Making the Business Case for VR


As mediums have evolved, so too have the ways that people engage with and through them. VR/AR is the latest in this evolution, steadily working its way into mainstream adoption.

This panel will discuss the ways in which VR is being accepted as a business utility and what work still remains to drive mass adoption within businesses and consumers.

What do you think the most powerful aspect of virtual reality is currently and what do you see as it’s most valuable application?
The most powerful aspect of VR, to me, is also its most basic: the believable illusion of an altered location. I believe the most valuable application will be a relatively simple/unglamorous one: conducting work remotely as if on-location. I read something recently that really stuck with me and I agree with: remote work isn’t the future of work; remote work is the future of economic equality/ access. The caveat being, I think remote work can only be fully and finally realized through VR. (Currently AR systems like Spatial go in this direction, and I see VR taking it a step further.)
I completely agree with Mario on the most powerful aspect being a believable illusion of an altered location or experience. The ability to take someone out of their current situation and actually feel like they are seeing or feeling what the headset is showing is just magical.
Now, I’m definitely biased on the most valuable application because i see it almost everyday. The ability to grant experiences that would otherwise be impossible or prevented to someone. In my case it’s hospital patients that want to go somewhere they’ve never been or try something they’ve been dreaming about. Especially for terminal kids who will never be able to experience so much because of their illness but also because of their age. They’ll never be able to drive a car, jump out of a plane, or do something as simple as attend a university class – and yes I’ve actually been asked for that. The other application I guess would be for families to experience things together. With all of them having a headset on and seeing the same thing, for 5-10 min they get to feel like a normal family.
I really like that. I was taking “valuable” in a raw economic context, but I think you hit the nail on the head, David. In terms of human value (and not to say it doesn’t have economic value, of course it does), I would totally agree that those are both super compelling and life-changing applications.
I would add on to the social aspect as VR has demonstrated great capabilities in bringing down the barriers between people. Through examples like VR Chat people have been opening up to complete strangers and having conversations, revealing what they really feel. It is more personal than an anonymous chat board, but still removes the anxiety many people feel when talking face to face on a subject that they may feel insecure about. People can choose to become who they want to be with less worry about all the built up stigma, stereotypes, etc. related to themselves in real life.
Also for the hospital case, as technology evolves VR can potentially be used to alleviate pain in patients as well, allowing them to lead more fulfilling lives. It can also allow them to still perform tasks remotely that help their family or others they care about, as some patients would hate to feel like they are a burden on their loved ones, so remote assistance and contribution will allow them to live a happier life.
Today, I think that VR technology is ‘good enough’ to create a strong enough feeling of ‘presence’ for use in mental health therapy applications. People are suffering from PTSD, phobias, anxiety and depression and have limited access to help. VR technology is likely more accessible than getting appointments with mental health professionals for the average person. When used in conjunction with treating physicians, VR can help to scale exposure and CBT therapy, and aid in treatment of these patients.
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What do you predict will be the “game changing” piece of content (game or utility application) that will trigger the mass adoption of virtual reality, and when do you think it will be available?
Again, for me its relatively simple: the proper and broad integration of VR into the main social media platforms. This would allow for the exposure and access that can trigger mainstream adoption. Facebook has Spaces, but it’s more of a side gimmick totally separated from the Facebook ecosystem. Specifically, I think of:
- the use of VR chatrooms as an option instead of chat windows. Imagine choosing if you’d like to chat - “in person” - at a Parisian cafe, or maybe a beachside patio, or a Manhattan rooftop... literally anywhere. (This would require capturing/including each user’s face and movements in a lightweight way.)
- VR showrooms within store/brand/venue pages, where you can browse products and virtually try them on, including assistance from live staff. Commerce drives all platforms.
- and VR front row access to live streaming events on the platforms.
All are relatable to existing habits and thus would allow for broad adoption without mental gymnastics.
I don’t think it’s as simple as content, application, or game. For wide spread adoption we need something that is easier to use. Something a novice can pick up and just go. I don’t find there is a headset or system yet that doesn’t require a massive amount of setup, training, and experimenting with to really get going. Even for someone like me who uses these systems daily there is a lot of configuration and tinkering. There is nothing out there that allows me to easily put this on someone, control their experience, and get them involved in a way that they can take over and start doing it themselves.
For true widespread adoption someone should be able to send a system/headset to a family member and they could just put it on and it would play the wedding that just happened, or a day at the cottage. This can be the same thing for training in the corporate world, or product evaluation in the retail world.
I completely agree on the ease of use, and in addition to that there needs to be a reduction in reliance on having a great computer. Most of the great VR experiences require you to be connected to a PC costing in the multiple thousands of dollars, which for many people is not justifiable. I’m excited to see how the Oculus Quest will perform as it promises great experiences while being standalone.
At this stage in VR hardware development, I think we’re seeing a struggle or trade off between the higher end experiences afforded by the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, which are expensive and less accessible, and the recent launch of portable VR through Oculus Go, Quest, Gear VR etc. Neither of these are nailing it yet for various reasons. To have mainstream adoption, there needs to be both accessibility and a very solid reason to use VR technology as opposed to a regular screen. The Oculus Go appears to be mostly for media consumption, however; is there a very compelling case to consume regular media in VR? To me, the most compelling VR experiences so far are in the gaming industry – where there are both social and interactive properties (using highly sensitive 6DOF controllers).
