Recent Intel on VR and the World of Publishing

The Echo Chamber – Notes 02

The Media Briefing has been addressing three key questions about the potential of VR in the world of publishing; What will it take for virtual reality to become economically viable for publishers, where is that tipping point of viability and where is the revenue?

Chris Sutcliffe has written three articles which attempt to address these questions separately. Together the articles investigate the current status of VR and look at what is required to provide the fertile conditions needed for VR to grow into both an affordable technology for publishers and an accessible experience for consumers.

In the first article Sutcliffe says that there have been a number of interesting experiments in VR documentary making, pointing to Hong Kong Unrest as an example. Productions like this have proved the potential for VR’s immersive qualities to provoke a new level of audience engagement with documentary storytelling. So what will it take for reporting like this be viewed alongside the news headlines of the future?

It’s one thing to do experiments, and quite another to make virtual reality one of your regular means of distribution. Issues of investment are certainly one consideration – though the cost of entry is lower than you might assume – but the real questions are these: When will there be enough of a userbase for it to be worth publishers’ time producing content for VR users? And how can they monetise them?

Sutcliffe points to the accelerating rate of technology adoption (as summarized by the Pew Research Centre) as evidence of the speed at which we can expect VR to become mainstream. The early adopters of VR have come to it through the games industry and it seems unlikely that journalism on a VR platform will become mainstream until it can be monetized. But Sutcliffe says that publishers existing partnership with advertisers could provide them with the experience and leverage needed;

While many publishers are still grappling with the issue of what a successful ad looks like on mobile, brands and advertisers are already experimenting with marketing services using VR platforms. In an article for AdWeek about the potential of advertising on VR platforms, Christopher Heine provides the following example: “The 360-degree videos will live on an Oculus content platform that’s set to go live early this year. Destination B.C. also plans to distribute the clips via a partnership with Thomas Cook, a U.K.-based travel agency that will outfit its U.K., German and Belgian locations with the Oculus Rift. ‘You don’t have to simply lean on telling consumers things like, ‘The trees are this big.’ That sense of being there is such a powerful tool,” notes Janice Greenwood-Fraser, a representative for the tourism authority. “It brings it to life in a way that no photo or regular video can.'”

Sutcliffe’s second article examines what conditions will be needed to tip VR towards mainstream distribution. The NYTimes’ recent experiment with VR saw them sending out 1.3 million free Google Cardboard headsets to readers of its print product. The project has been viewed as a success with average audience engagement times of 14.7 minutes, and the NYT is now planning future VR projects.

And of that 14.7 minutes figure, Andy Wright, senior vice president of advertising and publisher at The New York Times Magazine, said: “Given the average time spent within the NYT VR app is close to 15 minutes, an unheard of metric for digital media, it is clear that this experience resonated with viewers.”

YouTube’s Google Cardboard platform is now accessible to Android users as well as iOS, making a 360 viewing experience genuinely possible for any smartphone owner. The cost of camera rigs is coming down too so are the conditions for VR to take off here right now?

But there are other fundamental problems to be overcome. For instance, the body’s proprioception is keyed to adapted to your personal height and body type. For the same reason that mirror box syndrome can (reputedly) alleviate the pain of phantom limbs, the tricks virtual reality employs can stimulate a physiological response in the user. As a result, introducing too great a variance in the body type (height/weight/etc) means that an individual’s proprioception can be thrown off, breaking the ‘presence’ of the experience and arguably blunting the point of true VR. But, as a result of the efforts of the NYT and other publishers in pushing the new medium via the minimum viable product of Google Cardboard, in addition to the lower-than-expected price of the Samsung gear VR headset worldwide, it’s likely adoption of VR will be faster than we could have predicted even six months ago.

The third article looks at the way advertisers are investing in VR. As with native advertising, the success or otherwise of an advertisement is based on the trust a reader has with the host publication. Sutcliffe argues that publishers are in the best position to judge their own audiences, and they have the skills to produce the copy. An investment in in house VR could reap rewards for advertising revenue and documentary storytelling alike.

And with major audiences come major advertising opportunities. Whether that’s through content produced on behalf of brands in an incredibly immersive medium, or an event or brand producing it to bolster its ecommerce proposition, it’s evident that if 360 video offers savvy publishers a new way to engage audiences.

Watch this advert for mini (which the article points to). The short 360 film, which can be watched on a laptop or smartphone as well as with goggles, shows some interesting creative possibilities for both advertisers and dramatic storytelling..?

We’ve Been Commissioned to Make a VR Film!

The Echo Chamber – Notes 01

Here at Chromatrope we’re very excited to announce that we’ve just won a film commission. We’ve made plenty of films before including this recent batch for I Can Make, but this one is a bit different. We’re planning to document as much of the process as we can here, and we can’t say too much about it all at the moment. What we can say is that we’re making ‘The Echo Chamber’, a short virtual reality drama on the theme of dementia. We’re gearing up to a live action VR production which will also incorporate binaural sound recording and we’ve assembled a very experienced crew and a brilliant writer, sound designer and director. Pre-production starts in the new year, so keep checking back for news here.

