Max Askwith, Global Digital and Innovation Director at Vizeum, spoke about how 2018 was supposed to be Virtual Reality’s (VR) big year, but then again so was 2016 and then 2017.
In 2018, the VR device marketplace matured into three pricing categories:
1. Cheap smartphone-powered headsets like Google Daydream or Samsung Gear VR, which you may have seen bundled into phone offers during the wild ride that was last year’s extended Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales period.
2. Slightly more expensive standalone VR handsets such as Oculus, which don’t require a smartphone or other devices to operate.
3. High-end devices like Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, which need a powerful PC to run the games.
This shows that even though VR is commercially viable, more needs to be done to ensure mass adoption takes off. VR needs to tackle these three challenges:
1. ‘Why would I? – there is a distinct lack of appreciation amongst consumers of the value in VR.
2. ‘I already have enough screens’ – VR is competing against the more social experience of consuming entertainment content on ‘traditional’ flat screen devices, ranging from mobile phones to HD TVs.
3. ‘Is there anything to do?’ – there may be a growing market for VR devices, but this growth is hampered by a lack of quality content available.
The first challenge can be easily remedied by creating opportunities for people to trial devices. This must be led by both hardware manufacturers and tech developers, in order to manage the challenges that come with bringing new products to market. It’s only once you’re able to show off the product and software simultaneously, that VR’s potential is at its most powerful.
The solution to the second challenge follows on from this. Once people can immerse themselves in VR experiences and truly understand the benefits, the switch to using VR instead of watching or playing on traditional devices becomes more likely. However, this is not the only way VR can grow – it doesn’t necessarily have to take over from traditional screens. Consumer behaviour hasn’t fully settled on VR. What may eventually be more likely is that people end up preferring to experience VR content in solitary environments outside the home.
Finally, the third challenge is that not enough people use the technology to justify developing content specifically for it. This leads to a lack of appetite for technology, and so on.
But there is light at the end of the tunnel: There are over 1000 apps for the Samsung Gear VR. YouTube’s dedicated VR channel – which has 3 million subscribers – contains playlists totalling around 3500 VR videos. And the PlayStation Store currently offers around 30 free-to-try VR experiences.
Content producers are starting to figure out how they optimally create for the 360-degree viewing experience. It’s a slower journey but the industry is moving in a positive direction.