Is Virtual Reality Finally Coming of Age?

Virtual reality has finally moved out of the sci-fi movies and into our homes, thanks to advances in screen technology and a more sophisticated approach to gaming. Samsung, Microsoft, Sony, Sulon, LG and HTC have all been working on virtual reality hardware – albeit some with a hefty price tag.

Many of these headsets are expensive enough on their own, but they also require a top-spec gaming PC or console. Despite this, adoption is already significant, and shipments are set to quadruple this year.

Nintendo had a stab at virtual reality in the 1990s, but its monochrome Virtual Boy console was never given the development resource it needed. There’s still an active homebrew community for the console, but commercially, it was considered one of the company’s biggest flops. Fast forward to 2016, and revenues for virtual reality products are expected to skyrocket; the market was worth $90 million 2014, and is expected to be worth $5.2 billion by 2018.

Winning Consumers Over

Despite the high price tag for some hardware, virtual reality has finally reached the stage where consumers are taking it seriously. Familiar brands, and affordable games, are part of the appeal.

Virtual reality games are provided through a familiar walled garden model, so users are locked in to the app store associated with their device. This offers massive earning potential for manufacturers, as well as giving users a reason to stick with one brand.

Oculus has its own Oculus Platform store for users of the Rift and the Samsung Gear VR. Samsung also has its own content, such as live events and tours, while Sony is working on PlayStation apps for its PS VR platform. In turn, HTC has its own app store: Viveport.

We’re also seeing companies do more to broaden the appeal of virtual reality, taking it beyond gaming and towards lifelike experiences and new ways of consuming content. For example, Samsung’s Gear VR integrates with Netflix and Hulu and embeds the movie in an immersive virtual world.

As for real world usage, the jury is still out. Users say they can only manage an hour of viewing without eye strain, and systems with front-loaded phones are reported to feel weighty. This could pose a restriction on the amount of virtual playtime we can handle.

Opportunities for Brands

The fully immersive, distraction-free virtual world is likely to be of great interest to marketers, and the sector is still new enough for brands to make headlines.

Some brands are already experimenting with sponsored virtual reality experiences, such as HTC’s partnership with American Express for You vs Sharapova.

As games start to explore new virtual words, there are surely new opportunities for virtual product placements. At Sundance 2015, Oculus Rift users had the chance to complete a virtual mountain hike, wearing Merrell’s virtual walking boots. And then, there are straight up branded apps, like the Teleporter for Marriott Hotels, which transports you to a hotel of your choosing.

2016 and Beyond

Nintendo may have missed the mark with the ambitious Virtual Boy, but it foresaw the potential of virtual gaming and was brave enough to prototype it. Two decades on, Facebook’s Oculus division and Eve: Valkyrie are leading the second wave of virtual reality. Within the next 12 months, around 5 million headsets will ship around the world, and virtual reality will finally find its place in our homes.

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