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DIGITAL STUDIO PRACTICE - LEAD RESEARCHER (Distinction-Awarded Academic Project)

CIVITAS - Immersive Virtual Reality Environment

CIVITAS is an innovative immersive virtual reality (VR) platform aimed at fostering a strong sense of community among its users. This case study documents the research-led approach to developing CIVITAS, focusing on the project's objectives, methodologies, findings, and their application.

Role

As the lead researcher, I guided research initiatives and informed team decisions with evidence-based data.

Research Objectives
  1. Conduct In-Depth Research on Sense of Community: Investigate psychological and social factors contributing to community and belonging.

  2. Evaluate Existing Solutions: Analyse market solutions promoting community engagement in physical and virtual environments.

  3. Guide Development Process: Ensure the platform incorporates features fostering a sense of community.

  4. Provide Ground References: Use research findings for key decisions throughout planning and development.

Secondary Research

Conducted an extensive literature review to understand community building and sense of belonging.
Key sources included:

  • McMillan and Chavis (1986): Provided a foundational definition of a sense of community, highlighting its core components: membership, influence, integration and fulfilment of needs, and shared emotional connection.

  • Kong et al. (2022): Analyzed different types of urban parks and their impact on visitors' positive emotions.

Primary Research

Designed and distributed questionnaires to park-goers and gamers, gathering data on their experiences, preferences, and community engagement.

Target Audience
  • Initial Assumptions: The target age range was 18-60 years.

  • Refined Focus: Based on studies (Huang et al., 2021; Li et al., 2023) and demographic data, the target age range was narrowed to 20-50 years. This group is more likely to invest in technology and engage in both outdoor activities and gaming.

Key Findings

Suitable Settings

Setting Selection: Choose a park setting for its natural facilitation of social interactions. Parks are common social gathering spots that naturally encourage community-building activities.
Park Categories: Focused on comprehensive parks due to their varied offerings and positive emotional impact, as highlighted by Kong et al. (2022).

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Sense of Community

Definition and Components: Adopted McMillan and Chavis's (1986) definition, incorporating the following components:

  • Membership: Integrated features allow users to express personal and social identities and contribute meaningfully to the platform.

  • Influence: Enabled interactions where community members can influence each other while respecting personal space in the virtual environment.

  • Integration and Fulfilment of Needs: Implemented a ranking system to reward positive interactions and achievements, fulfilling users' need for recognition.

  • Shared Emotional Connection: Developed various communication methods, including gestures and voice, to build meaningful relationships and shared experiences.

Market and Competitor Analysis
  1. VR Market Trends: Analysed global VR software and hardware market trends to understand the potential and current landscape.

  2. VR Software Market: Expected to reach $4.3 billion in 2024, growing to $5.9 billion by 2028.

  3. VR Hardware Market: Forecasted to reach $11.4 billion by 2024, growing to $16.7 billion by 2028.

  4. Technology Choice: Selected Oculus Quest 2 for development due to its affordability and increasing market penetration.

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Primary Research Insights

Questionnaire Design: Created questionnaires targeting park-goers and gamers to gather insights into their behaviours and preferences.

  • Findings: Significant preference for gesture-based communication among VR gamers (77.8%).

  • Implementation: Developed comprehensive gesture interaction capabilities based on these preferences.

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Implementation and Development

Collaborative Effort: Worked closely with programmers, game designers, animators, and UI designers to integrate research insights into the platform.

  • User-Centric Approach: Ensured that every aspect of the project was informed by user needs and empirical data.

  • Feature Development: Incorporated community-building features such as gesture-based communication, ranking systems, and various interactive elements.

Summary

Impact of Research: Comprehensive research ensured that CIVITAS effectively fosters a strong sense of community. The platform's features are grounded in empirical data, making it a user-centric and engaging environment.
Future Improvements: Plan to conduct face-to-face interviews for more personalised insights and expand research on social interactions in virtual worlds.

Conclusion

This detailed case study demonstrates the critical role of research in the development of CIVITAS, highlighting how informed decision-making and user-centric design can create a successful and engaging VR platform. This structured approach showcases your research capabilities, project management skills, and the practical application of your findings, making it a valuable addition to your portfolio.

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