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The future of VR storytelling

In today's episode, I'm gonna be diving into something that I'm just feeling a little bit inspired by today. It's based on the subject, what is the future of VR storytelling? That's what we're all trying to figure out right? Like, all of us are interested in creating creative, narrative driven pieces of work in virtual reality. We are all trying to envision what the future of this is, because we all agree there is a future but we’re not really sure what it looks like. So I'm gonna dive into my predictions and my general thoughts on the subject in this episode.

Read on for the full transcription or listen to the podcast episode here

So the future of VR storytelling. I feel like I've covered some of this in a previous episode. In fact, it was episode number seven, where I talked about what I think the immersive industry will look like in five to 10 years. So if you've not listened to that episode, maybe go back and check that out. That is my high level thoughts and my predictions, I guess, for the overall immersive industry. And it's funny, right? Because we're in an industry that changes so much, we’re discovering new things, new technologies are constantly coming out, the hardware is changing, everything. We're seeing more and more activity around social VR, for example, Apple has made some quite big acquisitions. Over the last couple of months, do you see Facebook about to launch horizons, which is their version of Ready Player Ones Oasis? You know, we're seeing a lot of stuff happen in the general overall immersive space but what about storytelling? What about us creatives?

Where's the future for us? What is VR storytelling going to look like in the future?

Now, unless you are a Mystic Meg, no one knows, right? That's the whole point. We all agree that there is some future, but we're not sure what it looks like. We're in that messy beginning where everything is up for grabs. Everything is trial and error, everything has to be tried just to see whether it works to see what the reaction is. And the difficulty is, we are definitely still in that phase of the medium, where everything's a bit novel. So we're in that weird bit where we all agree there's a future, but we haven't tried everything yet, so we're not really sure what doesn't work in terms of VR storytelling. And obviously, VR storytelling is such a generic term, because that encompasses everything, right? I mean, my version of VR storytelling is very different to what someone else might consider VR storytelling.

I'm more interested in kind of character driven, passive, first time experience dramas created usually in 360 video, but some of the big power house production companies in VR prefer high end, CGI created interactive pieces. And the whole point being, you know, for the piece to tell a story, that's still the same, but the way that they achieve that is very different to the way that I achieve that, which is wildly different to the way that you might achieve that. And, and it's not to say that anyone is right or wrong, because again, this is a spectrum really, isn't it?

Essentially, if you're telling stories in VR, then you are a VR storyteller but where does that leave us? Because I mean, we can all agree, what a film is but within film, you've got different genres, different lengths, different styles, it will appeal to different people. But within VR storytelling, we don't even know what to call them. Do you call it a VR film? Do you call it a VR game, an experience? All of these different kind of capture technologies, the way that you experience them is also different. It's just a complete shit show really, isn't it? And part of that is quite fun, because we are part of the group of pioneers shaping that, which is quite exciting but at the same time, where is it all going to go?

So I've been thinking about this a lot recently, because I am someone that really really enjoys creating experiences for a first time user. I like creating quite simple VR storytelling experiences that don't have a lot of interaction and I want it to be able to be seen in a group context, usually by a first time VR audience. That's what I get excited about. Those are the kinds of stories that I like to tell but there are so many hurdles and challenges that come with that. And in my heart of hearts, I don't think that in five years time, we're all going to a cinema, and putting on VR headsets on or whatever the version of cinema is in the future. I don't believe that we're gonna go to a cinema and put on a headset and sit there and experience a piece of VR passively together. Now that might come as a shock to a lot of people because that is at the core of what I do but my belief is the next five years, we will have those experiences, we will put on those cinemas, we will go to VR arcades, we will create these group showing experiences but eventually, we will get to the point where the kind of VR storytelling that is commonplace will be that hybrid between film and game that we're all constantly toying with and teetering around.

As much as I love passive VR storytelling, which is how I would kind of categorise what I do, It's a passive experience. You’re not making active choices. I love that. And I think there is absolutely space for it and I think it's important because it is those kinds of first time experiences that are going to get people into our ecosystem BUT in 10 or20 , whatever years time, I think VR storytelling will look similar to the kind of idea and the, the, what's the word the kind of the way that someone might play something like Dungeons and Dragons. There's basically you know, a dungeon master and they’re kind of the person that creates the world, there are certain rules and it's up to the dungeon master to create the universe, to create branch narratives and that dungeon master is constantly reacting to what the players do. So they can't know what the story is ahead of time, they have a vague idea of where they want to take it but they have to kind of be responsive and reacting to what the characters doing. I think that is the future of VR storytelling, the future will be this kind of this responsive, reactive story, it will be branched, it will be active, it won't be a passive experience and I could be wrong but obviously, these are totally my predictions. And obviously, this is coming from someone that at the core of my business is doing some of those more passive experience, so you know, it's not like I'm doing myself any favours by predicting this is, but this is just genuinely what I believe to be true.

