High-impact immersion, emotion and storytelling in Virtual Reality: How Immersive Entertainment is shaping the future of VR and AR
A quick question for everyone in the room. We've seen a lot of technology here. In fact, there are more letters and acronyms, I think, than any of us can internalize.
Can someone name me the most important technology when it comes to VR/AR alternative realities? Anybody? Does anybody want to hazard a guess? The most important technology...
All right, how about this? Your brain. You.
In the next few minutes, I'm going to talk a little bit about a startup that we have, Immersive Entertainment, and how we're approaching the marketplace with a fundamental piece of software that we've delivered to the market. I want you to keep in mind that at the center of all of this technology, all of these potential platforms, all of these acronyms, there's one common platform. That's the human being.
Again, this is one company's journey and hopefully we can pull out a little bit away from the technology and talk a little bit about the strategy...talk about some of our experiences. Some of this may relate to, how does a young company start up in this field when the market really doesn't exist yet?
When we started Immersive Entertainment, we decided we're going to look at the market and understand what do we have to do to create a company that's going to be successful in the market?
No small feat when you don't know what the market is going to look like. We knew we would have to have the right team. For VR/AR or any of these disciplines, multidisciplinary teams are a must. More than any other technology, more than any other platform, more than any other company play, this requires artists. It requires people versed in VR, biology, psychology, you name it. That's only a partial list. We knew we'd have to have core developers who understood how to tell a story, how to use the technology, and also stellar advisors and a board of directors.
We also had to have the right timing. We had to understand, how is the hardware and software market evolving, because if looked a little too far ahead, there's no way we'd have anybody to sell to. If we were too far behind, there would be nothing unique to offer. We ended up raising our first Angel round through Tech Coast Angels in September. We had fortunately been doing a lot of development prior to that thanks to the blood, sweat, and tears of some of our developers who are actually here tonight.
We front-loaded the development. Our objective as a company was to reach revenue quickly. Why? To make lots of money? No. There are very few people out there right now buying software in VR (comparatively). In the next year, you're going to see that ramp up. The reason is so that we could start talking to the market. We could start talking to our customers and listening to them. That was key for us as well.
Finally, we knew that we wanted to create a company that eventually would track to creating a form of IP, intellectual property, and also allow us to have an entrée in AR (Augmented Reality). If we started in VR, which is fully immersive, we also wanted to be able to dabble in enterprise when the right time came.
Along with this came a policy internally we call Zero Baggage, which is to say that we treat this as a new form of technology, a new form of expression, a new form of experience. We had no investment in legacy technology, which can be good and bad. We didn't have an engine of our own. We didn't have brands to whom we were tied. We were able to apply totally fresh eyes (what we call VR first) and really capitalize upon if we're going to create a VR experience, what do we do?
Well, let's look at what VR does best. VR forces a sense of immersion to the human being. A presence. It also reinforces delight and awe if it's done correctly. If there's a sense of interaction and scale and other qualities that help drive that experience, then we're doing the right things. We didn't want to immediately fall back on existing paradigms, so we looked at the marketplace. I'll show you how we approached that, but we didn't see ourselves as a training company, nor as a game company.
Where did we land? Hollywood is really invested in 360 video. In fact, VR is synonymous with 360 video and entertainment right now. The challenge for us there is whether it's live or recorded, you're looking at something with which you really can't interact much yet. Maybe there will be future technologies where you can, but right now it's a fish bowl effect. You get to watch something that's already been recorded and you don't get to interact with it much.
On the other side of the spectrum, we have video game manufacturers. Triple A companies with large amounts of money. Well, guess what? They're invested in things like Call of Duty, first person shooters, where you're running through an environment incredibly fast. Goal-oriented games. Here's the problem with those, is that as soon as you're laser focused on a task and you're running through a room, well, there are a few people who have become nauseous...but even more important to us than that, is that a lot of people lose the sense of immersion and magic because they're just basically focusing on a target. We knew there had to be an area where we could compete, where we could create a product that really, again, capitalized upon the strength of VR. That was right in the middle here with CGI based or computer based, fully computer rendered, experiences that were highly immersive, interactive, scalable, differentiated because it's difficult to do this stuff. You can't just get a rig and film it.
Most important we’re emotional. This is something that nobody is really talking about yet, but something that we hope to build an expertise in. That is to say, whether you're talking about simulation for something that's a dry process or manufacturing, training, education, games, or the type of experiences that we're talking about, emotion is important because if you're not interested in what you're doing and you don't have an emotional bond, guess what? You're not going to learn, you're not going to retain, and you're not going to have fun.
Another aspect which came out of this, which was interesting, was as we started looking at, hey what are we going to design, what are we going to create, the idea of narratives came out. We went to Hollywood. We talked to directors. We talked to game manufacturers. All of them said, ‘Look, you have to have a story. Whatever you're creating, it can't be a dead set, just a computer environment. You have to have a story.’
