How to showcase VR in exhibitions

Today I want to give you some advices that can be useful if you want to showcase virtual reality inside some exhibitions. When I was in Immotionar, I took part in different exhibitions of our ImmotionRoom full body VR solution, so I learnt how to handle such situations and I want to help you to handle yours.

Booth type

First thing to keep in mind is to choose the appropriate booth type. Our ImmotionRoom full body solution required at least 2x3m to function well, so we couldn’t choose a booth smaller than that. If you have just to showcase some 360-videos, then a desk with a chair is enough, while if you want to make people try some room-scale experience, keep in mind to match the minimum required area size of the experience with the booth you’re going to take. Consider that often booths include desks or chairs that you don’t need and that reduce the playable area, so it is better to take a booth slightly bigger than the minimum necessary. You just want a clean empty space where the player can move freely without the risk of stumbling upon stuff.

Contact the organizers and tell them what you need. Usually you just need some power and internet connection (even if your experience doesn’t require it, it is always useful in case of troubles, to download content or such).

how to virtual reality exhibitions
The booth we took for our first exhibition: the WTT 2015. This is how we found it… but surely this standard setup wasn’t suitable for a VR showcase, as we needed all the area clean.
Booth design

Once you’ve your booth, before the exhibition day, you should go visiting it to understand how to put all your hardware there.

For standard VR experiences, you shouldn’t have problems with power (one power strip should be enough), while if you are going to make people try something more innovative (as we did adding three Kinects to the experience), keep in mind that you may need some more power strips and extension cables. In any case take always with you an extension cable, because often the power outlet is in a place completely different from the one you thought it should be.

Start thinking where to put all your hardware: in case of Oculus, this mainly means where to put your VR ready PC and your Constellation sensors. Booths are usually rectangular, so you can’t put your constellation sensors in the ideal positions to have 360-degrees tracking. Then you must think how to put them in the desired positions (use some screws and mount it on the booth walls? Put them on a stool?) . If you put them on a tripod or a desk, you should be careful that these things will reduce your users’ free movement area.

how to virtual reality exhibitions
A Kinect on a tripod… as you can see it reduces the playable area. Furthermore you have to be careful players won’t touch it.
Notice also that we put all the cables so that they couldn’t harm the player

Also be careful that your users shouldn’t move your sensors, to avoid re-calibrations. So, if possible, use some tape to lock your sensors to the desks.

And please, use some tape to hide the highest possible number of cablesmake them pass near to the edges of the room. If this is not possible, use some other tape to stick them to the floor. Of course the free area of room-scale movement shouldn’t contain any type of cables. People there should be completely free and safe.

If you use some tracking device, put it so that it has the least interferences possible from external electromagnetic waves source (like sunlight, etc…) and external people. We always put our Kinects so that the interference was at minimum possible. This advice holds for VR tracking systems too, since for example HTC Vive is very sensible to interferences.

Immotionar walk in place virtual reality
Me walking in place to move in virtual reality during our exhibition

If it is possible, find a solution to help with headset wire (like using a pulley on the celing of the booth, or using dog leashes), or use a wireless headset. If nothing of this can be applied, you’ll have to care all the time about the cable and make sure your user won’t stumble on it.

Software

It is obvious, but I want to stress it: don’t go to an exhibition with some features you added one hour before it. Go there with only stable features, that you have already tested in your office with multiple people. If you violate this rule, surely a bug will pop out during the showcase (honestly speaking, it will pop up anyway, as you’ll read in the last point of this article).

Make the experience enjoyable in something like 2 minutes of time. You won’t know how many people you’ll have in your queue, so suppose you may have a lot. 2 minutes is a minimum time for people to enjoy your experience… so design your demo to show the best that it can in those 2 minutes. Of course 2 minutes is a rule of thumb that was ok with our product, feel free to modify this time to suit the needs of your peculiar application: the important thing is that you identify a minimum time for which people will remain amazed by your work. Then if people won’t be that many, you can leave them playing for a bigger amount of time.

What to show in those 2 minutes? Well, a piece of your program that is:

  • amazing, of course, so they’ll love you;
  • simple, because no one wants to listen a 15-minutes tutorial just to play 2 minutes;
  • comfortable: when people come to your stand and then have motion sickness, it is really bad for your mood and for your brand. At an exhibition usually comes people of all ages and sex, so don’t think they will be all gamers with VR legs and show them a comfortable experience.

Hardware

If possible take with you a backup of everything: so, two headsets are better than a single one. I know, it is a nuisance, but trust me that at exhibitions happen a lot of bad things. When we was at Bardonecchia WonderLight night, our Oculus DK2 started getting crazy, auto-shutting itself. We didn’t have a backup headset, so we had to turn it off and on again lots of time for each person and this frustrated our visitors a lot. During EIA showcase, my Oculus DK1 showed only a black screen, so we had to make someone take a new one from the office. Better have a backup of everything, trust me.

