Goodbye 2020! Good riddance many would say and whilst we wouldn’t disagree that it’s been an unusual, topsy-turvy, challenging year, creating difficult situations for many, we are here to reflect upon the positives of the year too. Fortunately of which, there were many for the team and studio.
The biggest achievement for many, ourselves included, was surviving and adapting to 2020 and the disruption and change caused by the global pandemic, to working and home life. The studio is fortunate in many ways, in that most development processes, in terms of data, storage and builds at least, takes place online in the cloud. This meant we were able to flip to a remote working from home setup for the team fairly quickly and painlessly but each member of the studio had particular challenges around this setup, from space to sharing with partners and looking after children.
We missed the locality of the studio and being together so did our best to ensure we had regular project standups, all team Zoom meetings but most importantly, social events and channels for everything else around work that makes studio life fun and creative, with the emphasis on support and care of mental health & wellbeing of the team. When possible, we re-opened the studio space in a safe and hygienic manner to enable those to work from there if they preferred, assuming reduced numbers allowed.
We always knew the end of 2020 would see us moving out of Crown House, our short-term lease home, as it was due for non-renegotiable redevelopment and so, with the pandemic impacting studio life, our thoughts of what we wanted and needed from a physical space drastically changed from the initial discussions had at the start of the year. As a result and after much viewing of other spaces in and around Brighton, we settled upon building a new base of operations, a hub within the exciting new development Plus X Innovation Labs, as part of the University of Brighton redevelopments.
Whilst our new private space is much smaller, allowing only a few team members to be present together at once, the flexibility and availability of space, rooms and functions we need are all still present, just distributed throughout the new building as and when we need them. We look forward to inviting clients and partners to the space for meetings and demos when we are able to in 2021.
Whilst all the ceremonies ended up being hosted virtually or live-streamed online only, we were shortlisted and nominated for a healthy collection of awards this year, across a breadth of categories, including:
The Learning Awards
We achieved bronze award for the LTAwards 2020 – Best Use of Technology for Onboarding with our ‘CITB & BAM Nuttall : Highways UK’ project and it was nice to see our client Network Rail scooping the gold award for the LTAwards 2020 – Best Use of Virtual Environments and Simulations category with the COSS VR training application content we created for them, in partnership with Brightwave.
Physical events to attend in person were obviously hit hard during the pandemic and after attending one of our favourites of the year, Learning Technologies 2020 at London ExCeL, all further events were held online through a plethora of virtual platforms as event organisers scrabbled to understand how make best of the new situation we all found ourselves in, some better than others. We gave talks across a number of panels and webinars around VR, L&D and training, bringing some of our clients along to present too. We ended the year with the World of Learning Virtual Summit event which we were lead sponsor for, with a bustling virtual booth keeping us busy for a couple of days.
Hopefully conditions and vaccines means we might start seeing some of you face-to-face again from mid-2021 onwards. Conveying the benefits of immersive technologies is always easier and quicker when attendees can get their hands on devices and try it for themselves.
Following on from becoming members in 2019, we continued with AIXR, joining their Enterprise XR Steering Group. After being selected as ISV Partners with Oculus for Business, we saw our name in lights during the keynote and two of their talks, as part of the [previously named Oculus] Facebook Connect event in September, as well as being listed as featured partner in the newly launched ISV Partner Directory. We also showed our commitment to the local digital industry with renewed membership of Wired Sussex and involvement with their Diversity & Inclusion Talent Steering Committee.
Continuing our partnership with Keltbray Group, we setup a JV to co-sell specific immersive training products into the construction and wider industries. MRKL LLC will be officially announced in 2021 but you can read about our first co-developed tool ‘SkillShield: Total Review‘ and associated supported immersive learning products on our website.
One of the reasons for moving into the Plus X Innovation Hub building was because of our acceptance onto the BRITE programme, looking at accelerating the development and deployment of our innovative immersive products. Similarly we were accepted onto the Creative England // Ukie ‘Games Scale Up‘ programme, working with industry specialists to accelerate and enable growth of our non-enterprise gaming products, like our VR game ‘Loco Dojo‘.
The pandemic has changed not only how we operate but also how we recruit and attract new members to the team, overall for the better if we’re honest! Previously we were fairly traditional in that we generally expected all of the team to be in the physical studio space, which requires candidates to be located nearby, or willing to move within travelling distance. Once we switched the studio to operating remotely, being located within the Greater Brighton area suddenly wasn’t a requirement and so, we could cast our net wider to attract more talent from further afield. It also meant that some of the existing team were able to move to locations that were better for work//life balance and so, Matt [G] upped sticks and relocated to Yorkshire, starting the concept for a Make Real hub in the North.
