You could be forgiven for thinking that VR has fallen on ‘hard times’ right now. Funding for the BBC’s VR Hub has recently come to an end and their team has been disbanded. Google’s latest Pixel 4 phone no longer supports their Daydream mobile VR platform and as the press are so fond of reminding us, there has still been, no mass market adoption of VR.
This has led to insistent headlines, baiting us with the dramatic revelation that ‘VR is Dead!’ - but the truth is more subtle than that.
On the face of it there are many stories pointing to poor hardware sales figures and general VR fatigue amongst the masses, but if you have ever been present when a friend or colleague experiences VR for the first time, you’ll know exactly why I say that the headlines are just plain wrong!
When you witness virtual reality igniting the imagination, creating excitement and thrilling the participant, you can’t help but comprehend its potential. Bursting! Demanding to be released. So why is VR not already the most used technology on the planet? It’s a fair question!
The answer is actually quite simple. VR is still a new, undeveloped technology. There are many variations of headsets and technological features which have yet to become baseline; eye tracking, foveated rendering, inside out tracking, haptic feedback, field of view, hand tracking. As a delivery platform it is still far from ‘finished’.
I don’t know anyone who would argue with that!
Awkward headsets, small fields of view, varying frame rates, cables, hygiene concerns, cost and a whole host of disparate ‘wannabe’ systems fighting for the public’s attention, and that’s just the hardware!
It really is easy to get caught up in the whole, ’why bother?’ syndrome.
Why? VR has the power to change lives! More than that, it has the power to bring about such fundamental changes in our lives as other transformational technologies have:
These technologies, simply put, ‘changed everything’, but in truth, they didn’t do it overnight. All had similar curves of denial, understanding, acceptance, adoption and deliverance; This happens because over time, technology evolves and adapts itself, like water poured into a bowl (thanks Bruce.)
I believe it’s time for a little patience where VR is concerned, it will take time for it to establish itself fully. Time to evolve, to adapt, to grow into the many industries in which it will become an essential tool. It may change completely before it is ready but the opportunities for VR are already palpable.
Virtual Reality will have a huge influence on every major industry and social group on the planet. Some have already begun their journey of discovery, prototyping and developing new uses. Many are thinking about how to leverage it and others are yet to discover how it will influence and impact on their world, but it will. Significantly.
I believe it is inevitable.
Life before the Internet?
Remember life before the Internet? I do. The pace was different, slower somehow. Communication was slower, the transmission of ideas and information was much slower. I embrace the opportunities the Internet continues to offer today, but I also remember the pain we went through to get to ‘today’.
The noisy 9,600 baud modems, spitting fragments of data down the phone line, taking minutes to send, re-dialling when lines disconnected, simple text message boards decorated with images made up from characters in a font. It then was the ‘new frontier’!
It was amazing to be at home, on a computer (usually plugged into a tv set) in a chatroom, connected with someone from the other side of the world, talking about the dangers of taking their kids to school as the local temperature in Canada regularly hits -34 degrees!
Connected by an 8 x 8 matrix of dots, bytes, and through them, share daily experiences. Simply awe inspiring! Today we casually do that whilst simultaneously watching live video streams, listening to an infinite library of music, purchasing a new coat and all on a mobile phone we keep in our pocket.
The Internet. Now we just accept it as an integral part of everyday life without giving a single thought as to how we got to ‘this’ moment?
It took a long time! It changed, evolved, developed and finally caught on. For a while, it was the realm of universities and enthusiasts, a geek’s paradise, firing up the imagination of the ‘techsplorers’ of tomorrow.
Everything changed when the ‘World Wide Web’ arrived!
Suddenly, everything accelerated, it became more than just hyperlinks, and emails. We got rudimentary layout, collections of fonts, text, jpgs and animated ‘gifs’, our first websites!
Soon MPEG video clips and QuickTime video began stuttering onto our screens. It called to the masses and it caught ‘fire’. It grew.
Everyone who could afford to be online, was online. Of course, it required people to have an actual computer in their home, but that really is another story!
It was said of businesses in 1999 if they didn’t have a website by the year 2000, they wouldn’t be in business by the year 2001 and please, nobody mention the ‘Millennium Bug!’
Businesses had to adapt to the new capabilities and opportunities which the Internet and the World Wide Web unleashed, but first they had to discover what that ‘power’ was. They could only do that through exploratory use, testing new ways to achieve processes, buying new hardware and developing new skills. When it all works together, it’s much bigger than the sum of its parts.
The result? Today, the world’s economy is built on the Internet. In the last twenty years, literally millions of new business opportunities have arisen solely due to its existence. Now, they couldn’t exist without it. The Internet and World Wide Web changed businesses, everywhere, forever!
...and now, it’s the turn of Virtual Reality.
I completely agree with Unity’s CEO, John Riccitiello that ‘VR’ will ultimately be as ‘big’ as the Internet, and as important.
It too will ‘change the game’ forever.
Actually, it has already started. Games are one of the first ‘territories’ to be explored by VR developers and some excellent examples can already be found.
It’s fundamentally not just about games! Widen the categories to include ‘creative entertainment’ and ‘educational’ and ‘social’ experiences and you begin to discover some real gems already exist:
Tilt Brush - allows you to paint in 3d space, your room is your canvas.
We Wait - you are present as the drama unfolds, powerful VR documentaries like this allow us to share the experience and the horrors that real people face.
Horizon - a new social, creative world to share experiences from Facebook. You are part of what makes it great.
In each case the developers have successfully uncovered something which only VR can bring to the experience.
‘Tilt Brush’ provides a 360 degree, room scale canvas for ultimate, creative freedom.
‘We Wait’ - we experience an increased empathy with the characters we are sat amongst. We share their pain.
‘Horizon’ hopes to gather many of the ‘ingredients’ already discovered and maybe some new ones to present them in a social format, so we can share with each other. It aims to become the next social platform.
One of the most powerful yet intangible ‘ingredients’ which VR developers strive for in their experiences is ‘presence’. It is the ‘Holy Grail’ of VR. It happens when the brain begins to believe it is physically present in the virtual world being presented.
Harnessing this aspect, this potency, is a developer’s dream and it can lead to ‘transformative outcomes’.
By the way, if you have never tried VR before, I ‘challenge’ you, pick any of the above mentioned titles up and give it a go. You won’t regret it. You really just have to ‘do it’, then you’ll understand!
The strange thing is, powerful ‘ingredients’ like presence are often hidden, surprising us on discovery. That’s part of the reason we are ‘not there yet’. As developers, we need time to explore and experiment, to chain together things which appear to be ‘strange bedfellows’ and understand the benefits.
At Studio Liddell we have been doing exactly that, exploring and discovering what makes good VR, developing our knowledge since 2014. This has resulted in us designing and developing numerous VR experiences for clients on a variety of platforms:
From storytelling to medical, educational to entertainment. Our team has developed experiences harnessing:
We know VR experiences can be incredibly engaging, but head mounted displays can isolate participants. Sharing an experience with someone else makes it more engaging, more memorable and can even cement the bonds of friendship between strangers. As a result we have now begun developing multiplayer VR experiences. Humans are after all, a social species.
Finding the right balance, the right ingredients, will only happen over time, with experimentation and the adoption of new techniques, some of which have not been thought of yet.
So believe me when I say, VR is alive and well, it’s going to continue to grow, evolve and develop for some years yet, as hardware and software platforms settle and formalise, but it is here to stay.
In the meantime, virtual reality companies UK like ourselves at Studio Liddell will continue to bring those powerful techniques together, designing and developing new experiences for clients across the world.