We live in a highly digitised world, a place where the possibilities of technology are further defined by our desire for a sense of community and a need for both interactivity with it and control over it. In this context, shifting consumer demand and technology advancements are delivering new and distinctly immersive aspects to entertainment.
The macro trend underpinning this is the omnipresence of the mobile phone. Ericsson predicts that by 2020, 70 percent of the world’s population – 6.1 billion people – will use a smart phone. This commonplace connective device in the pocket of gamers, bookworms, film buffs, and music and sport fans is putting a new slant on leisure time.
Movie-goers to the newly released film-game hybrid Late Shift are invited to control the direction of the heist-thriller via the technology in their pocket. This convergence of the physical and digital is widening in its influence and appeal: a typical consumer now augments their gig experience with lively conversation on social media; enjoys a new level of fantasy through gaming in virtual reality or sits in a stadium watching instant replays of the live sporting event from multiple camera angles. People are becoming not just spectators but active participants in the entertainment they consume.
Mass virtual reality
A teenager, wired up to a sophisticated bit of virtual reality kit in his bedroom, is immersed in one of most defining moments of the 20th century. With the Apollo 11 VR game, he is transported in time and space to 1969, where he takes control of the command module, lands the lunar lander and intimately explores the surface of the moon.
The emergence of VR technology at a range of price points spells innovation in the entertainment sector in 2016 and beyond. Deloitte has predicted that the market will achieve billion-dollar status this year when a predicted 12.2 million VR headsets will be sold. From the Oculus Rift, the Sony PlayStation VR and HTC’s Vive headsets to the smartphone-powered Samsung Gear and Google Cardboard, consumers have been catapulted into a seductive, digitally powered fantasy world.
Immersive, engaging and at times overwhelming, the VR experience is marking a mark. In the United States, National Basketball League, NBA, has recently partnered with VR production company NextVR to deliver virtual live streams of its games, available to viewers with the use of a Samsung Gear VR headset and Samsung mobile phone. At London’s Royal Academy gallery, technology and the art world intersect at the forthcoming “Virtually Real”. This exhibition of 3D printed artworks has been created with software programmes including Tilt Brush that allow the user to paint in a 3D space with virtual reality.
A virtual reality check is waiting in the wings for other genres too. The fictive universes of cinema and literature are experimenting with the concept. The appointment of a “VR czar” at Sony Pictures illustrates how Hollywood studios might view VR as a considered, agile tool to mitigate declining movie-going audiences. There is also potential to deliver a new dimension to books. “At the moment the most immersive experience of a book is the movie version of it – why are those two separate experiences?” questions Amanda Gosling, executive partner, IBM Interactive Experience, Global. “With virtual reality you can start giving the option of getting much more multi-sensorial and immersive in the consumption of the written word.”
Game changing gaming
According to recent research from market specialist Neilsen, more than half of the population in the world’s industrialised countries now identify as gamers. “Today’s gaming generation is very inclusive, with tailored experiences across demographics,” explains the report. “By now, gamers have become a balanced demographic across ages and genders.”
Design-led quality of the production coupled with sophisticated technology now make gaming experiences powerful and immersive observes Anna Bateson, video strategy director, Guardian Media Group. She salutes the “extraordinary community and appetite that has grown up around gaming” and how that has paved the way for an extremely compelling experience on a variety of devices.
The apparatus that is now lending gaming wider appeal and allowing it to find new niches, is the mobile phone. According to a recent report from research specialist Mintel, half of consumers use their phones to game.
“We are going to continue to see gaming always finding new niches,” observes Mat Hunter, director of strategy at the Central Research Laboratory. “[At the moment] there is a lot of interest around mental health, mental wellbeing and what might be termed serious games.”
In the popular Peak app, mobile gaming trends intersect with a rising consumer interest in wellness. Like other products of this type, it attempts to run counter to the popular thinking that computer games are bad for you. Testing, tracking and challenging cognitive performance, Peak has been designed to be a fitness app for the mind. It delivers snippets of daily brain training and strategies for maximising your grey matter in professional life: mental workouts with a side order of self-quantification.
The fact that gaming is now such an everyday aspect of consumer’s lives allows it to have a far-reaching impact outside of the confines of entertainment too. Clive Grinyer, process improvement director for Premier Banking at Barclays is interested in how things in the gaming sphere play out in the real world, be that warehouse logistics or brain surgery. “We get over a lot of the problems of the adoption of technology if we put it into a gaming environment,” says Grinyer. “What we then need to make sure is that we design it correctly for all the other applications that start to pop out once we have learned how it works in gaming.”
In today’s search-driven world, people want additional layers of meaning, engagement, convenience and enjoyment in their consumption of live events. Fulfilling that demand, the smart arena combines high speed broadband; rich content displays and interactive technologies. “The “connected stadium” experience allows fans’ experience of a sports event or concert to be augmented through the availability of replays, special interviews or alerts about merchandise and refreshment deals on their smartphones,” notes a recent World Economic Forum/Accenture report.
A showcase of tech innovation, in keeping with its proximity to Silicon Valley, Levi’s Stadium is home to the San Francisco 49ers football team. If fan interaction is now increasingly dependent on connectivity, the stadium’s 40 gigabits per second capacity more than delivers. WiFi is accessible in every part of the structure and free to all.
70,000 plus fans can benefit from high tech features that make going to a football game more fun. These include giant digital screens in each end zone, dozens of 4K TVs positioned throughout the venue, high tech beacons delivering wayfinding as well as hospitality offers and a stadium app which covers a myriad of bases including the ability to watch high definition instant replays or find the toilet with the shortest queue.
“Instead of simply being different [to the at-home fan experience], what if the in-stadium experience was a super-set of all experiences?” questions Phil Gilbert, general manager of IBM Design. IBM’s work with US football team the Atlanta Falcons similarly uses Internet of Things; digital engagement; and social media technology to produce a captivating hybrid experience for the fan in the stadium.
This work, which is set to launch as part of the new stadium in 2017, requires a particular kind of design thinking. “When you start thinking about the merging of digital and real world experiences there is a lot of potential to address a lot of user desires,” he says. “Rather than thinking about the product as being a stadium or a football team, we have to think about the product as being a fan: the experience that the user is going through.”