Above: Virtex Arena Baseball at AT&T Park in San Francisco
Imagine 10,000 people simultaneously engaged with 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 potential of augmented reality at live events — especially how it could affect social media.
Thousands of users can now share a virtual experience merged with the real world using only their own phones and tablets. AR holds endless possibilities for planners looking to transform their event or environment from passive backdrop to active engagement site. The full range of creative implementations has yet to be fulfilled, 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.
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. Not only do these spaces lend themselves nicely to AR, they actively invite people to document and share their experiences. Fields that have begun to harness this potential for creative and social engagement include live sports, concerts, and social gaming gatherings.
Only recently did professional sports begin integrating augmented reality to increase fan engagement. The PGA Tour introduced an AR app earlier this year in that enables fans to experience the action from home, with the hole easily superimposed onto any flat surface. Another pioneering example is IoT/AR company Xperiel, who is partnering with pro sports teams like the Sacramento Kings, New York Jets, and Los Angeles Dodgers to turn stadiums into AR “digital ecosystems.” My app, Virtex Arena operates in a similar space, offering multiplayer AR games that appear on field during downtimes at sporting events. Although thousands of fans compete at once, everyone sees the action from his or her own perspective, as though the virtual characters were actually in the middle of the stadium.
With these technologies, the social experience of sporting events is transformed. Whether it’s interacting with others in the form of fun minigames or simply sharing the experience with others from any location, the shareability of these events due to this technology has great potential for its impact on social media.
This year we’ve seen some of the earliest implementations of augmented reality in live music. Examples include Eminem’s recent Coachella performance and U2’s tech-filled Experience + Innocence Tour, both of which used mobile AR apps to enhance the experience for those attending the show. If there’s one thing we know about concerts, it’s that people love to share their favorite photos and videos on social media. However, this content is usually not engaging for people who weren’t present at the show, since photos are usually taken from a distance and mobile videos don’t pick up live music well.
Augmented reality makes this content immediately more attractive. Because AR technology is propelled by mobile phones, capturing the technology in action couldn’t be easier, so any photos or videos of the show are automatically transformed into other-worldly experiences. Not only is it more exciting for those in the audience, but also for anyone who views the shared content as well.
In many ways, augmented reality’s momentum can be attributed to the launch of Pokemon Go just two years ago. Since its launch, the app has attracted a passionate group of users, and now has a strong enough following to warrant events like the recent Pokemon Go Fest in Chicago. These types of “global meetups” are significant because they are attracting people solely based on how much they like the app and its AR technology. Rather than supplementing an existing event, apps like Pokémon Go can create experiences that are fun and immersive enough to stand on their own, transforming physically empty spaces into virtual happenings.
Socially, these types of events have exciting implications as well. The point of these meetups is to connect with others who enjoy the game or technology, so right off the bat this equates to real-life interactions. Beyond that, the event is not much different than a music festival or Comic-Con, where people flock to a single location just to be with other like-minded and passionate people. Nothing is more shareable and attractive than events that bring people together, and the resulting fear of missing out from those who see the content will engage and excite those who can’t be present. The Pokémon Go Fest in Chicago drew over 20,000 players, and this wasn’t to see a whole weekend of amazing music or a panel of Star Wars actors, it was just to play a single augmented reality game with others who love the game as well.
Such is the potential as the technology develops and users demand more from live and social experiences. Users don’t want to just watch content; they want to interact with it, seeking a unique experience that they can share with friends in person and via social media.