#52: Kevin Williams on collective immersive experiences, the Digital Out-of-Home Entertainment landscape, history of military simulation & evolution of VR, edutainment, & what amusement parks can teach VR

Kevin-Williams2Kevin Williams has recently published a book on The Out-of-Home Immersive Entertainment Frontier: Expanding Interactive Boundaries in Leisure Facilities.

In this extensive interview, Kevin gives a comprehensive overview of the Digital Out-of-Home Entertainment (DOE) sector and what VR developers can learn from amusement parks and what type of opportunities there are to provide immersive experiences to large groups of people.

Kevin also provides a lot of insight into the history of how AR and VR developed out of military simulations and applied into what he sees are three different types of immersive entertainment experiences: Ones that are designed for audiences and shared group experiences, individual experiences, and finally educational applications and experiences.

Here’s the Venn diagram that’s discussed at the end of the show that maps out the DOE landscape.


It’s a rich interview filled with a lot of unique and interesting insights, and a more detailed listing can shown down below.

If you have any questions for Kevin, then feel free to reach out to him at: kwp@thestingerreport.com

Reddit discussion here.


  • 0:00 – Intro KWP Consultancy that focuses on Digital Out-of-Home Entertainment. Founding chairman of DNA Association. Co-author of The Out-of-Home Immersive Entertainment Frontier: Expanding Interactive Boundaries in Leisure Facilities
  • 1:00 – Comprehensive overview of Digital Out-of-Home Entertainment. Held first conference in 2011. Created an association. Tired of explaining the market to others, and got a lot of industry leaders to participate. What it has to offer.
  • 2:55 – How Digital Out-of-Home Entertainment is relevant to VR. Arcade golden age from 80s-90s, but then became placid and compliant. Public and audience moved on. From 90s onward would visit out-of-home entertainment facilities. Arcade companies. Crossover for VR. Where VR first hit consumers with Virtuality and Alternative Worlds was the arcade machine. VR continued in simulation and military applications, but had floundered up until Palmer Luckey came along with Oculus VR. It’ll be a second dawn for VR and DOE
  • 6:31 – DOE used to be a bridge from research to the mainstream. Mobile, PC, and fully immersive room as 3 tiers of VR. Future of VR arcades and location-based entertainment. VR is in it’s 4th phase. 1st Ivan Sutherland in 1968. 2nd VPL took NASA tech and created disposable tech. 3rd Virtuality and ended with Virtual Boy. 4th was Oculus VR and resurgence of consumer VR. Used to be beating swords into plowshares — taking military tech and making it available to consumers. It’s been a bit of a reversal of roles with VR coming from mobile technology. Focused on immersive entertainment with DOE and DNA.
  • 10:53 – History of military’s involvement with VR. Translating military technology and make it available to consumers. Simulations were huge in 70s and 80s for defense purposes. Couldn’t build as many tanks as needed, and so train people via simulation. Flight and commercial jet training simulations in VR. Do 80% of training before doing it for real. Simulation industry is real and VR is used by military, law enforcement, railroads, transportation, etc. Was able to try out $2-4 million VR flight simulators. VR came to it’s fruition with simulation. Detailed simulation needed for the apache simulator, and so it required a head-mounted display and move beyond the CAVE screen projection. Apache Helicopter tech lead to AR and VR.
  • 16:51 – Head-tracking. Difficult to nail down from 1968-1990 for how VR was used in the military. Synthetic visual worlds being represented to military pilots. Now create immersive synthetic environments that are believable, immersive and entertaining.
  • 18:07 – History of VR from 1968 to 1990. Big VR developments happening within the military. Military simulators have had a lot of money from US, UK and Israel defense agencies.
  • 19:13 – Car simulation. VR and simulation are viable. There’s no difference between VR and simulation. Speed boat and professional racing drivers learn the tracks through simulation. Professional simulators are made available for consumers.
  • 21:21 – Connection between amusement parks and innovations for digital out-of-home entertainment. Large audiences looking for immersive entertainment experiences. Star Tours was one of the first immersive experiences for amusement parks. Theme parks look for the next big high, and immersive entertainment provides that. Disney Quest built in 1998, and is still open today. It’s the longest-running VR entertainment experience. Aladdin magic carpet ride and Ride the Comix, a comic book sword fighting application. Had hundreds of thousands of people experience VR. Spent over $90 million dollars to develop it. Consumer is cost-effective and immersive, and throw as much possible money as possible to make compelling immersive experiences that encourage repeat visits.
  • 25:12 Use of mobile and tablet tech at Amusement Parks and future of VR/AR HMDs in public spaces at Amusement Parks. Augmented Reality devices are personal, but DOE wants to control the device and provide special devices that are more unique. Three tiers of Amusement Park experiences: 1.) Pay price and experience the theme park attractions in meat space. 2.) Do augmented reality experiences while at the park. 3.) Participate remotely with others via virtual reality.
  • 28:24 – Museums and Libraries and Edutainment applications with AR/VR – Facilities using AR viewing stations and show additional info. If the weather is bad, then show best view. Boosting the experience. AR tablets that superimpose additional info about objects in a museum. At a gallery, tablets will show specific aspects of pieces of art. Taking military situational awareness simulation technology and recontextualizing it for consumers. Education will be a huge part of AR and VR. In the leisure sector, there’s the gamification of exercise
  • 32:36 – Developers could create their own AR experiences at amusement parks. Big corporations are doing this. MagiQuest at Pigeon Forge, TN combination of VR, AR and immersive technology where people role-play being a magician. Doesn’t get a lot attention from the media.
  • 34:53 – Augmenting Laser Tag – Laser Tag is military technology for combat simulations. Laser tag has gone through different waves of popularity. Seeing next-gen laser tag with digital natives who are used to mobile phones and console gaming. Using AR HMDs within laser tag environments as well as digital projection mapping within the environments.
  • 38:08 – 4DX theater opened within US. Porting experiences to incorporate 4DX theater. Cinemas started at amusement parks. Then Lumière brothers thought to project film projecting into walls. But films emerged from amusement parks. Passive film experiences and increasing the immersive experience with physical effects. Drive towards interactivity and 7D films by Triotech where audience can interact and compete with each other. Dark Ride experiences where you shoot at the screen. Transition from passive to interactive narratives. DOE likes to deal with audiences because of economies of scale. Immersive Dome experiences
  • 43:26 – Opportunities for independent VR developers to port content into DOE experiences. Looking for new opportunities to apply their skills
  • 44:45 – Marketing applications of immersive technologies. Promotional and marketing impacts of DOE. Initially thought they’d take over billboards with digital billboards, but realized that they need to create interactive narrative to draw people in. AR bus shelter done by Pepsi. Marketing industry wants to draw people into experiences to build brands. Creating a VR fashion events and virtual fashion show. Dreamworks Teach your own Dragon and using VR experiences to promote movie, and Game of Thrones using VR to promote the show.
  • 49:20 – ImmersiON announces strategic fusion with VRelia. TDVision has done a lot of military simulations. Decided to take on VR HMDs, and used for simulation and training sector. Dedicated system that’s off-the-shelf system for training, simulation, research and development, but also be able to be used in ruggedized and placed into public spaces for the Digital Out-Of-Home Entertainment sector, and have access to the latest technologies.
  • 51:35 – Going towards the Holodeck. NASA and JPL using autonomous astronaut machines. JPL demonstrations using CAVEs to recreate another world. Content source for augmented reality, and used for VR content. Sony Project Morpheus had Mars Rover data. Simulation has been a huge part of space exploration. For every hour of moonwalk, there was 8 hours of simulation. Quad drones using data for virtual tourism. GoPros on submarines, space ships and perhaps even on the Mars rover.
  • 55:45 Venn Diagram that maps out the landscape of Digital Out-Of-Home Entertainment. Amusement and pay-for play sector, theme park sector, retail and hospitality sector, and edutainment & leisure sector. They overlap, but there are two digital gambling and video games are different and self-contained industries.
  • 59:50 – Potential of VR. Experiential technology using forced feedback to make it feel like you’re on Mars or microscopic entity or another person. Three levels of immersive entertainment. Three types of immersive entertainment experiences: Audiences and shared group experiences. Individual experiences. Educational applications and experiences.
  • 1:02:30 – Contact Kevin via kwp@thestingerreport.com

