreatorTools/Examples folder.

Click here for a list of scoring-related interactive components.

Audio pooling for better performance

Sets with many audio sources can cause performance issues, so we've introduced a PooledAudioElement component that lets you hook into Flipside's internal pool of audio sources for virtually unlimited audio sources in your sets. PooledAudioElement also lets you configure audio spatialization settings, and implement audio volume changes in reaction to events in your scene.

Flipside Creator Tools - PooledAudioElement Component

View more than 8 cameras on the in-VR camera switcher

The in-VR camera switcher panel now has back/forward buttons under the camera position previews, so you can swap between groups of 8 camera positions and cut between a virtually unlimited number of cameras.

Flipside Studio - In-VR camera switcher pager buttons

Bug fixes

Additionally, we've made the following fixes that span both Flipside Studio (beta channel) and Flipside Creator Tools (v0.29):

  • Fixed reduced lip syncing expressiveness on characters.
  • Reduced jitter over multiplayer on characters with colliders.
  • Fixed cloned props so they have unique names in multiplayer and playback.
  • Fixed ToggleElement not firing OnEnter and OnExit events.
  • Fixed sitting at the start of playback in multiplayer recordings.
  • Fixed Vive trackers initializing on playback and improved foot position calculations.
  • Added null check and error message for missing bones in GenerateColliders component.
  • Accounts for transform data of SkinnedMeshRenderer so they don't affect the generated colliders in GenerateColliders component.
  • Fixed haptic feedback getting cancelled out on the opposing hand when both are firing simultaneously.
  • Fixed eye targets so characters make eye contact with each other again.
  • Fixed cameras not moving with animations in sets.
  • Fixed guests not receiving invites from host if the host kicked the guest out to reset the connection.
 

Flipside Update #32 - Server-based multiplayer

- by Lux

Please note: This update includes some big changes which we wanted to give everyone time to test out safely and adapt to their projects, so to try it out you'll need to opt into our Beta release channel. Instructions on switching between release channels can be found here.

Server-based multiplayer

When we started Flipside, we quickly realized that latency was a big deal for the actors we were working with. A joke that takes 300 ms to get a reaction often fails to land. That's why we based our multiplayer system around peer-to-peer, so that studios with actors on the same local network could achieve ultra-low latency communication between actors.

However, peer-to-peer networking still presents a number of challenges for users over a distance, particularly around firewalls and restrictive network settings. We wanted to be able to support completely remote teams as well, so this release is the first to introduce a second multiplayer option that uses a server-based back-end, powered by Normcore.


You'll notice a new toggle on the Friends panel that lets you choose which type of multiplayer connection you'd like to use. Choose one then send your invites and everything should just work from there.

This new multiplayer option has two benefits for remote teams:

  1. You shouldn't have to fight with network settings to get a reliable multiplayer connection. It should just work.
  2. The further you are away from each other, the faster going through a server is going to be compared to peer-to-peer. Sessions are automatically created in the closest region to you to minimize latency.

Note: Multiplayer connections are only compatible between stable-to-stable users or beta-to-beta users at this time.

Texture-based faces now support facial expressions and blinking

Texture-based faces now have a new mode which adds facial expressions as well as blinking. To set it up, add a new FacialExpressionReference component to your character underneath the AvatarModelReferences component, assign a mesh in its Meshes list, set the Expression Type to the new Combo Textures option, and add your textures.

Here's how the textures break down:


Head over to the Flipside Creator Tools page to grab the latest version (v0.28).

Improved voice recording quality

We've noticeably improved our audio quality when it comes to capturing actor's voices.

Previously Flipside was limited to VoIP-level audio quality (16 kHz), which is great for networking but not great at capturing the full range of the human voice. This release increases that to 24 kHz, which means we're able to capture 50% more of the upper range of an actor's voice.

Other fixes and improvements

  • Fixed an issue causing mouths to hang open on some characters.
  • Fixed an issue causing set changes not to save to the local cache.
  • Fixed an issue where ToggleElement components weren't remembering their values in saved setups.
  • Fixed handheld camera disappearing on loading or playing takes.
  • Added separate options to the Flipside Creator Tools to generate characters with and without colliders (you can still add them later).
  • Numerous performance optimizations.
 

Flipside Update #31 - Character body physics, Unity 2019 and more

- by Lux

Please note: This update includes some big changes which we wanted to give everyone time to test out safely and adapt to their projects, so to try it out you'll need to opt into our Beta release channel. Instructions on switching between release channels can be found here.

