Interview With ‘BUG and BlockchainIST’ Founders
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Aug. 23, 2018
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There are two industries constantly evolving and growing at a rapid pace. The newer one, a technological breakthrough; blockchain has already started to shape our way of life and will keep changing how we buy diamonds, track our spare parts, order medicine and do business in the future. The slightly more established one, makes up the biggest entertainment industry; gaming has come a long way and it looks like it still has more to surprise us with.

Bahçeşehir University in Turkey has both of these areas covered by ‘BUG and BlockchainIST’, formally Bahcesehir University Gaming and the Blockchain & Innovation Centers of Istanbul, with both of them being first of such institutions in the country. Insider.Pro spoken exclusively to the founders of both of these centers.

‘BAU Blockchain and Innovation Center of Istanbul’ or ‘BlockchainIST’ is the first research and development center in Turkey for blockchain technology, established within Bahçeşehir University in Istanbul.

It is located in the heart of the ancient city, in the Besiktas area. Before the conquest of Istanbul back in 1453, this area was outside of the Byzantine city of Constantinople and the region was frequently targeted by pirates sailing into the Black Sea. Now it is an extremely busy hub, connected to almost every part of the city by land and sea. In other words, it is an ideal location for a decentralized innovation center.

“Most basic definition of efficiency is not to waste resources”

The center co-operates smoothly alongside all other university departments and utilizes top notch technologies nurtured within its establishment, maximize efficiency of the information flow.

It might have low milage on it’s engine, but it has all the bells and whistles screwed in all the right places. The founder of BlockchainIST, Bora Erdamar succeeded in gathering top tier professionals to form an executive and advisory boards, mentors committee, research assistants and coordinators. Most notable among them are:

  • Mr. Hakan Yurdakul, Head of Economy, Monitoring Presidency of the Republic of Turkey;
  • Mr. Emin Gür Sirer, Associate Professor of Computer Science at Cornell University;
  • Mr. Mehmet Sabır Kiraz​, Associate Professor & Director of Blockchain Research Labs in TUBİTAK (The Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey);
  • Mr. Ender Kurtulan, Deputy Head of Market Oversight and Enforcement on Capital Markets Board of Turkey.

However it all starts with the founder, director Bora Erdamar, who’s passionate about his research and was happy to talk to us about his brainchild.

He divided the mission of BlockchainIST into four main categories:

1- Education

“Our first mission is to educate students about blockchain and prepare them for the future,” said Mr. Erdamar. He considers the biggest demand regarding blockchain is know-how and there are very few well formed professionals in the area. To tackle this they have three options:

  • provide blockchain lectures as part of the bachelor programmes;
  • ministry of education approved a Fintech Masters program, which will commence this September and already began accepting students;
  • a blockchain masters program is being developed for early 2019.

2-Network

Mr. Erdamar considers hosting activities, events and conferences as a basic function to form networking perspective for the University. His main focus regarding networking is as follows: “To come together with other universities and governmental bodies to discuss and research in detail the blockchain technology as well as doing our part to assist authorities and regulators in setting up a correct and efficient legal framework for blockchain.”

3-Projects

“We will develop blockchain-based applications which will be used in daily life”

Bora Erdamar started regarding academical projects by saying: “My personal mission’s biggest part is academical research… I don’t mean only writing academic research papers, but I also mean creating projects that will touch upon the lives of people, solve local and global needs and show that this technology is not only about finance.”

At this point he also asks to remember that early internet users were just exposed to the new technology but used chat programs and sent emails to make their lives more comfortable. “I foresee a similar development for blockchain technology,” he adds “to be able to send an email you don’t need to know all the protocols and technical details, same with blockchain technology from the users’ perspective, you don’t need to know all the details to be able to use applications developed for your needs.”

4-Consulting

The center is closely cooperating with all other divisions of the university and interdisciplinary projects are encouraged.

BlockchainIST will provide consultancy to companies in areas of product design, whitepapers, marketing and more importantly testing in their blockchain lab.

Interview With ‘BUG and BlockchainIST’ Founders
meunierd/Shutterstock.com

“BlockchainIST is working on blockchain integration into experimental and behavioral economics as well”

According to Mr. Erdamar, BlockchainIST’s main difference from other blockchain-related hubs that are appearing all around the world is that the blockchain is being integrated with experimental and behavioral economics (this area won a 2017 Nobel prize) and this is not a common subject to research and study for such centers. Blockchain brings leading and different products whose values can’t be explained within a classic demand and supply theory. Mr. Erdamar adds: “Testing such products in Experimental Economy Lab and researching how these products are perceived by users is extremely important for us. And I can say easily that we are the only one in the world working in this area!”

There is a huge demand from students to register for blockchain lectures. Students who couldn’t register, will be able to participate in projects as part of the Students Blockchain Club which will be launched soon.

To the question about the effects of economic crisis on blockchain industry and center Mr. Erdamar replied: “I have a prediction and expectation regarding this matter. Such economic atmosphere can be perceived as a time for opportunities for visionary leaders to invest in new developments and technologies in order to create a difference. Countries are developing projects to benefit their economies just like Malta or Dubai does.

“I expect to see recognition of mistakes on the way like trying to accomplish many things in short term instead of taking a long term visions for economy, to analyze the crisis from a different point of view, and to see a rise in the support on projects in that direction.”

Bora Erdamar finished his words by drawing attention to two important points: Blockchain is not only about cryptocurrencies and blockchain technology is not a single technology.

