Sacramento Kings virtual reality

Months before breaking ground on the new Sacramento Kings arena, Madison, Wis.-based virtual reality (VR) experience development company Arch Virtual was tasked with creating a virtual tour of the venue for internal stakeholders, potential sponsors, VIP clients, fans, and the community at large—a mission intended to showcase the franchise’s commitment to technology and innovation. (In January 2014, the professional sports franchise became the world’s first to accept Bitcoin—see “The Future of Currency” in Facility Manager April/May 2014.)

“They wanted to see what the new arena was going to look like in VR—and we have a lot of experience with VR architectural visualization,” says Jon Brouchoud, M.Arch, CEO of Arch Virtual. “They wanted to see the exterior—the architectural design is very unique and compelling. I think they also wanted to provide fans with something that was really future-forward and exciting that they could try out—to go center court, stand right in the middle, and look up in the arena.”

A short video akin to what one would expect to see prior to a basketball game—something energetic to get the crowd fired up—kicks off the VR experience. The video ends with a slowly fading-away exterior shot of the arena.

“Then suddenly, you’re in the VR model looking at that same perspective and you can move around,” Brouchoud says.

The VR tour has been housed at the Kings’ XC (experience center) in downtown Sacramento since spring 2014, alongside a physical mockup of a premium suite and other teasers to create buzz about the arena, which is slated to open fall 2016. As such, the VR experience is also being used as a tool to aid in selling sponsorships and premium suites—and for that, Brouchoud’s team regularly updates the program with new logos and branding for presentations customized to each potential client or partner.

“The last I heard, it’s being used so much that the headsets are starting to get worn out,” Brouchoud says. “I think it’s a pretty big attraction to get fans [into the XC]. There’s really nothing else that gets you to a place where you feel like you are actually [somewhere else], except VR. If you spend enough time in [a VR experience], you really feel like you’re there.”

And other sports franchises are already working on VR to change the way fans enjoy the game—and boost revenue.

“We believe the sports fanatics, especially those that can’t get to the game, will agree to pay impressive amounts to experience team adventures in VR, dramatically increasing team revenue,” Syracuse University basketball coach Jim Boeheim said in a press release announcing his plans to produce experiences with VR developer Next Galaxy Corp.

Syracuse University declined to be interviewed for this story, but in September, the Syracuse Post-Standard reported that with VR, the coach is seeking a tool for recruitment and fan engagement.

“We believe once a team owner learns, for example, he can use VR on-court-on-field as a revenue generator—[he] will want to know more and more about it,” Mary Spio, CEO of Next Galaxy, told the paper. “It should become very clear to the owner that VR is offering significant value to even the average fan…[and] can turn into a huge revenue generator.”

Boeheim’s first planned VR experience, bringing viewers into his personal gym and showing off his trophy room, was originally scheduled for a 2014 release but has not yet manifested.

OPPORTUNITIES OVER THREATS

“The future of any venue is going to have an interactive component with the audience that gives them user-directed content,” says Dr. Albert “Skip” Rizzo, director of medical virtual reality at the University of Southern California’s Institute for Creative Technologies and one of the world’s leading VR researchers. “There’ll be value in venues that provide context for everybody.”

Last year saw a pair of incredible examples of VR implementation in live concert settings. Beck covered David Bowie’s “Sound and Vision” for an Oculus Rift VR experience in which users can alternate between vantage points, throughout the audience and onstage, immersed in 360-degree views and binaural sound that shifts naturally as the user moves around. (Check out a brief video case study of the Beck experiment—complete with geeky tech specs—at http://vimeo.com/66680374.) Sir Paul McCartney’s goodbye concert to San Francisco’s Candlestick Park in August delivered a VR “Live and Let Die” experience, which can be enjoyed on larger-model Android smartphones with Google’s super-low-cost Cardboard headset as well as on the Oculus Rift.

That same tactic can be applied to all live events, from sporting competitions to conferences. If progress continues at this pace—a comfortable bet—nearly live VR experiences are coming. For instance, if you want to review a specific play because you’re certain the refs got it wrong, content will be streamed to your VR headset enabling you to simply turn your head to examine the play from a variety of different angles.

“You already see content that correlates to a speaker’s presentation [displayed on attendees’] iPads at conferences,” Rizzo says. “Well, people will be able to put on head-mounted displays and, when the speaker talks, a simulation will get beamed to [them] so they can participate in a way that’s more immersive than what they get sitting in a chair, listening to a speaker and watching cool videos.”