On the code side we welcomed Kevin and David, whilst Will joined us on the design team from Kineo. As usual we worked with a selection of top freelancers to balance out the workloads and welcomed back Laurence and Paul, whilst forged new workstreams with Michael, Aurelian, Matt [S], Andy, Luke, Tom and Zillah.
Whilst we said hello to a number of new faces, we did have to say goodbye to some old ones too, notably Sam [R], Dino and Alan, who were tempted away by exciting opportunities elsewhere. With Danny taking a hiatus from work for a bit, overall this means we have balanced the books so, starting with Zoe joining us in Jan 2021, we will be actively hiring more members to the team on the code and design side of things as soon as we return post-break (and get the cameraman back into the studio to update the team page!).
2020 saw the growth of standalone VR devices, continuing to replace tethered PC VR headsets, with our organisation developer dashboard now hosting more than 30 client immersive learning experiences designed for Oculus Quest. Towards the end of the year, the Oculus Quest 2 was released, bringing high specs and power to improve these and new experiences with moving forwards. We have seen many clients get onboard and setup as Oculus for Business customers, purchasing and managing their own devices after some initial support from us.
Internally we have been creating some of our most sophisticated VR simulations to date, from cable maintenance to lifting postures to specific gesture recognition for safe communications on site. Our soft skills training experiences have grown in complexity, offering hours of content requiring considerable logic and narrative design. As a result we have strengthened our internal toolsets to make development more streamlined and collaborative between the design, art and code teams, passing savings onto clients and allowing more efficient use of budgets. We’ve given them placeholder names for now, like Dialogic and Gestural, but soon they could become a valuable resource to other developers too. However releasing a tool externally for 3rd-parties to use requires a lot more support and documentation than something used internally.
Similarly The Drawing Board team have been exploring new methods of body data capture and content creation to achieve similar results of much complicated or expensive systems that are not viable for average budgets or product requirements. Part of this output can be seen in our OTS product ‘D&I: Perspectives VR‘, which incorporates stereoscopic video capture of actors with 3D CGI backgrounds and showcases how more traditional elearning 2D animations can be given greater immersion with VR.
Whilst some of our clients have adapted and continued to use VR for training within their organisations during the pandemic, following heightened hygiene processes and incorporating specialist equipment like CleanBox, we have seen some unable to continue training operations for a range of valid reasons. It has been fortunate that WebXR capabilities, creation tools and browser support has improved dramatically over the year, allowing us to work with them to adapt and create new content with a focus on deployment mechanisms for what employees have at home, namely laptops and mobile phones.
Below is a brief outline of the major projects and products delivered by the Make Real team this year, either in full or very near to completion with final amends required in early 2021. There are a number of developments that can not be included within this annual review due to sensitive nature of purpose, deployment or client/s.
BAM Nuttall Site Induction VR – Series of 360º videos from some of the UK’s largest construction sites for onboarding. [Unity, Oculus Go / Quest VR]
EDF Energy iMap – Update to web and Oculus Go applications with 2020 information and new 360º videos. [Unity, Oculus Go VR]
EDF Energy Visitor Centre – Collection of physical installations for Cannington Court Visitor Centre re-opening in 2021. [Unity, touchscreens]
Ernst & Young ‘Growing Beyond Borders’ HoloLens – Complementary Microsoft HoloLens tool to operate alongside organisation growth consultancy tool. [Unity, HoloLens AR]
Honda Powerdown VR – Training tool for Electric Vehicles maintenance [Unity, Oculus Quest VR]
███████ – ██████ █████ – Collaborative training [Unity, Oculus Quest VR]
JPMorgan Chase & Co. Branch Explorer – Series of interactive 360º videos providing onboarding for new US branch and overseas service-support employees. [Unity, Oculus Go VR]
Legal & General Retirement Planning – Branching interactive 360º videos enabling employees to explore their retirement planning options. [Unity, Oculus Go VR / WebXR]
Lloyds Banking Group Customers in Vulnerable Circumstances (Induction) – Immersive learning soft skills training experience providing an overview to the topic. [HTML, WebXR]
Lloyds Banking Group Customers in Vulnerable Circumstances (Mandatory) – Immersive learning soft skills training experience providing an in-depth collection of topics. [HTML, WebXR]
Lloyds Banking Group Intervention Training – Immersive learning soft skills training experience offering branching narratives incorporating Transactional Analysis. [Unity, Oculus Go VR / Quest]
Lloyds Banking Group Introduction to Empathy (Face-to-Face) – Immersive learning soft skills training experience providing an in-depth collection of topics. [HTML, WebXR]
Lloyds Banking Group Introduction to Empathy (Telephony) – Immersive learning soft skills training experience providing an in-depth collection of topics. [HTML, WebXR]
NHS BT Blood Identification VR – Proof-of-concept experience exploring minutiae of input and reducing material wastes for training. [Unity, Oculus Quest VR]
