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Emmy is coming: Ward nominated for Game of Thrones VR experience

A Lyon alum may be crowned with an Emmy for helping Game of Thrones fans walk inside the world of Westeros.

Harley Ward, ‘03, of Little Rock, and his team at AT&T received an Emmy nomination for developing a virtual reality (VR) experience that allowed consumers to defend the Wall from the monstrous White Walkers inside Westeros, a fictional continent where most of the action in the series takes place.

“It was a 4-D experience, which means you had the full virtual reality experience, but you also had a moving floor and wind and heat that responded to the content,” Ward said. “As you lit a torch, you were blasted with hot air. When you killed the beast, the floor would rumble.”

The 4-D VR experiences were housed in AT&T’s two flagship stores in Chicago and San Francisco, and a truncated version with additional content was released on the VR app store.

Ward, creative director for retail innovation and store environment at AT&T, was shocked by the Emmy nomination for “Outstanding Creative Achievement in Interactive Media within a Scripted Program.”

“This is my first time and my team’s first time being nominated for something of this caliber,” he said. “It’s a new world for us because we only recently started to work in retail experience designs tied to television and movie properties.”

“We worked with Game of Thrones for the prior season but not to this scale or volume. With this being the final season, we knew it was an opportunity to do something really impressive.”

The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences (ATAS) accepted nine submissions for interactive media, and Ward’s project was one of three nominated along with “Interactive Fan Experience” for NBC’s The Good Place and Netflix’s Bandersnatch (Black Mirror).

Ward studied theater and French at Lyon. He started working for AT&T after college and has been with the company for 16 years now, moving up from sales to marketing to his current position as creative director for retail innovation and store environment.

“This job found me versus me finding it,” Ward said, laughing. “I took design classes in theater and thought that would take me down a theatrical path, maybe doing set design or costume design.”

Instead, he found a growing subcategory in experiential retail.

“I’ve been applying the ideas I learned in theater to this world of creating memories for consumers through conceptual interactive experiences,” Ward said. “We bring the magic to life by creating sets, creating environments, and creating moments.”

Consumers get to experience television shows, movies, and other environments firsthand through these exhibits.

“They’ve really blended the worlds of theatrical design, retail, and movie marketing,” Ward said, “and I’ve used my theater background to evolve and amplify that idea in a way that makes it interesting for the consumers.”

The interactive media award will be announced at the Primetime Creative Arts Emmy Awards on September 14 and 15.

“This has been a dream and something I never would have thought would be possible,” Ward said. “It’s all a matter of having the right project, the right passion, the right people, and pushing what’s possible.”