Body physics on characters

You can now add physics colliders to add body physics on your characters via the Flipside Creator Tools. Body physics lets actors interact in a more natural way with props and other elements of a set, and with each other.

It means you can high-five without hands passing through each other, swipe a bunch of props off a table in a fit of passion, or rest your arms comfortably at your sides without sinking into your body.

New characters created in version 0.26 of the Flipside Creator Tools or later will have body physics added automatically, and existing characters can easily be updated using the new GenerateColliders component. Learn more about generating colliders on characters here.

Body colliders are highly customizable to suit the needs of any character, but there will be edge cases and bugs along the way. Head over to our Discord community for help or to let us know if something isn't working the way it should.

Unity 2019.2

This release is also the first that's built on Unity 2019.2. If you're using the Flipside Creator Tools with the latest Alpha channel release, you'll need to upgrade Unity to version 2019.2.11f1. Information on how to upgrade, including how to update your characters and sets, can be found here.

Unity has seen a ton of improvements since the previous version we were on (2017.4), including:

Some of these changes will take time to make their way into Flipside Studio and the Flipside Creator Tools, but they pave the way for a faster, leaner, and bright Flipside future.

Note: If you're sticking with the Stable branch, do not upgrade to 2019.2 yet. Stick with 2017.4 to ensure compatibility.

Other improvements

In addition to the above, we've also made a number of other fixes and improvements in this release:

  • Clone objects in Set Builder mode by grabbing them and pressing the trigger. The trigger used to turn snapping on or off, which was moved to the B/Y buttons on Oculus and the thumbpad on SteamVR. This makes dressing sets so much faster.
  • NDI support so you can stream low-latency high quality video from Flipside Studio to video capture devices over the network. Look for it in the desktop camera switcher's settings menu.
  • Flipside Studio now launches 2-3x faster!
  • Many other performance optimizations and reliability improvements.

Flipside Creator Tools improvements in Unity 2019.2

We've made some big improvements to the character and set previewing capabilities of the Flipside Creator Tools in version 0.25. When you press play in Unity, hopping into VR to preview now lets you do these cool things:

  • You'll now see your controllers in VR, just like in Flipside Studio.
  • Preview your character's facial expressions using the thumbpad on your left hand controller, just like in Flipside Studio.
  • Teleport around the scene using the thumbpad on your right hand controller, so you can preview your characters and sets from any angle.
  • Use your controllers to test collider and toggle interactions.

Information on how to upgrade, including how to update your characters and sets, can be found here.

Known issues

  • Some characters and sets built in Unity 2017 import with shader and lightmap issues. We do some auto-upgrading magic, but it doesn't cover every case. Cases it can't auto-fix will need to be rebuilt for 2019.
  • Animations in sets built in Unity 2017 don't play in the Unity 2019.2 builds (both Animators and Playable Assets). They import with errors, so sets with animations will need to be rebuilt for 2019.
  • Characters and sets built in Unity 2017 take slightly longer to load, due to the aforementioned auto-upgrading magic.
  • Adding or removing props on an existing recording is broken. For now, sets need to be dressed before the first take.
 

Welcome Fabio to the Flipside Team

- by Lesley Klassen

We are excited to announce that Fabio Hofnik is joining us at Flipside as our new Business Developer. As the founder of an XR art and technology festival in Brazil called Hyper Festival, he shares our passion for the convergence of art and VR which makes him a perfect fit for our team. 

Fabio has a breadth of experience in digital content production in the areas of transmedia, digital marketing, broadcast, and he holds a bachelor's degree in Television Production.

Fabio fell in love with VR when he tried the DK2 and he has been focused on the XR industry ever since. He will be joining our team at OC6 this year to help us spread Flipside Studio to the world.

Welcome to Flipside, Fabio!

 

What it means to develop in the open

- by Lux

By John Luxford, CTO & Cofounder - Flipside

Developing in the open means taking the open-source concept of release early, release often and applying it to a commercial product. It means updating users frequently and transparently. It means showing your unfinished work, listening to and learning from your users, and adapting to their feedback.

For us, it meant putting a Flipside Studio update out on average around twice per month since launching into Early Access in March, 2018. That’s a lot of updates.

Some updates are just a bunch of bug fixes. Others include new features or new sample content to show what’s possible with Flipside. And often, we’re balancing Flipside updates with other things that help keep our company afloat, such as helping our customers with various aspects of their shows.

Why we chose to develop in the open

In hindsight, I’m not sure we had a choice. Flipside is a really big idea (and nowhere near being fully realized yet), and to get from here to there at some point along the way you have to have something to show. A product for people to use. Preferably one they find valuable today, even if you know it’s still just one part of some larger vision.

