Branded houses are a time-tested way to attract an audience at SXSW: who can beat the temptation to stroll inside, rehydrate and enjoy fast wifi? But whether people truly notice and engage with the brands involved depends entirely on execution.

This year, Sony used SXSW to position itself as a forward-thinking brand. The Wow Factory, a pop-up space, filled a block just south of the convention center with emerging technologies that visitors could try out for themselves, often in a gaming context.

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One example was a climbing challenge based on the forthcoming film Spider-Man: Homecoming. Billed as “the first immersive interactive experience featuring Sony’s moving projector technology with distortion-free projection,” the installation featured a rock-climbing wall with an augmented digital layer of information projected over it. Players navigated the wall using grips and holds indicated by the projection, and would fail if they touched the wrong ones. A static surface became an interactive one.

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Future Lab.
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Spider-Man climbing experience.

Another project, called “T,” used Sony’s Xperia Projector to create interactive spaces on tables and other real-world surfaces. One example was a playable piano keyboard projected onto a flat tabletop. Sony said the technology “creates a social and convenient way to communicate or enjoy shared experiences with friends and family”—similar to a traditional board game, but with a new, high-tech gloss.

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XperiaTM Touch

Another installation featured Superception, “a research framework that uses computer technologies to intervene in the process of human perception.” The “mixed reality” experience allowed visitors to play a game of tag while wearing headsets and navigating around corners made of foam-core board. Players saw visual feeds that displayed the perspectives of other players, similar to a classic multi-person shooter game, but transposed into a 3D, real-world setting. The challenge was to navigate simple terrain through this complex and unfamiliar interface, while avoiding getting “tagged.”

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Mixed Reality CAVE experience.
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Another project, dubbed “Synesthesia Suit,” was a haptic extension of the existing game Rez Infinite, which gaming magazine Polygon calls “one of the first masterpieces of VR.” The suit surrounded players with 26 actuators that vibrated along with music in the game, allowing for a more multisensory experience. The suit also included LED lights that vibrated differently along with different sounds, such as percussive beats and stringed instruments, which made it more interesting for the audience.

More than most experiential activations at SXSW, the Wow Factory positioned Sony as a brand that creative technologists might want to work with on future projects—just as their work is becoming more important to the marketing of live events in general. One panel at SXSW about immersive art at festivals noted that “the longevity of many festivals is based upon successfully converging music, visual arts, and immersive environments to sell tickets—[and] often it’s the ancillary entertainment that defines a festival to make it a destination experience.”

A successful showcase of Sony’s technical know-how, the Wow Factory also offered concrete demos of the look and feel of experiences created with its technology. The element of gaming in many of these displays helped make the Wow Factory the most engaging branded house we saw at SXSW this year.

For more highlights from SXSW, see our coverage of Bolt Threads and NeuroSpeculative AfroFeminism.

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