Orsted VR Inspector Training – Updated experience providing in-depth aspects of moving boat to static platform training. [Unity, Oculus Quest VR]
Roto VR Arcade Portal – Web-based front- and back-end systems to support chair owners, arcade operators and game developers for library management, revenue monitoring and control of supported immersive experiences. [HTML, browser]
Roto VR Ident – 3D VR experience providing an exciting initial logo reveal and chair experience for developers to incorporate into their immersive content experiences. [Unity, Oculus Quest VR]
Roto VR SDK – Unity plugin and tools for developers to incorporate chair control and direct access into their immersive content experiences. [Unity, C#]
Severn Trent Chemical Deliveries – Asymmetrical tablet and VR immersive learning serious game experience based upon site and incident investigation and reporting. [Unity, Oculus Quest VR & Tablets]
Severn Trent Coaching – Immersive soft skills training experience around embodiment and TGROW coaching methods for call-centre team managers. [Unity, Oculus Quest VR]
Severn Trent Lifting – Immersive simulation training experience for manhole maintenance crews around correct lifting postures and procedures. [Unity, Oculus Quest VR]
███ ████ ███ ███ – █████ █████ – Location-based immersive experience [Unity]
Transport for London Every Journey Matters – Onboarding and awareness-raising training for apprentices around PPE and onsite health & safety protocols. [Unity, Oculus Quest VR]
University of Sussex / ESRC / UKRI Crowd Flight: Perceived Threats and ‘Stampedes’ Research – VR simulation of crowds and shopping locales to research and record participant reactions to perceived threats and herd mentalities. [Unity, HTC Vive Pro Eye VR]
UK Power Networks LV Jointing – Updated simulation of complex cable maintenance procedures designed to reduce material waste during training. [Unity, Oculus Rift VR]
Vodafone Drive Safe – Updated mobile serious game around driver safety, awareness and preparation ahead of global internal launch in 2021. [Unity, iOS & Android]
D&I Perspectives VR – Immersive experience looking at microagressions within the workplace, based upon four real-world stories provided by a global financial organisation. [Unity, Oculus Quest VR / WebXR]
[MRKL] SkillShield: Total Review – Training video capture tool incorporating webcam video of the trainee combined with video output of the VR training and learning outcomes into a single, irrefutable learner video record for compliance and auditing. [Unity, PC & Oculus Quest VR]
[MRKL] Rear Guard – Updated gesture-based training experience for Vehicle Reversing Operatives, to incorporate support for the Immerse.io Virtual Enterprise Platform (VEP) and wider distribution. [Unity, Oculus Rift / Quest VR]
[MRKL] Signal Slinger – Gesture-based training for crane signal slingers incorporating required non-verbal communications between ground and crane operators. [Unity, Oculus Quest VR]
[MRKL] Site Access Traffic Marshalling – Gesture-based training for Site Access Traffic Marshalls incorporating required non-verbal communications between onsite crew and drivers. [Unity, Oculus Quest VR]
As a studio, we are in a great position going into the new year, having deployed a plethora of projects in the first half of our financial period, with an order book brimming to bursting at the seams for the remainder. However there are many challenges and unknowns ahead. The Sussex region is now in Tier 4, we publish this on the day the government goes to vote on whether to accept the Brexit deal Boris has gotten us as a nation, and many aspects of life will remain remote and virtual for months to come.
Although there is positive news around vaccines, we still expect it to be many months before face-to-face physical events are safe to hold and attend once more. These were our lifeline for new leads and opportunities to spread awareness around the benefits of incorporating immersive technologies into your learning programmes and we look forward to the day hopefully mid-2021 onwards we can do so again.
We have many exciting things to announce in early 2021, from partnerships to projects to new products and platforms. We will continue our monthly non-hard-sell newsletter ‘Reality Check’, to keep you abreast of the latest news and happenings within the immersive technology and learning sectors. Be sure to sign-up here so as not to miss out. We’ll be looking at publishing specific sector focused editions too, looking at construction, automotive, out-of-home location-based entertainment (LBE) and more.
As mentioned already, we will also continue on our recruitment drive to bring more of the best people around to our team. As part of this, we will be revamping the website a bit with a few amends to make it clearer who Make Real are, what we stand for and why you would choose to want to work with us, continuing to create some of the most exciting, meaningful and immersive learning experiences around.
There are some challenges ahead but we are confident, following on from our 2020 performance, that we will work closely in collaboration with our clients and partners to continue delivering experiences that are on time, within budget and to our usual high quality standards of impact and operational performance. We look forward to continuing to work with, or welcoming you on that journey together in 2021.
We’re always happy to talk to you about how immersive technologies can engage your employees and customers. If you have a learning objective in mind, or simply want to know more about VR, send us a message and we’ll get back to you as soon as we can.