For example, the game ‘Beat Saber’ achieved the status of the top-rated game on Steam of all time just after launch and is now sitting around #7 – not just compared to VR games but compared to all games. This was arguably THE killer VR app of the year. The game combines competition through leaderboards, exercise / movement, music, and a great visceral feeling when playing. This isn’t something you can replicate outside of VR and isn’t possible with any other available hardware today.
Not having accessible high-end hardware is a part of the reason VR eSports games like Sparc, Echo VR, Sprint Vector etc. are on the decline – they are fantastic experiences that are only possible in VR, but have a dwindling user base due to barriers to hardware adoption. It is unlikely next generation wireless VR will be able to support these. However, these are compelling VR use cases.
In terms of social interaction, Rec Room is leading the way here. I agree with previous comments that VR can simulate social interactions more naturally than traditional social networks and may act to shift mass behaviours back towards human to human engagement.
Additionally, with the release of cinematic titles like Henry, and more recently The Great C – VR could have a promising future in cinema and storytelling with made-for-VR content.
The biggest barrier at this point is that the hardware not only needs to be accessible, but also needs to be good enough to produce a very compelling experience you can only get in VR. Oculus Quest may be a step in the right direction, but it will be limited to simpler experiences with less realistic graphics. Will it be compelling enough to excite the masses?
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Which VR system would you recommend to someone who’s never tried VR before and why?
I would say a friends or family’s system. I say this a little tongue in cheek because the most important thing is for people to try it and see how impressive it is, but it’s also equally important to enjoy it. A friend will know a little bit about you and try to show you something that they know will blow you away. Those in the industry have all seen that amazing reaction from someone trying it on for the first time and being completely enthralled by it.
After this I think it depends on the application. If someone is in it for gaming then I recommend a tethered headset to a decent gaming computer. If it is just to see different places or try new experiences I would say use something you can put your phone into.
If it is for a daily application, well the current system I use in hospitals is the Oculus Go. It is the easiest to control, cheapest standalone, and has the best quality.
I would also agree with David. I think the oculus go would be a nice and inexpensive starting point with really nice visual experiences. The only downside is a bit lacking in the degrees of freedom but otherwise I am impressed!
I own the Oculus Rift and I always make an effort to show anyone who comes to my house. The Vive and Rift by far offer the most compelling experiences - and most of the people I’ve introduced to some of these experiences have been blown away. In order to really excite people you need to give them a next-level, mind bending experience. It will be something they talk about with their friends later. You need buzz to get people to even consider spending this much money on a system. VR experiences can and still do excite me and I’m a veteran. I can’t wait for hardware to catch up.
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Which industry do you think will be the first to be significantly disrupted by VR?
My default answer is Training / corporate L&D, but that’s a bit of a cop-out given I think it’s already well on its way (especially with AR, with VR catching up). But, as I alluded to for the “game changing” future use case, I think Brick and Mortar / retail could be the most massively disrupted. One of the only things that keeps people in physical locations is the ability to casually browse. If this could be replicated reasonably well with VR - especially with some handheld haptic feedback products - it would effectively create unlimited retail space, (almost) rent-free, with no need for physical inventory, for the vast majority of store types. It would make Amazon’s disruption seem trivial in comparison.
I’m kind of surprised that VR eSports hasn’t yet taken off. eSports in general is a huge, growing industry and VR seems to be a natural extension of that, bridging the gap between the ‘e’ and the ‘sports’ side of things. Hardcore players most certainly have invested in the hardware already. However, the VR eSports games are far from household names yet, so likely people just don’t care about them.
Outside of gaming - VR in health and specifically in mental health treatment has been quietly under development for a couple decades. There is a massive unmet need in the mental health space and VR is ideally suited towards things like exposure therapy and CBT.
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What is one thing you’d like to see made possible by VR technology in the future?
The world’s best professors and their best lectures recorded for replay in a single virtual-location campus, with corresponding full degrees you can earn online. Like a VR-enabled MOOC-based university curated from the best the education world has to offer, with the greatest campuses as settings for both lectures and group sessions.
Oh Mario that would be brilliant, and then just “insert” the most appropriate VR/AR experience for that topic. A professor of marine biology can take you to an exact location then show first hand the adaptive abilities of a mimic Octopus... first example that popped into my head but you can infer from there any topic really.
That would be amazing for physics as well, especially for teaching the basic concepts. It can be combined with gamification where you are given various puzzles to solve that are based on physics principles. Learning the intuition behind it will help a great deal with the concepts.
I would say generally anything which helps people connect to human experiences. Due to social media and the ‘dopamine release button’ ie. ‘like’, we’ve lost something as a society. Our values are becoming skewed. VR can bring us back together and facilitate a more natural human-like social interaction. Also, it will allow people to experience things like international travel and interacting with other cultures in other parts of the world. Today, many people only know about other cultures and other parts of the world through watching the news and experiencing it online. There’s definite bias in all of these sources of information. Going there virtually to experience other places, and interacting in real time with people from all over the world will give a unique perspective and bring people closer together by ