This past weekend I visited San Antonio. There were two things I wanted to do while there: see the Alamo and explore the river walk.
One thing I didn’t expect to think so much about was virtual reality. We passed by an empty VR pod at the mall. While flipping through a Lee Michael’s jewelry magazine, I saw an ad for the Samsung Odyssey. “Roam the ruins of Manchu Pichu…battle gladiators in Rome’s Colosseum” the ad claimed. It said how you can meet people from around the world in VTime. But we all know how that goes. Nothing like meeting strangers on the internet in the form of humanoid avatars.
Later that night, while watching TV in the hotel room (we cut the cord at home), I was surprised by an ad for the Oculus Go. Movie stars wearing the Go watched a basketball game together in VR, watched Hulu, and got it on with the fish-man in The Shape of Water.
Despite the cool factor of the ads, I couldn’t help but be a little disappointed by the messaging. It felt like such a push, “you need this tech, you really do!” It sounded like the same message I used to tell at my VR Startup. I don’t think it’s enough anymore. The Oculus Go is cool. I wanted to get one for my husband (he turned me down) but there was nothing shown in the TV ad that we can’t already do with the tech we have.
I did appreciate that the ad tried to show virtual reality as being social as Adam Levine and Jonah Hill watched a basketball game together but everyone in the TV ad is alone. Wiz Khalifa isolates himself from a party to watch himself perform in VR. Maybe that’s what music performers do anyways.
VR claims to be social with apps like VTime but that’s only if you want to be social with other people in VR. Virtual reality is great for playing video games but how many families can afford more than one headset?
Traditional game counsels are expensive but at least you can afford more than one controller. Maybe I’m thinking too old school. Multiplayer games are online these days. Gamers, like me, have grown up. Our friends no longer come over, gathered on the couch, coaching each other through a level of Spyro or yelling, “hey! No screen peeking.” during dual-screen Halo battles.
In October, I talked about how virtual reality left the trough of disillusionment and is starting its climb up the slope of enlightenment. I think we’re definitely seeing that’s the case with these ads in mainstream media for the Samsung Odyssey and Oculus Go. However, I read and hear the same language to sell VR that I did in 2016. I don’t think watching movies and talking to virtual strangers is enough to sell VR to the average Joe.
The promise to meet and work with my distributed, Agile Scrum teams in person was what initially drew me to virtual reality. I thought that my problems of getting people to speak up during the daily Scrum and feeling distant from my team could be solved with this tech. As someone who works remotely, I could teleport myself into the virtual office. I didn’t expect to spend my whole work day in VR, only enough time to feel connected with my team and overcome the current communication barriers we face. Instead of defaulting to “Slacking” and IMing, we could actually talk to each other and do Scrum in person as it was designed to be.
In 2016, we learned that content will drive AR and VR. Everyday people and even early adopters need a reason to buy the gear and invest in immersive apps. My husband got me the PSVR bundle with Skyrim VR. I was so excited to jump into the world I loved. However, it wasn’t Skyrim built for VR. It was modded up to technically work on the PSVR. I barely made it through the first scene before I started to feel sick. I haven’t tried Skyrim since.
Virtual reality entering the Slope of Enlightenment doesn’t mean it’s made its way into mainstream adoption. The Slope of Enlightenment means there are “more instances of how the technology can benefit the enterprise… Second- and third-generation products appear from technology providers” (Gartner.com). At Cincy Startup Week we saw multiple examples of the tech benefiting the enterprise, like using AR to guide operators to fix a machine. Surgeons used VR to plan and practice heart surgery. The HTC Vive Focus and Oculus Quest are examples of next-generation HMDs available on the market.
Virtual Reality Trends in 2019
Companies will continue to invest in VR
At Cincinnati Startup Week, “Big Cos” like General Mills, Procter & Gamble, and the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital showed examples of how they use immersive tech at their companies. They were not disillusioned by the technology. One presenter joked about how they had a VR museum, a storage room of dusty Google Glasses, haptic gloves, VR HMDs, and other equipment that didn’t work out.
Enterprise companies are either wary of immersive technology or have a deeper understanding of it than you might expect. Either way, VR companies who target the enterprise will have to prove their tech and software adds real value. Companies aren’t buying just because it’s “cool”. The hype factor has worn off.
Consumer markets will segment
Virtual reality manufacturers want you to believe that VR is for everyone. Facebook wants every person to have a headset – a “goal of getting 1 billion people to become users of its VR technology.” Even Zuckerberg had to admit that the goal isn’t even one percent finished. I see VR splitting into two segments outside of the enterprise, kids and single and/or childless adults. Unless your partner is OK watching the kids while you immerse yourself if VR, you probably won’t get a chance to use it as much as you’d like.
VR will have to be more social
I know what you’re thinking – VR is inherently social! There is Altspace, VRChat, Rec Room, and Bigscreen… but they are all solo activities in the real world. VR is still a novelty. People want to show off their headsets to their friends and watch them jump off a plank or fend off zombies. I think we’ll start seeing more ways to incorporate real people into the immersive experience.
One friend told me about the game, Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes. The person in VR is in a room with a ticking bomb. The people outside of VR have instructions on how to disarm the bomb. They have to work with the person in VR to disable the bomb. My friend said it was fun and everyone felt involved in the game, even though only one person was in virtual reality.
I hope we’ll see more examples of games like this. PSVR has a head start in this area because it’s probably set up in a living room or play area that is designed for people to sit around in front of the TV. PSVR relays what the person in VR is seeing on the TV which is much nicer than crowding around a computer screen.
Will 2019 be the year for virtual reality?
I understand why Mark Zuckerberg wants everyone to have VR. It’s mind-blowing, helpful, and fun. It has big implications for understanding people and training, learning, and teaching. I think immersive analytics will be a big deal once more people use VR.
Every year, we want that to be the year for virtual reality. I think we have to be patient. It’s happening, it’s moving up the Slope towards the Plateau of Productivity. It will take time before 1 billion people are in VR but I think we will get there. The enthusiasm for the tech is obvious. My excitement for it is re-ignited every time I see a new enterprise application.
Will 2019 be the year for virtual reality? That depends. Buy a headset, try it out, and let me know.