A seasonal change is afoot; spring has sprung for virtual reality. Facebook 360 has literally given social media a new perspective, virtual reality was all the talk at SXSW last week, and next week the Oculus Rift is officially released. It is time for the savvy content creator to, once again, adapt and outshine.
Sadly, I didn’t get to go to this year’s SXSW Interactive, which was held last week in Texas. Next year, though, perhaps I won’t even need to. Rather than attend vicariously through other people’s Twitter feeds I might just be able to don a pair of goggles and be transported to the Lone Star State in digital spirit. I guess I’ll just have to buy my own baseball steak and sarsaparilla.
Virtual reality (VR) was the talk about the Austin technology festival, and with the official release of the much-touted Oculus Rift set for next week – March 28 – the virtual revolution is firmly underway and looks set to experience exceptional growth.
VR completely changes the way we can tell stories
Deloitte reckons that the industry will break the $1 billion barrier this year, and market analyst TrendForce estimates that the VR market will be worth $70 billion by 2020. By comparison, that’s roughly the current value of Uber, while the wearable technology market, connecting elements of the Internet of Things, isn’t expected to reach $70 billion until 2025.
Apply VR to personalise UX
The potential applications of VR are immense, not least because of its ability to simulate intricate spaces in 3D. Neuroscientists at SXSW, for example, discussed VR’s ability to recreate the brain mechanisms of our spatial navigation systems – our internal GPS, if you like. We can simulate how and where these systems fail in degenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s disease, or explore how they can be alternately stimulated to enhance a gaming experience.
In short, the potential to create highly personalised, intricate user experiences, the likes of which we could only once imagine, are here ready and waiting for the most creative imaginations to latch onto.
We’re only at the tip of the iceberg right now
This will be revolutionary for the creative content industry. Much like Facebook’s new 360-degree picture feature, VR completely changes the way we can tell stories. It means, for example, that one’s peripheral vision can play a part in the storytelling process, allowing the user to explore and immerse themselves in your world, comfortably, and on their terms. It allows the designer to surprise users with unexpectedly delightful little touches. VR engages users in a quite literal sense.
It means that a user can experience and even design a custom version of a product before buying it. Audi, for instance, last year used an Oculus Rift prototype to test a complete ‘dealership experience’, whereby customers can get behind the wheel of the new car they desire, stick their head in the boot, try new colours or custom design features or different combinations of equipment. It can recreate the sound of the the car stereo in your ears. VR is creating an unprecedented user experience.
Similar is true of the travel industry which has the ability to create immersive video content of destinations or accommodation in highly creative ways. NASA even created a VR experience for its forthcoming missions to Mars, just in case you were looking for that ‘off-the-beaten-track’ kind of a holiday.
VR seems to be shaping up to be kind on the corporate wallet, and the ability to create these immersive environments may prove easier than you’d think
A major take-home from SXSW was media’s ability to educate and entertain in whole new ways using VR. The music and film industry have opportunities now to create promotional content that immerses the user in ways never before seen. And it’s not just in the headsets; SXSW saw that VR will also head the way of 3D cinema, with a small dome called the Fulldome Pro creating a ‘mini-planetarium’ multi-sensory experience.
Facebook 360 is already making waves in the content marketing industry; AdAge reports today that US insurance company Aflac is using the platform for a new campaign of VR storytelling. Aflac’s famous duck mascot will star as a superhero in a fully immersive comic book. The campaign will run for six weeks and is described by Keith Pellerin, Aflac VP for product management and innovation, as “cost-effective” (though he falls short of saying how much the company paid).
But VR as a practice does seem to be shaping up to be kind on the corporate wallet, and the ability to create these immersive VR environments may prove easier than you’d think. In the hardware stakes, just days ago Samsung unveiled its Gear 360 VR camera, which works with its Gear VR headset (powered by Oculus). The innovative, relatively inexpensive camera captures high-definition video in 360 degrees or can compile together sets of high-resolution photos to create VR environments.
A potentially cost-effective, hyper-engaging tool is at our fingertips
Get ahead of the VR game
In other words, what we have is a potentially cost-effective, hyper-engaging tool at our fingertips that is just waiting for the most imaginative mind to use it; you can only imagine what that all means for user generated content, too. The possibilities are virtually endless and the best part is we’re only at the tip of the iceberg right now, discovering its capabilities and seeing how far we can push things.
Opportunity knocks; the VR market is very much in its infancy, but set to grow immensely. At the moment only huge players like Audi, and also Red Bull, Mountain Dew and The New York Times are dipping their feet in the VR pool, but there’s plenty of space in the deep end. To the most creative digital eagles, I say dive in. Spring may have sprung for VR; it won’t be long till summer’s here and everyone’s having a splash.