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Preparing for the Otherside

By Tom Ffiske
VR/AR and metaverse analysis every Wednesday and Sunday // 1 May 2022 

Somehow, I fell into saying yes to a karaoke night – wish me luck.

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Welcome to the Otherside

Yuga Labs conducted an auction for Otherside, their interoperable ‘metaverse’ where people can own plots of land and roam around their constructed fictional world. The most interesting part for me is the SDK; creatives can create their own NFTs which can be connected to this world and roam about it. The auction was a major success, with $320mn of land sold yesterday – slightly beyond expectations ($300mn). 

All of this is remarkable, considering that Otherside isn’t out yet. While the auction gets a tick, the platform itself does not have a release date – so we do not know all the details of how the land works. It’s like asking a customer bidding for a location blind, going off a sheet of paper that lists specs and promises on its future. It shows the brand power of Yuga Labs that people implicitly trust them, which is a powerful position to be in. 

The next question is if it is a metaverse, or a private virtual world. The project shows signs of being a micro-metaverse; people can roam around its land, sell NFTs, and interact with the virtual threats that may stalk their area. But it does have interoperable elements as well, allowing other NFT projects to connect to it – so long as it plays with the rules of the Otherside. At the same time, it does not connect to other virtual worlds yet; items on Otherside might not transfer to other worlds. We do not know for sure until it is fully launched, but signs point it to being too private for it to be considered a full-fledged metaverse. 

Regardless, it is the biggest ‘metaverse’ launch yet. With hundreds of millions pumped through it on the outset, it shows that Yuga Labs (and partner organisations) are artfully handling their community. When Otherside fully launches, I look forward to comparing it to Decentraland or The Sandbox, to see whether it can stand on its own two legs. If Otherside can connect to either – for any reason – then we may start to see the beginnings of true interoperability. But we will see. 

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Connect immersive content to the real world

Wesley Della Volla, Founder & CEO, Meridian Treehouse

What is your background?
I’m a platform agnostic storyteller; when I tell people that I usually get an inquisitive head turn or two. As an elder millennial (born 1983), I grew up during a unique time in media, communication and technology, where analog was merging with digital like never possible before. It was in this mix that I first really learned how to tell a story with visual media. It was thanks in large part to one person, Mrs. Christie Marks. She was my high school media studies teacher. She saw something in me I didn’t, as all really great teachers do, so she knowingly shoved a camera in my hand and a script in my face. It’s thanks to her and to that brief taste of editorial control, and an excuse to skip most senior year classes to work on my “final project,” that led me to decide to become a TV producer.

From there I got a BA in Visual Media from The American University (AU) in Washington, D.C. Unlike most schools of communication in the early 2000’s, AU was a practical learning environment: cameras in hand, access to editing systems, and lecturers who were practitioners that taught us how to do the work of telling stories. We didn’t just explore the theories behind storytelling, we implemented them.

It was this experience that made possible my 15+ year career of producing award-winning non-fiction stories and experiences, mostly at National Geographic. I hit the ground running with the tools I needed to succeed in a career field that moves insanely fast. Starting with TV production, then digital journalism during a brief detour writing and producing for GRAMMY, then educational multimedia and story development, to finally live experiences and immersive. Working at a diverse media organization like National Geographic, I was able to pull stories from every platform imaginable and learned how telling a full story meant you had to tell it across these platforms in a way that felt cohesive. One narrative across multiple modes of engagement that complemented and added to the richness of a story, not distracted from it.

Once again, someone would knowingly shove a new storytelling device in my hand and the course of my career would shift in ways I never expected. This time it was a VR headset, and I was obsessed instantly. I saw and felt the medium’s potential to shape stories in that first experience and never looked back. Through virtual reality and rich, multi-platform immersive reality experiences, I was able to create stories that would connect print, photo, video, TV, live experiences, and immersive that bridged analog and digital, virtual and real, like never before. This inspired me to start Meridian Treehouse, a hub of sorts in an ever-expanding web of ways to tell a story and connect with audiences.

What are you working on, and what’s a key learning that you’ve had from it?
It has just been announced that Meridian Treehouse’s “Moonwalk” VR and AR experience, in partnership with Meta Immersive Learning, will be virtually bringing people to the moon at the Smithsonian Arts & Industries Building as part of the museum’s FUTURES exhibition. The experience is the result of over four years of archival research, technical R&D, and filmmaking by our partner Black Dot Films VR, who rebuilt the lunar surface from roughly 7,000 archival images taken by NASA’s Apollo missions and created an inspiring, emotional, and at times hilarious story including archival audio recordings from the astronauts.

Simultaneously, I have been continuing my own personal development and refinement of platform agnostic storytelling. What I’ve learned is that it’s about finding the core of a story, doing the work to really understand its context, and the nuance to conceive, from the very start, how you will effectively tell that story using every technology and platform to its best potential — and sometimes that means not using it!

Immersive is the catalyst for curiosity. Immersive storytelling tools and platforms like AR and VR have created an entirely new way to make a deeper connection. They make it possible for an audience to experience that story first hand and it empowers them to feel like they are driving their own exploration into a subject.

As a science-communicator and non-fiction storyteller, my role is to get audiences to want to learn and engage with what often times are very lofty ideas or detailed nuances. When paired with other learning tools we know are effective, immersive experiences amplify that potential to engage, remove barriers, and share knowledge. They require you to focus and think about what you are experiencing, pushing out distraction.

If you had to give one piece of advice, what would you give?
Immersive cannot exist in a vacuum. It is not the “end all be all” answer to every big communication or learning challenge we face today. It is a powerful new tool that adds to what we already know about effective communication and education, but it is no silver bullet.

We must connect immersive content to the real world and provide that onramp to understanding once the experience has ended. Learning doesn’t stop once you take off the headset or turn off the AR filter. That is just the beginning of a learning journey. If you want to be an effective communicator or teacher, what comes next is even more important.

If you want to know more about Wesley Della Volla then click here to find out more.

Jobs board

DISTRIBUTION AND TOURING PRODUCER. Marshmallow Laser Feast is looking for someone to join our team as a Distribution & Touring Producer. You will have a desire to work at the bleeding edge of immersive storytelling and help shape how that work is distributed globally. We see the development and distribution of MLF’s own work as key to the future success of the business, a key revenue stream and integral in building global brand awareness. This new role will be a vital part of the core team that formulates and realises this ambitious vision. Learn more. 

Find more roles here. 

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Curated by Tom Ffiske every Wednesday and Sunday, and enjoyed by over 5,000 professionals.

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Meditative with the VIVE Flow. Photo credit: Tom Ffiske

Tom Ffiske

Editor, Immersive Wire

Tom Ffiske is the Editor of the Immersive Wire, a twice-weekly newsletter on the immersive industry.