Case Study - VR Experience in THEMUSEUM, Kitchener-Waterloo
Radical VR's Interactive learning experience, Colosseum Lives was recently showcased at THEMUSEUM in Kitchener, Ontario. Colosseum Lives transports users back to Roman Times using a Virtual Reality headset. Players have the thrill of exploring the Colosseum in its former glory and witnessing a gladiator match first hand. It was a natural fit for THEMUSEUM which offers "experiences that intersect art, science and technology." Located in downtown Kitchener, Ontario, Canada, it has five floors of diverse exhibits and programs targeted at families and all age groups.
We want to first of all thank THEMUSEUM for the support in letting us pilot our Colosseum Lives VR experience with them. This goal of the pilot project was to learn how a commercialized VR experience could work in a museum environment looking at a variety of aspects including:
- Museum staff management and training
- Hardware and software resiliency and support
- Ease of use for patrons
- Customer satisfaction of the patrons
We believe the pilot project was 100% successful and the feedback in this Case Study from THEMUSEUM was excellent, transparent, honest and exceptionally helpful. As we all know, VR solutions operating in the museum environment are very new and without partners like THEMUSEUM who have exceptional vision, are innovators and showed a great deal of trust in us we would never be able to learn.
The following was written by Ashley Miller ( Camp Program Coordinator) and Karlee Slattery (Digital Media Coordinator) from THEMUSEUM
Case Study: Colosseum Lives
PROTOTYPING A VIRTUAL REALITY INTERACTIVE WITHIN A MUSEUM
Radical VR contacted THEMUSEUM in May of 2016 to promote the Radical VR ‘Colosseum Lives’ exhibit featuring cutting edge virtual reality technology. Initially, the system was meant to supplement THEMUSEUM’s summer camp programming but it proved to be a wonderful asset on the floor for the general public. THEMUSEUM had the opportunity to prototype the system for over two months thus allowing Radical VR to gain exposure and receive valuable feedback from visitors of all ages.
Overview: July 23rd - October 1st, 2016
Radical VR loaned THEMUSEUM the Colosseum Lives Oculus rift system along with an interactive touchscreen featuring information about the International Space Station. We asked visitors to fill out feedback forms regarding their experience with interactives which will allow Radical VR to evaluate the efficacy of the system and its programming.
During the first week, THEMUSEUM scheduled staff to supervise the station at specific times of the day to facilitate the public’s use of the VR Experience and touch screen. This facilitation proved useful at the beginning as it allowed the supervisors to stay abreast of any issues and walk staff through solutions. Later in the summer and early fall, the VR Experience was available to the public without a dedicated staff member.
“I think my favorite was a senior, probably a woman in her 80s or so that said her grandkids got her to try it and she could not believe how fantastic the experience was! She said she had always wanted to travel back to ‘ancient times’ and now in a way she had!”
Kim Gent, Manager of Visitor Services
Reception and ease of use
Visitors were receptive to the VR headset. The system was very popular and people were excited to try technology that they had only ever heard about but never had a chance to use before. A minor challenge was enforcing the rule that only visitors aged 7 and up could use the headset for safety reasons. Parents were understanding, but young children were often upset when an older sibling had a chance to use the system and they could not.
The biggest complaint among visitors was nausea experienced while navigating the program. THEMUSEUM’s staff would always encourage visitors to sit when using the headset to reinforce the instructions provided at the station. We also asked visitors to be aware of the risk of nausea and to take the headset off if they experienced any symptoms.
While there was a seat integrated into the exhibit base, visitors often sat on an accompanying stool and faced the screen, even when wearing the headset. One staff member suggested that sitting on the built-in seat facing a line-up of other visitors might make the user feel exposed and as though they have an audience.
When the system worked, many visitors seemed happy with the experience and those more familiar with video games found the interface intuitive. However there were times when visitors (both children and adults) struggled with the instructions. The visual instructions for visitors could have been larger and more detailed, but there is a fine balance between providing adequate information and overwhelming the user.
Sometimes, visitors didn’t know what to do once wearing the headset; they didn’t understand the purpose of the game. Additional instructions within the program after the controller instructions page may resolve this issue. For example, the following statement might help visitors navigate the system: “Explore this ancient Roman city. Visit the Information Icons (include a picture of the icons) to learn about Roman architecture, the colosseum and the gladiators that fought there.” This could be followed by an in-game tutorial orienting them to the controller, since sometimes visitors may click through the controller instructions without reading them.