So when we felt we had an MVP of the first usable part of that vision, we put Flipside Studio out into the world. Followed a few months later by the second part of that vision, our Flipside Creator Tools plugin for Unity.

While we’re often thinking years ahead when we think of what these products are going to grow into, it takes discipline to ground yourself in what it does for users today. Having a community of users tell you what they think of your stuff is a great way to get grounded to the reality of providing tangible value today.

We didn’t know how hard it was going to be

I’ve run various open-source projects over the years, and I still maintain a few smaller ones on the side. So I knew users can be brutally honest.

But it’s harder to take that brutal honesty when you also know it’s going to take a long time to be able to satisfy their wants or needs, and that’s closer to the reality of Flipside than my past open-source experience.

Open-source users can also sometimes fix things themselves, so there's often less need to do everything yourself. And most open-source software is a volunteer effort.

But the big reason things take longer with Flipside is in large part due to the fact that it is an order of magnitude harder to make a multiplayer virtual reality TV studio than it is to make your average web app (Flipside has an extensive web back-end, too).

Taking feedback

Feedback is an interesting beast. It's often terse, even when it's not harsh. Many people prescribe a solution without fully describing the problem they're having. Many people ghost after the first terse suggestion, leaving no opportunity for clarification. And feedback is inherently given without knowledge of your other goals or long-term vision for your app.

But without taking feedback seriously, your long-term vision is almost certainly going to be out of touch with reality. So it's very important to listen carefully. It's also very important to drill down to root causes and assimilate the feedback with the larger context you have for your app.

Doing so will mean the difference between tacked-on features and features that fit more coherently over time. That doesn't mean they'll be perfect out of the gate, but they'll make sense in the context of both your users' goals and your own.

Fostering community

Fostering a community around your software is time consuming work. It can also conflict with other areas of your life, especially for an app like Flipside that many people are only going to use outside of 9-5 hours.

We've also made a lot of mistakes in that process. We scattered our community across various social media sites. We provided a roadmap that users couldn't contribute to. And when the team gets too busy and starts to feel overwhelmed, we tend to drop off in community participation. And the truth is, you have to be present in your community or it says you don't care.

The key is to learn from your mistakes and find better tools or processes. Like encouraging a centralized place for the community to chat on Discord. Or using Trello for our roadmap so users can make suggestions, comment, and vote.

Not everyone on your team is going to want to participate in the community, for a variety of reasons, and forcing them to do so isn't going to work. It can also seriously impact their productivity in other areas. But it's super helpful for users to know they can @mention or DM one of us for help and we'll at least get you in touch with the right team member.

For our team, we're too small to have any one person dedicated to community management (along with social media, marketing, and the umpteen other hats we regularly share), but we try to make sure one or two of us are regulars on Discord, and we make a point not just to get back to people, but also to champion our users and their creations whenever we can through our social media.

How developing in the open made our app better

Users see your app differently than you do. They see it strictly in terms of its usefulness to them. At various times, you might see your app as everything from your baby, your livelihood, your dreams, or that thing that won't let you sleep. But none of that makes your app better. It only clouds your ability to see your app for what it truly is.

Users, on the other hand, know what they want to accomplish through your app. And we're just fortunate enough that some will tell you when it isn't working for them. Good app design isn't about getting your users to do something you've designed for them to do, it's about helping them do something they want to do.

It's a small distinction, but there's an important lesson in it: The best user experience is one where the user is able to forget about the tool and just do the thing.

As a developer, it's tempting to think that that makes your job less rewarding, that your work being less visible diminishes it, but that's not true. The output of your users is what your app makes possible, and that's a stronger source of inspiration anyway.

Users being honest keeps you seeing your app clearly. It keeps you honest with yourself about your app. That's why even though users being brutally honest is one of the toughest parts about that relationship, it’s also one of the best parts. Your app and your business need brutal honesty, and you’re often less likely to get it from someone the closer they are to you.

So while it’s been hard at times, it’s also given us a steady push that has allowed us to watch our app take shape in ways it never would have without them. That’s something special.

In retrospect, I don't think we could successfully develop Flipside in any other way, and we're very grateful for our community, their encouragement, their honesty, and their patience. We're in it for the long haul, and we're going to need the ongoing support of a community not to burn out along the way.

Here's a little video reel we made to celebrate what our amazing community have been creating in Flipside:

 

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Check out some other amazing content #madeinflipside

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