The future of VR storytelling will be those kind of, I don't know whether that will look like

AI or will be the equivalent of the VR Dungeon Master (which sounds quite kinky really doesn't it?) or you know, when you're a kid, and you play games with your friends, because you're just using your imagination, maybe it’s like that. It's kind of a version live action role play or something. I remember I used to do so much of that with my friends as kid, we used to pretend to be the Spice Girls and I went through a phase of being absolutely obsessed with Dragonball Z and so me and my friends would pretend to run around pretending to be Super Sapiens. Anyone that's listened to my tech talk already knows that I was obsessed with Xena, the warrior princess, I used to play that game by myself, running around the house pretending I was in storylines different storylines and anyway and I reckon that sort of thing, that imagination that you have as a kid will be what VR storytelling is going to be in the future. That’s as close as I can kind really describe it. I feel like the future of VR storytelling is something that I can't even really put into words, but it's most similar to basically, the imagination, the role playing games that you would play as a kid, I think that's where this all goes. Now don't get me wrong, I feel like VR and AR or whatever it is in the future, will still be a massive part of everyone's lives, you probably will go to group showings of things or most likely, VR and AR will be this kind of layer on top of a an event or, you might go to a cinema, and you might already be wearing your Apple glasses or whatever they are and maybe you have this extra experience on top of the cinematic experience. So maybe you're seeing the film, and a bit like what 3d glasses were and maybe certain things pop out and they walk around the the environment or maybe you're at an art gallery, and the art is coming to life and it does surround you. Or maybe you're a music gig and if anyone's seen the the thing Three did, where there was a big showcase fashion show about 5G and as the models were walking down the runway, you could see these big animated, features kind of coming out from the stage and fire behind like the models following them, trailing them behind. It was all of these graphics and it was all in AR. That is, I think, that's going to be the future, not necessarily of storytelling but that's going to be this add on experience to current storytelling mediums maybe.

But in terms of you putting on a headset, you are completely immersed in a virtual world, I’m going back to that idea of live action role playing, that kind of Dungeons and Dragons secret cinema, for example.If you don’t know what the secret cinema experiences is quite a popular one in London, and it's basically where they build an actual world from an IP. So the one that I went to was for 28 days later and you go to this compound and from the moment that you step on to the location, everything is built from that world. So you are all of a sudden, playing a character in this big, open world. And again, it's responsive, there are actors walking around that don't know what you're going to do, but they will respond to you. There's a certain path that they try and lead you through but you do have choices, you can make decisions and at the end of that, you watch the film.

So to me virtual reality, storytelling will be the equivalent of that secret cinema experience. And then maybe at the end of it, you would see a traditional linear film. What I'm saying is, I think and again, I'm just quite inspired, so that's why I'm rambling about this, but I feel like what I'm saying is that the passive VR storytelling experience, and when I say passive, I don't just mean a three doff 360 project. I'm talking anything that involves you just kind of sitting down and experiencing a linear narrative. I don't think that's going to be a thing in the future of VR sports. I think it's going to play a very, very important role over the next five to 10 years to get people into the medium. I think it's going to be really important to see Some of those experiences achieve on a very high level to get people to take VR storytelling seriously.

In fact, just yesterday some friends of mine in Brazil won an Emmy for a VR project they were working on last year. They are the first Brazilian company to win a primetime Emmy. It’s absolutely outstanding and exciting that we're seeing these huge achievements, this huge recognition for our industry, because when some when one of us succeeds, all of us do. We're all playing the same game, we're all trying to create this space where immersive is taken seriously by the mainstream, or trying to get more people into the ecosystem to understand its power because I think we can all agree that when you do experience VR storytelling for the first time, it is mind blowing, it is mind blowing. But as we grow, as we get more people into the ecosystem, my personal prediction is that we will shift, we will shift so that in the future, VR storytelling will be much more responsive, reactive, and it will be a combination of maybe - I mean, I don't think it would always have to be social - but even if you're not playing with other people, and I say playing isn't that interesting that even the language around it changes, you're no longer watching something, you're no longer experiencing something, you're actually actively doing something you're playing you are, you're living your five year old fantasies, even if you're not playing with real humans that are characters, maybe you're playing with other AI characters, is going to be bonkers. We're all going to be actors in the future, that is quite an interesting notion. All kids are actors, all kids play their own games and imagine themselves as dinosaurs and jumping over lava and every kid plays in this space of acting. And then it's really funny because when you get older, being an actor, is like this choice of career that most people don't know how you can do that and it's like, we literally all did that! We did that until society told us not to do that. And hopefully in the future, those kids will grow up and they would never have to grow out of that, they never have to grow out of that phase of having a fantasy world and an imagination, they can just literally let it run wild.

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