Theme music: “Fatality” by Tigoolio

Rough Transcript

[00:00:05.452] Kent Bye: The Voices of VR Podcast.

[00:00:11.995] Kevin Williams: I'm Kevin Williams. I own the consultancy KWP that also publishes the Stinger Report, the scurrilous newsletter, but I'm also the chairman of the International Immersion Corporation that's just been started, and I'm also the founding chairman of the DNA Association, the Digital Out-of-Home Interactive Entertainment Association. I am purely a specialist in the out-of-home applications of immersive entertainment, and recently, due to the interest in this sector, I'm also the co-author of a book on that subject, The Immersive Frontier, which goes into a little bit more details of what this market offers.

[00:01:00.329] Kent Bye: Yeah, so your book that just came out is called The Out-of-Home Immersive Education Frontier, Expanding Interactive Boundaries in Leisure Facilities. And I think it's a pretty comprehensive overview of really going back to arcades up to today. And so maybe you could talk a bit about what was your intention with what you were trying to do in this book.

[00:01:21.486] Kevin Williams: Well, we were very lucky. Back in 2011, we held the first DNA Digital Out-of-Home Interactive Network Association conference. And this was a toe in the water. We felt that the amusement sector, the attraction sector, the digital entertainment sector weren't being correctly represented. It was argued that both a conference was needed and an association was needed. But also, one of the things I had a problem with was I was getting a little bit tired, along with many of my colleagues, of trying to explain exactly what this market was to investors, to developers, and to operators. And it was suggested that we go away and do a book. The book took slightly longer to compile than we hoped for. It's not war and peace, but it goes into a lot more detail. And we were very lucky that a number of industry personalities, people such as Nolan Bushnell, even Palmer Luckey, were prepared to sit down and give us time to be interviewed, to give their opinions and their observations on why both the amusement industry was the shape it is now. where arcades died, amusement took over, but also looking towards the future of what out-of-home interactive entertainment can actually offer. We have to understand that the out-of-home entertainment market, purely by its scope and purely by the territories that it touches, is a much more bigger monster than just the consumer game sector that is looking at a dedicated console approach.

[00:02:55.012] Kent Bye: How is digital out-of-home entertainment relevant to VR experiences today?

[00:03:02.655] Kevin Williams: The relevance from the VR point of view, I'll try and touch upon a little bit later on, but just for most people's edification, the amusement industry or the arcade industry, the traditional arcade industry's heyday was from the 80s to the 90s. By the mid 90s the console sector had created technology that was comparable if not better than that was available graphically in the amusement sector. And the amusement trade also became placid, compliant. They didn't really want to compete. They were generating revenue. And the arcade industry faded away, is the best way to look at it. It didn't die. No one turned up with a gun and shot it in the head. What fundamentally happened was that the public, the audience, the people who paid the wages of everybody, moved on to do other things with their revenue. What happened, however, from the 90s onwards is the audience for out-of-home entertainment continued to be turning up at family entertainment centers, bowling alleys, cinemas and all that, but they now were much more selective, they were much more sophisticated and they've applied themselves differently towards amusement they still like playing redemption games you know play a game tickets are generated and then those tickets can be turned into prices they also like to play the amusement machines still exist konami sega tato namco is still very strong corporations in their core market of asia And in America, Namco, Bandai Namco as they are now, Sega, and Raw Thrills are still very strong arcade manufacturers. It's just that it doesn't get the publicity that it used to. Going back to the comment you were making, Kent, about the crossover from virtual reality, as it were. The amusement industry was the first place where virtual reality actually touched the mainstream. It had been the toy of the military and the commercial industries in the early 60s and 70s and 80s, but it wasn't until the early 90s, 93, with companies like Virtuality and Alternative Worlds Technology that we saw the technology applied as an entertainment element. And for many people in 1993, 1994, their first taste, their first experience of virtual reality was through the arcade machine. And what has happened over the years is that that technology has continued in the military and the simulation and the training sector, but it's just founded. It hasn't really progressed beyond any fundamental approach towards the consumer, towards the core audience. courtesy of Palmer Luckey and the fantastic inroads that he has achieved in making virtual reality popular. The zeitgeist that he has generated around virtual reality has allowed this technology to bloom again. That said, the application of virtual reality in the outer home entertainment as an attraction, as an amusement component, has never gone away. And the fundamentals are that we in the out-of-home entertainment industry are now hoping that this will be a second dawn for us to take the fundamentals that we learned from the arcade approach of virtual reality and utilize the new technology and new software development capabilities for another bite of the cherry, as it were.

