The second annual Polys Awards took place in the “meta-multiverse” last weekend. The event, produced by Futurewei Technologies and MetaVRse and hosted by Julie Smithson and Sophia Moshasha, celebrates the best WebXR experiences and platforms as well as the most dedicated creators.
An XR Awards Ceremony in XR
This year’s event streamed live on YouTube, Twitch, and the AWE.live app. Viewers also visited in immersive platforms AltspaceVR, ENGAGE, Hubs, Frame, and VR-Land. The viewing options didn’t just grow, the number of categories also expanded from 11 to 17.
“What a massive year this has been for XR,” hostess Julie Smithson said on the “virtual red carpet” introducing the ceremony. “This year, WebXR showed us some immense innovations and that raised the bar for immersive experiences.”
A number of this year’s awards and honors were presented and/or decided by the awardees and honorees in the inaugural category during last year’s awards.
AR Experience of the Year
The event started with a new category, as augmented reality in WebXR was too small a field last year, according to event organizers. To step off on the right foot, this first award was presented by XR (and XR award show) veteran Ori Inbar.
“The last fifteen years, I dedicated myself to advancing the XR industry,” said Inbar. “I feel like now we’re finally entering the golden age of XR. I feel like this was an exciting year.”
Nominees in the category were arcade-style XR game Worlds Demolisher by Total-Viz, immersive infographic Texas Blackout by Flow Immersive, 8i’s Volumetric WebXR Media Streamer, and the category winner A320 Cockpit Simulator by Playko Software. The award was accepted by Playko managing director Yin-Chien Yeap.
“I’m honored to have won this augmented reality award and feel privileged to be among such great designers,” said Yin-Chien. “I’m really looking forward to what the year ahead brings, and I’m sure we’ll be building other great things.”
The A320 Cockpit Simulator was also nominated for Educational Experience of the Year and Yin-Chien was up for Developer of the Year.
Framework of the Year
The award for Framework of the Year had relatively few nominations but was a contested category. Hosts and speakers pointed out the nominee JanusWeb in particular was used in building a number of the experiences nominated in other categories. Similarly, AR.js is a rising star in the development of WebAR experiences.
In the end, the award was presented by WebXR consultant and prototypist Fabien Bénétou to category winner React XR. However, Smithson also announced a special honor, “Exalted Status” to be granted to A-Frame and Babylon.js, which had been nominated last year and both enabled many of this year’s nominated experiences.
Platform of the Year
The landscape for Platform of the Year was similar: few nominees but anyone’s guess as to which had been selected. CYBR played the part of JanusWeb, playing the platform on which many other nominees relied. CYBR was up against virtual events platform Dreamwave, which has naturally come of age at a time offering both great challenge and incredible opportunity.
Both of these relatively lesser-known platforms were up against comparative giants. These were social platform Somnium Space and cross-platform avatar creator Ready Player Me.
Ready Player Me ended up taking the category, with the award presented by Open Metaverse Interoperability Group co-chair Evo Heyning. The platform was also nominated in the “Return on Experience” category.
Event of the Year
“Events are a hard category to stay on top of, and to judge,” Daniel Dyboski-Bryant of Educators in XR and the Virtual World Society said in awarding the Event of the Year – another category new to this year’s awards. “2021 has had some epic events held in WebXR.”
The nominees were the immersive film festival FIVARS (Festival of International Virtual and Augmented Reality Stories), the educational experience Shelley’s Creation, and two live XR theater performances: #OnboardXR, and Unwanted Waters. The award went to Secret Sky, an immersive album created by Active Theory for recording artist Porter Robinson. Secret Sky was also nominated for World of the Year and Experience of the Year.
Unwanted Waters was also nominated for the Entertainment category. FIVARS creator Keram Malicki-Sánchez was nominated for Creator of the Year, his music video for “Rook” was nominated in the Video Experience and Entertainment categories, and his other XR event, VR Toronto, is nominated for World of the Year. #OnboardXR returned to put on the intermission show.
WebXR Community Award
Another first for this year’s event, the Community Award, was presented by Jacob Rossi and Dave Hill of Meta to Trevor Flowers. Flowers has been known for his project “Immersive Web Weekly” though he is currently working on Transmutable News, which covers the immersive web as well as its intersection with other emerging technologies.
“Every time I think about community and the act of being in a community, I realize that it takes hundreds of people to make anything of size happen,” said Flowers. “All of that is sort of the best thing about the immersive web community.”
WebXR Software of the Year
The award for Software of the Year was presented by FS Studio Director of Emerging Technologies Tony Rogers. The broad category must have been different to judge as nominations often had little in common. “Our award isn’t about software of the same type, but rather different types of software,” said Rogers.
Brushwork is a browser-based immersive painting app and VARTISTE is a spatial drawing application. Wolvic is an immersive browser based on the open-source code from the now-defunct Firefox Reality browser. WebXR Exporter is an integration allowing developers to make unity creations viewable through a standard browser window.
The award went to Wonderland Engine, a creative platform. The engine was a strong contender from the gate as it is also a nomination in the next category and a number of nominated experiences were built using the engine.
Return on Experience (ROX Award)
“This is our impact award,” GatherVerse Summit founder, Christopher Lafeyette, said in presenting the award. “It is recognition for experiences that touch people’s lives.”
From the beginning, the category would be tight as it included two nominees that had already received Polys Awards this year, Wonderland Engine, and Ready Player Me. Also in the running was BabyTime Analysis – Kristen Cuneo and Michael DiBenigno’s use of Flow Immersive to spatially graph the time that went into caring for a newborn – as featured on GMA.
