Mention the words “Virtual Reality” and images of people wearing funky headsets, enclosed in an animated world and waving their hands around instantly come to mind! And of course Hollywood producers have captivated audiences by transporting them from the real world to the virtual world.
But how far is Virtual Reality (VR) a reality for organisations? How far, if at all, has it made the leap from celluloid to genuine usefulness in the day to day worklife of employees?
To get a take on the state of Virtual Reality I spoke with Piers Harding-Rolls, the Director and Head of Games Research at IHS Technology.
Virtual Reality challenges
According to Harding-Rolls there are at least three things that need to come into alignment before we reach a broader adoption of VR.
First, is the headset hardware. It needs to be developed further to improve the people experience with the technology. “All headsets today have deficiencies which will slowly be overcome. We are heading towards stand alone headsets which are self-powered rather than tethered to a PC or console, or using a smartphone.” But, he also emphasises that it will take a number of years to get there. Indeed, the usual suspects are well positioned to take advantage as the market emerges. This includes Samsung Gear, Sony PlayStation VR, HTC Vive and, of course, Facebook with the popular Oculus.
Second, the pricing of this more advanced technology needs to be at a lower level. Hence, not limiting the use by the average consumer. “Pricing for high-end headsets at the moment are too high for this.” Cheap adaptor headsets such as the Google Cardboard are, of course, more accessible, but “they have their limitations in terms of the VR experience.”
Third, there needs to be “compelling content”. It will take time to develop successful content, especially outside of the games offering. “Not one company leads in the application space as content is significantly behind the roll out of VR headsets.”
Indeed, people have already started experimenting with demos, affordable VR apps and 360 video content. But, “the market needs premium content to drive adoption.”
Social VR experiences
When asked how VR will transform the way people communicate, Harding-Rolls says that “a majority of early content will be single player/user. And, people will be immersed and locked away when using VR.”
Yet, he also expects “social content” to become more widespread over the next couple of years. This will enable people to connect more powerfully with others in virtual environments. “Based on my experience,” he says “multi-user experiences – or shared experiences – will become a really powerful component of virtual reality.”
In fact, VR offers companies outside the games sector a chance to create immersive content that is interactive. At its simplest, this means being able to rotate your head 360 degrees.
But Harding-Rolls expects the interactivity to become more complex over time: “In this new emerging content area, which sits in the middle ground between linear video and highly interactive games, I expect new genres of content to spring up as companies start to experiment.”
New VR skills required
Several industries are supporting the use of Virtual Reality. Harding-Rolls sees it making niche inroads into areas such as health, design and education. But, the biggest application, in volume terms, will be in entertainment.
This is going to have profound impact on the competencies required by the future workforce. In fact, as the technology is entering the workplace, he believes that “investing in VR content development expertise and skills, will add value to your company.”
But, which skills need to be developed exactly?
Cutting edge production skills that brings together traditional video editing and effects skills, and marry them with games production technologies. “That means skills to develop content in games engines.”
Other areas where we are still at the beginning of the learning curve are storytelling in VR, marketing of VR content, analytics usage in VR content, and monetisation of VR content.
Creation of new jobs
Will VR create new jobs? Or, transform some of them? Probably, the answer is yes. In fact, “there is already a burgeoning start-up industry related to VR, which cover a wide number of applications and parts of the value chain,” explains Harding-Rolls.
Indeed, major movie studios and advertising agencies are already working with some of those VR start-ups to create experimental content at this stage. “This allows them to learn about the production process, and the challenges of working in VR. Plus, to discover what works and doesn’t work in VR content.”
Ultimately, he believes that this is a suitable way to test the market and “to start training an internal workforce through practical experiences.”
Given that we are already seeing companies experimenting with Virtual Reality at work, organisations shouldn’t dismiss the potential opportunity offered by the technology. Indeed, VR has its own challenges and current limitations to overcome, and it will take years to reach a more mature phase.
It is, however, one more reason to recognize the growing importance of this phenomenon as developers and investors are betting on it. Indeed, it is entirely possible that it will become part of the way businesses communicate in the future, not just sharing social VR experiences with their customers but also internally with their staff!
photos 1 and 3 credit: VR – Mobile World Congress 2016 via photopin (license)