INITION Producer, Katie Grayson, appeared at the Develop Conference in Brighton in July as one of the speakers presenting ‘Going Beyond Games – How VR Creates Exciting Non-games Opportunities for Developers’. Below is her presentation in full! Enjoy!
Back in July, INITION were invited to join a talk by experts from the worlds of advertising and games on how Virtual Reality provides a way to bring these two world-class UK industries together.
It focused on the opportunities for games developers and studios to think about what they can bring to commercial VR projects and content, and highlighted the key skills we should take from the games industry when developing for this exciting new platform. At INITION, we’re constantly looking for ways in which the boundaries of VR experience production can be pushed – here we’ll highlight the inspiration we take from the games industry, and how these lessons can be applied to VR content in the future.
Here at INITION we’ve been beavering away in our Shoreditch studio creating virtual realities since 2001. Prior to joining INITION, I worked in video games marketing for several years, where I learned all about using games technology and assets to create pieces of high quality mass market advertising – exploring the balance and benefits of realtime engines vs pre rendered animation, understanding how experience, interaction and visual quality each came into play when designing pieces of marketing – all of which has proved to be useful experience when moving into VR production.
At INITION we’ve been lucky enough to work with brands that were eager to embrace the Oculus Rift and Virtual Reality to deliver incredible experiential pieces of marketing – it’s an exciting technology that’s been taken up by a very broad range of brands and even broader audiences. From retail experiences for Westfield, Topshop and Selfridges, through to automotive projects, product launches, medical congresses. Today I thought it was worth sharing our experience in that space, and share some of what we’ve learned and how this relates to the games industry.
I said that INITION had been working in VR since 2001, and some of the eagle eyed amongst you will notice that some of these projects here pre-date Oculus.
So we’ve been working in VR for longer than most – and we remember when VR was still a very disappointing experience. As you can see, there was a time in the 1990s when VR was actually the most terrifying thing around…it’s been an obsession of our company and founders since then – INITION was born out of this passion for what we would one day be able to experience, and we’re still excited about the developments of recent years and the speed with which the industry is now developing and what it’s delivering.
So as a team that’s played with this tech for years, we’re in the fortunate position of understanding what’s different this time around – the fundamentals of the technology haven’t changed that much since the Victorian stereo viewers. The principals are the same – so why are we only now getting excited about VR again?
We know that with Oculus Rift, Palmer Luckey finally delivered on the VR promise – it feels like a technology whose time has come – this great alignment of mobile phone technology, the availability of screens and software at an affordable, mass production price, the fact that motion tracking technology is available that allows us to track and “see” ourselves in the virtual world, the development of (often free to use) realtime engines that can deliver parallax and depth that make for a convincing experience…
But aside from all this, I think there’s another interesting reason why VR is capturing the imagination at this point of time and I think it’s down to you people sitting out there – the games industry. It’s interesting that this time around, VR has come at a time when the games industry, it’s developers and audiences, have matured. When more people are playing a wider variety of games than ever before. When for the first time in many years the public has an appreciation of experience and design over graphic realism, of storytelling and emotional impact of interactive experiences. And VR as a burgeoning platform needs the talents that are inherent in the games industry to deliver fantastic, innovative content and storytelling – from first and third person storytelling to real-time interaction and the design and creation of immersive worlds, these are the skills that are fundamental to the success of VR as a platform.
Back in 2012 we created this experience for Nissan – an experiential piece of marketing for their stand at Goodwood Festival of Speed that took their TV ad for the Nissan Juke and turned it into a VR game experience. Using the specially designed motion platform, you were able to “steer” your entire body through the skydiving experience to collect points. It was a revolutionary piece of experiential marketing, and it was influenced by the world of video games. What’s interesting is how far we can now push that “game” type experience – taking our lead and inspiration from what’s happening in the games world, and applying it to projects for much broader audiences.
We are creating experience that exist in abstract worlds – this piece was for the fashion designer Gareth Pugh. A project that lives in the art space more than the games space, that explores impossible geometries and designs, that works with a very strong design aesthetic. There’s a real power to VR when it doesn’t try to ape reality, but creates something compelling and intriguing. And more and more clients are beginning to understand this power – virtual reality can take you anywhere, to places that don’t exist, that are impossible, that have their own rules, their own design – that moves the audience or user beyond ideas of what looks “real” and focusses on the emotion of the experience…
I want to be able to explore the world of Monument Valley – I can’t wait to see what the Us Two team come up with for their new VR project.
