This week at AdFest, AOI Pro, a Tokyo-based production company, is showcasing its first venture into the realm of virtual reality: a baseball simulation using haptic technology developed alongside Keio University Graduate School. The company expects VR to become an important part of its business, particularly due to the insight it can potentially give marketers into consumers’ emotions. Its VR division consists of a creative director, two producers, one marketer and two system operators. We spoke to Takayuki Yoshizawa, the creative director leading the unit, and Hisaya Kato, chief producer, to get a better idea of their aims in an area where there is still lots of hype but limited understanding.
What was the purpose of creating this baseball simulation?
Takayuki Yoshizawa: We wanted to develop content that we had the rights to. Initial touch points will be places like game centres, shopping centres and events. We may rent it out or just have it there for regular consumers to try it. We don’t have anywhere signed yet but are in negotiations.
AOI Pro typically works with agencies. Now that you have a VR division, will you develop content directly for brands?
TY: We will work both ways. I used to be at an agency and that background allows us to create things internally. But we will also work with agencies as we do for TVCs.
Have you seen brands in Japan do anything good with VR yet?
TY: I haven’t experienced many pieces of VR made for [promotional] purposes. For any piece of content, it’s important that the brand thinks about what it wants to convey through the experience. For example, I don’t think it necessarily needs to be a 360-degree visual experience to create a strong engagement with the brand.
As TV content producers, does working in VR require a mindset change?
Hisaya Kato: For me it’s just one more piece of new technology. Although we’re in film production and I have a business card saying I’m in film production, I’ve produced projects that go beyond 2D content. I may be judged on awards I’ve won but people who know me know I can produce anything—it doesn’t have to be film. So I don’t need to say, ‘now I’m going to step into the VR field’…It’s just a new form of content.
How serious do you really expect brands to be about using this technology?
TY: The virtual experience is supposed to make the relationship between users and the brand closer. Through the VR experience, consumers may decide whether they really want to spend money on the product or not. I think that’s a real possibility that doesn’t exist with a regular 2D or screen campaign. So if VR is not just judged on content, but on the shift in the way it lets brands market their products, then there’s big potential for it.
Talk about the role data will play in VR work for brands.
TY: Our goal is not only to sell the technology. What I’m focusing on is what users feel, and the difference in feelings between a real and virtual experience. We belong to the Virtual Reality Society of Japan and there, VR is not considered ‘virtual’. If you see a virtual truck coming at you at 165 kph, it should be genuinely scary. It’s great to see people enjoying the baseball game, but for me what’s important is what they feel upon the first ball. Some feel joy but many feel scared. I’ve experienced baseball games on the PlayStation that are not scary when the ball comes at you but in VR, it is. So if we research that difference in feeling, we can find a connection between a simulation and real marketing.
With our baseball game, when people are catching, for example, we monitor their brainwave data and see that concentration goes up when the pitcher throws the ball. We can see how much they focus on the content. This is the sort of research we want to look into in the long run by developing VR content. Because simulations are much stronger than 2D content, we can start to really understand what people feel in terms of emotions.
Comments have been edited for length and clarity.