Ahead of its sixth anniversary, we chat with the Dutch duo responsible for this celebrated international conference.
It was almost a year ago that VRDays, the Amsterdam-based multi-day XR conference, celebrated its fifth anniversary—a hard feat to pull off in an ever-changing industry.
The conference, more like a convention, was hosted across the Dutch capital in numerous buildings and boasted of a variety of exhibitions, art installations, numerous sponsors, overlapping educational talks, and an international array of attendees. After starting as a small, local meetup half a decade ago, the duo behind the event, Benjamin de Wit and Daniel Doornink, are proud of all they’ve accomplished.
Last year, VRScout reported for the first time from the event, speaking with the founders about how much their quinquennial meant to them and what they expected for the future of XR moving into year six. As we edge closer to the now online conference, VRDays Europe 2020 New Horizons Edition, we reflect back to 2019 and the sentiments of both de Wit and Doornink as they pondered what they built together and what’s to come.
How was VRDays formed?
Doornink: “Dutch VR Days” was the original name, [but recently] we’ve considered changing the name from “VRDays to XRDays.” We wanted to do four-to-five full weeks of VR sessions in a theatre. Benjamin is an actor, he also had access to a venue. I was a nerd coming from banking, which I loved, but I was really interested in VR. [Additionally,] I had more ambitions than just driving the community [we built]. I also went to work for VideoStich in Paris as the VP of Partnerships, then went to Silicon Valley. I went to Oculus Connect One and that’s where a lot of the XR community solidified and I love it.”
de Wit: “I wanted [VRDays] to be an event that nurtures and feeds people from all sides, in business and art. [I imagined] people from all over the world coming here to meet each other, find friends and other people who would want to work with them.”
Why VR? What set the technology apart for you?
Doornink: “The whole reason to go into VR was to be someone else, to go somewhere else. I love that. Two times I’ve had the feeling of goosebumps [in VR]—when I tried a piece called, “Technolust,” and also while being in social VR with someone else interacting with me at the same time [also in a headset].”
What is it like to form and run an event of this scale as a small team?
Doornink: “So much fun. So much exhaustion. It’s facilitating others—the team and attendees. It’s extraordinarily fun. You have to be extroverted. You get energy from talking to people and helping them. I love seeing people come back, from attendees to exhibitors, but it’s not a monetary reward. When you set it up and you’re busy with an event, you’re just caught up in doing it. It’s just hard to make sure you have steady growth; [event management is] highly volatile and you have to take risk.”
de Wit: “The past [few years have been] a journey…from having never organized something more than a birthday party to suddenly an event with so many exhibitors…it’s quite a journey! It’s day-in and day-out. We have an amazing team. We try to lead and we try to serve—we are all about serving the industry, about facilitating and offering. That’s why we have installations like the Church of VR, and panels and roundtables [for creatives and entrepreneurs]. It costs a lot of money to put up this event. It’s viable—people are here. It is possible, but not to make more at the moment. I make the analogy of [raising] a child—you don’t want your little girl to go from four years old to fourteen years old in just a moment; it’s not about the end result, it’s about the process.”
How does it feel to hit half a decade of VRDays?
de Wit: “I think there will be a lot of changes [moving forward]. It will look pretty silly looking back, but we already look pretty silly! Ha! I think my daughter will be proud of her father that he was there in the beginning [of it all].”
So, what do the next five years of VRDays look like?
Doornink: “In five years it’s going to be the biggest VR event in Europe! We want to change venues, expand [the size]. I wouldn’t change a lot other than that. There’s so much happening and we’re proud of that. The core of VRDays is having lots of topics and people connecting to people to grow the ecosystem—that will not change. We will not let it be just a B2B event. It will always be boutique; there will be booths, demos, talks. We want to make every visitor happy, but that’s the hardest part. How do we make sure we have a VR event that caters to attendees and touches all industries? It’s why our slogan is “drive business forward.”
de Wit: “We’re in this together, we’re doing this together. We’re part of something big and it’s only going to get bigger! There are two parts to [discussing the next five years]: what’s behind the scenes and what’s in plain sight. We already started with segmentation of the market. We will better understand how to connect supply and demand. I think people are scared of it as too artsy and creative, but it’s also great for business, science, healthcare. Sometimes you have to address certain people in a certain way. It’s a little bit like a trojan horse—once we get them here we’ll immerse them in all the great programming!”
What are the top trends you see in the XR industry moving forward?
“1. A continued focus on polished hardware development and software creation, especially for B2C.
2. Connecting part of the bigger puzzle between humans and emerging technologies and how all kinds, from AI to machine learning to big data to 5G connect with one another and us. It’s about singularity. It might seem a bit too philosophical, but all these pieces fit together. Extend your gaze from XR and see all the other things that fit together, too…crypto, blockchain, etc. They’re not just buzzwords.
3. Increasing diversity in the industry. We were happy with some of our VRDays events being well-mixed, like the university dinner or speakers, but disappointed about the investor dinner. We acknowledge our own identities and how the community reflects our faces back at us. Female and non-white colleagues have been telling me how they are treated in the industry and I see how different it is to how I’ve been treated in this industry. We need help moving forward to find the right voices of marginalized groups. We need to invite more people into the space. We need to do programming in the future that caters to more types of people, this includes founders, creatives, investors and curators.”
“1. Training tools for companies.
2. Universities and educational systems will be using more VR. It’s being adopted by multidisciplinary groups throughout academia.
3. The development and integration of XR technology into more sensory experiences including haptics, and smells, as well as into suits / clothing, multi-uses of AI.”
What are the biggest challenges for the industry or your event?
Doornink: “My fear is that the initial pioneers lost energy and they were good people. I don’t want that to happen again, but I think we can match our enthusiasm with our technology and funding now.”
de Wit: “You have to consider the journey of the thing you’re making. Companies need a bigger perspective, but they don’t have the bandwidth. The most challenging elements of doing business are that some people or businesses only think about a very small part of the whole production and implementation cycle. They think content, they think of only some parts [of the whole]; you have to see how it gets implemented into a larger organization and you must consider which organization or people need it. You have to think an idea all the way through. You have to consider all the moving parts, it’s not just one thing.”
Interested in attending a wholly remote VRDays November 4-6 this year or sponsoring the event? Want to know more about the programming or answer their open call? Check out the VRDays website for their New Horizons Edition.
Image Credit: Studiotweemaal.com