In the end, the award went to RAW Emotion Unites Us, an immersive documentary series telling the stories of five paralympic athletes. RAW Emotion Unite Us was also nominated in the Experience of the Year category.
Game of the Year
The Game of the Year award was presented by Google’s Senior Software Engineer Manish Goregaokar. The nominees included shooting game Archery Dungeon, sports game Ski Fit 365, seasonal smash Santa’s Workshop, and the collaborative and social groundbreaker that is Summit Scramble. The award went to the 3D puzzle game Plockle.
Ombudsperson of the Year
Last year, the inaugural Ombudsperson of the Year was Kent Bye. As such, it fell to Bye to select the honoree for this year.
“When I think about this award, I think about the various issues going on in immersive technology,” said Bye. “Ethics and all of the issues of privacy are certainly of the utmost concern in XR.”
Bye gave the award to someone working more behind the scenes at tech companies but also using social media and self-publishing to spread awareness of the issues and challenges as well as the promises and opportunities of big tech. He chose Avi Bar-Zeev.
“At this point, I’m trying to share what I’ve learned and to help inspire other people,” said Bar-Zeev. “I want to give back to a field that has given me so much and this is one way I can give back.”
Video Experience of the Year
The music video for “Rukh” by Keram Malicki-Sánchez was nominated for video experience of the year, as was fellow XR music video “Be Your Own Dentist.” These shared the nominations field with Grace Weber’s Virtual Studio which invited viewers to walk around the spatially reconstructed recording studio while Weber performs.
Inside a Circle of Dreams combines stereoscopic footage with artistic elements that are both impressive and unnerving. All of these experiences were beat out by The Magic of Flight, an educational series on the physics – as well as of the beauty – of both natural flight in birds and assisted flight for humans. The series was also nominated for Education Experience of the Year.
“It’s an honor to win this award, especially in such a round of amazing talent,” Liquid Cinema founder, Thomas Wallner, said in accepting the award from Polys producer Karen Alexander. “It’s so inspirational to see all of these incredible projects pushing the form.”
World of the Year
“Worlds are like web pages. They are virtual environments that we can get into alone or together,” XR speaker and strategist Linda Ricci said in presenting the award for World of the Year. Some of the nominees were a series of connected worlds while others were worlds unto themselves.
Nominees included Grace Weber’s virtual studio and Secret Sky. Also nominated were the EDUmetaverse of connected spaces, the puzzling castle that is Obscura, and VRTO – the world created for the VR Toronto festival. The award went to ScienceVR Hubs, a collection of immersive environments modeled after historical and literary sites around the world.
“I would say that the prime element is storytelling,” MindWise founder Caitlin Krause said in accepting the award. “It is a true pleasure to accept this award on behalf of ScienceVR.”
Entertainment Experience of the Year
Much of the entertainment category were titles that had been nominated in other categories including the “Rukh” music video, Unwanted Waters, and Grace Weber’s Virtual Studio. Also nominated was the Virtual Screen on the Green experience by PBS for their own film and award events.
In the end, MetaVRse co-founder Alan Smithson gave the award to Manifested – an immersive documentary about angels in different cultures created in A-Frame by Planet Voodoo.
WebXR Developer of the Year
Virbela’s Gabriel Baker, the winner of last year’s Polys award for Developer of the Year, presented this year’s category. The nominees were James Baicoianu of Janus VR, software engineer José Ferrão, Oren De-Panther Weizman behind the WebXR Exporter, and Yin-Chien Yeap who already spoke for the A320 Cockpit Simulator and is also behind Ski Fit 365.
The highly contested category went to Adrian Biedrzycki.
Creator of the Year
“WebXR allows creators to make virtual places that you can visit with others to create real memories,” Moshasha said in presenting the Creator of the Year award.
Nominees were Krause, who accepted the award for World of the Year, and Dulce Baerga. The award went home with Malicki-Sánchez.
“We are here offering time to hold space for the diversity of voices, ideas, potential,” Malicki-Sánchez said in accepting the award. “If I’m here for anything, it’s to support those voices.”
Like the Ombudsperson, Lifetime Achievement is given each year by the previous year’s recipient. Three.js Ricardo Cabello selected Brandon Jones for “his work in bringing excellence in 3D graphics to the Web through WebVR, WebXR, and WebGPU.”
“Thank you very much for this honor. It’s been truly inspiring to see how far this has come,” Jones said in accepting the award. “I’m privileged to be a part of it.”
Education Experience of the Year
The Education Experience of the Year award is not selected solely by the previous year’s winner, but last year’s winner, Dr. Keith Chan, did present this year’s award. “I’m blown away by some of the advancements made this year, not just in the stack and the platform but in the experiences themselves,” Chan said in presenting the award.
The field included nominees from other categories including A320 Cockpit Simulator, EDUmetaverse, and ScienceVR Hubs. Also nominated was Big Brain Time – not the Markiplier meme, but the immersive classroom experience by Technológico de Monterrey. This award, however, went to The Magic of Flight.
Experience of the Year
The Polys Awards’ top honor was presented by Khronos Group president Neil Trevett. All of the nominees – Inside a Circle of Dreams, RAW Emotion Unite Us, Secret Sky, Grace Weber’s Virtual Studio, and The Magic of Flight Secret Sky – had been nominated and/or won in other categories. Once again, The Magic of Flight took home this top honor.
End of Show
The Polys hopes to return next year to recognize even more accessible WebXR experiences and the creators and tools that make them possible. In the meantime, you can view this year’s Polys awards ceremony on YouTube and look forward to other Polys events throughout the year.