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June 17, 2022

ZEAL Summit Goes Immersive

Jason Harrison

&

Chief Operating Officer
Medford, OR

Creating ZEAL Goes XR

As a remote-first company, we get the team together at least once a year. It’s great to be able to meet in person, eat together, socialize, and reengage with the company vision. We’re also embracing the immersive world and XR, and wanted to see what we could learn from an immersive summit.

Planning & Launch

In order to create the best XR experience for our team, we had be intentional in our planning. First, we made sure that every team member had an Oculus Quest 2. In fact, we’ve made it a permanent hardware feature of our onboarding of new team members.

We also made sure the schedule wasn’t non-stop immersion and that there were plenty of breaks in between immersive sessions. This is super important to keep team members engaged and safe.

Additionally, each of the 3 days was relatively short. They were 6 hours long, with a few optional after-hours opportunities for those who wanted to keep going.

The Experiences

The Escape Game: IRL Goes Virtual

If you’ve ever done an escape room you know how much fun they can be. Can you imagine doing one remotely? I couldn’t! There are all those items to inspect and a whole room to take in. How is that even possible without being there?

It turned out to be a really engaging experience. We joined a video conference call, kind of like we do every day at work but, in addition to our team members, we also had a human avatar in the call. The avatar was physically present in the escape room and wearing a camera and microphone. They would act as our eyes and hands and would communicate with us throughout the experience.

There was also a very helpful web application that kept track of clues as we found them, which ended up helping a lot. The Escape Game folks had done such a great job, taking photos of all the clues, and giving us a great interface to review them. The clues would also disappear when they were no longer needed.

The whole experience felt so much like the real thing, including the stress and anxiety you expect from such an experience. Luckily we escaped or I wouldn’t be writing this to you now. Phew!

I highly recommend https://theescapegame.com/online-escape-rooms/ for team and company events. It’s a lot of fun!

360 Video Streaming

When we think of immersive, our imaginations usually jump right to VR. I forget about 360 video!

Most of our team isn’t located in Grants Pass so it was important to bring ZEAL leadership to them. Adam Cuppy, our ZEAL Co-Founder presented the company vision by way of 360 video cameras. He used 8 cameras on a robust tripod. It looked a lot like an Imperial Probe Droid from Star Wars.

Trever Yarrish, another ZEAL co-founder, streamed to a Youtube channel which allowed us all to view the presentation on-demand wherever we were in the world. This technique also allowed Adam to move while presenting, engage dynamically and even use the whiteboard. It was wild but more importantly, actively engaged our distributed team in our collective goal in a compelling and new way.

Our team was able to put on their Oculus headset and have a front-row seat to Adam’s presentation. It was truly immersive as we could also see a  360 degree view of ZEAL HQ. The experience was amazing!

Frame VR

Frame VR is a web-VR multi-user creation and collaboration tool that works from desktop and mobile browsers, and of course in VR. Frame has been used in a number of cases including a recent Trello event for their team member offsite. We used Frame as a central meeting place as we worked through objectives and ideation.  It took us a minute to get used to the controls inside Frame but once we did we had a great time.

Our space in Frame was setup like a floor in a modern office building with several separate rooms. We associated a few of those rooms with our five principles, one principle per room. We then created teams to focus on decorating each room with things that represented those principles. We ended up with a kind of 3D collage with pictures, videos, audio clips, and 3D models.

I think we had almost as much fun bringing in random 3D objects as we did anything else. Frame VR makes it really easy to get going in a multi-user collaboration environment without the need to install any software on your computer or headset.

Kingspray Graffiti

Kingspray is a multi-player street art experience that has implemented a lot of the true-to-life colors, styles, and tools, in a number of urban environments to get your tag on.

Prior to jumping into Kingspray, we had a renowned street artist give us some history on street art and some lessons on creating our own tags and graffiti. This was really helpful when it came time to put virtual paint to virtual brick!

Kingspray was a lot of fun. Each environment was limited to 4 people so we kept ourselves in a Zoom call so we could coordinate and find each other in the various rooms and environments.

Kingspray is a great experience for a team, regardless of the roles of team members. The folks who are more naturally inclined to make beautiful art will find a lot of great tools and materials to make something wonderful. People like me, more at home in the code, will also enjoy the freedom to explore with different colors, spray patterns, and paint types, to create something interesting.

Demeo

Demeo was used during our after-hours events. It's a very popular VR role-playing game for up to four players. We have quite a few RPG fans on the team so this was definitely a popular event. This was pure entertainment and a chance to hangout with each other in a very casual environment. Demeo has also recently release a flatscreen version so even non-VR players can jump in.

Codename: Thrive

Codename: Thrive is a VR game that I’ve been working on with my teammate and ZEAL leader, Kevin Craine. The experience is an immersive table top role-playing game, like Dungeons and Dragons, but entirely immersive.

Players embody characters and the game master provides the story, as well as embodying the non-player characters, providing them with life, when necessary.

Team members enjoyed running around and exploring the dungeon together. They also found plenty of ways to glitch through the game. They were a great QA crew.

What we learned

We made so many discoveries during our virtual summit!

For some people, this was their first time in a digital immersive experience, particularly VR. We also have team members who aren’t highly technical so, for them, VR offered quite a challenge right from the start. It was a very direct reminder of how challenging onboarding to a technical experience can be, and how important it is to have empathy for all users.

Since some team members were new to VR, we quickly found how uncomfortable 3D immersion can be as well. Even some of the flatscreen experiences can cause motion sickness if a 3D scene is moving in certain ways. Again, empathy for everyone's experience was important. People had to be able to opt out or to adjust their experience to make it enjoyable. This also rang true for VR veterans.

One surprising discovery was that the favorite experience was also the most simple. Thrive is a very early prototype. It has a very basic world to run around in with  little to do. The constraint seemed to make it more engaging, perhaps due to the lack of distraction. Team members ran around and explored rooms, alone and together. They also just hung around and chatted. The experience was smooth and engaging despite not having a real objective or a bunch of things to interact with.

We also experienced more connection than I believe most of us expected in Thrive and during the VR Summit overall. Many of us haven’t met physically. Even though we weren’t in person, we still had proximity, could hear each other, and see each other moving our digital avatars. We were more connected than we could’ve been in a flat-screen experience like Zoom.

There are a lot of great ways to bring your team together without the expense and safety concerns of in-person events. If you’re going to try bringing your team together “in the metaverse”, remember that it’s still new. Have patience and empathy and support your team’s exploration. You might find a new level of connection for your team.

If you'd like to learn more about how we build experiences and software in XR, please reach out to adam@codingzeal.com.

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