Unifying Social Media and Gaming Through Generative AI With Negar Shaghaghi

Negar Shaghaghi

Negar Shaghaghi is the Co-founder and CEO of Auxuman, a game technology company with a mission to bridge the divide between social media and gaming. With a remarkable career trajectory, Negar served as an AI Product Leader for the past six years, showcasing her expertise and leadership in the dynamic intersection of artificial intelligence and product development. Under her guidance, Auxuman thrives as a pioneering force, shaping the future of interactive experiences and redefining the landscape where technology, gaming, and social engagement converge.

Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn: 

  • Negar Shaghaghi discusses Auxworld and the inspiration behind the game
  • Why Negar was exiled from Iran
  • Negar shares her outlook on the future of AI in gaming and social media
  • Companies innovating industry progress
  • Who is Auxworld’s target audience?
  • Marketing challenges game developers and entrepreneurs encounter
  • How Negar incorporates player feedback into game designs
  • Negar’s strategies for nurturing and expanding her community
  • The lessons Negar learned from startup fundraising

In this episode…

The convergence of social media and gaming represents a powerful synergy that empowers companies to redefine user experiences. So why should companies actively bridge the gap between social media and gaming?

Game developer Negar Shaghaghi explains that merging both realms allows for expanded reach, enhanced user interaction, and community building, among other benefits. By integrating social media and gaming, companies like Auxuman can tap into a wider audience pool. These types of enterprises continue to push the boundaries of innovation by constructing ecosystems where users can fluidly move between interconnected worlds. This approach marks a significant shift in how players perceive and engage with digital entertainment. With each advancement, companies like Auxuman actively contribute to the evolution of a digital landscape, promising exciting possibilities for users and content creators.

In this episode of the Here’s Waldo Podcast, Lizzie Mintus interviews Negar Shaghaghi, Co-founder and CEO of Auxuman, about the benefits of unifying gaming and social media. Negar shares her outlook on the future of AI in the gaming world, the challenges game developers and entrepreneurs encounter, how she incorporates player feedback into her game designs, and the lessons she learned from her startup venture.

Resources Mentioned in this episode

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Episode Transcript

Welcome to the Here's Waldo Podcast, where we sit down with top visionaries and creatives in the video game industry. Together, we'll unravel their journeys and learn more about the path they're forging ahead. Now, let's get started with the show.

Lizzie Mintus: I'm Lizzie Mintus, founder and CEO of Here's Waldo Recruiting, a boutique video game recruitment firm. This is the Here's Waldo Podcast. In every episode, we dive deep into conversations with creatives, founders and executives about what it takes to be successful. You can expect to hear valuable lessons from their journey and get a glimpse into the future of the industry.

This episode is brought to you by Here's Waldo Recruiting, a boutique recruitment firm for the game industry. We value quality over quantity, transparency, communication, and diversity. We partner with companies, creatives, and programmers to understand the why behind their needs. Today we have Negar Shaghaghi with us.

Negar is the CEO and co founder of Auxuman, a game technology company that wants to close the gap between social media and gaming. She has been an AI product leader for the past six years. Welcome to the show. Thank you for being here. And I'm glad that we could meet at GamesBeat.

Negar Shaghaghi: Yeah. Hi. Thanks for having me. I'm so glad that we met.

Lizzie Mintus: Can you tell everybody a little bit more about your company and your game?

Negar Shaghaghi: Absolutely. Auxworld, which is our first game, is an online multiplayer game that allows players to generate infinitely new dream worlds from what's trending in the world. Like you said, we always wanted to close this gap between social media and gaming.

We find social media fascinating in the way that it connects people to culture. And if you look at the typical day in a young person's world, they toggle between social media and games. Social media is a good way for them to connect to culture, but most of the time their engagement is very passive. You just look at it.

And we always had this thesis that the best way to experience the situation is through play. So we created Auxworld because of it. We wanted people to have the same experience they have on social media. It's always something new in front of you. We understand what triggers people, what motivates people, different people liking different things, and wanted to bring that into an immersive and fun gameplay.

Lizzie Mintus: And so the game learns more about you and what you like throughout the process and then tailors it for you, or you're controlling it and telling it what you want to see or both?

Negar Shaghaghi: Yeah. Your first starting point as a player is a social trend. You might be interested in a music or song that's playing a movie that's recently come out or generally TikTok hashtag. So our system knows these trends and creates a game based off of that. So we don't want people to concern themselves with the labor of creation. We just want to know what they're interested in today, which might change, they might not be interested in tomorrow, but that's why we have this adaptive system.

