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Where Tech Met People -- Lots of People

Walking into the LA Convention Center I had no real idea what to expect.  I was coming from the South Hall parking structure as the West Hall parking structure was full on arrival (I was there about 3 hours after official registration hours started) so I had a feeling that it was crowded, but I was unsure of just how crowded it would be.  Glamorously colorful signs led the way, gradients and san-serif fonts galore, to the registration booths where workers were printing passes for people.  There was still a line (even at this time of day!) but it moved quickly.  I was surprised immediately by how many families and young people were surrounding me – they seemed like people looking for something fun to do on a Saturday – not people who were a part of the industry like I had expected.  I picked up my lanyard and could hear pulsing sounds and music coming from the dimly lit convention hall.  I headed towards the noise.

Once inside, I experienced immediate sensory overload.  People were EVERYWHERE.  There were smoke machines and lasers making patterns in the clouds of smoke emitting from them.  There was loud music and loud sound effects were bursting from speakers at booths all around me.  People were standing, mouth-agape with VR headsets on, overwhelmed by their first-time experiencing VR.  People were waiting in lines, people were loudly talking about the life-changing thing they had just seen, people were pitching their products, people were excited to hear more, people were being interviewed in front of expensive cameras, people were being digitally placed in virtual environments live – like I said, there were a lot of people.

Big name companies dominated the floor commanding the largest turnouts and longest wait-times for experiences.  Vive, Oculus, Unity, Microsoft (that HoloLens Easter egg hunt was so cool!), StarVR, Mindshow, and 3D Live all had large spaces that easily could have fit about 6 of the lesser-known brand’s spaces within.  The lines to experience what these companies were offering were long – sometimes wrapping up and down the rows of booths.  I enjoyed watching other people try out these experiences (a lot of which I had already seen – namely the ones featured at the Vive and Oculus booths) and seeing their faces and hearing what they had to say after.

Personally, I was more interested in the smaller people.  Ingenious VR was there showing off their First Date VR experience which placed viewers in the middle of three awful first dates.  It was a choose your own adventure experience where the viewer could choose what to say to these dates and then the scenes would play out accordingly.  It was all fully practical and filmed with a 360 camera – there was a full set and several different actors present in the scenes.  It was great!  I felt immersed and I enjoyed having the agency of choosing my own dialogue.  Codon was also there, showing off their new Micro Cosmic Worlds VR experience.  The experience is designed to shrink users down to the size of an atom stopping at various sizes on the way down.  It was designed as an educational experience to help students understand just how small things can get when you get microscopic.  I enjoyed their interest in building educational tools with VR.  Sketchbox were also there and I was shocked at how small of a space they had.  I personally feel that Sketchbox will be one of the most widely used tools in the future of VR UX – I absolutely love the prototyping you can do without having to write a single line of code and can see a plethora of situations where it would come in handy.

I sat in on two and a half talks in the auditoriums and it was wonderful getting to hear the perspectives of people working for big name brands in the industry and to hear about how they use VR in things like the music industry, film production, and video games.  Lots of different perspectives were present and it was nice getting to hear the discourse among them.  I particularly enjoyed a panel titled VR and the Evolution of Entertainment that featured Avi Gandhi, James Iliff, April Warren, Cortney Harding, and Tye Sheridan because of the wide array of voices and opinions present.

Overall, I had a ton of fun getting to see firsthand what is going on in the world of VR.  It was nice to see such a huge consumer turnout – I heard one person call it the “Coachella of VR” which I thought was great (especially considering the entire conference last year would have fit in just one of the auditoriums they were holding talks in).  VR is expanding quickly and people are rapidly creating more and more amazing experiences.  What I’m most looking forward to next year is seeing some of the small booths from this year taking up as much space as the current big names on the market.

About the Author

Zach Anderson is Apples and Orange’s Studios Augmented Reality/Virtual Reality developer. He’s obsessed with futuristic technology and is currently working on creating AR tools to aid teams through the creative process and crafting exciting new VR experiences to enable a rich, interactive future of musical theatre. When he’s not working, he’s probably playing with the Vive or spending time with his his two cats, Amy and Alex.