In 2018 the WorldHaptics conference published a call to action on their websites: universities were asked to design a VR project that would increment the way haptics is perceived in immersive environments, and given that VR and haptics were the two major areas of expertise of our department, we decided to take up the fight and sent a proposal. The qualification round required each team to deliver a 3 pages pitch on what our idea was, and why we thought it would make a difference. The pitch we wrote focused on how haptics is marketed and why it currently does not sell as well as other devices such as VR. We argued that haptic devices are often marketed as “single-purpose”, with sentences like “with our device, you can do this thing”, preventing the audience from creating a mental image of how the same object could be used in different contexts. Our plan was to develop a VR application with multiple levels, presenting it in a different way to each participant, and trying to see if marketing the device as “multi-purpose” would increase customers’ interest in buying the product.
Despite some criticism on how such a project could be realised in the 4 months of the challenge, we were selected among the 10 finalists and received the haptic device to build the game! My role at that point was to design the experiences that would make the game, and implement the main gameplay logic in Unity.
Fast forward, and in July 2019 we presented our work at the WorldHaptics conference in Tokyo, Japan, and proved that indeed it is possible to increase customers’ interest in haptic devices by not enforcing a pre-defined view on them. Despite the strong competition, the committee loved our game and awarded us with the first prize!