[00:06:31.355] Kent Bye: Yeah, one of the points that you make in your book that I think was really interesting is that the digital out-of-home entertainment used to be the bridge between the academic research applications of technology to the consumer mainstream, but the price points were extremely high. But yet, looking towards where things were headed, that eventually that technology would move into the home. but now it seems like, talking to different people at the Silicon Valley Virtual Reality Conference, that there seems to be this three tiers at least, where you have mobile, then you have your PC-based, and then you have what would be considered the fully immersive room where you're walking around, maybe an omnidirectional treadmill, the really expensive gear that would require an entire room, and safety gear and all that stuff, So I'm curious if you see that on the horizon in terms of the digital out-of-home entertainment if we're going to start to see virtual reality, some of these cutting-edge really high price point technologies coming into these location-based entertainment places that people can go to but eventually maybe they'll end up in our homes.

[00:07:42.367] Kevin Williams: Well that's an excellent point Ken. I call Virtual Reality in its fourth phase of application. The first phase was when Ivor Sutherland actually came up with the idea of synthetic environments and took military grade graphical rendering technology and representational technology and created the Sword of Damocles headset. And then the second phase was when Jaron VPL took the work that he was doing for NASA and the work that he was doing for other corporations or military combines and created a disposable system that could be actually applied in the commercial sector. The third phase for me then would go on to what Jonathan Walden achieved with virtuality and their arcade machines that then led on to all of the arcade approach that ended quite dismally with the Nintendo Virtual Boy. And then, as I said, phase four is really what Palmer has achieved with the work that he was doing, again, in the commercial and military side of the technology, and then sort of the light bulb moment of trying to take that and applying that to a consumer approach. And going back to what you were saying, it is the reversal of roles rather than a beating swords into plowshares, taking military-grade technology from Lockheed Martin, graphical performance technology, vastly expensive, beating that down and turning it into a dream cast that we saw in the 90s. We're now actually seeing mobile phone technology risen to be able to be comparable to the alternative technologies that you would see from the military and training simulation sector. Please understand what Palmer is developing is not a new technology. What Palmer is doing is achieving cost-effective applications of a virtual environment technology. And I have a hat on. I'm in the immersive entertainment sector. I am not just in the head-mounted display or the augmenting reality sector or in the 3D visual immersion or the CAVE, the computer automated virtual systems, or in the dome displays. I am in the whole of the immersive entertainment sector. Whatever it achieves to establish immersion, I'm there, hopefully from an entertainment point of view. And I think, fundamentally, we have to understand that where we're standing now, 2014, looking towards some rumors were saying a few months ago that maybe by 2015, Christmas, we'll be seeing the first of the CV1 machines. The consumer application of augmented reality, of virtual reality, of immersive entertainment is one thing. I am focused, along with the colleagues and the companies that we work with, on looking at achieving immersive entertainment that everybody can pay their bucks, jump inside, and experience.

[00:10:52.945] Kent Bye: Yeah, and it seems like the military has been a common theme in virtual reality since the beginning of ARPA at the time, funding the Sword of Damocles and a lot of work of Ivan Sutherland. And you start to see that since 1968 and probably before that, the military has been interested in simulations and virtual reality. the Apache helicopter, heads-up display, augmented reality, feeding into virtual reality. And I'm curious about where you see that kind of the first phase, maybe car simulations or other types of simulations that you would see in terms of a digital out-of-home entertainment application moving from military into the consumer grade.

[00:11:37.673] Kevin Williams: Well, people who've read my coverage before will know I always like to use the trite phrase of beating swords into plowshares, coming from a number of military experts that saw the ability of Moore's Law, the technology needed to train. You know, I'm always fascinated. I'm speaking to a generation that did not experience the threat of nuclear war or the possibility of the Walsall Pack plowing across Eastern Europe towards Europe. We were very scared at that point in time and we developed a large amount of technology during the 70s and 80s to defend ourselves against what we saw was an imminent Soviet Pact threat. Most of the technology from the internet, the Harrier jump jets, nuclear missiles and all of that technology is very complicated and rather than being able to do, which the Soviet Union was able to do, throw a large number of individuals at the problem, we in the West went for simulation. We couldn't build as many tanks as we wanted to. How do you train people to utilize the Abram tank? You create a very complicated simulator that represents all the fundamental features of the tank and allow the person to train in a simulator. That technology then went on into the commercial simulation sector. I was actually employed, one of my earliest jobs was in the flight simulation and commercial simulation industry, where jumbo jet pilots transferred across the 737 airliners, not by jumping inside the cockpit of a real plane and taking it for a spin, but literally jumping into a full flight simulator, that was using the latest computer graphics technology mirrored to the latest motion technology and being able to at least do part task training before they physically jumped inside the plane. They had done 80% of their training capability in a simulator. The simulation industry exists, it's real. The military uses it, the law enforcement industry uses it, the haulage industry, the railway industry, the transportation sector, all use simulation. These are virtual reality training systems. Just that they don't use head-mounted displays, but they use full projection immersion systems, has nothing to do with it. The technology is not new, it is just that it is of a higher fidelity and a higher cost, obviously, than we in the consumer sector can touch. I was lucky enough when I worked for Hughes Rediffusion, who made Jumbo Jet, 747 and 737, 767 flight simulators, and also military simulators, F-16s. I was able, in my lunch time, when I was working with those guys, to be able to jump into 2, 3, 4 million dollar jumbo jet simulators that were being prepped for application and being deployed into various companies around the world. and, you know, borrow them and you had a quick go at seeing if you could land a 747 with only two engines on Kai Tak with a stormy day. It's one of the most real and immersive experiences that I've ever had, courtesy of the taxpayers of both. the UK and America. That said, virtual reality came to its fruition there because not every corporation or every place could install a vast array motion simulator and the idea that having a head-mounted display system as an alternative to having a full flight simulator was proposed. And this came at the same time, as Kent has alluded to, that a very detailed simulation system was needed for a brand new weapon system that was being deployed into the NATO pact against the Warsaw Pact, and that was the Apache helicopter. a helicopter that not only incorporated fantastic stealth technology and also a very immense and advanced weapon system but also had the capability of offering to the pilot and to the co-pilot visualization or experiential visualization of the world around them using the latest LIDAR and infrared technology. And literally the poor old pilot had to learn to lose one of his eyes to be able to look through a special display system that projected the infrared night vision that was being viewed by the gun cam system into his right eyeball or left eyeball depending on the skill of the operator. And it is that technology that led onto both virtual reality and augmented reality. for the same technology that was created to produce that projection system into the pilot's eye was based on the sort of Damocles technology that Ivor Sutherland had proffered back in the 60s.