Often if a visitor found their way to the edge of the cliff in the program they would fall and the staff were unable to get the game to return to the main screen and would have to restart the entire program. Sometimes the program would start in the wrong language even though the visitor would choose English and the staff would have to restart the program as well. This challenge was reported to Radical VR technical support and was resolved with a program update.
While Radical VR provided instructions for setting up the system, it could still be challenging to get Colosseum Lives ready for the public during THEMUSEUM’s opening. Sometimes, the system could be set up quickly, but it usually required quite a bit of time to ensure that everything was operational. Since it did take so long, the staff often had to go back to get it set-up in the morning after we turned on the rest of the floors. On one occasion, Windows insisted on doing a software update which ended up taking the better part of an hour.
“The only thingI can really speak on was the excitement in my little cousins as they tried it and what a unique first experience it was for me. There weren’t any glitches when I tried it and the realism was amazing!”
Karlee Slatterly, Digital Communications Coordinator
The hardware provided a challenge towards the end of Colosseum Lives’ time with us. While reconnecting the controller with the system was relatively easy, if the headset was struggling to connect this was a challenge outside of our staffs’ expertise. There were also challenges with the display. From the perspective pf someone in line waiting to use the system, it was most interesting to watch the screen when the display was in expanded view. However, when trying to get into this view sometimes caused the system to freeze or crash.
While the intention of loaning THEMUSEUM Colosseum Lives was to determine whether or not the system could act as a stand-alone exhibit without additional staff, I would not recommend leaving it unattended at all times. There were instances when staff members came by the system to discover that a visitor was stuck and had no way of knowing how to resolve their issues. Sometimes it was a simple matter of explaining the instructions, other times there was a computer problem and the system needed to be reset. Either way, there were incidents where a staff member proved important to enhancing the visitor experience even if that staff member was not permanently assigned to the system.
“I was also glad that, for our museum, it wasn't a game just an educational tool as it allowed the users to focus on the historical aspects and not just rush to play the game.”
Brooke Henry, Education Programs Coordinator
Another important consideration for staffing is the hardware. The Oculus Rift virtual reality headset is a sensitive piece of equipment and it unfortunately experienced damage during its continuous use on the floor. During it’s time at THEMUSEUM the foam padding at the edges of the headset came loose, one of the ear pieces came off and the strap was damaged. All of the damage was discovered by staff members after the fact and no one saw what happened.
Guests of all ages can be rough with the system both during normal use and when conflict arises among small children. If Colosseum Lives and other Radical VR offerings are intended to be stand-alone exhibits without supporting staff, hardware changes are needed to make the equipment more robust to tolerate the wear-and-tear of continuous and unsupervised use on a museum floor.
Overall, the system was very popular and visitors would often line up for the opportunity to use a real virtual reality headset. Children were excited by the chance to see gladiators “up close” and parents seemed pleased that the exhibit provided a novel and educational experience.
I would recommend Colosseum Lives to another museum. While there were some programming issues, the Radical VR team was responsive and consistently worked to improve the system when they were made aware of a problem. The company was a pleasure to work with.
The immersive experience of the virtual reality system would provide an excellent supplement to a didactic, signage-heavy exhibition without many other interactives.
This pilot project with THEMUSEUM was a great experience for us and we are very thankful for their assistance and support. The pilot raised a number of challenges for us, some that were expected and others we honestly hadn’t thought about. We worked diligently to resolve these challenges as quickly as possible. The list below summarizes the challenges and our resolutions:
Players are now restricted from entering areas of the Colosseum known to cause nausea issues. Adjustments have been made to the speed of movement, the field of view of the in game camera and the controls by which players turn.
More Detailed Visual Instructions
We now have new more detailed photos to explain how put on the Oculus Rift and use a game controller. There is new text to prompt players about basic game play.
Eliminate In Game Bugs
Dead areas of the game have been walled off. A programming issue regarding the language selection has been corrected
Minimize Hardware Breakage
We have added a protective covering for the headset. This will provide an extra layer of protection and are easily swappable making it great for hygene purposes. Radical VR is also providing backup headset as part of their offering so there is no down time.
These learnings will make our next commercialized VR experience an even greater success. We look forward to working with THEMUSEUM again when our “Edge of Space” VR experience is commercialized in May 2017 and continuing with our partnership.
Visitor Satisfaction Survey
based on 150 survey participants who filled in the questionnaire