If you’re using mobile devices like Gear VR, keep in mind battery duration: with our ImmotionRoom system, due to its extensive use of VR and Wi-fi connection, battery of phones lasted something like half an hour. For a 2-3 hours showcase, we needed to take 2 Gear VRs with us and charging the battery of one while the other was in use… and we managed to survive only because Samsung phones have fast charge.

If you remember well, this is the same problem I described for AR: HoloLens has a limited battery time and a slow recharge, so it is almost impossible to do a long showcase using only a single device. If you have only a device, then it’s better if you take a power bank with you. The same advice can hold for Gear VR, too.

About additional hardware, keep in mind that it is absolutely necessary that you have some mirror mechanism to see what the player is seeing in VR. To achieve this, you can read my articles about mobile headsets mirroring or Oculus Mirror. This is mandatory because:

  • Lets you see what the player is doing inside the virtual reality experience, so that you can guide him/her in case of troubles (like if he/she gets stuck);
  • Lets other people see what the player is doing. This is essential to attract people: if you just see someone with a headset on his face, you will find him funny, while if you see someone with a headset playing a cool game, you will be intrigued and stop at that booth. So make passers-by see how awesome is the game the player is experiencing. We noticed this on all exhibitions: in the past, when people had no clear idea of what VR was, this was even more important. At our first exhibition when we turned the outward screen from a slideshow to the VR mirroring, we saw an increase of interested people of at least 100%.

    how to virtual reality in exhibitions
    (Image from Imgur)

So, take with you additional screens and hardware (like Chromecast) to perform mirroring.

As a last advice: don’t trust anyone. If organizers will tell you to not worry about something, start worrying :). So take with you everything that may help you in solving potential issues (e.g. an extension cable because power outlet is in the worst position possible, an internet pen because they actually have no internet, etc…).

Legal

VR can be dangerous and that’s the reason of all those annoying Health & Safety warnings we’re forced to see all day long. It is fundamental to warn people about potential risks (like sickness, stumbling upon stuff, etc…) and to tell them that if they feel uncomfortable, they have to remove the headset. Since VR isn’t suitable for kids under 13 years, you should not make them try it. Also be careful about people telling you having serious issues like epilepsy: they shouldn’t try VR, too.

To be completely safe you could make everyone sign a waiver. In the first exhibition we made that: it has been an incredible nuisance, but we wanted to be sure that if someone fell to the floor while playing VR, couldn’t prosecute us. Honestly I’ve never seen anyone else doing the same thing and honestly I’ve never seen anything worth a prosecution during our exhibitions, so I don’t know if advice you to do the same. Maybe it is really worth only if you’re trying really experimental technology (and we were doing something cool and experimental, indeed).

One thing that you should be careful is about headsets licenses. This is an incredibly grey area, because both Vive and Rift CV1 are intended only for personal entertainment. Vive has a professional license, but it requires you to spend $1200 to have the Vive Business Edition. Rift license for professional use is still unclear. I say it is a grey area since you’re actually just showcasing a product of yours, you’re not selling anything or setting up an arcade, so it isn’t a true commercial installation, but surely you’re not performing personal entertainment. There are debates online where people talks about where is the truth, without coming out with a solution. Honestly speaking, I’ve seen bazillion people using personal headsets for showcases and it is surely not in the interest of HTC of Facebook to prosecute them for now, but you must know that this could theoretically be an issue.

how to virtual reality exhibitions
Vive Business Edition… it is almost equivalent to the Personal one, but it costs a lot more because of licensing (Image by Vive)
Hygiene

This is one of the points that many booths lack: usually I go trying some VR experiences at an exhibition and the guy at the booth straps in my face a headset that has previously been on the face of at least other 100 people and all over it are dandruff, sweat and at least 350 different types of bacteria, of which at least 50 are still unknown by scientists. This is disgusting. And also dangerous, considering the fact that I’ve read about a girl having suffered from eye herpes after having tried VR at an exhibition and at least one other person claiming to have got a flu this way.