[00:16:49.973] Kent Bye: Yeah, and even the head tracking as well, right, that was part of the sort of Damocles that was also from helicopter technology, is that correct?

[00:16:58.060] Kevin Williams: Correct. It's difficult to nail down There are, from 1968 to about 1990, there have been a number of military platforms that have used direct synthetic visual representation into the operator's eye. I have seen systems that are very similar to radar. Some of you will be familiar with the old radar operator where he actually leans into a kind of goggle system and sees the green view. Those type of technologies have been very popular in the Navy as well as the Air Force. There's been the direct eyeball vision which fighter pilots have had where they've either lost one eye or both eyes towards a synthetic view system. The ability to represent a synthetic visual world to the individual that immerses them and they can operate within is not new technology. What we are dealing with now with virtual reality is the means to create a synthetic virtual environment that is both compelling and also entertaining.

[00:18:08.239] Kent Bye: Right. Yeah, and just to follow up on that, when looking at the history of virtual reality, it does seem to go a little dark from 1968 to the 90s. And obviously, it seems like the military has been continually to work on things. And even when you were talking about the waves of virtual reality, you started in 68 and jumped to 1990. Are you aware of big developments that the mainstream may not have been aware of that may have been happening underground and black budgets within the military?

[00:18:38.013] Kevin Williams: If I was aware of them and I'd signed a military contract, I wouldn't talk about them. Luckily, I have never had to sign anything since my time with Hughes Rediffusion. All I can say is, the military training simulation shows that I've gone to, I have seen the DARPA, NASA, Ministry of Defense, and also Mossad, have spent vast amounts of money on head-mounted display technology, long after the popularity in HMDs waned in the late 90s.

[00:19:11.830] Kent Bye: Right. And one of the things that you also bring up that I think is really interesting in your book is the car simulations. And maybe you could talk a bit about racing car simulations that professionals use and how that's being made available to consumers.

[00:19:26.094] Kevin Williams: Well, fundamentally, virtual reality and simulation have vied for credibility. The simulation industry feels that they have validated the wealth and the usefulness that they bring to the table. The commercial and the military simulation industries that depend on simulation systems to train fighter pilots, shuttle astronauts, and train drivers. You know, I used to work with people back at Hughes Reader Fusion that when they first saw virtual reality they used to crack the very poor joke of what's the difference between virtual reality and simulation? Virtually nothing. What we're trying to actually say here is that there's no simulation difference between virtual reality done well and simulation. where train and plane and fighter jet pilots are trained in full task simulation. We also have the sports industry such as speed boat and open and closed wheel racing drivers learning their skills and learning the courses that they have to compete on through simulation. There's a very prominent European company called Cruden that crosses the boundaries of both offering high detailed racing simulation technology for professional drivers as well as offering entertainment variants of those very high task simulators So at one point in time the simulator at one of their facilities at a Canadian entertainment site is being used to teach the latest Canadian racing driver the skills of the Nuremberg course and then after they've used it in the morning, flick of a switch and the system is turned into an entertainment simulator for the entertainment site that is next door.

[00:21:20.118] Kent Bye: Hmm, interesting. The other thing that I find really interesting is the connection between amusement parks and all of these emerging technologies. As a kid, you think of Disney World and Disneyland, but after a certain age, I think a lot of us kind of ignore what is happening there in terms of innovation with digital out-of-home entertainment, unless you have kids, of course.

[00:21:45.934] Kevin Williams: Of course.

[00:21:47.195] Kent Bye: But I'm curious if you could sort of paint a picture as to why people within the virtual reality community should be paying attention to what's happening at amusement parks.

[00:21:56.359] Kevin Williams: Well, the amusement or the theme park, the themed resorts market is important. Large audience looking towards a high level of entertainment, an immersive entertainment experience. Going back to the reason why a individual such as myself from the arcade industry would be pulled into the military simulation sector, goes back to the Swords into Plowshares comment I made earlier, where this company, Hughes Rediffusion, has had great success in taking their technology for flight simulation, immersive training systems, and turning it into Star Tours. Star Tours being one of the first ever immersive simulator theme park attractions, a multi-million dollar system that Disney installed at a number of their parks and proved incredibly popular based on the Star Wars franchise. That led on to many other applications of a simulator motion-based large film experience, Back to the Future and such like. The one thing about the theme park industry is that it looks for the next big high, and a lot of technology that has originated in either military or commercial training and simulation find their ways turning up into the theme park and entertainment sector because of the deep pockets, because of the big budgets that they have. I was lucky enough to be headhunted by Disney a few years after working with Hughes Reader Fusion to work on Disney's entry into immersive entertainment using digital entertainment technology to offer a smaller venue so rather than having to build a two to three hundred acre theme park the idea was to create something the size of a macy's using digital entertainment technology to pull the audience in and offer them a repeat visitation application that was called disney quest we built the first one in nineteen ninety eight And we were very lucky that that facility is still open to this day and represents the longest running application of virtual reality entertainment. The Disney Quest facility has two virtual reality attractions, both Aladdin, which offers you a magic carpet experience, And it's quite compelling, and Ride the Comics, which is a comic book sword fighting experience, that has seen hundreds of thousands of people go through and experience virtual reality entertainment systems. When we developed Disney Quest though, sadly we blew 90 million bucks in developing the concept and building the first initial facilities. That was something at the time, the late 90s, that was felt to be too expensive for Disney to roll out. Obviously now people are re-evaluating the possibilities of what this kind of technology could have. And I just want to underline here There's the consumer application which is creating something that is both cost-effective and immersive. And then there's the theme park and the amusement application, which is something where you throw as much money as the technology is possible to encourage repeat visitations for people to say, wow, I had a really fun time. Here, have another eight bucks. I want to do that again.