The learning-enhancement promise of VR could turn out to be the technology’s greatest benefit for professionals involved in delivering content in increasingly effective ways.

“The education system is the product of the agricultural revolution and the industrial revolution, but now it’s time to take advantage of the information revolution,” says Rizzo, who is also associate editor of the International Journal of Virtual Reality and CyberPsychology & Behavior. “We’re moving in a direction where we’ve really got to start thinking about experiential learning, where you can put people in environments where they can construct their own realities—and VR allows for that.”

“The future of any venue is going to have an interactive component with the audience that gives them user-directed content.”—Dr. Albert Rizzo, director of medical virtual reality, University of Southern California’s Institute for Creative Technologies

One possible development: Dedicated super-immersive spaces at venues in which information can be shared with and experienced by participants via VR. Conference centers, he says, could have special rooms in which people can experience additional content that’s even more enthralling and interactive than just wearing a VR headset.

“With VR, I think we can start to put people in contexts where learning might have more meaning—you’re not just learning in the abstract, you’re learning in a specific context that may transfer readily to the real world. When you can put people into these novel environments, you may engage them more. I think people learn in an embodied way, they learn on their feet, they learn interacting. We can [educate] much better when we allow people to interact experientially. I think that’s where VR is going to make a big difference.”

Those are a few ways in which he believes VR will actually grow attendance at in-person events, but, he adds, there’s also the social element—people like to get together—and often find the greatest value at conferences connecting with peers in hallways, not listening to a keynote address.

“And after spending a bunch of time in VR, I think people will become more excited about the benefits of reality,” he says. “I can hear kids getting excited in the 22nd century about actually going to the beach to swim in real water and to the park to climb a real tree. I think it will flip this way as natural resources become scarcer and VR just commonplace.”

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ARCH ORIGINS

“Wouldn’t it be cool if you could take a game environment and instead of it being castles and medieval dungeons, it could be architects and contractors and building owners walking around together in a virtual space,” Jon and Kandy Brouchoud wondered in 2006.

The couple met while studying architecture at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, and built a practice designing homes throughout the U.S. Midwest with a focus on sustainability (Kandy is LEED AP certified). However, the constant travel to meet clients felt incompatible with the nature of their business.

“So we started looking into game tech and game engines and Second Life was an [online] place where you could build things in real time and collaborate on designs,” Jon says.

That’s when they discovered there was an entire industry in real-time VR and began to focus on the platform’s potential to transform, inform, and improve upon the quality of architecture. After a few years of honing their skills with VR architectural collaboration and visualization, along came the Oculus Rift—and Arch Virtual was in a unique position to jump right in and inhabit those spaces.

“It was a whole new world for us and we were front-row center, because we were deeply involved with the game engines and real time, and we were already working with clients and had a network built,” Jon says.

It was immediately evident that this was a huge opportunity—to put architectural designs in the Oculus VR space and let architects, construction professionals, real estate developers, and building owners experience a design before it’s built.

“I believe there’s a huge opportunity from a venue perspective to have an Oculus Rift station at a ticket booth. When you’re going to buy a ticket, instead of just looking at an image or a floor plan, you actually put the VR glasses on and you’re seeing what the exact view is like from that seat.”—Jon Brouchoud, M.Arch, CEO or Arch Virtual

Business at Arch Virtual has been crazy for the past two years, he says, almost doubling the scale of the team as well as its projects each quarter. Since beginning the Kings’ project, the company has been contacted by several other professional sports teams interested in the VR possibilities for their own properties.

“I don’t know if this growth is sustainable or not,” he says laughing at the irony, “but it’s been incredible.”

As many developers move ahead creating status quo VR applications, Jon wants to identify opportunities to disrupt and transform industries.

“During an event, there are a whole bunch of [VR possibilities],” he says, “but even leading up to it, there are all kinds of different things that can happen adjacent to just plain architectural visualization. I believe there’s a huge opportunity from a venue perspective to have an Oculus Rift station at a ticket booth. When you’re going to buy a ticket, instead of just looking at an image or a floor plan, you actually put the VR glasses on and you’re seeing what the exact view is like from that seat.”

Yet, a major learning curve in appreciation of what VR means to businesses must be overcome for the technology to attain the pedestal it deserves.

“Many people may have read about VR, but they’ve never tried it so they have no idea!” he says. “Getting as many people as we can to try it out is the first step.” FM

(Image: Arch Virtual)