Virtual Reality for the Holidays at Firstborn

The holidays can be a time for agencies to experiment with memorable ways to say, “thanks” to its clients and partners. The folks at Firstborn decided to create a virtual reality game to celebrate the season. Here’s how they did it.

What inspired you to create this holiday greeting?

“Every year we send a holiday card to our clients and partners (as do most agencies). This time around, we thought it would be fun to actually make something together—an experience that people could take with them. We created an interdisciplinary team, brainstormed a few ideas and decided that this particular Vive experience would be the most entertaining to build.” – Kristin Keefe, SVP Program Management

How much work had the agency done with VR before creating this card?

“We first started working in VR back in 2013—and since then, we’ve partnered with brands like Mountain Dew, Chevron, Patrón and Audible. Earlier this year, we developed our first interactive VR experience, a hybrid racing game for Mountain Dew’s DEWcision campaign. It was interesting to see how that particular mechanic really blurred the lines of gaming and marketing—and was also the first-ever “virtual voting” utility in the VR space. That was especially cool because it showed how VR can actually add functionality—as well as content—to creative campaigns, and work with other digital elements to grab data and get people interested in other parts of a campaign.

We’ve also been surprised with how conducive the medium is to teamwork. Each project is unique—so we’ve become more and more comfortable in dealing with unknown territories that still make up a ton of VR work. We’ve developed a shared vocabulary between our studio, dev and creative teams. Making the thing becomes a very fluid process, and we can iterate how we tell each story and build on learnings from previous projects to get better and better.

In the fall, our studio team started experimenting with the HTC Vive. Four days later, they’d created a working demo that let users play with a VR train set. Making a deranged post-apocalyptic Santa, room-scale VR game seemed like the logical next step.” – Dave Snyder, SVP ECD

Was it expensive to create or extraordinarily time consuming to make?

“The whole thing moved very quickly. The concepting stage felt like a late-night writer’s room. We were all throwing around suggestions and building on each other’s ideas, and we came to a final creative concept in about a week. From there, the art directors and artists started working on character art and the main “shed” environment, while we tackled the gameplay. We’ve been improvising throughout the project, adding new elements and scaling parts back based on the technical limitations of the platform.” – Ron White, 3D Designer

“One of the things we really wanted to get right was the audio component of the game. Sound can make or break video games, especially in a multisensory VR experience. From the background track to the blared instructions announcing incoming waves of killer elves, we wanted to make sure all the audio cues added to and enhanced gameplay.” – Mike Bourbeau, Technical Artist

Would you send this card to your personal friends and family members?

“Definitely! This has been one of my favorite projects to work on, and I love that it’s an experience that we can share with the whole VR community. The only downside was that my debut as a voice-over artist was delayed when I came down with a cold and couldn’t voice the killer elves. That could have been my big break.” – Lily Stockton, Copywriter

Do you think this concept could be translated into a campaign for a client?

“Well, maybe not this exact concept. Post-apocalyptic survivalist Santa probably wouldn’t fly (but if you think it works for your brand, hit us up). Do I think making content and games in VR can work for brands in general? Yes, absolutely, if the idea is there. It’s a pretty interesting medium—it’s totally immersive; and if you can make something cool enough that people actually want to experience it, they’ll come out smiling. But again, without a good idea VR content can fall just as flat as a late-night TV infomercial. Though, I guess I do own a couple (dozen) Shamwows, so what do I know?” – Sam Isenstein, Senior Copywriter


Firstborn's Holiday Team: Left to right (Top row) Morgan Villedieu, Mike Wells, Lily Stockton, Mike Bourbeau, Benjamin Kainz; Sam Isenstein, Michael Kuzmich (Bottom row) Kristin Keefe, Ron White, Dave Snyder
Firstborn’s Holiday Team: Left to right (Top row) Morgan Villedieu, Mike Wells, Lily Stockton, Mike Bourbeau, Benjamin Kainz; Sam Isenstein, Michael Kuzmich; (Bottom row) Kristin Keefe, Ron White, Dave Snyder