This past Saturday, the 16th, I attended the Los Angeles VR and Immersive Technologies Meetup here at the Brewery. The Creative Technology Center hosted Roy Taylor from AMD and Phillipe Lewicki from HTML Fusion. Both presentations were interesting but I’m not going to get into the specifics of each one here. As I sat and listened to some of the points made I had a few thoughts about the state of virtual reality rolling around in my head.
Stop Waiting for the Big Thing
There’s been tremendous progress in the VR world these last few years and no one denies that. Unfortunately the progress has led to great excitement and great excitement of any technology leads to over inflated expectations. Gamers, Hollywood, educators and almost everyone else are trying to figure out where the big thing for VR is going to come from and how to be a part of it. Content creators are eager for this new platform to take off and deliver on the promises being made. My fear is that the big thing is a ways down the road and the returns on any investment in VR are not going to be all that impressive for a while. If VR doesn’t deliver, enthusiasm will wane and the big investors will look elsewhere for the next new toy that promises the next big thing.
I hope we can all slow down a little bit. Take a breath. Focus on some really interesting and very niche applications for VR. The general public isn’t ready to strap a viewer on their head for more than 5 minutes and they certainly aren’t ready to invest in one for their home. We have a long way to go in teaching the not-so-early adopters what this is, how it works and why they might want it. During one of the talks it was mentioned that Google’s Cardboard is too simple and not enough of an interactive VR experience to move us forward. The truth is Cardboard has significantly lowered the barriers to entry. Nearly anyone can cheaply (assuming they already own a smart phone) and easily have a VR experience. Cardboard is teaching the general populous what this experience is and getting us used to holding a viewer up to our face to peer into a different world (however slight those differences may be). Cardboard is absolutely limited in the experience it can provide but I believe it is an invaluable tool in making VR comfortable and “acceptable” to a great many people.
Focus on the Small
Until the more sophisticated hardware proliferates there’s a limited audience for any content. By focusing more narrowly we can create some really interesting experiences that will help lay the foundation and develop a few basic rules for this new experience. If we want VR to stick this time (and we do) there needs to be a ton of experimentation so we can get to a place where truly great and unique content can be created. We are in that experimental phase and if we try to rush through it VR will be littered with re-purposed movies and reformatted video games offering nothing truly unique or inspiring. The money to develop content or hardware will dry up and we’ll wait another decade for the next daring entrepreneur to resurrect a world of technology that has limped along.