You give it a starting point. Hey, here's what I'm interested in. And then you dive into a game session. And as you play, we learn more about what you're interested in, what kind of experiences you're interested in and try to tune it to your preferences.

Lizzie Mintus: Can you talk about what led you to starting this and your journey to get here so far?

Negar Shaghaghi: I actually come from a very weird background. I started in music and entertainment. Me and one of the founders, we made the movie. This is in 2009, back in Iran. It was about underground music scene in Iran. And when the movie won a prize in Cannes, it meant that we couldn't go back to our country.

We were exiled and we had to go and live in the UK. We lived in London. We created music for a while and we were always interested in culture, music, movies, and the strong pull that it has on people. But also gaming as a form of entertainment was very interesting for us. I think we brushed with gaming in many different ways.

We use gaming as a way for people to experience music in a spatial way. I used game technology to build a health simulation system, which was basically allowing people to play what if scenarios like what if you have this kind of lifestyle or that lifestyle and it showed you how your body will turn out. It is a great way to bring people to understand a situation. So that's how we got into gaming and Isabella, my co founder has been a game designer for many years, just created a lot of fun games done with, we're obsessed with playing during COVID and then later in life, I got very interested in data.

And I took a degree in data science with a machine learning kind of pathway and got involved in the more the dry data parts. Auxworld is a kind of combination of our experience, our fascination with culture, and you know how data plays into it. And yeah, here we are.

Lizzie Mintus: I like that. It's all of your passions. And so you one of your co founders you met in Iran. And then how did you connect with Isabella?

Negar Shaghaghi: Isabella, we met in London. I think maybe it was like five, six years ago, we connected over a project, which was creating the world's first fully automated virtual singer. We had this idea of music being something that can be personalized to different tastes and it can take cues from how people experience music. And we wanted to create this kind of fully automated virtual character that has, uses generative AI to make music and lyrics and kind of evolve.

On its own based on how people interact with it. And Isabella had a very good background in CGI. And we connected then and understood a lot about the complexities of how to apply AI to this consumer product. How, what is the delivery of it? We always wanted to plug this, a virtual character inside a game engine. And that's how that idea evolved into kind of Auxworld being a more holistic experience. We still use a lot of the learnings from that project and we bring it into Auxworld, but it turned into more holistically, how we look at games and how can they be adaptive with data.

Lizzie Mintus: And I feel like it must be so much easier to work and start a company with someone you've had this great working relationship with for a while.

Negar Shaghaghi: Absolutely. I think good companies are built on trust. I feel like that's something that all of us have. And that kind of collaborative nature when you have the trust, it makes it so much easier.

Lizzie Mintus: And fun, even if there is so much work.

Can you talk about the future of AI meets the future of games and the future of social media and how you view all of that?

Negar Shaghaghi: Yeah, I think it's interesting. AI and gaming, a lot of the trends that I see with new companies coming out, most of them are very much focused on accelerating existing pipelines. So allowing more people to be game creators, or generating assets faster, anything you want can come into being.

And I think there's a lot of value in doing that, process of making games faster, more accessible to people. But I think there is a big assumption hidden there, and that assumption is that a lot of people want to create games. Our experience with Auxworld was when we first started, we basically put an empty box in front of people.

And we were like, type what kind of game you want. And we found out that, people were divided in two groups. Some of them were creative. They already had a very specific idea of what kind of game they want, and a lot of the times they were disappointed with the constraints. They wanted zero constraints on the platform. And then there were people who were players and just wanted to have fun, and this kind of empty box, even if it would make anything you want was a bit daunting to them.

So we realized that not many people want to create, but there is still this desire for consuming more and more content, new things. And that's what draws people to social media. There's no effort when you open your TikTok. There's something already in front of you and it's through you interacting with that content that the platform kind of tunes itself and puts the right thing in front of you. The more you use it. So that's how we believe AI is going to be important or interesting, which is more focused on the play experience.

How can we give people this kind of infinite possibilities so that there's always something new? There's something that they're familiar with. It has a hint in the real world But they also don't have to work for it. I think that creates a lot of opportunities. If you think about how other platforms have brought culture into games, for example, the Travis Scott concert in Fortnite, they're all very long processes, a lot of convoluted licensing agreements, a lot of things that have to work for a piece of culture, which is Travis Scott to come into Fortnite. We believe that there's so many different elements. When it comes to culture, it's the vibe. It's the music. Yes, it's the IP, but it's a small part of it. So what we wanted to create was how can we bring all these cultural cues into the game? I think there's a big opportunity there.

Lizzie Mintus: I have a spicier question. How are you dealing with trademark issues and copyright issues in the world of AI. How do you train your AI to avoid that?

