In anticipation of his presentation at Future of Immersive Leisure in Las Vegas, September 13-14, 2017, we asked Trevor Nelson at Nelson Advisors, Inc., a few questions about the immersive entertainment ecosystem.  Check out his interview in relation to HIS HER Future of Immersive Leisure presentation entitled, VR Coasters and Rides- Field Reports and Emerging Paradigms.

Q: The use of immersive technology in the entertainment sector away from the home, what are the issues?

A: Some of the key issues include; poor quality and poor value of the digital media content, throughput limitations, simulation sickness caused by poor synchronization of actual and virtual motion, hygiene (pinkeye), the staff required to operate these attractions is very labor intensive, durability of the hardware, stability of the software, cumbersome nature of tethered cables and safety issues related to disorientation.  If these issues are mismanaged, then the guest experience can be weak to downright boring compared to the In-home experiences.

Though the list of potential drawbacks is long, several entertainment providers have cleverly provided solutions to many of these problems.  Immersive technologies provide lots of new creative possibilities for creating engaging and interactive narratives providing a new level of agency over what happens in the experience.  This opens up a whole new language of narrative potential and breadth of storytelling and makes the issues worth being overcome with innovative solutions.

Q: The use of digital media in attractions, what are the key issues?

A: Using digital media in attractions can unlock new forms of narrative and broadens the story telling opportunities because they can be interactive, personalized and shared with friends and families.  Theme Parks shouldn’t be using technology just for technology’s sake; instead they should be using it to enhance the story or experience.  Since people already have so many screens in the home (smartphones, laptops, tablets), you really have to get creative with digital media to entice people out of the home.

There must be a reason why you are using digital elements in an attraction.  Theme Park attractions leveraging digital media must first and foremost be fun.  They must have repeat-ability.  They should be social or shared experiences since no one goes to a theme park alone.  In order to be economic, there must be high throughput.  Lastly, it must be positioned against in-home digital media experiences to be enjoyable over the long term.

Q: Is the new audience for attractions and experiences a harder audience to entertain because of the amount of technology in their lives?

A: Without a doubt.  You could spend millions on an attraction but at the end of the day, people will still be benchmarking that experience against all other forms of entertainment in their lives (i.e. concerts, video games, YouTube, Netflix, sports, theater, rock climbing, zip lining, bungee jumping, jet skiing etc.)  People only have so much free time and disposable income for entertainment and they will spend it on the best experiences available within their budget and a good portion of this personal entertainment budget is allocated to be spent with friends and families.  Additionally, people get a lot of bang for their buck on the internet/TV so it is important to make sure your experience is a differentiated from something that can be achieved in home very cost effectively.  People won’t really care about how complicated or expensive a VR experience was to build.  At the end of the day it will come down to how fun the experience was in relation to all other experiences available and the cost of attaining this fun will always be a major consideration.

Q: Is the loading and unloading issues with VR technology impacting the experience?

A: Loading and unloading is a big issue which needs to be addressed.  Any wearable technology used in theme park rides needs to be intuitive, in working condition and sanitary.  Several operators have proven this can all be achieved in a relatively quick and streamlined fashion. The pre-show is one area that can be designed to help improve operating turn-over time.  It can also be cleverly tied into a narrative of the overall experience.

Q: How can the digital out-of-home entertainment industry stay ahead of the home entertainment scene?

A: Out of home entertainment operators need to ensure that they aren’t noticeably giving off a “dated” vibe and need to re-invest in their technology and content and story accordingly.  But at the same time, operators aren’t operating with unlimited capital budgets.  When designing an experience, it needs to be positioned for the long term and a good way to do this is to have a great story.  Technology may change, but a good story and a great experience will increase an attraction’s longevity. Soarin’ over California is a case in point, where the same six minute movie played in four Disney theatres every day for over fifteen years.

Q: Why are there no officially recognized qualifications in development skills in this industry?

A: Though VR headsets are permeating more and more in tech companies, it is still such a new thing that a body of standardized knowledge still hasn’t emerged.  You can’t really become a Chartered VR Creator yet, maybe soon if the industry becomes more established.  Even though all the large technology companies have invested (Apple, Google, Facebook, Qualcomm, HTC, Samsung), it is still operating as a costly and speculative wing of all those companies.  Generally, from a technical perspective, VR/AR companies are looking for C++ and Unity or Unreal Game engine skills.

Q: What other immersive technologies beyond VR are you looking at?

A: I am fascinated by nearly all emerging technologies including Artificial Intelligence, Drones, Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality, 3D Printing, and Internet of Things.  However, I am currently focused on helping clients eliminate the issues related to having digital media play a supportive role in making the out of home guest experience a huge success.

I also think there are really cool opportunities to use more established technologies in clever ways to enhance an experience (including mobile, touch screens. projections, holographic tech, natural language processing, gesture control tech, clap on).

Q: Is it essential to have new immersive attractions and experiences every few years to survive?

A: It depends.  There is something nice about older attractions that can unlock a cool sense of nostalgia which can be cool.  Some of the oldest tricks in attractions still work at entertaining guests.  Also, there is a lot of natural experiences will remain popular as out of home attractions (i.e. roller coasters, flat rides, waterslides, bowling, mini-golf, animal attractions) because the fun appeal remains as relevant today, with some of them, as it did twenty years ago.

Also, some IP can have multi-generational appeal, and generate many sequels to the original IP so the need to replace these immersive attractions can happen less frequently.

If your Theme Park is supposed to make people feel like they’re in the movies (i.e. Disney or Universal), you are going to need to offer guests experiences that mirror those that they might see in the latest action, sci-fi or fantasy movie.  The cool thing with emerging technologies is that you can actually do that now!

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Don’t miss Trevor’s presentation, VR Coasters and Rides- Field Reports and Emerging Paradigms, at Future of Immersive Leisure on Thursday, September 14, 2017 at 11:15 am.  Click here to register for attendance.

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