James – @kidhelios

Working for Common Good

Over the last few years I’ve been an advisor to REACT (Research and Enterprise in Arts and Creative Technologies). It’s been a great experience and really exciting to see such an amazing range of innovative new projects created. I was asked to write a piece for the ‘The Rooms‘ event, which celebrated four years of collaboration on the theme of ‘working for common good’ – James @kidhelios

There’s a wind of change a’blowin’ through business. The last few weeks have seen the launch of B Corps in the the UK and Kickstarter’s announcement of its reincorporation to become a benefits corporation. In real terms B Corps offers a fairly new way to structure and condition a business to be a meaningful social enterprise. In the five years that Kickstarter has been around it has always been profit making. By re-incorporating they are making a clear statement that they will never sell the company, and that their ethical ambitions are open and crystal clear to their investors and supporters.

Rooms
One of the experiences in The Rooms

Amidst the enterprise scramble to re-imagine new ways of operating in a new world, there are plenty of startup and existing businesses who have jumped onto the social bandwagon and who are enthusiastically social-washing themselves to appear more ethically and socially responsible that they actually are.

But social enterprise is much more that placing stock photos of meadows filled with laughing children on the ‘about’ page of your website or stating boldly that you don’t dump nuclear waste, or deal in weapons of mass destruction. It’s actually much harder than it should be set up a business structured to operate in a different way.

There are plenty of people who might for instance consider setting up a cooperative, but the non-exhaustive list of options presents a bewildering array of at least sixteen legal forms and around ten different organisational types. Faced with these choices many new businesses opt for a straightforward limited company, which may not have socially or ethically ambitious articles of association at heart and which may not be the best option for them or for society in general.

Rather than the culture of suspicion that can be so evident in the world of venture capitalists and flinty eyed investors, we need instead a culture of permission. Triumphs should be celebrated and failures learned from. Ideas held in a knowledge commons, and enthusiasm and insights are shared with an applied and practical generosity, underpinned with the belief that we all benefit from ideas and projects that fly.

This approach extends beyond the ideas, individuals and projects involved in this newspaper, to offer new ways of operating to potential new business. These re-imagined models of working are becoming a requirement in the mutable and sometimes unsettling world that we live in where a job for life no longer exists, and where instead we nurture a framework of skills and relationships for life.

Projects like REACT demonstrate that it’s ok to be innovate in theory and practice, and that there are creative, social and business opportunities to be exploited for the common good.

The longer term benefits for all of us in generating new approaches to solving both old and new problems might in fact be REACT’s most important legacy.

James Richards is director of Chromatrope, a digital innovation consultancy

TEDxExeter 2015

The Chromatrope team were super-chuffed to be asked back to film and edit this year’s TEDxExeter speaker films. The recent has grown massively over the last few years, and we believe that the technical delivery of world class films is a big part of the success – along with an amazingly dedicated and passionate organising team, and some incredible speakers of course.

2015-2

This year our lovely seven person team worked their socks off again and worked hard to deliver a great set of films. Last year we were pleased that ‘Big TED’ in NYC picked up some of the films for profiling on their main site – and we’re hoping that the same thing happens this year for the speakers and their causes.

TED
Chromatrope Team Backstage at TEDx

 

 

Choose Your Own BBC Career Journey

Continuing the innovation strategy work that we’ve been doing with the BBC Academy, we recently launched the ‘Choose Your Own BBC Career Journey‘ prototype. This was a piece of work that came from a requirement to investigate how we could help young people to better find their way through the maze of (helpful) advice from the BBC and partners. Most pertinently we needed to get them to the particular trainee scheme or apprenticeship that matched their interests and experience.

career01

We wanted to rapidly prototype a new technical and editorial approach to providing careers information, so over the course of two workshops with writer and creative Helen Hutchinson, designer and UX maven Jasia Warren and product owner Don Kong, we wrestled with Twine. Twine is the rather fabulous and occasionally flaky open source technology built on top of Jeremy Ruston’s equally fabulous tiddlywiki. Twine was designed as a quick and dirty branching narrative engine, beloved of games makers, and the underlying tech grist to the gamergate controversy.

There were advantages and disadvantages to using Twine for this type of project. The development environment can be unpredictable. We were very fortunate to have developer James Reed’s help in cleaning up the code, and in bringing the product within the BBC’s technical environment, but even so we’re not certain that we’d fully trust Twine outside of a prototyping situation.

career03

The feedback from users was encouraging though, with most respondents saying that they would like to see more ‘choose your own’ journeys from the BBC. We believe that this type of approach has value, and feel that a stronger, non-neutral editorial voice, perhaps even fronted by BBC talent, could help users to identify with a personal and trusted guide through resources. There were careers areas that we couldn’t cover including costume design and engineering, so we’d like to also cover those, and perhaps even index and tune our responses to the BBC’s search data.

