- Kirsten Ballard
Ray Soto is Gannett’s Creative Lead of Applied Technologies responsible for driving the creative vision and development of the USA Today Network’s immersive storytelling initiatives. He’s a video games industry veteran where he served as an Art Director leading creative teams to develop AAA titles on both desktop and mobile platforms. Recognizing the potential of virtual reality and other emerging technologies to deliver unique story driven experiences to a broader audience, he transitioned from video game development into journalism.
1. What drew you to working in news media?
I’ve always been interested in news but I had no intention of working in the industry. That all changed after viewing an interactive story within virtual reality for the first time. Never before had I felt a personal connection to a subject within a scene. I guess you can say I was inspired by what I experienced. I immediately recognized the power of the medium and I wanted nothing more than to tell stories that can truly create an impact. It was the conversations I had with journalists and the ideas we were developing together that drew me into news.
2. Tell me about the transition from video games to VR.
The transition from video games to VR development within a news focused organization has been an interesting journey. The tools are the same, but I had to learn traditional news techniques and how my creative solutions impact the story. I’ve had to consider how a 360 [degree] canvas, where the viewer can look in any direction, creates a new series of challenges that I’ve never had to consider before. I know what works in video games, but developing good VR content isn’t as easy.
3. What is the most exciting thing you are currently working on?
Recently, we’ve announced our VRtually There regularly syndicated VR experience. Creatively, it’s been the most challenging project I’ve ever worked on. I’ve worked closely with our editorial team to develop an experience that enhances the story but provides value to the consumer within a 360 space. What started off as an idea has evolved into something truly unique. I can’t wait until the release.
4. What’s the most surprising thing you have learned about immersive storytelling?
At first glance, I assumed developing content within a 360 environment would be a fairly straightforward process. I was wrong. You’d be amazed at how much content we’ve developed but have never released in an effort to understand the medium and what makes for a compelling immersive story within VR. Issues we ran into included motion sickness caused by camera movement within a scene and user interface elements that don’t work as intended because the user never notices it. But we’ve grown and learned over the course of two years. I just never thought it would take this long to truly understand what works and doesn’t work in VR.
5. How do you see the future of news media?
I see virtual reality as a unique opportunity for the future of news media. VR is not a replacement for great journalism, but a new medium to take our consumers into the story and around the world. I expect demand for VR news content to grow as the sales for hardware continues to rise.
Five Answers is a weekly series that features a member of the newspaper industry answering five questions. If you’d like to participate, email Kirsten Ballard.