Step into the Story

The numbers purporting immersive technologies industry today is impressive. With significant investments and innovations led by tech giants such as Apple, Google and Facebook that aim at driving the adoption of such immersive platforms, total spending on AR/VR products and services is expected to reach $215 billion in 2021, up from $11 billion in 2017*. In spite of these forecasted growths, it begs the question - what truly defines a good VR experience?

As part of the Singapore Media Festival, technologists, creators, developers and users from the region gathered at the inaugural VR x SMF Ignite – a VR conference that saw industry veterans share about insights on the immersive media ecosystem. While topics discussed ranged from the application of VR in entertainment to the business sector, all speakers agreed that one thing remains constant – quality storytelling remains the core of any platform regardless of the medium.

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Local and International Speakers such as Matthew Dewees, Manager, ASEAN Media & Entertainment Industry Sales, Autodesk (Singapore) (left) and Mohen Leo, Director of Content and Platform Strategy at ILMxLAB were in attendance at the VR x SMF Ignite conference.

“VR enables us to build rich believable worlds which audiences can visit together to interact with engaging characters and participate in compelling stories,” shared Mohen Leo, Director of Content and Platform Strategy at ILMxLAB – Lucasfilm’s immersive entertainment lab – who kicked off the VR x SMF Ignite conference with a keynote sharing about Lucasfilm’s recent projects in VR. Mohen noted that VR is not an add-on to any existing mediums, but an entirely new entity with its own language and mode of storytelling – one that is still evolving today. “VR needs to develop its own language to focus audiences on what is relevant. If the language of VR storytelling becomes clearer, more efficient and more impactful, audiences will catch on to it, just like they do with film,” shared Leo.

But what is the defining characteristic of VR storytelling that sets it apart from other mediums? According to Salar Shahna, CEO of the World VR Forum, it is presence. Salar shared that while the audience plays a passive role in mediums such as films, VR throws the audience in the thick of the action – to affect, to interact, to make decisions. The best VR experiences involve world building and placing the player as a part of that world. The audience is invited to enter a different reality and help exact change on the storytelling, and ultimately enhance their experience of the content.

And indeed, VR game creators today are catching on to that process. Lucasfilm’s newest VR experience, Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire, gives players an opportunity to enter the world of Star Wars as a member of The Resistance. They have to disguise themselves as Storm Troopers and invade the planet of Mustafar - the home planet of none other than Darth Vadar - where they have to gain intelligence that is vital to The Resistance’s survival, each decision they make bringing them closer to success or death.

Beyond just the entertainment sphere, utilisation of VR in other sectors such as business, healthcare and even architecture for immersive experiences is expected to leapfrog. You are able to craft a narrative with these brands for your life. Matthew Dewees, Manager, ASEAN Media & Entertainment Industry Sales, Autodesk (Singapore), shared about the increasing use of VR to provide tailored experiences for different target audiences. For example, VR projects in the property industry cater to different demographics by providing different VR showrooms that fit their preferences, even going so far as to allow customers to customise their own houses as part of the experience. Virtual reality start-up, SW Interactive, also launched its first VR experience to elevate the experience of purchasing luxury goods like boats and yachts. Through VR technology, the company is offering real-time customisations for the vessels, with the opportunity to ‘test-drive’ boats and yachts in realistic environments. The VR experience was showcased at the VR exhibition organised as part of VR x SMF Ignite that was co-located with the Asia TV Forum & Market (ATF). The exhibition featured local and international VR projects and demos for ATF participants to experience.

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Participants of the Asia TV Forum & Market trying their hands on VR products from local and international companies such as Discovery, SW interactive and Sidefx Studios that were on showcase during VR x SMF Ignite’s VR exhibition.

Despite its promising growth, the biggest challenge for the VR industry still lies in the accessibility and adoption of the medium amongst audiences today. While a whole generation of people have grown up watching movies, not nearly as many people have grown up using VR on a daily or even weekly basis. Hence, it is important to note that just like a new language, the buy-in for the new medium will take time and plenty of patience. That said, Shahna also expressed the need for initiatives to be in place to provide better accessibility of VR products to the public. Just as Apple, in its starting years, provided free computers for schools so that a whole generation of Americans grew up getting acquainted and building an emotional connection with Apple products, VR products will also need to find a way into the hearts and lives of a whole new generation - to turn virtual reality into reality.