Here's the challenge. If you look at life as a movie in which you're being directed, there's a central director, there's a writer telling you everything that you're going to do next, well that's not very much fun when you do it 35 times. Now, admittedly I have watched movies 35 times, but many people don't want to do that. These traditional story arcs, taking a character through an adventure, are basically tantamount to placing someone in a commercial that you keep watching over and over again. That was problematic for us.
They are linear. They have low replayability. They can be instructional, but again, that goal orientation kills the experience. Instead, we thought what if narratives were self-directed? How do you do that? How do you have a narrative and not make it linear and make it self-directed? We looked at, what if narratives were discovery based and event driven? Think about life for a moment. Think about experiences that you've had in your own lives. Right now, none of us, probably most of us, don't have the sense that someone is ‘writing’ us right now. We don't know what's going to happen next.
That fills us with wonder. When we go home, we might have done something fantastic or met somebody new or had a great experience. Guess what we do? We bring those stories home to our families. Those are events. Those are what we call micro-stories. A life, which is nonlinear, which is not completely planned out, we see as a collection of all these different micro-stories, each of which builds attachment to emotion and builds attachment to awe, surprise, and all of the other human traits that are really important to get you interested in what we're doing.
If we look at this as a multi-layer cake, it becomes really important for us to start off at the bottom on the left hand side here with an environment of some sort. Now, it doesn't matter whether that's an epic setting like the Grand Canyon adventure that we've created or a Daly painting. It could be hyper real crazy, surreal, or realistic, but it has to make you feel like you're there.
Secondly, there are elements in it that have to be procedurally generated. That's a technical term. It means basically some of the elements as you move through this environment have to be dynamically created, so that every time you do the same thing, perhaps the world changes a little bit. There has to be life in this world of some sort driven by AI. Obviously, this isn’t future AI. Present AI lets us imbue objects, animals, devices, inside an environment with a quality that makes it feel like those things are reacting to us. Like they have their own motivations, their own behaviors.
Then finally, interactivity and responsiveness. If you can roam through this world and you're looking at these creatures and they're reacting to you, well you want to be able to reach out and touch them and do something and have an effect in your world. A very human response. Then multi-player; the idea of layering in social into this. Hugely important. In fact, I would argue that you're going to see a few different waves in AR, VR, and otherwise. You're going to see some waves where you get particular adaptations that really hit a nerve either in gaming or in enterprise.
When things are really going to take off is when you can do those very same things as a group with others. Then finally, the idea of building in our micro-stories. Here we're driving to, at the end of the day, an emotional response with all of the qualities that VR can give us. We took our first steps and we decided we're going to build a Grand Canyon kayak adventure. Sounds boring from a gamer's perspective, right? Nothing is blowing up. We ended up closing the Angel round. We demoed the prototype at VRLA. Dylan SOCALVR, thank you very much. Great response there. Siggraph and elsewhere...
We've demoed the software for about a thousand people. What was interesting was our concerns were allayed. People looked at it and they couldn't believe what they were seeing. They said, Not only can I look around in this world, but it's been so meticulously crafted, so careful created, and there are small things that really catch my attention, that I'm interested even though I'm not chasing anything, even though I'm not blowing something up.
We now know that we're on the right track towards creating a library of these experiences of all sorts. It doesn't have to be the Grand Canyon. It could be something else. The fundamentals are that VR and a true VR FIRST experience doesn't have to be a movie and it doesn't have to be gaming.
Ultimately for us as a company, this is not just fun and games. It could be a death knell to just be a title company. Yeah, we produce video games or we produce just experiences. Well, it's like producing movies. People are going to like them or they're not. You're a hit maker.
What do you do? You take this technology, you take a fantastic team that's being developed as we speak, and continually built. You take that team and you leverage it. That team is going to help define the future of VR and it's going to help define the future of AR as well because the learning that we're doing in the games, in these experiences, is directly, directly applicable to the enterprise. It's directly applicable to all forms and uses of virtual technology. Once again, our missive internally is, do not underestimate the role of emotion. It is key in all of this.
Lastly, I know I have a minute or so. I'm going to show you just a quick clip. This is an early beta version of our software just to give you a sense of what I've been talking about. Again, this is just the virtual set if you will. Disclaimer; that's a video. Okay. By the way, this is on sale right now. You can pick it up in the Steam Store. People are buying it. They're buying it to beta test it.
The feedback has been phenomenal. You can imagine in a scene or a particular circumstance how many different micro-stories you could tell. What if you got out of the boat? You got up and a bear attacked you or there was a snake on the path or a bird fell out of the sky? You don't want that happening every single time. When it does happen, it's magic. When you bring it home to your parents, to your family, and you say, Guess what I did inside that? That's when we know that we've done the right thing.
Thank you very much. Thanks for your time.