Negar Shaghaghi: Yeah, our art is all in house. We're going to open our platform for people to submit basically their art to the platform.

That's something that we're looking at. So we don't really infringe upon copyright. The platform is not in that situation that we would have those concerns. It's for us, it's all about vibes. So you use a piece of music or a song or movie, not for its IP, but for the vibe that it creates.

For example, you are thinking about Stranger Things. It's it's dark, it's moody. Maybe it has like a kind of atmospheric music to it. It's raining and you have to do your quest in that kind of environment. So it creates that association, but we also think that there is a good opportunity for us to bring in branded assets, but we are aware of the complexities that come with obtaining licenses and so on.

Lizzie Mintus: Yeah, that makes sense. I'm excited to see your future. Collaborations with big brands or big DJs or who knows. There's definitely a new world for that.

What companies are you really inspired by that you feel are moving the needle in terms of user generated content or AI and games or even just really pushing the industry forward? I feel like there's so much innovation right now. It's hard to keep up.

Negar Shaghaghi: Yeah, absolutely. I think a lot of the older platforms like Fortnite and Roblox. I think they're doing a really great job in incorporating these tools. A lot of the a lot of the times, especially in the case of Roblox. I think it's such an outlier that they define their own rules, for example, the way that they're on app store.

 I think it's very hard to replicate that for a lot of other companies, but it's always good to see how making the process of creation much easier, what would it lead up to? I think we will see a lot of niche content that people didn't really think there is a time and a place, and it could have failed. You allow these kind of niche content to come out and find their foothold. So I think still, these platforms are really interesting to see. I think there's a lot of value in asset generation companies, creating a 3D mesh. I think we're still not there. A lot of them are not game ready and still a lot of manual work has to be done on it to make it game ready. But once we get there, there's going to be a lot of value in that.

I'm starting to see more and more companies that are thinking about player experience. For example, Hidden Door is a good one. Although they're in a very different genre, I think it's very good to see people thinking about.

Using Ai beyond accelerating production pipelines and thinking about can we imagine play and play experience in a way that it wasn't possible before? It's exciting. When you think about gaming itself, it's so new compared to cinema. We're like at the very beginning of seeing AI being applied in this space. It's going to be interesting the next few years.

Lizzie Mintus: Yeah. And they're really exciting. People can have customized experience, like you said. And I like the idea of social media and games. Everybody's playing games too, right? However many years ago, maybe when we were kids, I think it was less common for everybody to play games, but now it's so universal.

Negar Shaghaghi: Absolutely. More than 3 billion people. It's not a small crowd.

Lizzie Mintus: It is. Who do you think, or maybe you know, who is your target audience? Is it the same players as the Roblox or Fortnite, or different entirely?

Negar Shaghaghi: So our target audience is mostly social gamers, people between 17 to 24, I would say, and people who are looking at games as a means for communication, because I think with the live service games coming, gaming is shifting from just an artistic vision. That still exists with a lot of indie games.

They're exploring a lot of creative concepts and it's so fascinating to see and play. And I think that's always going to be there, but we have also seen this kind of new category of games emerging where they're more for communication, socialization. When you think about the platform, like Roblox, to me, it's firstly a place for you to hang out with your friends. And then you play the games that are there. You're not there just because of the games.

So this kind of shifting role of gaming is very interesting. We're targeting that side, people who want to express themselves through games.

One of the interesting stats that I want to share is that one in four gamers are interested in sharing game content or becoming influencers. So it goes to show a lot of people find memes inside the game. We're seeing a lot of users are using Auxworld for funny moments. We can see that coming out, which is interesting.

We're seeing about 10 percent of the people who join our platform are game streamers. They went from small, with only a handful of followers to thousands and thousands. And the way that they're using Auxworld is collaborating with their communities.

What kind of games should we play? What is going on in the world? Barbie movie is coming out. Can we turn that into a game that we can all enjoy. So that has been very interesting insights. And I think we want to really capture that audience.

Lizzie Mintus: You have any memorable stories or experiences that have come out so far from people playing the game?

Negar Shaghaghi: One of the funny things that happen usually during streaming Auxworld is, you're in the stream and you have about 20 minutes to find your way out of the portal. You have to stack different objects that you find in your environment and go up.

And I remember there was a one live stream session and it's 30 seconds left to your timer being up. And Chewie, who was streaming the game, is walking on the thinnest log of wood, very far from the ground. And everyone was just like, please don't fall, please don't fall. And in the end, he fell.

And he had to just climb back up within five seconds to make his way out of the portal. And everyone was just like, no, you're gonna make it. So we've seen a lot of those kind of. fun moments. Will he make it? Will he not make it?

