The future of VR – is this the real life, or is this just fantasy?
Virtual reality, or VR, might have entered the market though gaming – but recent years have seen it being applied to myriad other industries. Film, music, sports, travel and shopping for instance. And champions of VR suggest it is even more addictive than your typical video game, thanks to its immersive nature, and the level of escapism afforded by its ability to turn dreams into (almost) reality.
2016 was heralded as the ‘breakthrough year’ for VR, with Goldman Sachs predicting the market to be worth £56.8 billion by 2025. But where are we now? In 2017, the dialogue around VR appears to have been put on mute. We offer our two cents on the topic, discussing where, and why, we think it all went wrong…
People are sick of VR, literally. Becca Caddy, a writer for Wareable, an online authority dedicated to wearable tech news and reviews, even proclaimed it ‘Vomit Reality’. Many users have complained that the immersive games make them feel nauseous and dizzy. And the high price tags of the cumbersome, and often uncomfortable, headsets are enough to make anyone feel more than a little faint. The Oculus Rift sets were originally £739 for the headset and controllers – although they have now been permanently reduced to £399. But you’ll still need to connect the device to a compatible PC to be able to run the games as intended.
The simple fact is, people just aren’t buying into the VR hype – with sales proving largely underwhelming. Around 400,000 Oculus Rift sets were expected to have been sold by the end of 2016 – but estimates suggest the total was more likely around the 240,000 mark. Interestingly, Oculus hasn’t shared any actual sales figures. And of the 6.4 million VR headsets shipped in 2016, most were the cheap and cheerful devices, such as Google Cardboard – which relies on the user’s smartphone to work.
“The simple fact is, people just aren’t buying into the VR hype – with sales proving largely underwhelming.”
IT’S ALL ABOUT VALUE
When Facebook acquired Oculus Rift in 2014, it had big plans to merge the new technology with social networking – the idea being that users would be able to ‘hang out’ with their friends in a virtual environment. Three years later, Mark Zuckerberg launched the beta for ‘Spaces’, a digital world whereby your 3D avatar can hang out with your friends’ 3D avatars – and that’s about it. Call us old-fashioned, but what’s wrong with seeing your friends in person, in real life?
Perhaps the issue is with the developers – they think consumers expect more from technology than they actually do. In our experience, they just want something that makes their lives easier, for a user-friendly price. Yes, VR is pretty cool, but does it actually do anything for us? In business, everything should be about adding value for customers. But at present, VR seems to offer little more than novel fun.
CREDIT WHERE IT’S DUE
Of course, there are exceptions. When it comes to digital advertising, VR provides an interesting opportunity. Product placement can be integrated almost subliminally into the imagined urban VR environments of the game – think beer in a VR bar, for instance. And whilst most sports leagues and broadcasters have just dipped their toes in the VR waters, the NBA has taken the plunge – allowing fans to enjoy an immersive 2017-18 season by watching live games through the NextVR app. Good news for our resident basketball fan, Dean.
For educational purposes, VR also has a well-earned place – both the UK and US military use VR simulations to great effect, in order to safely prepare and train soldiers for dangerous situations. Beyond that, VR is becoming hugely instrumental within clinical treatments, such as ‘exposure therapy’ for anxiety and PTSD. However, these examples are few and far between…
Many businesses won’t have the luxury of an NBA budget to play with – so for the vast majority, dabbling in virtual reality is out of the question. But with a healthy dose of creativity, we believe a simpler and cheaper solution can always be found.
As with anything you do in business, it needs to be relevant to your brand and your audience. It’s important not to get too caught up in the hype. We know how easy it is to become engrossed in what everyone else is doing, but don’t just incorporate something into your marketing or branding strategy for the sake of being ‘current’ or ‘on trend’ – it needs to be authentic, and realistic for you.
“Many businesses won’t have the luxury of an NBA budget to play with – so for the vast majority, dabbling in virtual reality is out of the question.”
If you ask us, the real problem with VR is content. And we all know that content is king. It is what gives you substance – without it, you’re just an empty frame with nothing to show. You need content that really excites people – think Pokémon Go, which was a huge hit with consumers and businesses alike. But content doesn’t necessarily need to be grand, or on the same scale as VR, to be effective – it just needs to be smart! Sometimes the little things create the biggest impact – a well thought out tweet, a beautiful animation or video, an insightful article.
James George and Alex Porter, creators of VR experience Blackout, believe VR will shine when the ability to create content is put into the hands of the general public – and we’d have to agree. When you consider what’s popular right now, it’s social media platforms like YouTube and Instagram, where users are in charge of the content – and where audiences don’t have to pay a penny to view it.
Perhaps the underlying issue is that people want reality, not so much of the virtual. According to online industry news publisher, TechCrunch, Instagram Stories – whereby users share unedited moments from their day – has 250 million daily users, and counting. The app’s ‘Live’ feature is also becoming increasingly popular – allowing users and their followers to engage with content in real time – providing an organic opportunity for brands to interact with their audience on a more personal level.
Whilst VR is flailing, social media is soaring. Facebook has approximately 1,870 million active users worldwide, according to online statistics portal, Statista – in comparison, VR is forecast to have only 171 million by 2018. Unlike the niche price points of VR, social media is accessible to the masses, making it a smart and highly effective marketing solution.
THE END OF THE ROAD
At the beginning of October, Facebook announced that 2018 would see the launch of the new standalone Oculus Go, a more inexpensive and lightweight version of its predecessor (prices start at $199) – and one which doesn’t require a PC or smartphone.
But even then, is it enough? The nature of technology is that it comes and goes. Even the most successful inventions eventually become obsolete, making way for new and better technologies – just look at the iPod. These things fizzle out.
Perhaps VR just isn’t ready for mainstream adoption. That’s not to say that it will never become a success – but at the moment it seems the VR cycle is hanging on for dear life, at least in our opinion. Social media, on the other hand, is alive and kicking. Although what will happen in the future, near or far, is anyone’s guess…