As just about every horror movie franchise demonstrates, killing the main villain doesn’t necessarily end the series. That’s certainly the case for the Saw series, which will be launching its eighth movie Jigsaw on October 27.
It’s been seven years since the previous movie released, so Lionsgate is promoting its return as a major event. This includes a VR escape room experience within a physical escape room that debuted on Thursday at the New York Comic Con.
The VR experience, which involves making a gruesome life or death decision and solving a puzzle, gives users a first-hand look at what it’s like to be one of Jigsaw’s victims. After escaping the trap, players can tour shrines that showcase props from previous Saw movies, then it concludes with the Jigsaw trailer. It was designed in partnership between Lionsgate and Unity, and also marks the official launch of Unity’s Virtual Room ad unit.
“We partnered with Lionsgate to launch Virtual Room, which is an IAB ad experience in VR,” Julie Shumaker, vice president of advertiser solutions at Unity, told AListDaily. She was joined by Unity’s head of VR strategy Tony Parisi, and Agatha Bochenek, Unity’s head of mobile and VR/AR advertising sales.
“There are several points that we’re really excited about with the partnership, with the first being that it’s the first of its kind,” Shumaker continued. “It takes the work the IAB Innovation Lab established—standards which help an industry grow—and adopt things that can be measurable. You’ll see that in a variety of Unity VR games.”
Shumaker explained that the Virtual Room is an ad experience that allows brands to better use the Unity VR platform, which is quite extensive, considering how roughly two-thirds of all VR experiences are built on Unity.
Although Lionsgate is one of the leading film companies to pioneer VR, with multiple activations to its credit, Shumaker said that what sets the Jigsaw experience apart from previous VR promotions is the sense of scale Virtual Room offers.
“With Virtual Room, Lionsgate has taken advantage of deep immersion,” said Shumaker. “In essence, the consumer goes into the Jigsaw Virtual Room and it has its own narrative. The difference here is that it’s scalable. It’s a self-contained immersive experience that can be surface through a variety of Unity VR apps.”
“So far, all of the early innovations and experimentation with brand content in VR and AR has been around crafting a one-of-a-kind experience that is delivered as an app,” Parisi added.
He cited Audi’s R18 race car experience as a prime example of a deeply crafted VR story.
“The idea behind the VR ad unit is that you would encounter those experiences within some other application. You would come to a natural stopping point—between chapters in a cinematic experience or between levels in a game—and you’re offered a chance to opt into an experience, and then you go in there for a limited time. It’s snack-sized content, but true to the brand and takes full advantage of the immersion, and delivered into multiple applications.”
According to Parisi, if you have to download an app for a single VR experience, then it has reached its limit. Motivated users will try a lot of different things, but that’s different from presenting a brand experience to someone while they’re in the midst of doing something else.
Bochenek explained that the Jigsaw VR experience goes far beyond a location-based escape room.
“We’re distributing our ad inside of two key apps that are built on Unity,” said Bochenek. “One is the Samsung internet VR app, which is the main 360 video app that all Gear owners have. It will be the first interactive experience in that app.”
Gear owners will be able click on the Jigsaw experience in the Featured section to experience it. Samsung also benefits by pushing the boundaries of its video app with interactivity.
“We’re also distributing in an app call Nanite Fulcrum, which is on both the Samsung Gear and Oculus Rift,” Bochenek continued. The VR comic book app lets its users jump into panels. “We’re going to have a special panel at the end of comic book app that allows you to go into this experience. That’s the massive distribution that we’re talking about that’s unique to this product. It’s a standalone, very scalable product that you can use for a variety of advertisers and brands.”
Bochenek also said that Lionsgate didn’t have a specific VR plan for Jigsaw, so the partnership enabled them to develop it closely together. The experience features that voice of Tobin Bell, who plays Jigsaw in the movie, and Lionsgate provided assets from the entire Saw franchise to be brought into VR—giving the experience an authentic feel.
The Saw franchise, with its deadly escape room theme, may be the perfect partner to debut something called a Virtual Room, but Parisi reminds us that “room” actually means environment. It doesn’t necessarily mean that users will be trapped within four walls.
Shumaker said they’re excited to showcase the Virtual Room’s scalability.
“[Virtual Room] is a sandbox in which a brand can tell its story and have consumers interact with content and almost go on individual journeys,” she said. “For example, let’s say it’s a cinematic VR mountain climbing experience, and the user has an opportunity to take a break and maybe earn some unlockable content by going into a branded Virtual Room—and let’s say the Virtual Room is an energy drink. We don’t anticipate that the brand will make it about drinking that drink. We believe that it would take advantage of Unity Virtual Room to take users on an achievement-based micro-experience, where they get their achievement and get back to the VR mountain. What we love about Virtual Room is that no matter what fiction you’re in, you have moments of natural breaks.”
Unity has found that people are always seeking interesting and new content, whether that means exploring the extras for a movie or reaching the next level of a mobile game.
“It’s our nature to search and click,” said Shumaker, and Unity believes that consumers will be delighted by the ability to tap into a brand’s Virtual Room for a side journey from within a VR experience.
Shumaker explained that the IAB Innovation Lab research has produced reliable and replicable VR ad experiences, which now gives brands Lionsgate more confidence in developing experiences.
“That’s why Unity wanted to commit behind this ad standard,” she said. “It’s very hard for a brand to know its long-term strategy when it’s a one-off. Did it work? Did it not work? What did it work compared to? We’re excited about the fact that brands will be able take advantage of this ad product—the Virtual Room—and create some parity with their campaigns in what they’d expect the results to be.”
As the Jigsaw campaign demonstrates, it will be very easy for brands to port VR experiences to other apps built in Unity.
“It’s at the core of what we care about for our developers,” Shumaker said. “We put great tools in their hands to democratize content development, we enable their success by making money through advertising, and we solve hard problems like how to do the future—which is currently VR and AR. This launch means a ton to Unity because it captures all three of those. The apps are built on Unity, the Virtual Room ad is built on Unity, and it’s being distributed to Unity developers to make them money.”