We’d love to hear your thoughts on the project – please engage with us on Twitter at @kidhelios

 

 

 

Bringing Characters to Life (Spoilers)

Games fan Tom Richards believes that characters make a huge impact on a story and overall feel of a great game, but it’s where and how the characters interact that the fun happens.

Characters are the lifeblood of a good story. In books, readers develop a love for a character and cheer them on for the rest of their journey. Characters can be funny, dark, mysterious… characters can be anything. In games this is no exception. A good game can tell a story that’s enjoyable and intriguing and often it is easier to develop an affection for a character, especially if it’s the character they’ve been with for the whole game, than in a book or on TV.

For example, in my favourite game, ‘The Last Of Us’, I grew to love the main protagonist Ellie so much that when she was captured by cannibals, I couldn’t put down the controller until I had ensured her safety. However, one of the only things that can make these good characters even better are the relationships between them. Whether the characters can’t stand each other, are in love or have an unbreakable friendship that might even come under strain as the story progresses.

Ellie is captured by a group of cannibals led by David, who she later kills.
Ellie is captured by a group of cannibals led by David, who she later kills.

Throughout the game, the player controls two different main characters, Joel and Ellie. While Joel is more serious and short tempered after the death of his daughter Sarah, 14-year-old Ellie provides the comic relief, making jokes and sarcastic comments. While the two are very unlikely companions and untrusting of each other at first, the bond that grows between them as the story continues eventually drives Joel to sacrifice the future of humanity to save his new adopted daughter.

Joel and Ellie from The Last Of Us.
Joel and Ellie from The Last Of Us.

Rockstar’s Wild West sandbox game, Red Dead Redemption represents another unique relationship, which takes place between the main protagonist John Marston and his friend-turned-enemy Dutch van der Linde. Throughout Red Dead, John is tasked with taking out three of his old friends and fellow gang members. After he has killed two of the three, Javier Escuella and Bill Williamson, he goes after Dutch, the former leader of the group. After chasing each other over New Austin and West Elizabeth, the pair ends up on the edge of a cliff, Dutch having given up and John pointing a gun at him. Dutch gives up and tells him that they are “a dying breed” and that when he’s gone, “they’ll just find another monster.”

Red Dead Redemption; Rockstar's wild west sandbox game.
Red Dead Redemption; Rockstar’s wild west sandbox game.

What makes this relationship especially interesting is that John can’t find the strength to shoot his old friend, even after the times that Dutch left him for dead and tried to kill him. Rather than being shot, he jumps off the cliff and kills himself after saying the words, “Our time is passed John.”

 

"Our time is passed John."
“Our time is passed John.”

The hugely successful indie game Gone Home tells a story through the eyes of Katie, who has just returned home to find her family’s house empty. After looking around, she finds a note under Sam (her sister)’s door telling Katie not to try looking for answers as to where she is. Since there’s nobody else there, Katie looks around to find where everyone else is. As the player explores, they pick up audio tapes left by Sam. The tapes begin with her talking about her school life, how she’s referred to as the ‘Psycho House Girl’ after the previous owner of the house and her passion for writing. They also talk about a girl she sees in the senior year, wearing army uniform, called Lonnie DeSoto. What starts as a friendship between Sam and Lonnie who simply just “wanted to see the Psycho House” gradually changes into something more.

Lonnie DeSoto from Gone Home.
Lonnie DeSoto from Gone Home.

Through exploring, the player finds letters and notes passed between them, talking about the both of them sneaking off to gigs together, ghost hunting and playing video games. Then the player picks up audio tapes where Sam talks about Lonnie telling her how beautiful she is, how much she likes her, and finally, kissing her. From that point in the story, notes talk about meeting up with each other or sneaking up to Sam’s darkroom when her parents aren’t around.

The game ends with two audio tapes. In the first, Lonnie leaves to join the army and Sam doesn’t know what to do with her life. But in the final tape, Sam apologizes to Katie and tells her why she’s missing. Lonnie has decided that she doesn’t want to go through with the army and asks Sam to run away with her and she says yes. The final line in the game is: “I love you so much, Katie. I’ll see you again. Someday. Love, Sam”. This is a much more different relationship to those in other games because it not only tells an amazing story, but it’s also about a homosexual relationship of which there are few in gaming.

Fullbright's Gone Home received extremely high praise from critics.
Fullbright’s Gone Home received extremely high praise from critics.

In order to engage its audience, a game needs good relationships between characters. Relationships are often the deepest and most interesting part of a character and when they are convincing, the story, and the game come to life.