Virtual reality (VR) as a marketing tool is nothing new. From experiences designed to promote television shows such as The Voice and The Last Ship to films and even virtual tourism, VR has already become a ‘go to’ medium for raising awareness and excitement. Yet there are areas in which similar experiences are being created not to directly market a product, but rather to raise the public awareness of VR itself.
Verizon Wireless are one of the largest mobile network carriers in the US. The company is not directly involved in VR aside from potentially stocking products in their stores at some point in the future. However, this hasn’t deterred them from developing their own VR experience to showcase alongside other consumer technological innovations at various locations throughout the US. Verizon refers to these locations as ‘destination stores’, and at one such venue in Santa Monica, California, plays host to an exclusive asset: the NFL Virtual Reality Experience.
Alongside smarthome applications, mobile phone technologies and phone case customisation suites stands an interesting platform. A green baize covered ramp leads up to a giant wall-mounted American Football helmet, which inside houses four speakers. The user walks up the ramp, dons a Gear VR head-mounted display (HMD) and has an assistant lower the large helmet around their head. To say NFL Virtual Reality Experience is a unique VR installation is putting it lightly.
Featuring 360 degree live action content, the NFL Virtual Reality Experience runs for around a minute and a half. There are three components: the trench before the match, entering the field and making a play. The first of these is undoubtedly a tease as the lights are dim and the user can only see a few players ahead of them. Suddenly, the lights come on and the crowd’s roars can be heard. A rumble under your feet begins and the full 360 degree view becomes available as the players, mascots and your adopted visage head out onto the field.
After a short fade you are there, on the pitch, surrounded by team members and the opposing players, getting last minute confidence boosts from the coach and being blinded by floodlights. The ground beneath you moves with every step – literally, as the stage upon which you enter the experience mechanically moves the floor in time with your virtual epithet’s footsteps – and the atmosphere is palpable. You may not suddenly believe you’re a world class NFL player, but you will feel as though you’ve experienced what it’s like to be one.
The third and final sequence is undoubtedly the best. Lined up and ready for the snap, you suddenly received the ball and are charged with running the field. Players dart in front and around you, taking one another down as you continue your run. There are many moments in which you feel like you’re vulnerable – next to be taken down into the mud – but of course, this experience is about excitement. It’s not actually about being part of the NFL, it’s about feeling like a winner in the NFL.
The NFL Virtual Reality Experience is undoubtedly a high quality piece of entertainment despite it’s brevity. The user’s virtual body is simply CGI shoulders with matching attire of their team mates, but the lack of need for skin textures makes the experience all the more believable. The third component of the experience suffers from a technical flaw that it yet to be solved by any 360 degree video company: while the stitching is near faultless for the most part, looking down towards your feet reveals an area which was obviously a mount for the camera that has simply been glazed over and stands out as obviously not matching the flow of the rest of the grass around it. These, of course, are relatively minor issues for a VR experience that is short and sweet, and with the NFL Virtual Reality Experience as a basis the hope is that more companies otherwise unrelated to the medium will follow suit in aiding public awareness.