An important note: I’m always cautious about being too positive about ARCADE's recent successes, given the terrible toll the pandemic has taken on so much of society. Please read everything that follows with the caveat that this is a specific perspective from a business that is doing well in an industry that, on balance, has benefited significantly from the societal changes brought about by COVID restrictions.
What a strange, wonderful, challenging and elating year 2021 has been for ARCADE.
In hindsight, the defining feature of 2021 had actually begun the year before. During the final few months of 2020 we had started to see a noticeable rise in inbound enquiries. Clients from all kinds of sectors - some known to us already, some sent our way by word of mouth or an internet search - began to get in touch to find out more about “all this immersive stuff” and perhaps dip their toe in the water. More immersive briefs were being launched, with bigger budgets attached.
At the time it was unclear whether this was coincidence - a blip, disconnected from any wider trend - or if what we had been predicting (and hoping for) for some time was finally coming to pass, that organisations were beginning to see immersive experiences as more than gimmicks; core engagement tools rather than peripheral nice-to-haves.
2021 has shown it was very much the latter.
Driven by the necessities of adapting to a COVID world - in which traditional models of audience engagement were breaking down and being replaced (or complemented) by new, tech-led experiences delivered via immersive media - businesses of all shapes and sizes have well and truly woken up to the potential of a spatial future.
It was these experiences that led us to brand ARCADE as ‘The Spatial Agency’, a positioning that has served us well and, I think, complements the overarching mission that continues to drive us, of ‘connecting people to place through play’.
2021 also showed that our vision for a positive future of physical and digital interactivity is shared by some of the most important players in the tech and cultural space, from Apple to Google to Niantic. And whatever you might think of Facebook Meta, there is no question that they are one of the leading voices in putting immersive technologies - and the experiences they make possible - front and centre of mass public awareness. There may not be a consensus around what ‘The Metaverse’ actually is, but the fact that immersive environments are being talked about in the mainstream press and across dinner tables around the world can only be a positive for us and our industry as a whole.
The result for ARCADE was a year packed full of all-time highlights in the agency’s short life to date. From creating a multi-award winning world-first sports fan engagement experience for The Hundred in partnership with Sky and ECB, to building web, social media and connected packaging AR experiences for brands such as Disney, Jim Beam and Lipton Ice Tea, to winning the pitch to design and build a hugely ambitious immersive game for young National Gallery audiences, to exploring new ways to combine AR and AI in immersive storytelling, and working with countless other cultural and heritage organisations to tell their stories in completely new, three-dimensional ways - we will look back on 2021 as the year that Arcade caught fire.
These wonderful projects and so many others also gave us the opportunity to grow the agency, more than doubling in size in both the UK and the Netherlands. We welcomed some incredibly passionate and creative talents to the team, and are building a business of which we can all be very proud.
So we look ahead to 2022 with cautious but deeply-held optimism. Though this dramatic growth in all things immersive could yet prove to be a passing fad, all the signs are that it is here to stay.
Despite our optimism we fully recognise the challenges this brings with it, specifically about the kind of world we are helping to create - one that becomes more reliant on its devices rather than less. Our view, one that is shared by some of the leaders in our industry that we admire the most, is that when done well, immersive experiences can create more meaningful connections with the world around us and each other. Far from isolating us or offering an escape from reality, it enhances our relationship with reality. This is our goal, and one we are committed to achieving in everything we do.
We owe a tremendous thanks to all the clients who have put their faith in us this year. We pride ourselves on delivering beyond expectations (including, often, our own!), and cannot wait to continue to do so in 2022.