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Virtual Reality: Have We Got It Wrong?

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Recent research indicates that our collective assumptions about the kind of experiences children want from virtual reality are probably very wrong.

Touchstone Research recently published the results of its youth VR survey. Those results show a broad awareness of VR, with Oculus (which Facebook bought for $2bn in July 2014) and Samsung’s Gear VR unsurprisingly at the top of the list. Those devices are due to hit consumers early next year and will no doubt set a fast pace by integrating with established gaming hardware like Xbox One. Oculus has also announced its intention to invest $10m in games development, ensuring there will be plenty for consumers to do with their new VR kit.

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High end consumer VR kit like Facebook’s Oculus are coming to market early 2016

The surprise in the survey results comes from what kids aspire to do with VR. The list includes “visit another country virtually”, “explore a place they could not go in reality (like space)” and “travel back in time”. Where are “Play a game” and “watch a 3D movie”? You have to look to the bottom of the list to find those.

Time for a rethink?

As an industry our collective assumptions of what kids want from VR may be more limited than the imagination of the people we’re designing those products for. Clearly kids aren’t just expecting us to provide them with things to shoot. To lift a quote from the survey results:

“[VR] means I can be anywhere I want, do anything I want… it’s like living your dreams”

There’s a very clear demand encoded in that statement. Demand means opportunity, and as a digital production studio innovating around education and entertainment, VR now offers us the opportunity to bring history to life and take our children on adventures in ways that our younger selves could never have imagined.

Connect the VR hardware and these survey results together and you can see that extending the latest Xbox or Playstation game into VR is interesting, but is it where the killer VR app is going to come from? Very probably not.

Engaging people with education, training, healthcare and brand experiences is the where success will come for consumer VR, and these survey results clearly show that kids, and probably the wider audience, are ready to take that on right now. Suddenly Facebook’s acquisition of Oculus doesn’t seem so odd.

So what’s around the corner?

While the high end application for consumer VR devices may end up being console games, great VR experiences are available and accessible now. ‘Devices’ like Google Cardboard, costing from $15 (£10) – assuming you already have a smartphone to put in it – and Mattel’s soon to be released View Master VR, priced at $30 (£20) are gaining attention.

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Mattel has taken the View-Master into virtual reality using Google Cardboard technology and ‘reels’ used for interaction and play

Those devices are affordable and ready now for schools and training organisations, with the cost of developing impressive VR experiences within the reach of existing budgets for educators, brands and corporates.

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Justin Eames

About Justin Eames

Justin is fish in a bottle’s cofounder and Head Fish.