[00:25:11.751] Kent Bye: Yeah, and it seems like that the theme parks are also on the cutting edge when it comes to augmented reality games, especially when it comes to mobile phones and tablets. And I'm curious to hear your take in terms of where that is right now, and at what point do you see that it may start to get into mobile augmented reality slash virtual reality headsets where people are walking around amusement parks with head-mounted displays on?

[00:25:42.132] Kevin Williams: It's an interesting one. Back in 2006 and 7, Disney invested quite a large amount of money into a project that was linked to the Kim Possible brand where people wanted around the park holding a unique mobile device and kind of played a treasure hunt game where when they were close enough to the particular experience they took a photo of it it then opened up a game application and the individual that had to compete certain tasks. That concept is still very popular as an approach but the slight difference here is that where Most people see augmented reality as being a personalized item. You know, you'll use your Google Glass, you'll use your PDA, you'll use your mobile phone. We in the outer home entertainment market want to actually have unique devices that the individual uses so they don't drain their batteries, but also we can control and apply the best technology to the interactive device that we hand them to be able to experience. And going back to what you were saying about the crossover, Kent, a lot of us are concerned or not concerned but fascinated by the ability that in the future We may see people turning up at the theme park paying their 20 bucks and being handed a unique HMD or head-mounted display type system that could be a cross between Google Glass and a virtual reality visor with augmented features and they will just walk around the park getting to see a part of the experience that individuals using their natural eyesight won't get to see. And already we have seen companies in UAE, in the United Arab Emirates, talking about augmented entertainment capabilities for theme parks being a strong driver. The future could be three types of experience for visitors to a theme park. There is the natural turn up at the park, pay your money, walk around the park, ride the roller coasters. There could be the turn up at the park, pay your price, put on your special HMD, take part in special online gaming experiences that continue after you've finished your time at the theme park. And then even maybe a third level where individuals will be playing remotely with individuals that are utilizing HMDs and interactive entertainment systems at the park while still being at home The consumer meets the virtual meets the out of home.

[00:28:25.041] Kent Bye: Yeah, and not only just at amusement parks, but also at museums or even libraries that you talk a bit about in your book in terms of the edutainment applications of immersive technologies. I wonder if you could talk a bit about some of the things that you find really interesting when it comes to what museums or libraries are doing with either AR or VR.

[00:28:45.841] Kevin Williams: Well, edutainment is one of those nasty buzzwords like retail attainment and gamification that try and define a whole group of applications. At the moment, what we're seeing in the visitor attraction sector and in the amusement sector are facilities trying to use both augmented reality, the best example I can give quickly in the visitor attraction sector is here in London, the Shard, one of the tallest buildings in Europe, has a viewing gallery, but being in London, you know, you can't always guarantee that the weather's going to be fantastic, so they use augmented reality viewing stations. where you can both point the viewing station at various landmarks around the London skyline, and it will print up information onto the special touchscreen in front of you. But if the weather is too bad, it will then give you the ability to superimpose previously collected visual information, so you can see what London looks like in the best conditions, both night and daytime. and that's quite a compelling literally augmenting reality literally giving the experience a boost a second pair of legs the same way a number of museums have now used augmented reality tablets where you hold it up against fossil bones of a dinosaur and they superimpose the skin, the muscle, and their interpretation of the structure of the beast in real time. This is the technology being used to give you the expert observations of the curators and the paleontologists towards what the creatures that you're looking at. The cold, boring bones covered in skin is a coined phrase by some. That's in the museum side and... What we're seeing in the gallery sector is the ability of, rather than going around with a personal audio track telling you about the painters, is that now special PDAs and tablets are being handed to visitors at the facility so they can hold these up and the tablet will zero into special features of the painting and go into more detail about the expressionists and the thinking behind the painter's perception of the work. This is literally taking the military simulation technology, the military information technology. The reason why that Black Hawk helicopter had the night fire system in your eye was to give you as much information about the situation. Situational awareness, as it's called in the military infrastructure. Here now, that information can be imparted to the user of the tablet to give them as much information as possible about the artwork, about the artifacts that they're looking at within the museums. Education is going to be a major part of the application of augmented reality as well as virtual reality. And just a little bit of a crossover, a little bit of a digression from just the application of information, we're seeing in the physical What we would call the leisure and fitness sector, we're seeing simulation and entertainment or gamification being used there. Simulation can't be used to give more information other than about how fit you are and how many calories you're losing while you're exercising. But the gamification, the simulation component can be used to take away the drudgery of the experience and allow the individual to be immersed in a game, as it were, to help them exercise more effectively.

[00:32:33.913] Kent Bye: Yeah, you know, the thing that I think about is that independent developers can start to take these physical spaces and create their own hack, as it were, or their own augmented reality experience and either amusement park or in a museum. And it sounded like there may have already been some of those types of applications that create an augmented experiences within these set spaces that have predetermined physical layout that they could use, perhaps. have their own quests or games within the experience. Is that true? Have you started to see some of that indie developers going out on their own and creating their own experiences?

[00:33:11.851] Kevin Williams: Not so indie, Kent. Some of these are quite large corporations that have decided to create their own immersive entertainment environments. Let's pick one example, MagicQuest. And I don't know if you'll have a link up, but if anybody has any questions about some of the topics that I've raised during this conversation, I'll gladly answer any emails that are sent to me. But MagicQuest is a phenomenal concept. Literally, the marriage of augmented reality with virtual reality and immersive simulation. Individuals walk into a dedicated, themed environment, quite a large environment, about twice the size of a laser tag stage, they purchase a unique wand or maze. This wand is an RFID radio frequency identification device and when it is waved in a certain way in front of readers, it then casts spells and literally the individuals walk around the facility pretending that they're mazes or wizards and completing tasks. The more tasks they complete, the more higher score or ranking that they get and the more they can progress through the experience to their unique manner. This is, you know, Harry Potter meets augmented reality meets virtual reality. This technology that you see at wild wolf parks throughout america is phenomenal it has a great following but sadly because it's out of home entertainment it doesn't get the same kind of media coverage as the consumer application of this type of technology.

