On March 25th, 2014, many people were left scratching their heads: why did Facebook spend 2 billion dollars to acquire a Kickstarter funded virtual reality company called Oculus. Since then, we have seen a movement. Virtual reality has taken the world by storm. Hundreds of companies from around the world have joined the rat race. Each clawing for the front of the finish line to see who can make the biggest splash in preparation for when VR hits mass consumption.
Despite Diti-Capital projections that augmented/virtual reality industries will hit $120 billion by 2020, there are many pieces that need to fall in place prior to that number becoming a reality.
Superdata, a market research company, continues to downgrade its 2016 virtual reality sales projections; beginning the year at $5.1 billion and now settling at $2.9 billion. There are many factors that play into this, such as companies being unable to fulfill mass orders, or resistance to the high price point. Even Mark Zucherburg is aware that it will take time for VR to hit the mass market, stating in a February interview with Business Insider that it will, "take at least 10 years."
It's often difficult to know where things will go without acknowledging where things are. So, let's look at the facts, the numbers and the data. Here is a summation of all things virtual reality as we currently know it.
Currently, VR stats are hard to find. Manufacturers are holding sales numbers close to their chest, and there isn't much to ascertain from consumer data. At least not yet. Here's some market data that does exist, all of which is relevant to 2016:
- According to Develop, 80% of consumers are unaware of VR
- According to SuperData, gamers account for 78% of VR headset purchases
- 68% of people, when asked, say they'd like to try a virtual reality experience before making such a large purchase
- 58% of consumers said that virtual reality experiences are predominantly for gamers
- 68% of consumers think virtual reality headsets are too expensive
- Games currently make up 76% of all virtual reality content
- Small studios and children's entertainment see the most value in virtual reality
- 50% of millennials expressed desire for VR headsets that hook up to a gaming console as opposed to a PC
- Gen Z is the the most passionate segment in VR
- Average time spent in headset is 25 minutes
VR Consumption, 2016
- Oculus has sold an estimated 250k Rifts
- HTC has sold an estimated 100k Vives
- Samsung Gear VR expected 3.5 million units shipped this year
- As of January 2016, Google Cardboard has shipped over 5 million units
- Playstation VR anticipates selling 1.9 million units in 2016
Content: What Works and Doesn't Work
As they say, content is king, and in virtual reality this is definitely an area seeing growing pains. At the Oculus Connect 2 conference, it was heavily emphasized this is an exciting time to be in VR because the solutions are having to be created as we go. Meaning, that the only way we, as content creators, can produce the kind of content we desire, is to work to create the hardware or software solutions as we go.
VR faces many challenges when approaching content creation: latency, SIM sickness, limitations in tools available for building, high expense, lack of vernacular/rules, and very little monetary return on investment. It's difficult to create relevant and meaningful content.
Many currently refer to virtual reality content creation as the "wild west" since anything goes. Well, anything doesn't go. Here's what is what currently working and not working in VR, as summarized from GamesRadar:
- First-person shooters: too jarring
- Third-person shooters with rotating cameras
- Reading text (though I'd argue it works well in Dead Secret)
- Using controller to walk or look around
- High-speed or fast movement
- Transposing straight from PC/Console format to VR (with few exceptions)
The Gadget Gaga - What Will Stick?
Along with the emergence of the VR industry, a slew of gadgets and supplementary hardware devices have begun to flood in. From silly to intriguing, startups everywhere are trying to find the sweet spots to enhance your VR experience. Only time will tell what will stick and what won't. Here's a list of current key players and gadgets:
- Roto VR - Swivel Chair
- Black Box VR - VR Workout Simulator
- Kat Walk - Omni-directional Treadmill
- FeelReal - Let's you smell in VR
- Birdly - Flight Simulator
- VRGO - Pivoting Seat
- UnlimitedHand - Armband Haptic Sensor
- The Manus - Hand-tracking Glove
- Impacto - Tactile and Electrical Muscle Stimulation
- Teslasuit - E-haptic (sensitization system) Suit
- Nyko's VR Guardian - Bluetooth Grid
The Dangers of Your VR Headset: Data Visualization
On April 7th of this year, Sen. Al Franken sent a letter to Brendan Iribe, CEO of Oculus, with numerous inquiries regarding the types of data being collected through the Oculus Rift. He grills Iribe with questions like, "Is collection [of users physical location and physical movements/dimensions] necessary for Oculus to provide services?" and "Does Oculus currently sell this information to third parties? Can you specify the purposes for which you'd share or sell such data?"
Oculus responded with vague answers, stating that the data collection was necessary to deliver 'safe' VR experiences, and that all data is heavily protected. Franken wasn't satisfied with the answers, and has avowed to continue fighting for consumer privacy in the virtual reality arena.
Sadly, it seems this may be the tip of the iceberg on the issue. Fove has created an eye-tracking headset, which other headset manufacturers may seek to include in future iterations. This means whatever you're looking at in the VR headset, be it the ball in a baseball simulation game or the product on the top shelf in a simulated grocery store, VR companies would be able to track and sell your VR behavioral data.
Ergoneers is a company fighting to be the leader is this capacity: utilizing heatmaps, motion capture and eye tracking, they're positioning themselves to be the company other big players come to for data capture on your behavior within virtual reality.
It's quite astounding, really. We'll see where the debate on privacy in VR goes as manufacturers get more savvy and technologically advanced.
A Vast Landscape Empty of VR Experts
Kevin Kelly, Co-founder of Wired Magazine, stated in a recent interview with author/blogger Tim Ferriss that, "No one is an expert in VR," simply because the medium is so new and unexplored. He goes on to challenge listeners, stating that anyone can be the next big guy in VR. Just pick it up and begin applying yourself, inventing solutions to the multitude of problems that currently exist in the industry, he urges.
The vernacular hasn't been created. There are many obstacles in building a VR game or story. The hardware still has room to improve. Despite all of the above, it sure is an exciting time to be alive.