Lizzie Mintus: What other feedback are you getting so far? I know we're recording in November and this will come out a bit later, but what are people saying so far?

Negar Shaghaghi: I think one of the interesting things people have said is around the vibe. People really like the balance between casually exploring the world, but you also are up against the clock. And every time based on different trends, you see the world changing and the objects that you used to climb is very different.

But, the vibe is something that we get a lot from the people, especially around the music. One of the things that we do is, we match music to the sentiment of a trend. For example, the kind of music that you see, it matches really well with the world. When you're in that world for that 20 minutes, you really immerse into experiencing a vibe, be a bit like horror and scary or very chill.

 So that has been one of the more interesting feedback that I've got.

Lizzie Mintus: What were some of the biggest surprises or challenges to get your game out in the wild.

Negar Shaghaghi: I think anyone who has experienced making games knows that game marketing and going to market is a big part of your innovation.

And I think, lesson learned is that you basically have to innovate the same way that you innovate in your technology in how you want to capture audience and how do you keep them coming back. And I think thinking and being obsessed with those questions helped us a lot in building our technology because the game from the moment that we started to not the final product, but the kind of launchable product.

It went through a lot of iterations and I think that we constrain the technology so much more because we wanted to optimize for retention and giving people a reason to come back, and what really drives people to play a game. Because at the end of the day, players don't really care about the technology that you've used underneath.

They just want a fun experience. And the technology is just the how of that. So I think that was a big lesson. I was surprised to see how many content creators are interested in this game. It was good to see how they use it and how they're getting value out of it. For instance, one of the people who streamed our game gained 1000 followers after. Seeing these metrics made us really think, okay, there's a lot of value for content creators or people who are looking for just chatting or doing more casually connecting with their audience, which was not initially the target demographic that we were going after.

Lizzie Mintus: So you had some pivot always. How did you land on 20 minutes? Was that really a hard decision? Did you go back and forth a lot?

Negar Shaghaghi: I think we played around with that number quite a bit. There's not a scientific reason for 20 minutes. It came after a lot of play testing to seeing at what point do people might lose interest or they might drop off if something doesn't happen.

So there was a lot of tweaking based on just watching different people playing. Even when does the enemy come because after 10 minutes you have enemies coming. So if you fall, the stakes are higher. Now you have to kill the enemies as well. A lot of it was just from watching people playing and making it shorter or longer.

Lizzie Mintus: Yeah, player feedback. Can you talk to me about your development process and how you incorporated player feedback and at what stage the whole time? I know it's really challenging for people that make games to show their game when it's not necessarily ready to people and get feedback.

Negar Shaghaghi: Yeah, I think that's a really good point, because a lot of the times, I think games being such artistic visions traditionally, it's a lot of the times as a designer, as an artist, want to really polish your game and then put it out. And I think that creates a lot of risk for you because it's a hit or miss, but it's also very hard to let go of your creation. I have worked with other software for many years and i've seen you know software going out without A big bang and iterating and adapting. If we have a system that can easily be adapted.

 The cost of making changes or tweaking is not that high. I think there's not a lot of reasons for you to hold back because it's much more beneficial to go out early, even if it's not finished, seeing the feedback and tweaking based off of that. The way that we built our system was always with those analytics and behavior cues built into the product.

So we kind of constantly monitor that feedback loop and the feedback feeds back into the product. So it's part of the main product that we have. But yeah, I think we went out very early. We knew that there is bugs. We knew that it might be glitchy at points, but I was also very surprised in a nice way how supportive people where we collect feedback from people both qualitative and quantitative. People are very supportive, and they go beyond your early box and glitches and really pay attention to the play experience. And if it's fun, they keep coming back.

Lizzie Mintus: Yeah, I think that's what so many people have found. How are you thinking about maintaining this community that you've built and nurturing it as you grow?

Negar Shaghaghi: I think this idea of connecting the game to social trends, I think as different things around the world shifts and different concepts come in, Auxworld is always going to be new. We envisioned this platform to be a platform for discovery of culture and experiencing it in the same place. It's a little bit the same as how Tiktok became the number one platform for people to discover music and not Spotify. And that was always very interesting to me how that happened.

And I think it's when they took music and kind of put it on a dance or a kind of an experience that you as the user are making, it's not just about that piece of music. So that's how we're seeing it. I think it's something that evolves with the world. So there's always something new, but also we constantly do updates in terms of skins, unlockables packs, and we're very excited to work with other artists and brands to make this experience fresh.

Lizzie Mintus: That's exciting. Can you talk a little bit about how you have raised investment and what you've learned throughout your fundraising journey?

