I. Introduction – The Immersive Revolution

The Immersive Revolution:
How Immersive Entertainment is Driving the new Experience Economy

by Peter Tullin – Co-Founder, REMIX Summits


  1. Introduction – The Immersive Revolution

  2. What is driving the growth of immersive experiences?

  3. How is technology enabling new possibilities for immersive experiences?

  4. Empty space for immersive experiences

  5. Clusters of immersive experiences: London

  6. How are immersive experiences reshaping the arts and cultural sector?

  7. What’s next for immersive experiences?

  8. Acknowledgements & Further Resources

A series of extended articles produced with support from the British Council

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In 2006 at the passionate urging of a colleague I wandered through the streets of East London to a now demolished warehouse in Wapping to experience Punchdrunk’s Faust, which she described as something unlike any other art experience she had been to. Entering into a cavernous 150,000 square foot space you left London behind and stepped into what The Guardian described as ‘a strange parallel universe, a secret deep-south bar where the blues – the devil’s music – is played, and a place where a preacher raises hell, and Faust raises the devil.’ The Guardian’s five star review was echoed by Susannah Clapp in The Observer who said “this is one of the most astonishing events, not just in the theatre, but in the whole of London.” 30,000 other people got to experience Faust over its 6-month run and I can only assume they were as enraptured as I was, because while not their first production it brought Punchdrunk to public prominence. Just a few years later they conquered New York with Sleep No More; a show which continues to draw in the crowds to this day and the rest is history.

It was at this point that I personally became something of an immersive junkie and London was the perfect immersive playground to scratch that itch. Other immersive pioneers such as Secret Cinema and the now defunct Shunt and You Me Bum Bum Train were also helping to build this embryonic industry. Slightly later through REMIX Summits I was able to get a birds eye view of this emerging sector, interact with the key players and help share their stories. We are getting ahead of ourselves however. Rewinding back to Faust, its sheer scale, lavishness alongside a unique new format ensured it made a seismic impact on the UK’s cultural scene. This was in part made possible by the calculated gambles of two partners who played a role in bringing the production to life. One was Nicholas Heightner, who recognised the genius in the team at Punchdrunk having seen their first production the Firebird Ball. In his role as Artistic Director of the National Theatre he provided additional resources and marketing clout in a demonstration of how the established not for profit cultural sector can directly play a role in helping to develop the commercial creative industries. The other was a property developer, Ballymore (with advice from placemaking agency Futurecity), became the major sponsor and provided access to the building in which the show took place. They recognised how a creative spatial activation such as this could serve their commercial objectives (in this case to help rebrand an area in which they were planning a major new residential development).

These background players both contributed to Punchdrunk’s breakthrough moment showing how creative entrepreneurship relies on multiple factors beyond the moment of creative genius itself. The Punchdrunk story is worth sharing because nearly 20 years on from Faust (and having taken a bit of time to reach the mainstream) it is hard to deny that immersive entertainment has finally arrived. In fact, the ‘immersive’ word is thrown around so much that it has started to feel ubiquitous.

Therefore it feels like now could be a good time to reflect on what I have termed the ‘immersive experience revolution’. A range of players from governments to corporates (including property developers and commercial landlords once again) are seeking to learn the lessons of this growth story to understand how they can foster and develop local immersive industries (in the same way they have developed strategies to stimulate other industries).

This report will seek to answer the following questions. Where are we now and how have we got here? What are the key trends driving the immersive entertainment industry and where are we headed next?

Where are we now? Immersive goes mainstream

A lot has happened in 10-years since the first REMIX Summits in London which featured immersive pioneers including the Founders of Punchdrunk and Secret Cinema.

If we fast forward to today then a key difference now is the sheer number and scale of new immersive experiences that have exploded onto the scene. A new wave of creative entrepreneurs, technology innovation and changes in consumer behaviours are combining to supercharge the growth of immersive entertainment, spawning a whole new industry.

The canon of immersive entertainment is now incredibly broad. Immersive experiences are built upon or span multiple other industry sectors such as games,  theme parks, immersive theatre and experiential art. They are intimately connected to the rise of immersive and metaverse technologies such as haptics, virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR) and mixed reality (MR), Holograms, motion capture and even AI.

Creative Entrepreneurs are also trying a myriad of combinations of these different immersive ingredients to create an ever more varied menu of options for an ever growing number of immersive experience seekers.

At the same time, this rapid growth means we are in something of a Wild West phase. This is  an exciting but fragmented space that stretches from the artistic to the outright commercial given the financial rewards on offer. Some like teamLab are creating new forms of 21st century digital art (that appeals to millions) while others are seeking to monetise the immersive trend to build the next Disney or Cirque du Soleil. Suddenly everything is immersive and it has become one of those buzzwords that is increasingly attached to everything from theatre art to hospitality. It has even been applied to cities with the recent announcement of the Mukaab building in Saudi Arabia. It is claimed this ‘will be the world’s first immersive, experiential destination, where you enter a new reality – transported to Mars one day, and magical worlds the next.’ With new immersive experiences seemingly announced on an almost daily basis then it seems clear that not all will survive. Therefore this report also seeks to predict what the rationalisation of the sector will look like.

The proposed Mukaab building in Saudi Arabia
The proposed Mukaab building in Saudi Arabia

What is an immersive experience?

So with this wider landscape in mind, how do we define an ‘immersive experience’? For this report, I have defined it as the following:

Immersive entertainment offers multi-sensory and often interactive experiences. This immersion and realism is achieved through mechanisms such as immersive technologies or the use of performers. Immersive experiences put the audience front and centre, making them feel a part of a story world or experience and often providing them with agency over the outcomes, unlike traditional linear entertainment models.

How did we arrive at this point?

This is a very short potted history in no particular chronological order but immersive experiences have been around in one form or another for a long time before Punchdrunk helped plug them into the mainstream. 3D glasses were all the rage in cinemas for a brief moment. Then there was the first coming of VR (before its more recent reemergence). Remember the Virtual Boy by Nintendo or VR arcade experiences by other video game titans like SEGA? VR often underwhelmed and caused motion sickness for others (that’s still a problem). Even basic motion control was sort of a thing for a brief time in the late eighties when the novelty steampunk styled Power Glove was released in 1989 for the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) popularised by cult movie The Wizard. It was only utilised by two games but still sold around a million units and is now a collectors item. Then of course there were other novelties such as Smell-o-vision in the 60’s, using scents to increase realism for moviegoers. Many of these innovations have found use in contemporary immersive experiences. For example, scent is something that augments the locations in Jeff Wayne’s The War of The Worlds: The Immersive Experience in London.

Advert for Nintendo’s Power Glove
Advert for the Power Glove for the Nintendo Entertainment System

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