It wouldn't be 2020 if our largest and most iconic New Year's Eve celebration wasn't affected by the global pandemic.
This year, New Year's Eve in Times Square won't be open to the public. So instead of bringing out 1 million visitors to Times Square New Year's Eve ball drop, organizers of the famous event are inviting everyone across the globe to join in on what will be a first-of-its-kind virtual experience that "gamifies" the experience.
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Named VNYE (Virtual New Year's Eve), the experience brings Times Square to our mobile devices and computers in an over-the-top way through a virtual reality- and augmented reality-based platform, where everyone can create and customize their own avatar and explore a vibrant virtual Times Square.
How does it work? After creating an avatar, visitors to VNYE can visit the 2020 Remembrance Hall, play games, check out an observation deck, watch "concerts" from Alex Boyé, Armani White, and Chloe Gilligan, see digital art from artists around the world in the Time Gallery, dance, take in nature, experience "zero gravity," and collect celebratory confetti to earn points customize their avatars.
Of course, the whole draw for those who visit Times Square on New Year's Eve is the ball drop and subsequent fireworks and shower of confetti. That won't be lost this year (the ball will still drop IRL)—it can also be seen from this virtual world via livestreams from 11 cameras across Times Square on the night of December 31. Revelers can also check camera feeds of New Year's Eve celebrations from across the world, as well as a stream from NASA's International Space Station.
Separately, users can bring the NYC skyline to their living rooms and wear Planet Fitness Father Time hats and New Year's glasses via augmented reality. When the AR clock strikes midnight, fireworks will explode their devices' screens.
How do you access VNYE? Download the free app on your phone or device as early as December 19 to access the virtual world.
Michael Phillips, President of Jamestown, which owns One Times Square where the ball drops each year, said that the company began planning a virtual celebration in May once it became clear that hundreds of thousands of people were not going to be able to gather in Times Square.
"It was not an inexpensive feat—it was a huge lift," he said during a press conference on Monday night, explaining that it was their goal to get people to "engage in any way they can and move out of the PAUSE moment of the last year."
"Our biggest challenge was wrapping our heads around the scale of the project...," he said. "Every week, there was another large partner who came to the table and said 'Yes, we’re in.' That fueled us to the next layer and the next 2 weeks of insurmountable hurdles. We were working across time zones, but there was no opportunity not to do it. We had to do it."
It's likely Jamestown and its partners will continue to make its virtual Times Square a part of the celebrations in years to come. Phillips said that VNYE is a "beta test" for how event programming could be in the future and that in future years, there could be an added level of complexity to the program.
"We are the stewards of times in our capacity as the owner of One Times Square—home of the New Year’s Eve Ball Drop Celebration for more than 100 years," he said. "As time ticks on, the Ball Drop Celebration remains a symbol of hope, reflection, and connection, all which couldn’t be more important as we come to the close of 2020 and ring in 2021."
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