UDEN #13 - VR or Bust

The meeting opened with a HUGE thank you to our sponsors: Access Salt Lake, who have offered their space as a home for UDEN, and Soliton Reach, a startup that is developing wireless motion controllers for VR applications.


Opening Remarks

In addition to networking meetings with all of you, we meet with lots of different groups about how to build a better ecosystem for the creators of digitalentertainment in Utah.  Among the big events UDEN has been a major collaborator for include the UCDA Digital Summit last December and also the Lightspark Media Summit last week.  

Marc Stephens from UCDA spoke about the progress that had been made to progress the Summit outcomes; he told the meeting that Salt Lake County mayor Ben McAdams was fully supportive of the 'collective impact' plan and would be assigning some of his staff to help oversee it.  This is huge as it means funds are being set aside to help get a plan moving for economic growth in digital entertainment, which will have public sector support. Joel Smith added that progress had also been made with the STEM Action Center who were also going to be supportive of our efforts.

Many insights and ideas came up during the summit – here are a few:

•    We can’t build a sustainable industry based on handouts.  Instead let’s figure out how we build an industry sector that is not built on incentives but meeting commercial demands. 

•    I think of incentives like gasoline: it you put gasoline on a fire, it will go boom!  But if you put them on a dry pile of sticks, you just end up with a damp pile of sticks.  We, industry, have to create the flames of business before we can really justify the gasoline of incentives

•    We know we need investment and at UDEN meetings last year, we discussed the difficulties of doing this.  One of the ideas that came up was a sector investment fund, which will help fund initiatives that help us meet our collective impact goals

•    We create great talent for this sector through our educational establishments – but there aren’t enough jobs here to keep our annual graduates.  So we need to figure out better career pathing to create maximum opportunity for the students as well as better ways to help those students find jobs in the industry we have here already

One idea proposed at the Summit that could help focus all of these insights and to provide those ‘flames’ would be a common platform for our entertainment industry -- ideally one that has a future and that could leverage all of the creativity and technical talent we have here already.  The proposal was that VR and AR could be that platform.  And that’s why we’ll be discussing it here tonight.  The idea is not be to stop you from doing anything else – but investment would be focused in the areas of the common platform.

•    Imagine if we all became expert in this field?  The film makers could help us understand story telling in this medium.  The game makers could help us understand interactivity and user interface.  The artists could help us use the tools of visual effects and audio.

•    Once proficient, we could lend these skills to the wider tech and medical community in Utah, all of whom will be looking to VR and AR in the coming years

•    And so through our educational programs we could deliver the ideal workforce through career pathing, such that skilled students would have the option of a vast array of jobs locally, not just in entertainment

•    Thus we build business and jobs.  We can then brand our collective skills to the global audience.  And so we achieve economic growth.

Crazy?  Perhaps?  Worth trying?  We would love to hear your thoughts.  We’re discussing this topic here tonight. It’s a direct follow-up from the UCDA summit.

Call for Volunteers

Whatever we choose to do, it’s going to take effort.  While Marc and the UCDA continue to set the ground work for long-term collective impact, UDEN plans to continue pushing to make progress in the short term. 

If you’re interested in being part of a volunteer team to work on areas you feel strongly about and collaborate with the other UDEN teams, please let us know. info@utahden.org

Communication for Community

How best can you stay connected with this community?  There is the website, social media, slack channel – sure.   But here is another option, created by a local developer Spencer Viernes - an app called InPerson - why not go to your app store right now and download it?  Great way to stay connected with this community!  It uses your LinkedIn account, so if you have one, then this is a great connection tool for us.

Hive Ignite

It’s now time for Hive Ignite, our regular spotlight on interesting people, products or companies in digital entertainment in Utah.  To keep it simple we do it like a speed date – 3 minutes to give us all the elevator pitch.

Before we begin, let me say that we always have Hive Ignite spaces open in our future meetings, so if you have something you would like to share, or perhaps you would like to ask for help – just come see me after the meeting (or email) and we’ll get you signed up.  First come, first served.

Entrepreneur Learning Pad - Krista Groll

Aurora Awards - Krista Groll

Soliton Reach - Jon Dean

Panel: VR or Bust

On to tonight’s keynote discussion!  As mentioned earlier, one of the ideas that came up during the UCDA summit was that – perhaps – the best way to build future economic impact would be for us all to specialize in the same area.  The area suggested was virtual reality.  

Tonight we would like to consider whether it makes sense for all sectors of Utah’s entertainment community to embrace VR – film, games, education etc.  The reason we might want to is that – perhaps – by all being great at the same thing, we are collectively better and can become known internationally (getting that respect we deserve!), so boosting our ability to bring jobs and economic growth.  That’s not to say people can’t do anything else – of course they could – but that we focus investment around this one area.  But perhaps it’s a bad idea too.

Tonight we want to know what you think. What ideas you might have as to how we go about doing something like this.  Or is it crazy?  To get some initial ideas surfaced, we have a panel here to give us their insights. We’ll hear from them first and then open the discussion to you on the floor.

Our panelists volunteered tonight in order that they could help others in this community and for that, we’re extremely grateful that they have given up their time to be with us tonight. 

Rich Reagan moderated the panel discussion and opened the conversation to the floor for comments and questions.

Overall, the panel and the room were in favor of adopting one core technology to be the unifying force.  VR seemed the obvious choice, no-one proposed an alternative that could achieve the same objective.

  • Lanie was concerned about whether the tech was really ready for mass market yet, especially with usability concerns - she mentioned motion sickness and the speed at which people became physically ill if the frame rate was not 120 or higher
  • Chris mentioned that the high-end systems such as Oculus Rift or Vive were performing at that high-end, believing that the social potential is huge for improving the quality of life for people
  • Price was mentioned as a concern: today you need a high-end PC as well as the head-mount display and some controllers, easily $3000 to begin.  This is a barrier.
  • Roger was very much in favor of VR as a unifying platform, mentioning how it is being adopted in a big way at the GApp Lab at the University of Utah for healthcare purposes, and that increasingly students on the Master Games Program are creating virtual and augmented reality applications.  He pointed out that you don't need high-end technology to use VR - Google Cardboard costs around $10, works with mobile phones and is more than adequate; indeed he believes mobile is where the future market is
  • Jarom talked about the potential VR has to bring innovation to film and marketing activities, noting that the creative and technical talent we already have in the state would be well suited to unify behind VR technologies


The meeting concluded with networking.  This is an important facet of our meetings

Maybe you want to ask more questions of our panelists 1:1? Perhaps most importantly, you can find other people here that are also interested in starting up, so you don’t have to do it alone.

If you’re wondering how you might go up to a stranger an start a conversation, I’m going to give you an ice breaker to use:

•     Approach that person and say: “No! This is not my VR avatar, I really look like this!”

Pictures from the event: