How VR saved Sundance, Baba Yaga premiere, and helped introverts

In January, Daisy Ridley and Jennifer Hudson, the two star voice actresses in the Baba Yaga Movie, went to the premiere and walked the red carpet together. More precisely, their avatars did.

Is virtual reality (VR) dead, or is it booming? Is it a niche for gaming or the future of storytelling? The answer very much depends on who you ask - but the ongoing  pandemic and an uptick of headset sales during the recent holiday shopping season have put these questions front and center. 

Protocol discussed this topic with Survios' Nathan Burba, Baobab Studios' Maureen Fan, and HP's Joanna Popper.

Introverts' joy

Maureen Fan, an executive producer of Baba Yaga, was extremely pleased with how the premiere went. Baba Yaga, starring Kate Winslet, Daisy Ridley, Jennifer Hudson, and Glenn Close, invites viewers to be the main character in a haunting fairytale world reimagined. Their choices determine the ending of this story of love, fortitude, and magic. 

Due to the pandemic restrictions, the Baba Yaga crew could not celebrate the movie premiere physically and organized a virtual reality party instead. According to Maureen, it was a huge success.

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“Everybody had a good time because you felt like you were there. It was a huge success, and people in the audience enjoyed it. It was surprising because I totally forgot that I was not actually there,” said Maureen.

Shortly after that, the Sundance movie festival took place in virtual reality. Maureen is an introvert and does not usually want to go to these events and hang out with people.

“Something about being in VR allows  me to remain an introvert. I feel like I still have control and can engage with other people. But you do not have the usual facial expressions that you normally do. Instead, you have to press emoticons or make funny gestures. There are also some cool things that you can do that you cannot in real life, such as flying. Conversation starters become about the avatar that you created, not the weather,” she said.

‘I don’t play unless it’s with someone else’

Before Baobab Studios, Maureen worked at Zinga and was in charge of the Farmville franchise. The success of such casual games, she thinks, is due to the fact that you can engage with your friends and have some control over the virtual world.

“VR definitely has that meditative effect too,” she said.

Nathan Burba from Survios, which has seven game titles so far, with Creed being the best performing one, said he doesn’t play a game unless it is with someone else.

Many people play games to connect with other people. The Multiplayer option keeps gamers more engaged.

In general, the pandemic is good for VR, Nathan said. People are stuck at home and on zoom meetings, and many of them are readjusting to the new reality and gearing up for the trends that are coming in 2-3 years.

Joanna believes that VR will see further growth, as people are at home using various ways not only to relax but also to collaborate in different ways.

A push towards VR

Joanna from HP, which has launched three different headsets and has another one coming, said the sales are way up, as the company saw an increase in at-home gaming. Enterprises are using VR for business purposes.

“We see people using VR to learn, to connect, to collaborate, and to create. There are so many work environments where you are not able to do what you would want to do in person, so that’s where we see a push towards VR,” she said.

On the education side, stimulus packages are pumping a lot of money into prepping the educational world for the schools of the future in case of the potential future pandemics.

“Last March, all kids got sent home. Some of them had laptops, others did not. Certainly, most people did not have VR headsets. Schools are thinking about how to prepare our kids for the future. Next time, if something like this happens again, kids do not have to sit and stare at zoom for hours a day. VR is a part of that consideration for the future. We will continue to see spikes from that area, as well,” Joanna said.

Maureen hopes to see more research on how VR headsets impact brains, eyes, and health in general. But otherwise, she’s excited about the future of VR.

“I am excited about the metaverse stuff that is happening and allowing you to hang out with each other. We see an amazing boom in that and more and more events being created. I am also excited about the ability to maneuver between live events and virtual events. As we are leaving the pandemic, people will start having more live events, but there is still a large population that will not necessarily feel comfortable. All of us, who have been at home, are now more used to attending things virtually,”  she said. Maureen believes that in the future, events will happen both physically and virtually.

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