Why You Should Care About Virtual Reality

Why You Should Care About Virtual Reality
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The Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), has wrapped up in LA and Dave Goodfellow from PR agency Rinsed was lucky enough to attend. At the event, Goodfellow got a peek into the future of content design, consumer behaviour and interactive marketing.

If you haven’t heard of E3 before, it’s one of the oldest and most anticipated video game conferences in the world. It takes place each year at the Los Angeles Convention Centre and this year, over 52,000 video game professionals, analysts, journalists and enthusiasts attended, from over 109 countries – which broke all previous attendance records.

All the major players in the video game industry exhibited, and what emerged was an outlook on content and marketing that promises to usher in the next wave of innovation and creative marketing.

So where are things going? All signs point to the next wave of games, content and marketing being driven through Virtual and Augmented Reality.

You’ve probably heard of Virtual Reality (VR) and/or Augmented Reality (AR) by now. What may surprise you though is that these technologies have been around for decades.

As early as the 1980s, academics and enthusiasts walked around wearing full desktop computers crammed into makeshift backpacks and head mounted displays to display VR and AR content.

The reason I mention this history is purely to demonstrate that we’ve come a long way and what’s now on the horizon is significant because a lot has had to happen to make this a reality.

A big barrier to the technology’s development seems to have been the consumer viability of virtual and augmented platforms. Like 4K content, and every other major medium shift, the adoption and implementation is heavily contingent on the hardware availability, performance, and cost.

Desktops in backpacks aren’t great consumer products, and it has taken this long for the right technology to be created, miniaturised and manufactured at a cost that consumers can appreciate – though it’s worth noting final pricing has not been announced for most hardware yet, but it probably won’t be anywhere near comparable to a $25 Google Cardboard VR headset.

The business case for VR and AR could also not have been justified until their appeal expanded beyond academic and enthusiast circles. This expansion has also become a recent reality thanks to the backing by Facebook, Microsoft, Valve and Sony.

Yet, despite the technology and business case for VR and AR tech becoming increasingly legitimised, the approaches of Oculus, Microsoft and Sony that were announced and showcased at E3 each have a very different spin on the way they’re aiming to capture the market.

Oculus has first mover advantage and has built a development community of almost 200,000 people. This gives Oculus an incredibly strong launch platform and innovation pipeline.

Oculus’ key success strategy seems to be cultivating its developer community and they’ve demonstrated this by committing to invest US$10 Million into independent game development for the Oculus Rift. To simultaneously expand the consumer interest from people who will play these games, they’ve also partnered with Microsoft – which is a major blow for Playstation.

Sony’s focus for VR is squarely on Playstation 4 and its community – which is huge too. The difference in approach seems to be that, Sony views VR content and its own headset “Project Morpheus” as a peripheral rather than a standalone platform.

At Sony’s E3 keynote, Andrew House, president and CEO of Sony Computer Entertainment, said “[Project] Morpheus, like all features of the [Sony’s] Entertainment platform, is a choice and adds value and life to the hardware.” Which demonstrates the peripheral vs platform mentality.

Limiting usage to a single platform may seem like a risky move, but that’s really what console manufacturers have been doing for years. Think Playstation VS Xbox, PC vs Mac etc. Having exclusive content can drive loyalty and differentiation. And,

Sony’s VR experience is very good too. I had the chance to play with it at E3 and it was tons of fun. It felt very real and if the quality of content will give Microsoft and Oculus some very serious competition.

Microsoft has arguably the broadest and most diverse approach of the big players. I’ve been discussing VR and AR until now, but Microsoft is the only company to be seriously tackling them both. Here’s why:

In addition to its partnership with Oculus, Microsoft has also announced a partnership with Valve VR which will make Windows and Xbox the platforms of choice for VR. This doesn’t seem to be a grab at content either. It appears to be a move that is aiming to standardise APIs and other development standards for virtual reality – something that is sorely needed for developers, given the increasing number of options available to them in the VR industry now.

The impact that standardisation delivered by Microsoft could have is huge. Essentially it has the power to make VR content easier to produce, distribute and consume while also making Windows the platform of choice for VR, which will make it easier for marketers and creators to utilise the technology.

By adding VR to its list of features for Xbox One and Windows 10, Microsoft is adding value to its community in the same way that Sony is trying to with Morpheus. But! At the same time, Microsoft has also gone off on its own AR tangent into Holographic Computing with Microsoft HoloLens.

The important distinction between AR and VR is that virtual reality is an entirely digital experience; where as augmented reality blends the physical AND digital worlds together.

Microsoft gave a demonstration HoloLens’ during its E3 press conference that showed someone playing an interactive version of Minecraft in real 3D space on a tabletop. This demonstration was a jaw dropping moment, and left gamers salivating. But if the gateway to VR and AR experiences is through specially designed headsets then do we as consumers really need or want two different types of headsets?

If VR and AR are truly the future, then marketers need to seriously think about new content and how a VR experience or an AR experience can enhance our brands/clients and also how the audience, appetite and experience of VR and AR differs – something that we’ll only find out as it continues to develop, but likely sooner rather than later.

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