Let’s be honest: we can’t guarantee a complete hygiene for something that straps on people’s face (we would need professional devices, like UV cleaners), but we can (and MUST) guarantee a basic one. First of all, buy a cover for your HMD. A cover is a piece of fabric you can put onto the part of the headset that gets in contact with the users’ skin, so that you can clean that to guarantee users’ hygiene. For our first exhibition, we bought them from VR Cover and they were awesome. Honestly speaking, with CV1 we were less satisfied by this vendor, but couldn’t find a valid alternative. My advice is to buy a waterproof cover, so you can use a sanitizing wipe on it between two consecutive usages. An alternative could be use disposable covers like this one you can find on Amazon.

how to virtual reality exhibitions
Our Oculus DK2, covered with a waterproof VR cover

Apart from passing the sanitizing wipe, use also some kind of cloth to clean a bit the lenses after each usage. And do the same for VR controllers, too… even if this is a bit less important since hands are a bit more resistant to dirt than face.

I wouldn’t use sanitizing wipes directly on plastic, since these wipes contains a liquid that is very aggressive. After our first exhibition, when more 200 people tested our experience, the black VR cover had become something like white. That’s why I wouldn’t use many times the sanitizing wipes on VR controllers: I would offer basic hygiene on them using a slightly wet cloth, instead.

Please, please: mind about your users’ hygiene. It is of fundamental importance!

People Management

Usually VR attracts lots of people during exhibitions, so be prepared to handle a long queue of people. In our first exhibition, people had to stay in line for one hour and a half to try our game! Organize yourself so that to be able to handle lots of people. Maybe assigning numbers to people may help.

Immotionar full body vr startup
Look the enormous amount of people waiting in line in front of our booth!

The more people serving at the booth, the better, so while one is serving the player, the other ones can entertain the crowd. Furthermore, if the exhibition have no clear booths but it is all performed in a big open space, you may consider using your colleagues as “guards” to prevent other people entering the play-area and harm the player.

Be careful that one person should always follow the player. The player could be new to VR, so not be accustomed to room-scale limiting systems like Chaperone and then stumble against a wall. He could suffer from motion sickness, nausea or dizziness. He may be confused about VR controllers. Since VR is a ratherly new technology, always take an eye on your player and guide him/her. You may think that giving him instruction before the experience may help, but I’ll honestly tell you that people don’t listen. We explained ImmotionRoom initialization procedure two times to each person before running the experience and then people after having worn the headset had completely forgot it. Damn…

Virtual reality exhibition man in black
After the user will put his headset on, these two guys will make him forget everything you said him (Image from HDMagazine.it)

Be careful to virtual sickness symptoms: in some cases we’ve also seen people having balancing issues while playing our VR experiences… in these cases remove the headset of the user even if he wants to continue playing. Talk with the player and try to understand if he/she’s comfortable and stop the experience in case of any problems. I also advice you to keep an empty chair next to your booth, so that if someone starts suffering from motion sickness you can make him/her to sit down and relax five minutes. This has helped us when we met people really sensible to VR technology.

Some people will behave in annoying way, like pretending to know VR better than you, but just smile, always. Remember that while you’re serving at the booth you have to be super-supportive, super-kind and super-smiley… if someone annoys you, write his name on your death-book and then kill him later 🙂

Get results

You’re not there just to make people have fun. You want to obtain some results from this exhibition, like:

  • Obtain users’ feedbacks. Get as many as you can… if possible, make users fill a short survey, so that you have actual numbers to work on. We did this 2 times and were really satisfied by what we got. If possible, record people while they play, so that you can analyze how they interact with your experience and modify it if players behave differently than you expected;

    Results of a survey we made in 2015, asking the ideal price for a full body VR solution: actual hardware price was more than $3000, but people wanted it to cost less than $500!
  • Get press coverage. There are always journalists at exhibitions… make sure to make them try your product and review it on their website. For example we got a review by Lupokkio after our first exhibition;
  • Know potential customers/partners. Take always business cards with you and exchange as many as you can. If appliable, make people to register to your newsletter. Offer them a little gadget if they perform this little action… they will be happier to help you and you will appear very kind.

    how to virtual reality exhibitions
    We gifted this nice pen to every user filling our survey or registering to our newsletter
Murphy’s Law

It doesn’t matter how much you will prepare well for the exhibition, something will always go wrong. In our first exhibition, a nasty bug of ImmotionRoom magically popped out; in second one, the Oculus DK2 had heavy malfunctionings; in a later one, we had too little space and Kinect tracking was really poor; at EIA showcase, we couldn’t find a way to connect all devices to the power outlet; and so on.

You can’t fight Murphy, in any way. The only thing you have to do is finding fast a solution for every problems you may find and smile, smile a lot nonetheless.

And that’s it with my advices for using VR at an exhibition. Hope it may be useful to you. If this is the case, please like and share this article with other innovators and subscribe to my newsletter!

Skarredghost

AR/VR developer, startupper, zombie killer. Sometimes I pretend I can blog, but actually I've no idea what I'm doing. I tried to change the world with my startup Immotionar, offering super-awesome full body virtual reality, but now the dream is over. But I've still not waken up...