All Aboard! Onboarding the AUDIENCE in the Metaverse
As live experiences begin to embrace digital and immersive tools, the audience onboarding process has shifted dramatically
Theatre, a tried-and-true process for thousands of years, has a pretty standard onboarding process both for cast/crew and the audience.
Play? Musical? Immersive event? Doesn’t really matter. For production, it involves the cast and crew going through a series of pre-determined steps to take a piece off the page and onto the stage. Professionals generally have an idea of what to do before they enter the rehearsal room, even as shows change this concept does not.
What about the audience? Even easier! Hundreds of years of people hearing about a show one way or another, snagging a ticket, and finally stepping through those doors has been ingrained in our minds. Whether you’ve been to a show before or not, the process feels obvious. You walk in, hand the usher your ticket, find the matching number on a chair. Simple.
Whenever you’re building anything new—you also have to create a brand-NEW system for how you bring your cast up to speed on this new reality. Makes sense, the cast has to have headsets, they have to have excellent Wi-Fi, and so on. But who would ever consider the audience in that? Well—this isn’t the first time it has changed in recent years.
Recent Onboarding Shifts
Heard of a little show called Sleep No More? Apocryphal or not, the story of Sleep No More’s audience goes as such: When the show first opened in the UK, the audience wasn’t told much, beyond the fact that they could touch the sets, explore, be truly immersed in it. Well, if the stories are to be believed, the British audiences destroyed the place. You heard that right, those buttoned up across-the-pond folk tore it to shreds night after night. So, when they brought the show to the United States, knowing that Americans are generally a bit rougher than their posh counterparts, they told the audience to be kind to the sets. Enjoy it, but gently. Shockingly, this instruction held the American audiences' hostage. They didn’t even engage!
This lesson in audience habits serves as a reminder that new theatrical situations require new onboarding, even for passive theatre goers.
Onboarding in the Metaverse
But, you might be saying, in the metaverse they can’t just reach out and grab a prop! Welllll, that’s not entirely true, but we’ll get there in a future blog. Let’s rewind a bit and go all the way back to standing outside the theatre with ticket in hand. Regarding a metaverse show, we’ve now got the headset to consider, and people’s experience (and comfort) level with said headset (both physically and as a piece of technology). And their ability to even turn ON said headset, not to mention downloading all the appropriate apps, making sure everything is up to date, blahblahblah…
When someone puts on a headset for the first time, there is a physical adjustment period. How does it fit? Are they comfortable? Are their eyes properly lined up? Unlike just stepping into the theatre, you need to give your audience (or yourself) time to calibrate. Then comes internet connection. A huge barrier to theatre in the metaverse is having wifi strong enough to process the intense graphics required to run that world.
What if your wifi drops as you’re getting ready to see a show? It would be like Snowmageddon in New York City shutting down the whole theatre district!
Okay, but on to elements within our control.
Speaking of control, what about controllers. Your audience needs to know which buttons do what, how to use those hand held devices to get from point A to point B in the world you’ve created for them…but definitely not getting to point C (please, sir, take your seat—we don’t need you up on stage right now…). Are they comfortable with the various types of walking that exist? Yeah! It’s no longer just crawl, walk, run—now you have to consider first person or third person movement. Third person being the style recommended for newer users as first person can cause motion sickness (see our blog on headset safety for more information on that).
Having a team in place to aid in onboarding your audience will be invaluable, and if possible make sure those team members aren’t the same ones responsible for major technical elements in your show. This ensures they’re not pulled away from other important work. Furthermore, these helpers must have patience. Most audience members won’t have a clue what they’re doing, and even if you provide written instructions in advance of the show—a large number of them will have questions, if not major pitfalls.
But back to those written instructions. Set yourself, and your audience, up for success by giving them a heads-up on how to download and get into whatever platform you’re using for your theatrical event. Then, recommend that they practice. Ideally, they enter and explore the world prior to the event to avoid getting virtually locked out. Be detailed. While clearly written onboarding instructions don’t remove the possibility for struggles, it certainly does help.
Make sure to clearly outline all your information: ways they can contact you for help before the show, during the show, and if they totally miss the show; what equipment is required; what time they should be in their virtual seat by; best practices, and anything else you might find useful. Screenshots with nice, big, red arrows that point at anything they need to click don’t hurt either.
We know not everyone will read said instructions, but you can only lead a horse to water.
The whole process of entering a virtual theatre can be time-consuming and confusing for many. Reduce the margin of error by testing your onboarding process on someone who has no clue what they’re doing (hey, mom—wanna try a VR headset?) prior to sharing it with the real audience.
Then, on the day of the show…get ready for total mayhem, breakdown, and beyond. We’re entering new worlds and extended realities; if you’re not prepared for everything to fall apart, you’re not paying attention. We’re not saying everything will go wrong, but why not be prepared?