As a follow up to last week’s article on developing your VR application for event and conference success, FarBridge's Melissa Swanepoel shares her insights for planning your event, managing your team and executing a best in class demo experience.
As noted in Part 1 of this series on VR events, immersive technology is still new enough that most people will have their first VR experience at a live event -- whether that’s a conference, a meetup, a house-party or an arcade. Our team at FarBridge has been giving live VR demonstrations since the release of Oculus DK1 back in 2014. We’ve developed a rigorous process to prepare for events, made detailed run-of-show plans for managing schedules and staff, and always look to survey event stakeholders and attendees for ways to improve.
Hosting and showing VR content is an important skill for everyone in our industry, as we are all ambassadors for this new medium. So today we will outline our top tips for putting on amazing live events that showcase virtual reality:
Plan to bring all of the hardware you need for demos, plus extras. Even if the show-runners promised you a specific laptop and headset, there’s always potential for a missing cable, a damaged component or a laptop that doesn’t have mission-critical software pre-installed. Even trusting venue WiFi is a risky dependency -- if your demo is multiplayer, be ready to build out your own LAN.
Oh, and label everything you bring with you!
We like to bring:
When you arrive onsite, you’ll want to have an understanding for what goes where and who’s in charge of event logistics. Setup gets easier with practice, and we’ve found a few essential, low-cost items that can make all the difference:
Just as important as planning is the ability to adapt to sudden changes. Live events, even when things are running smoothly, always bring an element of the unexpected. This is why you have spares of your equipment and extra folks on hand -- if someone gets sick or tracking issues arise, you’ll have a backup ready to go. If not? Now you have extra gear so you can lend a hand to your fellow VR developers at the event.
When planning and setting up your demo area, make sure to take full advantage of the space available, while minimizing impact from interference sources like reflective surfaces, other demo stations or even cleaning robots.
Through the many events FarBridge has attended and run, we’ve evolved from multi-playspace setups to one large tracked space with multiple players. This evolution was driven by challenges we’ve faced in venues of numerous shapes and sizes, like not having enough nearby power outlets, or last-minute event decoration changes that altered the layout of our allotted space.
Every event venue has its own surface challenges, so it’s best to bring as many solutions as you can. Pop-up banners and portable showroom walls are great for creating enclosed play spaces, and they also prevent signal competition from other demos. Incorporating existing structures like walls, overhead beams or ceiling fixtures into your tracking setups let you be a bit more frugal with buildout time and costs.
When planning your event layout, there are multiple audiences to consider:
Think of these different audiences as concentric circles of engagement that ripple outward, carrying the impressions from those closest to the demo to those furthest away. Each new ring has a chance to enforce and amplify your content. We made the following graph to help remind us that each distinct group of players needs to be engaged and entertained.
With the knowledge that more people will see your game being played than play it themselves, there are lots of ways to make that work for you. Read on!
Projections and big screen TVs catch and hold the audience’s attention. While it seems obvious -- the larger the screen, the larger an audience you’ll reach. This video content will introduce the widest in-person audience to your experience, encouraging them to hop in line and try your game while they have the opportunity.
We highly recommend displaying live gameplay to the crowd, as watching real time players is far more engaging than a looping trailer. First-person footage can be a little overwhelming on the big screen, so ideally you can show off a spectator view, driven by a live “camera operator.”
The line of waiting players is the most direct and sustained contact you will have with your attendees. Once they are in VR, it’s much harder to interact with them human-to-human so make sure to use this time to your advantage! Make a connection with these folks before they try your demo, and they’re more likely to provide you good, honest feedback afterwards.
Having a “line manager” on your events team will ensure there is no confusion on where the line starts or leads. This individual can also answer any questions, support those that need special assistance, ensure prospective players sign a waiver (especially recommended for more athletic experiences) and offer those in the queue to opt into your mailing list.
Health and safety are crucial to consider when designing any VR system, experience or event -- especially when hundreds of people are swapping gear at an event. Having a plan to mitigate potential risk is vital.
As shown above in our “life-saving gear” pic, alcohol wipes are a true foundation of our event experience, and we are always on the lookout for the next solution to help folks feel safe and comfortable while donning showfloor headsets. Lately, we’ve been testing out these “ski mask” style head protectors, which add a degree of fashion and sophistication to any VR event.
At FarBridge, we always use replaceable VR headset covers that can be cleaned with alcohol wipes between each and every use. Our routine looks a little something like this:
Most importantly, perform these routines out in the open so that your audience can see how serious you are about cleanliness. This pays immediate dividends: having our cleaning procedures visible has convinced important prospective clients and business leaders to try our experiences at many large showcases.
Event work is better, easier and more fun with a solid team. Our events teams at FarBridge always consist of a blend of developers who worked on the experience and “squires” who help guide players into and out of the experience.
Each squire, much like their medieval namesake, assists their designated player with putting on and navigating the often-unfamiliar VR gear. They also introduce basic mechanics and rules of the game/application, while providing a much-needed emotional anchor for anyone feeling trepidatious about trying VR for the first time in public.
Having event teammates can make all the difference between a hectic, frazzled mess and a smooth-running operation, where players leave with a great first experience and smile on their face. The long hours, the physical strain and the need to be present, knowledgeable and helpful makes demoing VR a challenging job, and there are a couple of key ways to support your events team...
First and foremost, we highly recommend compensating your events team. It can be tempting to put out a call for volunteers or solicit unpaid interns, but that undervalues the time and effort it takes to do the job right, while setting a poor precedent. You will also see less turnover and have more dependable staff if you pay them for their time and effort!
Keep your events team up-to-date and informed. A “run of show” sheet should be provided, so everyone knows who’s on-shift and who to contact if something happens. Give your people the tools to keep everyone safe, and have clear policies in place to protect your staff from uncooperative attendees.
Physical comfort is also a factor. Access to chairs, floor pads to stand on and/or shoe inserts are vital, especially if your event lasts multiple days.
Finally, make sure you have enough staff to make staggered breaks possible. This ensures that your team can recharge and stay grounded during the high volume, high energy work of live events.
We live in the midst of social media -- everyone has the means to take photos and videos at events and instantly share them with millions of people. It’s important that we keep this in mind and make our event installations as beautiful and photography-worth as possible. Make it easy for attendees to make you look good!
To augment the media captured by attendees, we also recommend hiring professional photographers and videographers for events. Owning the rights to this content lets us share highlights and generate buzz for future events. Plus, working with a professional also helps increase the odds that you’ll get imagery that you want to use for the marketing and launch of your product or company in general.
Taking photos and video of your final tracking setups and layout will also help with your next event -- no need to reinvent the wheel when you can see how you did it last time and focus on improvements instead.
You should also decide on a hashtag for your experience ahead of time, and let your team and attendees know to use it! It’s a simple, cost effective way to spur sharing and connection, allowing folks who couldn’t be at the event to engage and follow through on calls to action.
Live events are challenging to produce and require both a lot of planning and on-the-spot flexibility -- but creating a great experience for attendees is worth it!
As noted, we are all firstline ambassadors for this new, evolving technology, and the virtual reality community needs people to use, enjoy and share their positive experiences! Every newcomer is a chance to welcome someone into this still-unfolding industry -- be it as customers, collaborators and creators.
We hope these tips inspire and encourage you to go forth and demo VR at an upcoming party, your next local meetup, or a huge technology expo. Or better yet, put on a VR showcase of your own!
Thanks for reading!
- Melissa Swanepoel
Disclaimer: This blog post features insights, learnings, ideas and comments from a guest author. This content is not promoted, sponsored or technically validated by Oculus.