[00:34:53.193] Kent Bye: Yeah, and one of the things that you did talk about in your book was laser tag and augmenting the experience of laser tag to actually be able to physically see the lasers going out. Maybe you could talk a bit about what is happening in the laser tag space when it comes to bringing in AR and VR technologies.

[00:35:10.534] Kevin Williams: Well, one of the things we have to understand that laser tag started in the 70s and 80s, well, 80s predominantly, is military technology. The ability of firing a laser at target radicals that could be then registered and score accumulated was developed by DARPA and other military corporations. towards a battlefield training simulation. Soldiers in the 80s used to walk around wearing vests with multiple receivers on them, and even tanks drove around, and planes flew around with receivers on them, that if I pointed the plastic gun at the individual and pulled the trigger, they would recognize the hit. That technology was seen by a number of individuals, both in Australia and in California, as being something that could be applicable to the entertainment sector, and Lasertag was born. Now, Lasertag's gone through multiple periods of popularity. It's amazing that Lasertag actually survives the complaints about gun narrative. I think it's the physicality and the entertainment value of Lasertag, like Nerf and paintballing that survives above the concerns about gun-centric entertainment systems. And now we are seeing with the next generation, and remember we're dealing with digital natives now, the individuals that are playing these games are not individuals that come from the generation of the 70s 80s or 90s they come from the noughties these individuals born in an environment why we call them digital natives where the internet was established when they were born where they are used to the console gaming where consumer gaming and mobile phones all parts of their lifestyle that you have to make sure that Lasertag is offering that type of high-fidelity interactive digital entertainment experience. And that's where we're seeing now head-mounted displays being utilized in the next generation of virtual reality stroke augmented reality stroke Lasertag experiences. And we're also seeing something which is brand new, which we like to call digital architecture, which other people call 3D projection rendering, where you use projectors to paint the scenery in which the individual is playing within. So rather than black light and large amounts of cardboard, we're now seeing digital projection creating quite immersive entertainment experiences for people to play in. Again, whether these next-generation laser tag facilities will be going into just upgrades of the traditional laser tag site, or whether they will go into specialist digital out-of-home entertainment facilities, mini theme parks such as Disney Quest, but the next generation on, we are yet to see established.

[00:38:08.227] Kent Bye: And you also had talked a bit about the 4DX, 4D entertainment, and there's the first 4DX theater opening up in the United States, and I think the reviewer watched the latest Transformers movie, and there was a lot of 4DX effects, and a lot of their reaction and the comments in that thread seemed to be like, a lot of that haptic type of feedback with bubbles and shaking and lightning and whatever other physical things are being brought in into the experience, that it was kind of detracting from the 2D film. Now granted, the way I think about it would be kind of like if you took a 2D game and tried to port it to virtual reality without thinking about the strengths and weaknesses of VR. I imagine that the 4DX system would have to be used in a way where it's designed from the ground up and trying to build it into the story and the narrative where it makes sense. But I'm curious from your own experience of these types of experiences of sitting in a 4DX theater and watching it, whether or not you found that it really amplified and enhanced the experience or if it was distracting from what was happening on the screen.

[00:39:22.217] Kevin Williams: Yes, the creation of content dedicated to the platform rather than just hoping that you can force updated content onto an audience and they will accept it. For those individuals that haven't read the book and may not be familiar with the history of the outer home entertainment sector, you have to understand that the cinema industry actually started its life as amusement park. What the butler saw machines used to sit in arcades, literally penny arcades, and people paid their money and turned the handle and watched the narrative of film. And then the Lumiere brothers came up with the concept of being able to project the concept onto walls, and the famous sequence of the train entering the station had people literally jumping out of their seats, believing, immersed in the film projection experience. The film industry experience with 3D came from the theme park industry. Yet again, the theme park industry was one of the first to take 3D technology and apply that into film experiences. And 4D physical attractions have been a mainstay of a number of the new developments in theater or passive film experiences. And what we mean by the physical effects everything from leg ticklers, shakers, movements of seats, bubbles, olfactory smell, unique binaural audio and laser lights and pulsating lights, all adding to the experience of watching the film. And these aren't normal films. This isn't like going in and seeing Iron Man 3 with physical effects. These are films specifically created to offer a three-minute or four-minute compelling experience married to the physical effects. There's been a bit of an arms race going on in the effects theater industry, partly fueled by the drive towards interactivity. So from a passive film point of view, everybody's been trying to create better and more compelling 3D films with physical effects, while at the same time, we've seen on the horizon the appearance of interactivity. Companies like triotech in canada have developed what they see as 7d films where the extra d the extra dimension is added through interactivity so rather than just sitting there and being shaken watching a 3d experience people are now interactively shooting at the screen and achieving scores and helping in the game narrative by partaking as an audience in this experience. Other companies such as Alterface Projects have developed dark ride systems where you travel through a dark ride experience and can shoot at the screen and yet again you achieve a score and that offers a repeat visitation experience. That's the film aspect side of the business. What I like to call the transition from the passive, the sit there and watch it, to the interactive, sit there and take part and actually control the narrative. And I'm very lucky that the co-author of the book, Michael Marciani, was able to get a very good insight into the aspects of what interactive content is now being developed for audience application. It's a fundamental part of the business where The outer home entertainment industry likes to deal with an audience. You know, we don't mind dealing with the onesies and the twosies, but you're going to make a lot more money if you can entertain 30 people at a time than if you're only entertaining four people at a time. And what we're seeing in the dome theater business and what we're seeing in the cinema entertainment sector is the application of both physical effects as well as interactivity to create a more compelling repeat visitation experience.

[00:43:26.612] Kent Bye: Do you see that there's going to be more opportunities for independent virtual reality developers to start taking their content and porting it over to digital out-of-home or location-based entertainment experiences?

