"Experiential Zone" shakes up the four-day extravaganza
It was a record-setting year yet again for New York Comic Con, the largest enthusiast event on the East Coast. With more than 180,000 attendees, and venues extending from Manhattan's main convention center to Madison Square Garden, there was no shortage of panels to see, midtown sidewalks overrun by cosplay heroes, and trinkets and t-shirts as far as the eye could see.
Of course, that description could easily be copied-and-pasted from any previous New York Comic Con, but there was one aspect that made this year stand out: the dominating presence of virtual reality.
For the first time, New York Comic Con had a dedicated "Experiential Zone," where several leaders in the virtual reality space were on display. VR Con, a convention inside a convention, was also hosted jointly within New York Comic Con.
There was a consistent line to check out demos from VR titan Jaunt VR, as well as a Rick & Morty VR experience. On hand were HTC Vive and Samsung Gear VR units. Due to the high-capacity, limited-space nature of New York Comic Con, the Oculus Rift was in much shorter supply, only appearing from a few companies that deal exclusively with the PC hardware.
The premium on show floor real estate wasn't an issue for the most interesting virtual reality demo, though: a giant dome-shaped tent that played 360-degree videos for groups of people at a time.
On the main floor, in between all the novelty pop-up shops and the unending flood of convention attendees, virtual reality also had a marked presence. A company called Madefire cemented the bridge between Comic Cons of the past and the future: its product is a virtual reality "comic book" experience, a fancy way of saying 360-degree animated shorts that are derived from physical comic books.
Many of the hundreds of people who lined up for VR demos over the four-day stretch were experiencing virtual reality for the first time, showing that the technology, though widespread, is still trying to hit public critical mass. Events like New York Comic Con are the perfect place for that kind of outreach.
Interestingly, although the organizers of New York Comic Con put together tireless efforts to livestream panels and provide as much coverage as possible to those who weren't lucky (or crazy) enough to attend in person, there was no official VR presence for offsite, wannabe attendees.
Perhaps some day in the not too distant future, the phrase "I'm going to Comic Con" will just mean reaching across the desk to put on a VR headset.