The crowds started arriving before 5 p.m. Tuesday evening, lining up for one of Idaho’s most anticipated tech events of the year. Before the doors opened at 5:30, the line was wrapped around the corner into the heart of BODO for Idaho’s first VR Bash, an interactive virtual reality event with fourteen exhibitors including HTC’s Vive team. It was as one attendee, Casey Landry, described on Twitter, “one of the best interactive events Boise has ever seen.”
More than 700 people filtered through VR demos at the Knitting Factory, representing all slices of Boise life: elected officials, Boise State students, game developers, artists, community leaders, and even a Boy Scout troop.
“It’s great to see such widespread interest in Virtual Reality,” said Raino Zoeller, one of the founders of Trailhead, a collaborative working space for startups and entrepreneurs in downtown Boise.
During his introductory remarks, Bodybuilding.com and Blackbox-VR founder, Ryan Deluca, said the goal is to “brand Idaho as a place known for VR,” which he said would be accomplished through education, evangelism, advocacy, networking, collaboration, and investment.
“[Idaho] has such a vibrant community,” said Richard Sher, a digital artist, while standing in line to try the HTC Vive. “People want to stay here if they can find work.”
Game developer Ryan Zehm said that Idaho’s cost of living makes it possible to be indie. “And you can get to San Francisco and Seattle easily, the world’s centers of game development.”
“You hear a lot about the future and potential of Boise’s tech community,” said Jessica Flynn, CEO of Boise’s RedSky PR. “It’s events like this—where people can come together en masse, talk, hack, test, and play—where we see and feel the energy of what is and what can be.”
In addition to HTC, over a dozen exhibitors spanning a variety of industries and educational institutions were present. Organizations such as 360 Immersive, Boise State, the University of Idaho, STEMbusUSA, Silverdraft, Boise CodeWorks, Immerse-a-thon winners VYNYL, Bion Studios, CARVR Unlimted, Idaho Game Developers, VRigami, and Wirestone showed attendees that there is plenty of VR talent in Idaho.
As virtual reality demos continued throughout the night, industry professionals took to the stage to share their expertise about virtual reality and startups in general.
IVRC’s Jess Whiting shared the stage with Mark Cranney of Andreessen-Horowitz, one of Silicon Valley’s leading early stage investment firms. His advice to startups: “Put yourself in your customer’s shoes… and don’t get caught up in your own tech.”
Hardie Tankersley, Emmy award winner and Silverdraft’s head of VR, spoke to the challenges and rewards of content creation in VR. “VR is a storytelling format,” he said. “It’s really important to consider the viewer as there is no longer a fourth wall.”
The energy remained strong after the keynotes as many stayed to make their way through all of the experiences including Paola Gutierrez and Axel Barion. Paola’s enthusiasm after trying the Vive was palpable. “It was so much more immersive,” she exclaimed. “All of the textures.” She looked around. “Are there any more I can try?”
If the enthusiasm at the VR Bash is a yardstick of success, the community seems to be well on its way to creating the collaborative environment envisioned by Deluca.
Seen leaving the event after dark, the same Boy Scouts who at first weren’t exactly sure what virtual reality was were full of smiles and laughter. “It was so cool,” they shouted. “Really, really cool.”
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