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Gaming to medical simulation: Leveling up

The quality and performance of VR graphics and haptics in the Medtech space goes unrivaled by the games industry. Could medical simulation be your next career move?
Written by Jenny O'Malley
Published September 27, 2022

Breaking into the gaming industry, and staying there, is the aspiration of many a young developer enamored by virtual worlds. Exciting projects, innovative concepts, talented teams. But what happens after you have climbed Everest? The answer is not as remote as you might think. 

FundamentalVR’s Vicky Smalley (CTO), Alex Hillman (Head of Production), and Scott Lamb (VP of Engineering) are all key players within the company that have led successful careers at the cutting edge of gaming – working for the likes of Sony, Microsoft Xbox, Guerrilla Games, and Kuato Studios. They have since sought out and mastered the equally fascinating, ultimately more impactful, world of medical VR, using their skillset to create immersive, haptic-enhanced surgical simulations. 

They share with us how and why they decided to move away from gaming into the medical VR space, the challenges they faced, the opportunities that were revealed, and the happy surprises discovered post-transition. The possibilities in medical simulations are truly endless for developers at any stage of their career.

Vicky’s journey

Vicky has always followed where cutting-edge technology takes her. After studying Artificial Intelligence at university, Vicky dove straight into the games industry where she created Playstation, PC, and mobile games – developing a keen interest in educational games in particular.

Having been in the games industry for over 20 years, working for both independent games companies and high-profile organizations such as Sony, Vicky was seeking a new challenge:

“All the games jobs were more of the same, more of what I’d done before, but FundamentalVR was virtual reality and haptics and immersive tech and just had the most exciting tech I could possibly think of. I was drawn in by the technology.”

Vicky was one of FundamentalVR’s first hires – laying down the initial code for the Fundamental Surgery platform, helping to expand the team, and growing our capabilities.


Alex’s journey

Alex has led a successful career in gaming, having worked at Microsoft, Sony, Guerilla Games, and more. As he had been part of the games industry since 1992, he felt that he should now branch away from this sector and into another:

“I got to the point where, probably 5 years ago, as I was coming up on 50 (I was only 50 two years ago), it was starting to dawn on me that I was getting old(er) and I couldn’t see myself doing games at 60. And then for me, my thought process was very much like, ‘So what do you do then? This is the only thing you’ve done in your life, make games’.”

From here Alex explored various avenues, landing on VR as a medium that not only makes great games more immersive, but also provides immense educational value. He is now posted at FundamentalVR to elevate the production of our surgical simulations.

Alex has a core goal for FundamentalVR: “I want Fundamental to be the Netflix of Medicine. Anything and everything is what you would come to us for.”


Scott’s journey

Scott developed a love of VR as a child, becoming interested in the VR of the early 90s which he said was ‘pretty rubbish’. From here, Scott went on to study Computer Science at university and quickly moved into the gaming industry – creating Playstation 1, PC, and mobile games for a number of studios.

He first found an interest in education-based games at Kuato Studios, where he was developing a game that had a strong bias towards an educational outcome:

“That fit nicely into my life as I’ve got a kid of exactly the same target demographic and it was very much in my heart to see that instead of just plonking kids in front of tablets to burn their time up, we could actually come up with good human outcomes – they’ve sat there and they’ve learned something from this. So those human outcomes were as important to me back then as they are now.”

This appreciation for human outcomes served Scott well when several years later he left the world of mobile gaming to help FundamentalVR achieve its goal of revolutionizing medical training globally.


Making the switch: Challenges, parallels, and differences

So is VR the next natural career step for ex-industry gamers? The VR space is developing rapidly and the technology that is backing this evolution is second to none. The use of kinesthetic haptics, quality graphics, and multi-user virtual spaces all serve to provide a new level of immersion. For game developers seeking alternative career paths, this may be the paradise they had envisioned – one that is breaking into the 4th dimension and has no intention of slowing its influence.

