In 2018 the AUREA Award was launched at Europapark by Michael Mack, CEO of Germany’s largest theme park, visited by over 6 million guests annually, and home to several of the world’s most-visited LBVR experiences including Yullbe, Eurosat Coastiality, Snorri Snorkeling, and the immersive dining experience Eatrenalin. And if you’re following the XR scene closely, you may have heard Michael’s recent interview on the This Week in XR podcast with Ted Schilowitz, Rony Abovitz, and Charlie Fink, or his own interviews with XR legends and AUREA veterans Kathleen Cohen and Athena Demos from The World Beyond: The Emotioneers of Tomorrow podcast.

But when AUREA was first started I was invited to be on the inaugural jury, and I thought surely it would be a once-in-a-lifetime chance to go to the beautiful German countryside while also getting to experience first-hand the world’s most innovative applications of Location Based Entertainment and XR. Looking back, I don’t really think I knew what to expect, but I have also learned that it’s usually best to go in with an open mind and be ready for anything. Nothing specifically, but everything I had ever done could prepare me for the adventure. So I went all-in.

EuropaPark CEO Michael Mack hosts a live podcast recording with Author and Educator Caitlin Krause at the AUREA Award, January 2024

Once at the park, I stepped onto a roller coaster that transported me into outer space, helped me overcome my fear of heights (yes, Tipatat, it cured me too), and met XR entrepreneurs who broke my brain in at least a dozen ways. At AUREA #1 there was no community yet, but it was born organically from a potent mixture of creative entrepreneurs, European culture, and the je ne sais quois of a magical setting deeply infused with the power of potential for things that can “only happen here”.

Perhaps specifically because Europapark is situated not far from where the Swiss, French, and German borders meet, this Dreiländereck, is part of what makes it unlike anywhere else. There is something special about a place that cross-pollinates across borders and is at home in more ways than one – this is how it feels at Europapark and is core to the culture of the AUREA Award. When you spawn here from wherever home is, you are coming to the real-life metaverse, and you can make it whatever you want it to be.

The Voltron Nivera, a partnership between Rimac Automotive and EuropaPark, the park’s newest and most ambitious coaster, debuts this Spring in the new Croatian-themed area.

Fast forward six years and we have just closed the curtain on the sixth AUREA Award. Michael Mack, the Europapark team, MackMedia, the Jury, and iConomy have done it again. It should no longer surprise me, but somehow it still amazes me that every year we attend the AUREA Award, including two “tribrid” years during the pandemic (run concurrently in the park, on the web, and in VR) there is a part of the park that we haven’t seen before, a ride that feels like it was built just for us, a surprise performance raises the bar, or an XR startup shows up to pitch and we collectively experience a star being born.

This year they opened the famous Blue Fire roller coaster just for us after waiting until dusk to test the tracks for ice. As the sun went down, the jury watched the pitches with a backdrop of a roller coaster train rushing past over and over again. They call it “confertainment” for a reason. So again, their culture of testing “crazy” experiments combined with extraordinarily tight operational orchestration makes it all run like a well-oiled machine, while a literally well-oiled machine spirals over your head. Natalia Szczepanczyk, Segment Manager for Experiential Applications at HOLOPLOT, and AUREA Award Winner said it best in our AUREA Award Recap 2024, “there is no way I can describe how it sounds like in words”, and that may be the best description of all. It will always be the elusive fact of our industry, some things you just have to experience for yourself.

And to that point, the AUREA Award 2024 theme “The Rollercoaster as Metaphor” is one ride that I am not sure we will be able to get off of so quickly, because it encapsulates three ongoing dilemmas of LBE and XR 1). the ups and downs of the entrepreneur’s journey 2). trust and safety underpinning everything and 3). the faith that an impossible idea that you are crazy enough to believe in (because you can dream it) will someday become real. This faith is a common trait that sets all of our entrepreneurs in the AUREA Award Community apart, making the collective a prime example of “build it and they will come”.

The countless ups and downs are part of the journey, but as broken down by one of our Keynote speakers Prof. Eve Weston, it’s also how we have to think about new signposts along the way, because, “If you enter a building by materializing into the middle of the room, you bypass the front door.” So with these new challenges for orientation, we have to continuously reimagine how to gain trust, and to know who, what, and where we are. It’s a lot to think about, especially as it applies to digital worlds in ways that we are still discovering (Must See Eve Weston Keynote).

