ETC Launches First of Two Metaverse Experience Challenges

University of Southern California students were invited to participate in the first of two scheduled Metaverse Experience Challenges, hosted by ETC@USC. Making use of current and emerging tools, students were tasked with developing original ideas for compelling metaverse experiences. Six teams of randomly-grouped students started work at 1:00 pm on Friday, October 1 and presented their ideas to judges from Epic Games, Universal Pictures and Disney Research at 3:00 pm on Saturday, October 2. Each member of the winning teams — Meetaverse and Virtual Vinyl — received a Nintendo Switch “Fortnite” Edition, courtesy of Epic Games.

The ETC@USC Metaverse Experience Challenge was organized by ETC’s Phil Lelyveld and Danny Bilson, chair of the Interactive Media and Games Division, USC School of Cinematic Arts. The goal was to see what interesting, engaging and repeatable physical and storytelling ideas this next generation of creators could imagine building in the near term using existing and rapidly emerging technologies and techniques.

Students were instructed to think broadly and consider mixed reality, “Fortnite,” NFTs, linear storytelling, game engine capabilities, social media and anything else that came to mind. The instructions stressed that there were no boundaries and that tangential thinking was encouraged.

Teams were given a template to follow. They were told to prepare a deck and a 3-minute presentation that addresses the concept and its key features, why it will engage the user, what differentiates it, what current technology and resources it leverages, and why people will love it.

Judges were looking for ideas or elements that were original, repeatable or repurposable, and would engage today’s users. The judges were Kim Libreri, CTO of Epic Games; Markus Gross, VP research for Disney Research, Zurich; and Greg Reed, VP of technology partnerships at Universal Pictures.

The following are brief summaries of the six ideas:

Health Balance — Mixed reality app that uses in-app incentives, physical activity and nutritional literacy info to aid and enhance your journey to becoming more healthy. It uses computer vision to identify foods and help you make healthy choices, sensors to track your movements and AR/VR for motivational gameplay.

Meetaverse (winner) — Combines real-time biometric sensing with virtual reality to improve the first date and matchmaking experience. Biosensors record the person’s response to words and phrases, and natural language processors record which phrases trigger a positive brain response.

Metaportal — Immersive universal hub to explore user-generated universes within made-for-VR web browsers. The user can work with others to create new user-generated worlds and wander freely, unconstrained by the limits of walled-gardened ecosystems. Three.js is an example of a cross-browser programming interface, resource library and community that could be used to build Metaportal.

Metaversify — Pioneers storyliving in the metaverse. You embody a digital avatar in a physical space. You can customize your avatar, level up, and unlock shareable experiences. Key features are the customized and collectable avatar, a decentralized attraction experience, and a reward system with purchasable physical and digital products and capabilities.

Virtual Vinyl (winner) — Centralized, interactive and immersive music experience, combining the collectibles and the infinite possibilities of mixed reality. Virtual Vinyl leverages 3D scanning, NFTs and other technology to support three pillars: Ultimate Centralization (video, music tracks, lyrics, background stories), Immersive Interaction (watch the band perform from all angles, use an app to adjust the mix), and Unique Collection (QR codes on collectable physical cards, access to unique NFTs issued by the artists).

WorldBreaker — Socially conscious open world VR survival video game where the choices you make can either accelerate or slow down the apocalyptic rate of climate change our planet is experiencing. It uses brain computing interface and VR technology to change the gameplay based on the player’s in-game experiences and emotional responses.

The presentation decks for these projects, along with a highlight reel, will be posted in the near future. And stay tuned for results of the second ETC@USC Metaverse Experience Challenge.