Over a hundred guests from London’s media and advertising world converged on Google’s gleaming Pancras Square HQ on 29 March. They came to get a taste of the future of VR storytelling with Daydream, and in particular the projects that the Guardian has created together with Google’s News Labs. These are my takeaways.
1) The Guardian’s First Impressions wins by treating you like a baby. It’s clever idea to replicate the vision colour perception of a baby and submit you to an occasionally terrifying experience – at one stage alone and desperately pressing a button to cry and alert your virtual parents. It launches in April on Daydream.
2) 3D video mapping technology has improved exponentially. First Impressions nails it, and keeps the Point of View (POV) simple
3) The experience is still niche. “Underworld can currently only be experienced through a Daydream-ready phone with a Daydream View headset.” says the Guardian website. The same will be true for First Impressions.
4) Focus on impact versus reach. Perhaps to reflect the small number of Daydream ready devices on the market, the Guardian have focused on influencing policy makers or educational productions. So for example they took solitary confinement simulator 6×9 to the White House for South By South Lawn.
5) VR and 360 video producers can learn a lot from magicians – i.e. the misdirection needed to focus your gaze in the right place. VR Producer Katy Newton has an awesome deck on this. Meanwhile look for the moonwalking bear.
6) It’s tricky for publishers to produce gaming experiences – like the Guardian’s Underworld. The CGI in a walking simulator will never match up with Resident Evil on a PSVR, and waving a torch around palls after a while. The best part is the voice-over with Will Self and others.
7) VR is still expensive. I spoke to one major British publisher at the event who told me quotes of €100k+ from developers are not unusual. They were not planning any projects at all. Many of the agency and PR people I spoke to were new to VR or still puzzling over how best to use it. But it’s clear they are the ones with money to experiment right now.
8) Reuters Institute is producing a VR report – due out on 27 April. Until then you should definitely make sure you read the USA Today VR report. It’s gold dust.
9) Publishers (with money) should invest in 3D video mapping, awesome narrative or conversational audio, and try out CGI experiences for news (check out the BBC’s We Wait). But Nonny de la Pena could have told you all that back in 2015!
10) In short, VR in news publishing is for “events and encounters that you couldn’t otherwise have, to involve you in the story and give you different points of view” says Francesca Panetta, the Guardian’s executive editor, virtual reality.