Q&A: XR:WA 2023
Ahead of W.A.’s fifth annual Virtual Reality (VR), Augmented Reality (AR) and gaming conference & expo kicking off this week, we check in with XR:WA festival director Richard Sowada
Curated by the team who bring us the iconic Revelation Perth International Film Festival, W.A.’s premier VR, AR and gaming conference XR:WA returns for its fifth instalment this week, taking over the WA Museum Boola Bardip and the State Library of WA in the Perth Cultural Centre from July 20 through to July 23, 2023.
Over the four days, XR:WA will provide “the most comprehensive assembly of VR and AR experiences the state has ever seen”, featuring a diverse range of international VR and AR works, keynote presentation, and immersive demonstrations spanning the realms of art, entertainment, education, training, scientific research and business.
There will also be an Academic Conference, a 3-Day Trade Floor and Exhibition and the ever-popular Games and Experience Emporium that will offer a range of experiences, talks and of course, games.
With XR:WA 2023 aiming to inspire the next wave of creatives and businesses alike as to the limitless possibilities of VR, AR, immersive technology and gaming, we caught up with Festival Director Richard Sowada to find out all about it.
With demonstrations covering art, entertainment, education, training, scientific research and business, what are some key things people should be keeping an eye out for at this year’s conference?
One of the big things we’re focussing on is ‘convergence of forms.’ This is the way all areas of the screen sector are merging technologically, the way audiences are moving and what they’re expecting and the way to tell stories in much more open-ended ways. For us, we’re working very hard to build an integrated screen conference and exhibition that highlights all these crossover moments and opportunities. It’s all about breaking down silos and opening the sector right up to thinking differently and ambitiously across forms.
With things like the Metaverse seemingly fizzling out, what challenges does VR adoption on a mass scale face?
VR is a tiny part of the sector - it’s the science behind it that’s the important thing. This science is already in our everyday lives from the phones, web browsers, cars, games, training, design, architecture and a huge amount of other forms. VR - like any kind of tech - will continue to change its shape rapidly, but it’s potential they demonstrate that’s the important thing. Game engine software was designed for games - now it’s in everything across the screen and other sectors. With VR, the importance is the way of telling stories and quite literally its ability to show different perspectives and put individuals in other people’s shoes. It’s phenomenally powerful. Its principles are already all around us.
What do you think may be some practical use cases for AR & VR emerging over the short to medium term?
It’s already enormously valuable in science and medicine - and Perth is amongst some of the leaders in the country if not the world. This is only growing. In training, it’s actively used in heavy industry. For me, I recently worked with a local council in Victoria in commissioning an AR-based community urban design consultation process in visualising the future of various suburbs. All you need is a phone. This is now and it’s developing in its adaption. It gamifies boring things with tools that are in everyone’s hands. Likewise, the military has a whole unit devoted to training in virtual environments as does emergency responding. They bring the conceptual into the actual with little to no effort for the user in their own language. From an art and entertainment base, the application in industry of all types far outstrips that. It’s very powerful - and fun.
What can we expect from this year’s keynote presentation?
One of the big things is how governments are responding to these rapid changes which are difficult to keep up with in an integrated way, so we always start with a session that deals very frankly with these issues and questions. How connected or disconnected are they from the applications and the bringing of them together. For the industry, this is a key area - ‘what kind of support can we get, or are we on our own?’ From a government perspective, it’s also a very competitive area between states, so how can we in WA build creative ecosystems and be competitive in the marketplace? These are the fundamental cornerstones of the discussions.
What are the aims of this year’s Academic Conference?
While we have academic discussion we’re not presenting papers as we have in previous years, so these discussions are really taking a critical and speculative look at where the sectors are going and which embrace things like architectural sciences, AI and associated areas. This is where we can gaze into a crystal ball and make bold predictions and surprising connections.
What are you personally most excited about for this year’s XR:WA?
I love the interaction with families with the exhibits. For many of them it’s completely new and utterly surprising. This is one of the main reasons why it’s free. Not everyone has access to this kind of technology so it’s really important as a funded organisation that we provide as much access to these experiences and opportunities as we can to perhaps shift some minds into directions that just make them go “wow! This is for me” and “I can do it”. This is why we have many of the makers there to talk about their journey. Those personal shifts are really the core for me. How can we make a difference?
What’s next for XR:WA?
We’re doing more and more commissioning of VR productions. So far we’ve commissioned 6, invested more than $250k in local productions and employed more than 100 people - and there’s more on the horizon. We don’t just want to be a point of exhibition but a point of impact in developing the sector. So this is a big area for us - and it’s working.