Everybody: stay home. Those three words came as a worldwide shock earlier this year. Lockdown. Many traditional offices closed their doors. Social life plummeted. How were we supposed to stay connected, working and engaged?

Overnight, most of us jumped on Zoom, Teams, Skype calls. The old “this could have been an email” joke became “this could have been a phone call”. While useful, some of the teleconferencing solutions out there have been growing tiresome for people. They just feel… stale. More so, internal and client meetings might have been leaning on those formats but a whole industry, the event planning and production industry, found itself scratching its head. What now? 

Luckily, over the past decade(s), VR and AR have been making strides in terms of development. Things that seemed science fiction 10 years ago are on the way to becoming the norm. Want to see the Metro lines map in the palm of your hand? Here you go. Easy. 

We find ourselves holding the Zoom call features on one hand and the VR/AR potential on the other. The question we posed ourselves became clear then: How can VR/AR help us create people-centric virtual experiences? And really as important as that one: how do we make working in teams fun again?

Let’s get one thing out of the way early on: VR/AR are amazing now and their ceiling keeps being pushed higher and higher. However, they are not accessible to everybody yet. Not everyone has a laptop or smartphone powerful enough to process them and only a very small amount of people has access to the actual VR sets. Also, not everybody is ready to transition from 08:00 to 16:00 in the office to jumping into a VR headset or seeing objects floating around their home-office setup on daily basis. Pretending VR/AR are the answer is ignoring people’s feedback. And we really like people’s feedback. We love listening, learning and adapting. 

Credit goes to where credit is due, what many companies are doing just using Zoom or Teams is amazing. We have seen events with crazy engaging rhythm and extraordinary setups to give high end quality from the broadcasting point of view (shout out to Epicenter Studio!). They have proven that from the production side, one can do wonders. 

But our question is revolving around “people-centric experiences” and fun, isn’t it? Or, in one word, we really care about the audience. About, literally, you! And we think you have been comfortably sitting and consuming content for a while. Time to get active. Time to get you involved. How? 

Long story short: expand the goal of the event, of the meeting, of the audience’s reward. Don’t just aim for attendance and learning take-aways. Aim at exploration, discovery and fun. VR/AR are gateways to, literally, brand new worlds. World’s where what is real and what is virtual blend. Sprinkle that with the extraordinary power of modern video games, 3D, immersive and with unlimited worlds for one to roam and discover, and wrap it up with the closeness brought by tele-conference tools: to see one another, to read our expressions and feel less lonely. The cherry on top? Keep up with the event productions as a holistic exercise: attendance, learning, meeting, exploring, fun. 

The true people-centric virtual experience is one where you can log in into an event or a virtual world for the simple sake of discovering a new place: a custom-built world, mini-games hidden in plain sight, new people with whom to connect, and a schedule with inspiring keynotes, workshops and panel discussions. This experience gives you, the audience, the power to choose your own path. You’ll still be sitting in a comfortable chair in reality but might be going through something unexpected in virtual reality. This duality makes it fun, attractive and most important: an active experience. 

Listen, before we go, let’s be honest here: we, at ROND Productions, are not necessarily the most handsome folks around. We’re OK I guess. And still, we walked away from any form of avatar where we could hide our uncombed hair or unshaven faces behind. We decided months ago that one of the must haves in our virtual worlds would be to really be able to see each other. This was not an aesthetic motivation… but a consequence of realizing how cool it was to see your peers, friends and colleague’s reactions live even when you are thousands of kilometres away. So, here is the last key: no matter how much you can customize an avatar, no matter how cute you can make it look, choose hair colour and shirt type, it will still remain an “it”. And we don’t work with “its”. We work, we live and we laugh with you. 

As we continue our journey developing active audience VR/AR worlds we already think of upcoming challenges: technology keeps improving and people’s expectations will grow. However, there will still be a big chunk of the population, aging population, that might not be comfortable going “all in” with virtual worlds. It is our job to be inclusive and welcoming, give the pioneers a thrilling experience and provide to the reluctant ones a great time without pushing too many of their buttons. Most important: let’s make the ones and the others connect, meet and speak. 

The future will not be about live events: it will be about alive events. VR/AR are facilitating this coming to life but only if we keep bringing people together. We all loved old arcade games (Space Invaders!) and 90s adventure games (Monkey Island!) even if they were not the most realistic ones. Why? Because we had a blast. We were engaged. We had a say in the outcome of our own adventure. VR/AR, yes, but first let the people have fun. Then, well, we can grow the technology around!

About the writer

Sjoerd Postema is a nice fellow who has a serious disregard for work titles. He did co-found ROND Productions and that team of equally nice fellows have recently launched a new and unique gamified VR/AR platform for events and “hanging out, really, it’s all about having fun”. Contact them for a demo and more info!

If you would like to know more about how Epicenter can help you make your next virtual or physical gathering magical, drop us a message using the form below. We’ll be in touch with you!

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