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Episode 8: DSM Games Company Hatchlings Leading the Way in Augmented Reality

Startup Stories DSM Hatchlings

June 29, 2018

Greater Des Moines (DSM) games company, Hatchlings, recently turned 10 years old. In that time, it has amassed 15 million users and shares a prestigious award with Tesla’s Elon Musk.

A Facebook Game

The company began when DSM entrepreneur Brad Dwyer started a Facebook game called The Worldwide Easter Egg Hunt, which became a viral sensation amassing 1 million users in its first year. In the game, players from around the globe try to collect all 5,000+ different eggs and compete to get the highest score each month.

An Augmented Reality App

Working out of Gravitate in Downtown DSM, his company has since created several more hit games including the app, Magic Sudoku.

Self-described as naturally curious, Dwyer shared on the Startup Stories DSM podcast how he likes to build things and experiment with new technology. After Apple announced their augmented reality library, ARKit, Dwyer saw it as opportunity to see how it would change the way we interact with computers. He began by building a sudoku solver.

“It was the intersection of what is now possible that wasn’t possible before and what am I capable of building,” Dwyer told Startup Stories DSM host Mike Colwell. “It was a mashup of computer vision, machine learning and augmented reality and it ended up taking the world by storm, almost.”

The app was featured on the front page of Reddit, in Fast Company and was the number one post on Imgur.

“It was a whirlwind of a week or two,” Dwyer said.

The video demonstrating the app got viewed over 5 million times.

“Looking forward I think, almost accidentally, I stumbled upon something that could be a lot bigger than that,” Dwyer said. “Augmented reality and computer vision has been an area now that I’m super passionate about. I think that’s a big part of the future and so I’m trying to figure out, where do we go from there? We found this nugget of an idea and how do we develop that further into something that can hopefully change the world.” 

The app won a Golden Kitty Award for Top Augmented Reality App of the Year in 2017. Colwell described it as the equivalent of getting an Academy Award.

“It’s cool Elon Musk has one on his bookshelf — that’s a neat club to be a part of,” Dwyer said.

Dwyer and his team have since developed another AR app for the iPhone X — a face control game called Nose Zone that’s received 20,000 downloads. A Snapchat-esq app named Facelings is under development that turns the user’s face into an animal. 

“The mashup of computer vision with augmented reality I think is going to be super world changing and it’s amazing to me how quickly that field is developing,” Dwyer said. “Making dumb things smart with computer vision and augmented reality is going to be a theme for the next couple of years for me.”

Hackathon Event

Dwyer’s company recently hosted its Hatchlings Game Jam — a hackathon supporting the ecosystem of developers in DSM that had teams build a finished game in 36 hours. The event raised $12,000 for Pi515, which supports underprivileged refugee children in DSM.

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