[00:43:41.556] Kevin Williams: Very much so, Kent. I don't know how sophisticated the audience will be in the future, but everyone is being driven by the consumer game sector the xbox one and the playstation 4 all drive our perceptions of what we want to do with our entertainment experience and it is the skills of the developers that create the content for these platforms that can now be applied to a much bigger narrative to a much bigger canvas and out of home entertainment offers them the next generation of surface in which to impart their game narrative to draw the audience in. I don't want to be seen to be crowing but with the downturn in the consumer games software sales we're seeing very talented development teams looking for new opportunities in which to apply their skills and we hope that Outer Home Entertainment will be a platform in which many of them will now turn towards

[00:44:45.950] Kent Bye: Yeah, and one of the other dynamics that I saw kind of emerge from your book is the application of these immersive technologies for advertising and advertising campaigns and augmented reality experiences. I think with Facebook buying up Oculus, there's a bit of concern in terms of how much data mining or how much of our actions are going to be tracked within a potential Facebook metaverse. And so I'm curious from your perspective, that trade-off between the type of rich data that an advertising company would be able to get from people participating in augmented reality experiences or virtual reality experience, balance with maintaining someone's privacy or you know whether or not we're going to make that trade-off and decide to give up some of that information to have these compelling experiences?

[00:45:37.469] Kevin Williams: Well in the section of the book that Michael Marciani, the co-author of the book, he pointed out very clearly the what we like to say the promotional and the marketing aspects of digital out-of-home entertainment. The advertising industry originally thought that they would be able to take the poster industry, the large printed poster stuck on the side of a building, and just utilize digital screens to replace the paper poster with a digital poster, and that that would be equally as compelling to the audience that they've been dealing with in the past. They suddenly found out very early on that they needed to create interactive narrative to draw the audience in the one of the factors that is driving which is called the digital out of home advertising sector is the interactivity the interactive nature of the experience that they offer to draw the audience in and to get the message across to promote the brand. One of the best examples I can give you is that Pepsi in the UK created an augmented reality bus shelter, a structure in which one of the glass panels of the shelter was replaced by a digital screen. who had a camera attached and anyone sitting with inside the bus shelter saw a picture of the end of the world or of a giant robot attacking the scenery. Very compelling, a promotional aspect, very funny, a high marketing brand moment. The marketing industry is very attuned to the ability of getting individuals to be drawn into the experience because that is a way for people to remember the brand and to come back and try it again and again. Entertainment and interactive gaming is seen as a means to draw that repeat visitation. Examples I can give you now from our sector are people that have developed virtual reality experiences such as Ignition, a marketing and promotion company that was hired by a very popular retail clothing chain in the UK to create virtual reality HMD experience of what a fashion event would look like and people sat in the window of this particular retailer with HMDs on, Oculus in this case, DK1s looking at a virtual fashion show. More recently, of course, we've seen people such as DreamWorks promoting their latest film, Teach Your Own Dragon, and using DK2s in this particular case to allow individuals to have a brief promotional virtual reality experience, very similar to what the team at HBO did with the Game of Thrones virtual reality simulator. Immersive Entertainment is not just sitting at home with your HMD on. Immersive Entertainment is also sitting in an auditorium with your fellow friends battling against virtual experiences on a very large screen. It is sitting in a full task motion simulator competing with wannabe Formula One drivers or even controlling fully tasked motion simulators representing starships. These are all aspects to draw the audience away from their couch and into a compelling game experience that they're prepared to play again and again and again to experience.

[00:49:18.262] Kent Bye: So at the Silicon Valley Virtual Reality Conference there was a company there, VRelia, who was showing off a mobile virtual reality HMD And just within the last couple of days, it was announced that they are merging with Immersion, a US company. Maybe you could talk a little bit more about what significance you see in that.

[00:49:40.527] Kevin Williams: We're very lucky that companies like TD Vision and Immersion Going back to your earlier point about the disappearance of hearing that much about virtual reality, a lot of companies have still been developing the technology, it's just that it wasn't receiving the same level of publicity as it was in the mid-90s, and TV Vision is a perfect example of a company that has continued to invest in an immersive technology landscape, being that 3D, being that virtual reality, being that augmented reality. and also backed up with a metaverse of software infrastructure. We were very lucky that this company has now decided to take on board a very high standard HMD approach, a system that fundamentally wouldn't be cost-effective for the consumer application, but is of such a high quality for the simulation and the training sector that it is extremely compelling. And the company now has moved forward to make this a reality, to take the prototype that was previously seen to greater claim and develop this into a dedicated system that will be available off the shelf. Now, obviously, this isn't a consumer system. What we're looking at is a commercial system that will be used in training and simulation, that will also be used in research and development. And from my point of view, and one of the reasons why I'm very excited about this development, it will also mean that there'll be a ruggedized head-mounted display that can be deployed into the outer home entertainment sector that will use the latest technology the largest field of view, the largest quality of pixels, the largest lensing technology, and really place virtual reality on the map.

[00:51:34.452] Kent Bye: Ah, interesting. And another point that you had made in the book was that the holodeck seems to be like this ultimate potential that people who are into virtual reality and augmented reality are really seeing as the final manifestation of what would be possible You had mentioned that there was a representative from the JPL, which is Jet Propulsion Laboratory, that they were talking about, you know, in the future, potentially having the capability of having in space, you can connect to what is happening in either a rover, sort of exploring space in a certain way. But I'm curious about what your thoughts on that and how far away you think we might be from something like the Holodeck.

[00:52:21.609] Kevin Williams: Well, NASA and the Jet Propulsion Laboratories have always talked about the autonomous astronauts, the ability for a rover to have enough sensors on it that when, for example, it was placed on another planet, an individual millions of miles away would be able to go into a special enclosure and perceive all of the experiences that the rover, that the autonomous vehicle, the drone as it were, on the planet's surface was experiencing, even down to the gusts of wind. I've seen a number of demonstrations at JPL that have talked about CAVES, Computer Automated Virtual Environments, that use multiple projected screens to recreate the camera data that the lander on another planet is collecting, in semi-real time. Obviously the distance of space means that it can't be simultaneous. This type of technology has been talked about as a possible content source for augmented reality. And they've also now, with various developments, talked about this technology being utilized for virtual reality content. I think the Sony team were demonstrating at GDC, one of the early Project Morpheus projects, had a recreation of what the Jet Propulsion Labs thought the Mars rover data would look like if you could view it through that particular HMD. Very early stages. Simulation has played a major part of space exploration. We have to understand that. Simulators were used on the Apollo missions and the shuttle missions of the late 80s and 90s, all depended very heavily There used to be a phrase in space exploration, for every hour of moonwalk, there was at least eight hours of simulated or augmented simulation training for that experience. For every landing on the shuttle, there was at least 20 or 30 simulated attempts at the same approach. And again, it wouldn't surprise me, the more that we can visualize data from other areas, the more we will see experiential virtual reality systems. Let's give you an example of just a mundane approach. There are companies now talking about using quadcopters to collect data visuals over cities and for the imagery that they collect, the 4K imagery that then can be reproduced as a kind of virtual tour of the city skyline that can be viewed by individuals wearing HMDs. If you're going to go to that level of simulation for tourism, then it is obvious that you're going to start putting GoPros on submarines and you're going to stick GoPros into satellites and onto Mars rovers. I really do look forward to, shall we say, experiential content being a future narrative alongside gaming content for entertainment systems.