I love the early Oculus project “de Grosse Gottlieb” by the Shoebox Diorama (who is now working with Sony on content for Morpheus) – creating impossible scenes such as balancing on a ridiculously high stack of chairs miles in the air – scenes in which he says “the user has to do but one thing….be amazed”. These are the type of experiences we want to see VR deliver – it took gamers and game developers years to get over the fact that a game could be enjoyable if it didn’t look “real”, to appreciate experience design over the constant push to photo real – let’s not wait for audiences to do the same with VR.
We’re seeing experiences designed to use the sense of presence, to create empathy, to deliver an emotional punch you can’t get with traditional content. This is a piece (image below) by the international aid agency Terre Des Hommes where you experience the life of a teenager in Kenya kept as a house slave. What’s interesting about this is the use of the third person – the awkwardness and helplessness you feel as a viewer when all you can do is watch these terrible things happen. There are a lot of online discussions and talks about how to use the third person effectively in VR, but who understands the emotional impact of an interactive, third person experience better than game developers? You’ve been telling these stories for decades.
Again, looking to the modern games industry and the innovative developers, I’m really looking forward to seeing what the upcoming CALI from Minority Games will do with the format – anything we can do to use the sense of presence and empathy in VR makes it a very valuable format for advertisers.
And soon we’ll see virtual worlds that connect people – that allow them to share a virtual space, and experience things together. This is a demo (image below) from a company called Alt Space that are looking at bringing people together to view content…
But there are other ways to connect people in interactive experiences – simple and delightful ways that will be familiar to anyone who has played Journey.
And these skills to design great experiences aren’t owned by agencies, film directors, marketers – the language we need for VR is really in it’s infancy. Everyone is engaged in interesting discussions about storytelling, about how to manipulate or control the viewer when they can look everywhere and see everything. So don’t be disheartened by the fact that non-gaming VR hasn’t yet delivered the “killer app” or mind blowing experience – be encouraged that the skills needed to deliver it are definitely out there…
Think of how far we’ve come in the language of cinematic storytelling since the Lumiere brothers terrified people with their famous short clip back in 1895. We’ve got that journey to go on again, but I think we can make it a lot quicker if we take the lessons and skills from where the games industry has got to in the last few years. Developers should think of themselves as those early pioneering photographers who understood the language of light, framing and focus and applied it to an entirely new medium. Go and watch some really groundbreaking silent films and see how experimental some of them were – creating VR content gives us the chance to try things out, to see what works and what doesn’t.
The Gartner hype circle would suggest that VR technology and hardware is on it’s way to becoming a viable, mainstream platform. I would suggest that in terms of content, we’re still climbing the first peak – the big breakthroughs are still to come.
And as this talk is about bringing the games and advertising industries together, I thought I’d end with a quote from each side of the fence. This first one from Ben Kay of Media Arts Lab – drawing comparisons with the way that the great commercial directors of the 80s used advertising as a stepping stone to directing movies – the same could well be the case for VR makers today. In helping frame the language and learn the craft, we develop skills that will deliver incredible experiences in years to come.
“Maybe you want to make a game, or a book, or a TV show…Strangely enough, as it was in the old days, when making commercials led many people to make movies, advertising might well be a fertile training ground for this new diversification.”
Ben Kay , Media Arts Labs
And from the gaming side, this quote from Tim Sweeney – one that just really opens your eyes to the possibilities of where we are and where the industry is going – exciting times. I hope I’ve got you fired up for what could be possible, and opened your eyes to the fact that just because VR is a new platform, it doesn’t mean we don’t have a really solid foundation of skills and experience that we can build upon to deliver exciting new projects. As Tim Sweeney says, we’re at a great point of convergence in digital content, skills and vision – let’s see where it takes us next.
“Once all movies are made in a real-time engine, and they’re experienceable in VR with some amount of interaction, it’s not going to be a separate industry. There will be a continuum from storytelling that’s mostly linear to user-driven games and everything in between. We’re not necessarily looking beyond the game industry, but the game industry is expanding to include everything”
Tim Sweeney, Epic Games