In a bid to make VR content more social, Samsung brought its Hypercube installation to Reading Festival.
Music festivals are a main fixture of summer, and in spite of all the mud, some of the world’s most popular gigs happen in England. While Glastonbury might be the first name that springs to mind, Reading Festival—which happens just outside London at the end of August—is the oldest one still going. Since it started in 1955, it has hosted music legends from Pink Floyd, Fleetwood Mac, The Rolling Stones and AC/DC, Nirvana, Metallica, Green Day and many more.
But as nice as all the music was, I was there for the VR, and quickly drifted towards the giant shimmering cube that Samsung had set up to give festivalgoers the chance to create what they called a “unique interactive audio-visual experience.” With groups of up to 30 people taking turns to create a ‘360 Infinity Selfie’ through collective user-controlled performance.
The ‘Hypercube’ where it all happened was a bold and rather striking 40-foot-tall structure that all the way through the day attracted large crowds- bigger than some of the stages around it.
Those long queues were efficiently managed by a friendly team in Samsung t-shirts, who briefed everyone as they waited for their turn. They also kept the crowd entertained by letting them try out some content on the new Samsung Gear VR, and registered their email addresses on tablets so they could be sent their selfie videos afterwards.
As I got to the head of the line, we were all instructed to put on some plastic overshoes so as not to smudge the mirrors on the floor with footprints. This was definitely getting curiouser and curiouser.
Once inside the cube’s small antechamber, our guide proceeded to psych everyone up and tell us what to expect when entering the next room where the selfie action would happen.
This being a typical British summer day (i.e. unbearably hot and muggy) many in my group were looking rather sunburned and more than a bit wilted. So it was a credit to the enthusiastic steward (smart move by Samsung to hire young actors for that job) that he managed to whip up the crowd to shout at the top of their lungs that they were ready to go into that blissfully air-conditioned room.
Once they got inside the infinity room, however, people needed no encouragement to shout and gasp, as it was genuinely impressive. Every surface was covered in shiny mirrors with projected lights creating a myriad of hypnotic patterns that were striking without being disorientating.
At the center of the room was a pillar with about a dozen or so Samsung Galaxy S8 smartphones, setup so that users could quickly choose what kind of music and graphics they wanted to beam out during their experience.
The beauty of it was that all the individual choices went into the mix, so each group of strangers instantly bonded over producing that shared visual and soundscape. We then had about 30 seconds of intensive dancing around to those sounds and lights as a 360 camera suspended from the roof captured the giant selfie action.
The entire experience only took three minutes or so (not counting time spent in line of course) and people were encouraged—with the promise of prizes—to share it using the #ShareTheStage hashtag. All in all it was textbook social media best practice, with the added 360 element. And that’s what makes it so interesting.
Virality is about creating something that is easily replicable, yet provides enough scope for variation so that each experience is also unique and personal. A great example of this is the Ice Bucket Challenge that raised over $100m for ALS research in a month.
Producing compelling and easily accessible content that people want to share is probably the biggest hurdle facing VR at the moment, so what’s interesting about the approach Samsung is taking here is that they struck that sweet spot between simplicity and wow factor.
There was a real communal sense of enjoying the technology together, and that, it seems to me, is what content makers looking to make VR content “sticky” need to focus on—creating an emotional connection to the moment and to one another.
Image Credit:Tom Atkinson / R3Digital