[00:55:42.570] Kent Bye: Great. And I just wanted to clarify and maybe kind of recap the Digital Out-of-Home Interactive Entertainment Network Association, also known as DNA, because there's this really interesting Venn diagram that you have that lists six different categories of digital out-of-home entertainment, including digital amusement and pay-to-play. digital interactive attractions, edutainment and exergaming, retailtainment and hospitality, digital gaming, and digital consumer gaming. Would you say that those six categories encompass how you mentally think about the landscape of digital out of home entertainment?

[00:56:22.434] Kevin Williams: Well if you go off to www.dna-association.com and go to the association page you can scroll down and have a look at the Venn diagram that Kent has described. This amorphous blob of interactive spheres is created more as a means for people to visualize how the various components of the sectors work and interplay. The green blob, one of the largest of the blobs on the structure, represents the amusement and out-of-home pay-for-play sector. There's the purple blob that interacts with that, that represents the theme park and the digital resort sector. Then there's the orange blob that represents the retail and hospitality sectors, the shops, the malls. the restaurants, the hotels, and then squished between those two is the yellow blob, which is the edutainment side, that is the leisure sector, exogaming, as well as the museum and the gallery sectors. And all of these then spheres interact with each other, they overlap. What happens in the arcade sector has an influence towards what happens in the theme park, as well as in the retail sector. If you're an expert playing Angry Birds on your console machine, then that will have an impact on what type of game that you're going to want to play in the theme park. And those blobs that I've talked about have missed out the two quite larger grey blobs, which is the digital consumer sector and the digital gaming sector. Though they are mentioned and represented in this Venn diagram, they are not covered by the DNA Association, and the reasons for that are quite simple. The consumer games industry is a universe all of its own, and it has dedicated associations and corporate interactions that represent them. Where the DNA association, the outer home entertainment industry, is still treated as uncharted country, the consumer sector is already established and is both growing and defining itself on a constant basis. And the other blob that we represent but we don't have direct involvement with is the gaming industry. That's the casino and the payment and gambling sectors. These are vast and very complicated organizations that are embracing digital entertainment, but are dedicated to their particular way in which they embrace that entertainment sector. Now that I've said that, It is well known that the gaming and the casino industry and the gambling industry are looking at gamification or interactive entertainment as a possible route for additional financial investment from their sectors. And it wouldn't surprise me in the next couple of years that a gambling or gaming aspect is added to both eSports and then migrates across into the consumer game sector. But fundamentally, the outer home entertainment sector, which we focus on, KWP focuses on, that I focus on, looks towards the pay-for-play that doesn't involve gambling, and it looks for the pay-for-play that offers a high level of immersive entertainment out of the home, away from the console and from the PC.

[00:59:52.046] Kent Bye: Awesome, yeah. And I definitely recommend people checking out the book that Kevin and his writing partner Michael Massiani has written, The Out-of-Home Immersive Entertainment Frontier. It's a really comprehensive overview of all this space. I think there's a lot of interesting takeaways to virtual reality and augmented reality, and certainly I learned a lot in terms of what's out there, and we covered just a fraction of what was covered in the book. And a question that I'd like to ask all of my guests, Kevin, is what do you see as the ultimate potential for virtual reality and what it could provide?

[01:00:25.319] Kevin Williams: I was lucky enough early on to stick my head in a HMD, a head-mounted display, and was really amazed at how compelling it was in transferring you into another environment. One of the phrases that hasn't been used enough regarding this next phase, phase four of virtual reality is experiential. And experiential for me means being able to achieve experiences beyond just sticking me in a jumbo jet and taking me to Africa, sticking me in a jumbo jet and sticking me in the Arctic. Experiential technology now using both force feedback and also a number of the physical effects that I was talking about earlier could put me on Mars, so my brain will believe that I'm standing on another planet. As well as possibly shrinking me down to the size of a microbe and understanding the magnetic interplays between that. And all of that experiential, the phrases, place me in the shoes of another person and I shall understand how they think and how they act. put me into the shoes of how a microbe or how a nuclei works, and I will have an understanding and hopefully be able to comprehend how this interacts. And that's really where I'm hoping that a lot of this technology will go. For me, there are three levels of immersive entertainment. There is the audience experience, which is people in groups enjoying the immersive entertainment experience together. there is the individual experience be it at home or in specialist capsules and then there's the third and maybe the most important part which is the educational component of immersive entertainment or immersive experiences where groups can understand and perceive we will see time travel we will see Maybe the future of historical education will be perfectly rendered graphical representations of the Battle of Gettysburg and the fighting, rather than depending on books that sadly make it difficult to impart the pure brutality of conflict.

[01:02:46.845] Kent Bye: Wow. Awesome. Well, is there anything else that's left unsaid that you would like to say, Kevin?

[01:02:52.832] Kevin Williams: Well, I have to say thank you very much for the opportunity to speak to your audience and thank you for your excellent questions. I'm looking forward to doing some presentations at some of the international conferences coming up over the next couple of months and anyone with any questions of course can go over to the DNA Association Or just contact me directly on my email, which I'm sure, Kent, that you can supply at the bottom of the session. And what I'd like everybody to leave from this particular podcast when they wake up eventually is I would just like to say that there is more to virtual reality than just doing it at home.

[01:03:33.839] Kent Bye: Awesome. Well, thanks so much for your time, Kevin.

[01:03:36.141] Kevin Williams: No, thank you.

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