Negar Shaghaghi: Yeah, for sure. I think getting investment in the space of gaming has always been challenging.

I think what investors are very wary about is content risks. A lot of the times games that come out are either hit or miss. And this is a big risk for investors. Anyone who's fundraising, I think de risking that for investors can go a long way. One of the things that I've learned is, having those initial user metrics is very important, especially if they could be benchmarked with some industry averages. That's always super helpful and will help investors make a decision easier. I think either you fall into the category where the technology is extremely novel and some investors are interested in funding very novel technologies. A lot of the other investors who maybe invest in consumer or invest in more kind of experience side of things will need to see traction. Especially with gaming, I think retention metrics are super important. If you are building a game that the community is small, but that community finds this game sticky, that will be very reassuring in terms of the future of that game.

Lizzie Mintus: What metrics make a game sticky? What defines sticky?

Negar Shaghaghi: I think a sticky game is a game that people come back to. We see this a lot with UGC games, for example, they are played only once or. For example, if you have a loop, it's good to see, do people complete the quest? Like going back to your point earlier about how do you decide that 20 minutes because everyone who is in the field of entertainment, I would say, we're competing with very scarce time that someone has during their day. I don't know, two hours, three hours in a day that they want to watch a movie, they want to play a game, hang out with their friends, spend time on social media. So considering the number of companies in the space or competing for that scarce timeshare.

So optimization, even the minutes and the seconds become very very important. Game industry doesn't have a supply problem. There is a ton of different things for people to choose from, but there is a demand problem. How do you make someone to come back to your game?

What is the value add that you're offering to them? One interesting thing that I see is a lot of brands want to come and make game experiences and they use platforms like UEFN or Roblox to make a game. And you have a big artist name attached to it. Hundreds of thousands of dollars is spent on making that game, and one time people come to it and never go back.

That's very telling and I think that's ultimately the one thing that comes from creativity and your game design approach. What is that one loop that's going to be fun, easy to play, the learning curve is not a lot, so you don't have to think about it too much, but it's at the same time sticky enough. And that's comes with experimentation. Trying one game loop, does it work? Does it not? Why do people drop off? And then adjusting and adjusting. And the more these iteration cycles are shorter and cheaper. I think eventually the game will be sticky. The problem is a lot of the times, games can't afford to make so many experiments.

Lizzie Mintus: Or spend crazy amounts of money and then are so deep in their game before they get any player feedback.

Negar Shaghaghi: Exactly.

Lizzie Mintus: Seeing that lately is interesting. So nice that you do it from the start.

What are you most proud of? What's been the highlight in your entrepreneurial journey so far?

Negar Shaghaghi: I would say for any entrepreneur is when people start using your product. Because I think when you start is a lot of doubt is a lot of, will this work? Will this not work? It's just you and your co founders. Thinking, Oh, probably this is a bad idea, but we really want to do it.

And then when you put it out there and people are joining our discord, people are making content from our game. People want to stream our game and they're playing it. And they're coming back to playing it. I think that is the best reward that anyone can ask for.

Lizzie Mintus: Yeah, very true.

Where do you see your company going in the next couple of years? Are there any teasers of things to look forward to?

Negar Shaghaghi: Yeah, I think one of the things that I'm most looking forward to is the game being multiplayer. We started this game with that in mind. Right now it's a single player, so you're up against the clock to make your way out of the world, but we know that having a multiplayer experience is going to be so much fun. Also what I'm really interested in to see how people come and experience culture through gaming.

Bringing that experience of the world directly into the immersiveness of playing a game is something very interesting. I'm looking forward to see how that develops.

Lizzie Mintus: I'm looking forward to it too. I have one last question before I ask it. I want to point people to your website.

A U X W O R L D dot app. The last question I got from WIGI Women in Games International, but their programs are about, I wish I knew X at Y stage in my career. They call it a cheat code. So people don't have to make your mistakes, they can make their own other mistakes, right? But what kind of cheat codes or learnings do you have that you could share?

Negar Shaghaghi: I said this a bunch of times, but go out early. I think going out early and getting feedback is the best way to maximize your chances of success.

Lizzie Mintus: Yeah, absolutely. We've been talking to Nagar Shaghaghi CEO and co founder of Auxuman. Nagar, where can people go to contact you or learn more about you or play your game?

Negar Shaghaghi: To play the game, Auxworld is available on PC, so just head over to www. Auxworld. app to download for PC. We are on Discord with the same name, auxworld. And yeah, please join our community. Thanks so much.

Thanks so much for listening to the show this week. To catch all the latest from Here's Waldo, you can follow us on LinkedIn. Be sure to click subscribe to get future episodes. We'll see you next time.

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