That said, even the best pitch for an experience will always struggle to emote just exactly what it feels like, either because the dream has not entirely been realized yet, or it’s not something that one can easily put into words. We know it’s not without trying, and this year with the leadership of Jury Chair, Kathleen Cohen, and Jury Secretaries Clark Parsons and Felix Styma, this year we put an 11th-hour post-pitch request to the finalists – show us, don’t tell us – and we pushed all of the finalists to share more media with us to help us really make sure we were seeing the companies from all angles.

Pushing the finalists (who had been selected from a pool of over 50 community-nominated hopefuls) to provide more content helped us immensely in the deliberation room. The jury was unanimous on only one thing – that all XR projects in general struggle to represent themselves with just words and pictures. It must be felt. Our request for more media after the pitches certainly added to the rollercoaster experience for the finalists themselves, but at the awards presentations it felt that much more sincere to recognize the winners since we had pushed the finalists to show us what they are all about – words may not convey sounds – but emotion can be shared.

This year’s AUREA Award Jury: Kathleen Cohen (Collaboratorium), Dirk Freytag (BVDW), Thomas Wagner (VRCoaster), Emily Olman (Hopscotch Interactive), and Marian Gläser (Brighter AI) are greeted by the Jury Secretary, Clark Parsons (iConomy) as the pitches get underway.

Even still, pitching something that might take several years to be realized, for example, a film like the one premiered from AUREA Award Partner, Filmakademie Baden-Württemberg (Germany’s most innovative Film Academy), may just always be harder to evaluate earlier on and require an imagination for what it will be. The team on Cybercity Lovestory, a film several years in the making, or Rimac Automotive, whose cars take 5-7 years to develop, understand this innately.

Mate Rimac gave this year’s gala Keynote presentation on transforming not only the electric car industry, but also his ambitious goals to quadruple the GDP of his home country: Croatia. Mate’s dream of building electric hypercars, for example, is something that is realized in increments of years, not months, and so the vision it takes to hold onto these goals for so long is perhaps just as familiar to XR innovators who know that the future mass audiences may take years if not decades to be fully realized. To view the pitches, including Dan Franke’s winning pitch for Fragments of Silence, that won this year’s AUREA Young Talent Award, as well as Mate Rimac’s full talk, check out the entire video archive here on Europapark’s original programming platform VeeJoy.

My job as the AUREA Award Community Ambassador really does get better and better every year, and thankfully it has been more than a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I was thrilled to hear the announcement as we closed this year’s event that we will be back for AUREA #7 from January 22-24, 2025. I’m grateful for the contributions from all of the people who made this year’s AWARD possible, including The Mack Family, David Lämmel, Marcus Ernst, Felix Styma, Anelia Heese, Clark Parsons, Gabriele Romagnoli, Kathleen Cohen, Thomas Wagner, Dirk Freytag, Marian Gläser, Frank Govaere, Zovinar Löbel, Lisa Graf, Manuel Latini, and the entire Europapark and MackOne team. It’s hard in the trenches to keep that many-year vision in sight, so I want to take a moment to truly congratulate all of this year’s winners and finalists:

Winners of AUREA Award #6

The Sphere – Las Vegas, Natalia Szczepanczyk, HOLOPLOT (Winner)

Sinkin Sync – Debi Wong DigiBC

Augusta Raurica – Luc Moser, Tamschick Media

MoGen – Simon Alexanderson, Motorica (Winner)

Active Esports Arena – Peter Kortenhoeven, PWXR

Brainjo – Christian Gnerlich, Brainjo (Winner)

JUMP – James Jensen, Limitless Flight (Winner)

Sloyd – Avi Latner, Sloyd

Patchworld – Edo Fouillioux, PatchXR (Winner)

For more color, you can watch the finalist pitches and all of content from the last three AUREA Awards, including this year’s 2024 edition. You can also get a feeling of what the AUREA Award is all about by listening to an episode of The World Beyond, recorded live with Author and Stanford Wellness and Technology Educator, Caitlin Krause and Michael Mack, on location at Europapark during this year’s awards dinner. You’ll certainly be transported and hopefully, sooner rather than later, spawn.

AR Insider’s Editor-at-Large Emily Olman is an XR community builder, roving journalist, and CEO & Chief Media Officer of Hopscotch Interactive.

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