“I hope blockchain will be understood better by companies and people, implemented to the businesses where it can make a difference.”

Now onto the: BUG!

The home of BUG, BAU Galata is in one of the oldest areas of Istanbul, Karakoy, a neighborhood, which witnessed many firsts for the region and the world. Now, it’s full of buzzing tourists, hipster cafes and beautiful women taking selfies in front of vividly colored graffitis, Karakoy was one of the first major trading ports in this part of the world back in Byzantine times.

“If the system is not working a BUG is needed to fix it”

BUG was founded by its Director, Güven Çatak back in 2012. BUG evolved from a community hub to a full blown division of a university with a very popular masters degree (BUG master - The Digital Game Design Graduate Program) and a recently launched bachelors (BUG jr.) program. It’s Turkey’s first gaming faculty under the roof of a reputable university.

Gaming industry is growing day by day. According to newzoo this year 2,3 billion gamers will spend more than $137 billion on games globally, just to compare - the movie industry is expected to gain only $44 billion in revenue this year according to statista.com.

BUG’s story starts with Dr. Çatak. He is always a smiley, polite and a very busy gentleman. It’s not an easy job to inspire so many people with all the responsibilities coming attached to the position. BUG seeks to provide a lot of room for creativity, freedom and it constantly challenges the minds of students with international events like hackathons, career days, gamification workshops and conferences…

There are interdisciplinary classes to build a base for students in game design, interactive narrative and game production. BUG allows students to dive in technologies like augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR) and even artificial intelligence (AI). Being part of BUG, opens new perspectives for anyone, potentially meeting with talent-seekers from the global industry giants, starting careers in local startups who can achieve remarkable goals.

Oh and they have a kitchen...

It is where the teams cook up their ideas for developing games. Its an incubator for game developers and students with great ideas, where professionals from the gaming industry meet those with fresh new ideas. And it is an actual working kitchen, where students or event participants can cook and eat. BUG has international fame as well. Dr. Çatak hosts many international events at BUG. He takes his team to attend gaming-related events around the world. Afterall around 20% of their students are foreigners.

“Our groundwork is in place, from now on we are having success stories”

What motivates the students to study at BUG? Do they use it as a stepping stone to jump to projects abroad? In response to that Dr. Çatak says: “BUG is not only a Turkey focused initiative, it has a global network and from the very beginning its approach was to build various international bridges between universities, community hubs and companies. It’s true that some see it as a stepping stone since students have a chance to get on board with international projects… After all this is a global industry. People are coming here to learn how to design, develop, monetize and market their games, which can get international recognition as well.”

Among many examples of successes, the most recent one is accomplished by Suji Games, a small group of BUG’s master program students’ mobile game, which became an Editor’s Pick on Apple Store. Their project was also cooked in a BUG’s kitchen.

Regarding the global aspects of BUG, he mentioned the latest event they attended in Tehran, Iran and said: “BUG initiated a move to expand its presence in the Middle East. Our attendance of ‘Tehran Istanbul Play Game Jam’ at ‘Tehran Game Con’ marked the start for this move.”

Dr. Çatak also mentioned that the current economic situation Turkey is in and that creating a negative perception, doesn’t actually affect BUG or the gaming industry. He believes gaming industry has a lot of expansion space. Due to relatively lower production costs companies can develop several mobile games and if one them will become a hit, it will be their flagship which would take the company further.

BUG has several dynamic partnerships with companies from the industry such as Crytek. VRFirst, Crytek’s VR laboratory opened in BUG, and nowadays it exists in over 49 universities internationally. Dr. Çatak considers partnerships as friendships. Another friend of BUG is Gram games which was bought by an industry giant Zynga after their huge success with ‘1010!’ game. Friends who are giving lectures, sharing experiences and even recruiting potential students to their ranks. Small companies emerge, merge and sometimes disappear in this business, it’s a quite slippery ground, thus dynamic partnerships. “Game industry will never be a rigid industry,” he says while adding that “Being flexible and adaptive is also our trait in the education sector. Gaming is changing, gamers are changing, technology is changing, so we need to adapt to this change, we need to be flexible.”

BUG is number one in Turkey because it evolved from a community center, however it still is very much community oriented. Being first has advantages such as visibility, credibility and recognition, but what about disadvantages? Dr Çatak answers “Expectations. Even our own expectations from ourselves are very high.”

We learned that BUG is always open to interdisciplinary cooperation since they are looking at gaming not only in the perspective of entertainment. Educational games, serious games (simulations for different industries), AR & VR involved experience design… Dr. Çatak and his BUG has it all. Recently they took part in a hackathon for Goethe Institute dealing with language learning with VR or on mobile.

“We are a self sustaining circle”

BUG’s founder Dr. Çatak’s final comments underlined the importance of the community and how they are a self sustaining circle, similar to an ouroboros: “Master BUG students are becoming teachers of BUG Jr., Professional teams in our ‘kitchen’ are becoming mentors of Master BUG and BUG Jr. while students can become their interns or playtesters, everyone can come and work together in Jams”. Basically once you are a part of this community, information and experience flow works both ways.

It is clear that BUG lives and breathes through its community, and this is a mutual relationship.

Expect more success stories to come out of BUG.

We kept saying computers and digital technologies improved our lives. Apparently we are still at the first steps of the digital evolution. If our future holds safe, fast, dependable and efficient ways of to arrange our lives, communities like BlockchainIST and BUG are set to become the backbone for that future.

Insider.Pro thanks both founders Bora Erdamar and Güven Çatak for their time.

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