VR pioneer helping to drive Southport’s digital vision

Alex Moretti, co-founder of virtual reality games developer Fallen Planet, has been asked by Southport BID CEO Rachel Fitzgerald to help drive the town’s digital transformation. Tony McDonough reports

Fallen Planet
Fallen Planet is a Southport-based virtual reality games developer


A world-leading digital entrepreneur is taking the lead on a project to inspire a creative and digital cluster in Southport.

Alex Moretti, co-founder of virtual reality (VR) games developer Fallen Planet, has been asked by Rachel Fitzgerald, chief executive of Southport BID, to help drive forward her vision of a transformed economy in the town.

Similar to many towns and cities, Southport has taken a big hit from the COVID-19 pandemic. And, with the town’s dependency on the visitor economy, its hospitality and leisure sector has been badly affected.

Rachel believes the diversification of the local economy is critical to future-proofing Southport against economic shocks such as the pandemic. She has issued a call to action among sectors such as professional services and digital, to join in a collaborative effort to make this transformation a reality.

READ MORE: Why Southport needs to embrace a digital future

“Southport is a beautiful town and its visitor economy businesses have always been its biggest asset,” said Rachel. “However, the pandemic has exposed the weakness of an economy that relies too heavily on a single sector.

“We will support the hospitality industry to get back on its feet and, at the same time, we will work to transform Southport’s economy and make it more diverse than it has ever been. The backing of people such as Alex is critical to the success of this strategy.”

Fallen Planet

Along with business partner Mark Paul, Alex Moretti founded Fallen Planet back in 2013 when the VR games market was still in its infancy. Back then, VR technology had its drawbacks, not least of all the user experience being clunky and often involving dizziness and nausea.

From the early days, Fallen Planet worked closely with Oculus, the world’s leading developer of VR headsets and technology. When Oculus was acquired for $3bn by Facebook in 2014, Alex and Mark saw a huge opportunity to take an early lead in the sector and quickly established itself as a pioneer of VR games.

“Producing games for VR is completely different to producing them for traditional games consoles,” said Alex. “The traditional games are like watching a film. You can only go where the director allows you to go.

“In a VR game the user expectations are much higher. They want to be able to walk smoothly around the environment and be able to reach out and grab stuff. It requires a lot of processing power because you don’t want it to start buffering. That would be really bad for the user experience.”

Those early days of nausea and dizziness are now much rarer as the technology has improved significantly, according to Alex. The latest game-changer is the launch of the Oculus Quest product. Alex explained: “It uses 6DoF technology which means it allows the user six degrees of freedom in the VR environment. That takes us much closer to a real virtual reality experience.”

Fallen Planet employs four people directly at its Southport base and uses a number of sub-contractors in its development process. Recruiting the right people is a challenge and this, says Alex, feeds into the necessity to create a genuine digital community in Southport.

Alex Moretti
Alex Moretti, co-founder of virtual reality games developer Fallen Planet


In recent weeks, the chief executive of Southport College, Michelle Brabner, has talked about the problem of “youth flight” where young people will seek to build careers outside of the town. It was essential, she said, to offer pathways to great careers in the town.

Alex envisages a digital hub that would provide incubation facilities for digital start-ups as well as access to professional support from accountants, lawyers and bankers. It would also offer students from colleges and universities the opportunity to see how a digital business works.

“From a recruitment and start-up point of view we are already seeing a cultural shift due to the pandemic,” added Alex. “People are realising that you no longer need to be in city centres and that towns such as Southport really have something to offer. As a team we often walk around the town and seafront on our breaks. It’s a fantastic place to be based and I think that is a real selling point.

“I realise that homeworking has now become a much bigger thing but at Fallen Planet it is really important the team is together in one place. We find it helps our creative process to work together in that single location.”

He takes that philosophy into the vision for a creative and digital cluster in Southport, creating a piece of infrastructure that offers the essential support under one roof. He added: “Often start-up businesses fail not because they have a poor product but because of the lack of support with the fundamentals of running a business.

“An incubator hub could do that, offering access to a range of shared services. I believe that could make a real difference. I am incredibly optimistic that we can establish that in Southport and create a real legacy for the future.

“There is fantastic support from both the BID, and from Sefton Council, for this vision. Key people in the town and the borough are really buying into it. People are acknowledging that Southport is a place with huge potential. We need to show people how they can start and run a business right here.”

Immersive Interactive

Peter Salt is in no doubt that Southport could create a thriving digital hub in the town. He is general manager of Immersive Interactive, a Southport business with a global footprint.

Immersive Interactive specialises in the creation of interactive rooms or walls that offer simulated environments for training and development. The technology has proved transformational in the fields of education, medicine and emergency services and mental health.

It was established in 2012 by David Salt, Peter’s son, and Chris Porter. The duo had both studied computer science together at Leeds University. Chris had devised a way to make a floor interactive and they both started to develop the idea.

Immersive Interactive
The team at Immersive Interactive in Southport


Peter said: “They were contacted by the headteacher of a special needs school in Essex. He asked whether it was possible to create interactive walls. He wanted to simulate a barbers shop to help some of the children who were nervous about going to have their hair cut.”

It was a project successfully delivered and shortly afterwards David and Chris were contacted by the chief anaesthetist Warrington General Hospital. He had seen one of their videos on YouTube and he wanted them to create an interactive training environment for medics.

“Instead of training with a dummy in a room, our technology can help simulate real emergencies that allow medics to train in an environment much more similar to what they would find in real life,” added Peter.

Today, Immersive Interactive employs 19 people and it creates interactive environments for schools, hospitals, providers of emergency services and, increasingly, for providers of mental health services, particularly helping patients with Parkinson’s disease and dementia.

“We have established a knowledge transfer partnership with Liverpool John Moores University and we are working with a number of other universities across the UK,” he said. “Our technology is also being incorporated into a £55m new-build Rowan View secure hospital for Mersey Care NHS.

“The crucial thing when you are working with the NHS is you have to persuade the medical professionals to buy into the technology. If they won’t, it isn’t going to work. We have succeeded in doing that.”

Peter himself has a long career in business. He worked at the Liverpool Post & Echo for several years before leaving to help establish the successful Red Rose Radio venture in Preston. He was sales director for the business.

He has utilised that sales expertise to help David and Chris grow the business. It has secured deals in the Middle East, Italy, France, the Netherlands and is embarking on a major expansion in the US and Canada.

Immersive Interactive is one of a small group of digital businesses in Southport. Peter believes the foundations are there to create a digital cluster in the town. He has looked at the success of the Baltic Triangle in Liverpool and The Base in Warrington and says: “There is now no reason we can’t replicate that right here in Southport.

“We found an initial problem of persuading technical professionals to travel to Southport. But we believe we are overcoming that barrier as we now have some very highly qualified people working in the business.

“But as the company’s profile and reputation has grown we have seen that start to change and, while recruitment of skilled people is never easy, location is now less of an issue. We invite customers from all over the world to come see our technology in action. When they arrive here their experience of Southport is always positive and they remark on what a lovely town it is.

“Once you get that critical mass of digital businesses that is where the collaboration can really make a difference. People can share ideas and visions. I really believe we can create a real digital cluster right here in Southport.”

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