Imagine ten thousand people engaging with brands and each other all in the same place at the same time. A mixture of the real and virtual, where anything is possible, right in the middle of the big events like a rock concert or the World Series. That’s the seeming magic of augmented reality (AR).
With mobile apps like Virtex Arena, thousands of users can share a virtual experience merged with the real world using only their own phones and tablets. AR holds endless possibilities for experiential marketers looking to transform their event or environment from passive backdrop to active engagement site. The full range of creative implementations has yet to be imagined, but apps are getting simpler to create, deploy, and use. You don’t need a dev team to turn your site into an AR adventure.
You’ll note I mention venues and locations a lot. Most augmented reality experiences focus on particular objects: You point your phone at a book, say, and the author jumps out and starts talking. Yet the real power of AR can be unlocked by thinking in terms of spaces like restaurants, stores, and arenas, and experiences that involve everyone in that space.
Virtex Apps has developed an AR platform that makes it possible to host multi-user virtual experiences in large-scale real world locations, such as arenas and stadiums, that requires only a typical smartphone or tablet. These experiences enable users to compete in fun games superimposed over their surroundings or to experience animated characters dancing or charging through their space. Participants see the same virtual scene at the same time but from their own perspectives. AR does more than entertain; it offers another way to get patrons to engage with their locale, and gives sponsors and advertisers a novel hook for customer attention.
As a cutting-edge technological approach, AR feels pretty close to magic. But its underpinnings are easy to grasp and suggest novel content and interactions. Think about it in terms of layers. The base layer is the app itself that a user downloads to a device. A location-specific layer on top of that adds features and graphics tailored to a particular location, such as the seating chart of a stadium. And a third, event-specific layer adds materials for a single event, such as virtual signage or even an AR version of the sponsor’s mascot. A user downloads the app once, after which the app manages the various layers to provide a customized experience in any location, potentially featuring a different sponsor every day.
As an example, Virtex Arena has several sport-specific versions, including football and baseball, in which everyone in a stadium can compete in short mini-games between innings or at other breaks in the action. The mini-games related to each sport are part of the base layer and are downloaded by a user. After starting the app, the user chooses the event she plans to attend, which occurs at a specific place and time. Then the app obtains the location layer for that place, which can have resources like the team’s colors, and the event layer for that time, containing images that will appear on a banner pulled by a virtual plane above the stadium. This kind of feature would work well in other settings and for other events, too. This is just one of several customizations AR apps like Virtex Arena support with no additional development cost.
AR promises to inspire a new type of social interaction, as people gather to engage via an AR experience for its own sake. In the long term, this kind of augmented experience should be so compelling that people would go to a venue, just to participate in the game. Virtual aspects, and perhaps some real world aspects, could be combined into a new form of interactive group entertainment, before or after an event. This promises a whole new range of experiences for venues and locales to offer potential clients--and the brands that long to interact with them.