Highlighting this is the way virtual reality is penetrating into the medical sector, where it has been so much embraced by the healthcare industry that the quality and performance of the VR graphics and haptics go unrivaled by its gaming counterpart. At FundamentalVR alone, our high fidelity surgical simulations have become a certified, reliable way of upskilling surgeons and preparing them for real-life procedures.

Medical VR is now the spearhead of virtual and haptic technology, superseding game VR in more ways than one. The most prominent being that with surgical VR development, your hard work will always be shown:

One of the bad things about the games industry is that you can work on a project for 5 years and it may never even see the light of day. Whereas with these medical projects at FVR, I know that they’re going to be released, I know what we are making is well defined. I know that people are going to use the software, which isn’t always guaranteed in the games industry.”

Vicky Smalley, CTO at FundamentalVR
Gaming to medical simulation

There can be nothing more satisfying than comfortably closing one chapter and starting a new, and with medical simulation this is a guarantee. The pages that follow will be new, exciting, and challenging, as proven by Alex and Scott who share what they have encountered at FundamentalVR so far:

“The main challenge is time – we’re growing fast, we’re busy. When I came in we were shifting from a startup to a grown up company. And in one sense for me, the challenge was to share my knowledge of how larger companies operate, bring that experience and put it into place quickly. The good thing is everyone has been pretty willing to go for it and to know we need to learn rapidly.”

Alex Hillman, Head of Production at FundamentalVR

“I’ve not yet looked at enough real-life surgery videos to become immune to the content quite yet. In one of our meetings I was surprised by some fairly strong images and thought, ‘Oh wow, deep breaths!’. Happily, though, even though I’m quite squeamish, my response is very much tempered by understanding that there’s a good human outcome at the other end of it – and that’s why we sometimes have to look at these things.”

Scott Lamb, VP of Engineering at FundamentalVR

Pleasant surprises

Despite the adjustment period you may face with Medtech, this sector will open you up to unprecedented experiences that may well become the highlight(s) of your career. The team share some of the unexpected surprises they uncovered after settling in at FundamentalVR:

“I flew out to Las Vegas for a big surgical conference and we were in a tiny little stand right on the edge of the conference hall which was massive and we were demoing with the HaptX glove on our platform. The surgeons really could see the power of the haptics delivered through this new hardware. We had the largest queues of any stands in the whole place – our competitors were there and they kept coming over to have a look at us. Even though we were tucked away in the corner, we were so busy because it’s just so exciting and everyone wanted to try it, so we gave demo after demo after demo. It definitely was one of the best experiences while I’ve been working at FundamentalVR.”

Vicky Smalley, CTO

Production typically is the discipline where when a project is going well, the team gets the credit, and when a project is going badly, the production team gets blamed. It’s just historically how that works. But here it’s not felt that way – I’ve felt welcomed and wanted. That was a pleasant surprise. I’ve enjoyed working with everybody I would say, and that’s not always the case at a job.”

Alex Hillman, Head of Production

It’s been nice to see from everyone that I speak to, the same sort of motivational reasons for being in this kind of working group seem to exist. The belief in good, common human outcomes, that actually take humanity forward somewhere and take medicine forward somewhere, that people are going to benefit from.  And there is nothing awful to be said for making entertainment that people play at a bus stop for 5 minutes, I did it for 20-odd years so I’m not flicking that in the bin. But the idea that when we finish things somebody will have a better surgery at some point, some doctor will become more skilled, is brilliant and it seems that everybody I talk to at FundamentalVR has that in their hearts.”

Scott Lamb, VP of Engineering

A fundamental game changer

Medical simulation in virtual reality is becoming more popular day by day as it increasingly fulfills the needs of growing Life Science businesses and Healthcare Providers, as well as reaching the homes of everyday consumers. These are just a few anecdotes from established members of our development team who witnessed this rise in powerful technology in the surgical space and made the incredibly meaningful, yet seamless, move to become a part of it at FundamentalVR.  

The opportunities in medical simulation are endless, and should you want to be part of this new age of technology, you will need to come aboard the virtual train sooner rather than later.  

Step into the future.

Looking to make a career move? View our open positions here.

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