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What is going on with the Virtual Reality Industry: Dead or Alive?

Recently there has been a myriad of articles debating the state of the Virtual Reality (VR) industry. While feeling affiliated with the industry, I am still somewhat of an outsider. After reading many articles and considering the merit of each, keep reading for my thoughts on the “debate.”

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Why do people think the VR industry is dying?

While there was a variety of thoughts on this question, if I were to synthesize it into one response, it was that the VR industry has really yet to establish a high-value use where nothing else applies.
VR has shown to be applicable in a ton of different situations but has not shown itself to be the “earth-shattering” breakthrough that people want.
There appear to be differing opinions on why this has occurred, varying from “impractical technology” to the cost of entry. Each of the ideas definitely has merit as they are one of many areas in which the industry could improve.
Let’s take a closer look at some concerns people have that seem to be plaguing the VR industry from making a larger impact.

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Concern #1: Cost of Entry Excludes Potential Users— This was one of the chief complaints from the “masses.” The truth of the matter is that under most circumstances the most robust equipment is pricey. Even for older models of high immersion head-mounted displays and the cost of a computer to run the software, you could be looking at $1500–$2000.
Frankly, that is quite the chunk of change for something that has yet to grab hold of a particular field. Understandably, many brands are developing lower-cost options, but those lack many of the features such as 6DOF tracking for the headset AND controllers. With this in mind, there is an understandable concern for the industry if it can’t get the most desirable feature of full immersion into the hands of as many people as possible.
Be on the lookout… There are reports that the Oculus Santa Cruz will be a standalone module (no computer required) offering wireless 6DoF tracking for both the headset and two controllers. While the price point is still up in the air, this could be the most accessible product for the majority of consumers that offer the features of a full immersion rig.
Concern #2: The Industry’s Focus Appears Fractured— Some consider the Virtual Reality industry’s focus to be very decentralized, which tends not to be an issue for productivity and innovation, but a bit of a conundrum for establishing an identity that is recognizable by the general public. Will VR be the next remote work and collaboration tool or will it just be for games? Right now it appears not quite sure where the focus is trending.
While no one can deny the broad application of VR technology, there seems to be no ONE thing that all parties in VR really rally behind. This is not to say that other endeavors should be forsaken; just the contrary, but to the same regard people need to have one solid idea of how VR changes the world.
Sure, VR is a great gaming module and can also allow for content creation in 3D space; however, in both of those instances, there are other options that can meet the need in a similar way. Virtual Reality needs to establish a space where there is a CLEAR line between what is doing and what others are not able to achieve. By creating this “non-competitive” space, the general public will be able to point to a specific example and say…
“This is where Virtual Reality really makes a difference.”

What does the industry need to do to feel more alive?

What does the industry need to do to feel more alive?
It needs to be said that in my personal opinion, I don’t think that the VR industry is dying. It appears more that we are sensationalizing the unintentional disparity between the expectation of progress by consumers and the rate of development by companies.
While I will not claim to be a branding expert (far from it in fact), nor a strategist, but I would like to put forth some ideas from someone who straddles the fence between consumer and “developer.”While I will not claim to be a branding expert (far from it in fact), nor a strategies, but I would like to put forth some ideas from someone who straddles the fence between consumer and “developer.”
Suggestion #1: Find a Niche to Get Things Rolling— I understand that the concept of VR is itself a niche. However, this concept does not resonate with the general public. From a general lack of understanding, it is easy for people to dismiss VR as they don’t see the profound impact it can make because to them it is an abstract “idea of the future.” Seeing VR as a new frontier is very exciting, but to most is strictly a novel idea.
My next suggestion is not designed to pigeonhole the industry to a single idea; however, a strong tangible idea and product could easily sway skeptics into believers. I feel there would be great value in creating an experience or program that is a) accessible to the masses and b) productive in a way other technologies could not compete.
For example, in the field of education, Google Expeditions is becoming more popular in classrooms. This is because of three attributes of the platform:
  • Accessibility — Google Expeditions uses mobile devices and an inexpensive viewer (some even made of cardboard) to achieve a VR experience.
  • Focused Goal — The expeditions platform allows students to explore curated “tours” of locations across the globe (including sea and space). While there are ways for teachers to guide the tour, the idea is simple.. Explore the world in VR.
  • A Clear Differentiation — While I can admit that nothing replaces ACTUALLY going to a place, these expeditions come close. The autonomy of a student to look as they please and move about an environment at will replicates what we would want students to do in real life. This is not able to be replicated by other platforms, not in such an immersive way.
Google Expeditions can be the entry point, the proverbial door to VR for many users. Now that they have experienced something not replicated by other technology, they can begin to see other situations where VR could be applied. We need to get more people on board through experience, not just theoretical interest in the idea.
Suggestion #2: Quality Over Quantity with Hardware — This is where I will admit to being far outside my realm of expertise. I am not really a “business” guy and am speaking from a consumer perspective.
Most of my experience with VR is through MobileVR with Google Cardboard and the HTC Vive. Cardboard was the entry point for me and is the platform for which I do most of my design work. While I am mostly a consumer on the HTC Vive.
I feel that in general the field of mobileVR has done a good job at defining its limits and designing within those parameters. Without over complicating the system, upgrades like the Google Daydream (added controller) make the experience better strictly through ease of use.
Overall mobileVR is accessible and very enjoyable for the general consumer. Someone could venture into VR without much training for as little as $10 and the use of their cellphone. In general mobileVR is hitting their mark right on!
Things get more complicated when you move to high immersion rigs. The HTC Vive and Oculus Rift are the base level 6DOF experience and is what most people would expect when you talk about VR.
These devices require the use of a powerful computer, base station sensors, controllers, and a head mounted display (HMD). Advances in this technology are trending toward a wireless experience with a self contained “computer” in the HMD, as evident with the release of the HTC Vive Pro and Oculus Go.
  • HTC Vive Pro: While both of these devices are new, one follows the trend, while the other seems to deviate from the anticipated trajectory. The HTC Vive Pro is a wireless high immersion rig with a better resolution than its wired predecessor the Vive. With the Pro model continuing to be a 6DOF device, HTC seems to be following the path most people expect.
  • Oculus Go: The release of the Oculus Go was a surprise to me in regard to the direction I figured Oculus would move. The Go is more akin to the Google Daydream than the Vive Pro. The Go does have a self contained computer in the headset, but only has a single controller that is only 3DOF capable. This means your headset is tracked, but the controller is not.
I am excited, as mentioned above, about the upcoming Oculus Santa Cruz as it is a logical step forward with a wireless self contained 6DoF device for both the headset and controllers.
The reason I bring these products up in the discussion is that the release of the Oculus Go and other 3DoF devices by companies that already have a 6DoF device confuses the public of the trajectory of the industry. When we hear about the release of something like the Oculus Go, we believe it is the latest and greatest, where it is not the cutting edge we expected. This is more of what the Santa Cruz is anticipated to be.
To wrap up this section, my goal in this narrative is for businesses to really help consumers follow the vision. Diverging from the goal by creating simpler products distracts users from what is possible and how VR can differentiate itself from other industries.

Conclusion: Identify, Innovate, and Articulate

As a user and producer of VR content, I know that the VR industry is alive and well, even if it is not as evident to the general public. Perhaps my belief is due to my proxemity to the industry, while those who are disconnected feel differently because they just don’t know.
In order to help others, outside the industry, it would be helpful to identify a differentiating element (applicable to a broad audience), innovate devices to demonstrate and foster understanding of the differentiation, and finally articulate the vision and process involved to help others understand decisions being made by businesses and developers.

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