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  • Writer's pictureEugenie Mae

How Coachella's Gamification and AR is like a Real Life Video Game

Going to festivals come with a set of expectations. Attendees typically undergo a series of tasks such as securing a place to stay for the weekend, getting through tedious traffic, navigating a festival map, and staying hydrated and well-fed for energy and stamina. Those tasks are part of the experience for fans attending the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival at the Empire Polo Club in Indio, but they have more in common with an open world video game than attendees may realise.

This year, while major musical artists such as Harry Styles, Billie Eilish and The Weekend take the stage to perform for hundreds of thousands of people, the festival experiments with augmented reality and gamification. Gamification refers to gameplay being applied to activities outside of the game space and can be used as a strategy to increase engagement among participants.

In 2019, Coachella introduced Coachella Coin, an interactive game on the festival's smartphone app. The game provided a kind of in-depth scavenger hunt that has festival-goers try to complete various challenges to earn coins and badges. Their virtual currencies could be exchanged for a ride on the signature Coachella Ferris wheel, blankets, scarfs, pins and drink cozies.

Clerisse Cornejo, associate researcher at WB games said in a phone interview that there are intrinsic and extrinsic motivations to get video game users to engage in tasks. Cornejo said it could be reward-driven, such as unlocking a powerful weapon in the video game or simply creating a fun experience that users want to participate in. These motivations are similar to the way that a Coachella scavenger hunt may reward participants for their engagement, making the festival and video game experiences overlap.

"Every festival has its own world map, so to speak," Cornejo said. "You have your entrances and exists, different stages, art installations on the way, and you have all these different spaces for people to do activities outside of just listening to music at the stage."

This year's festival is incorporating something similar with an NFT scavenger hunt that's part of Coachella's larger embrace of NFTs. Participants in the scavenger hunt are tasked with searching for secret 88rising art pieces and scanning a code in the FTX app to reveal a landing page with instructions on how to mint an exclusive NFT on-site. These on-site experiences are part of the gamification of Coachella that draw from the same motivations a video game would.

In a phone interview, Coachella's Innovative lead Sam Schoonover said that gamification mechanics really help dictate how his team plans the experiences on-site and ensures that people participate.

"If you zoom out a little bit, the whole festival experience is a kind of a game," Schoonover said. "If a game is defined by going somewhere and doing something to receive a reward, then going to a festival is sort of like that."

Coachella also partnered with Niantic and Trigger, the creators of the AR mobile game Pokemon Go. They created an AR experience that allows users of the Coachella app to use and view art collections from previous years. The app also allows users to find different points of interests on-site and locate geo-specific AR experiences like watching a butterfly land on the festival's Spectra structure.

The festival also tapped into Fortnite, the video game that is playing music from the artists performing at Coachella on its radio feature and is also allowing players to customise their avatars with special costumes. It's a virtual experience that's a nod to the festival fashion which continues to be a part of Coachella's culture. The integration of live music events and culture isn't a first for Fortnite.

While Coachella is working with Fortnite and mobile AR technology, it's also looking for different ways to offer a new experience to those watching the live stream of the festival at home. While concert goers watched Flume perform on stage, those at home were getting a different experience, where at one point parrot heads with glowing eyes peered behind the stage and creepy 3D heads hovered over the crowd.

Schoonover said that the team used three different cameras that have AR trackers attached to them to zoom, pan and cut back and forth between the cameras to show different perspectives of that AR content. That combination was used to create a 3D effect that was layered over Flume's performance to make it realistic, but was only exclusively seen by an at-home audience.

"I hope that people around the world who are not able to buy a plane ticket and attend Coachella in real life are able to use our AR content and watch the live stream and feel like they witnessed a little piece of it, Schoonover said. "That's really the goal with these digital strategies and how we scale the experience to people who can't be there in person." - The Orange County Register/Tribune News Service

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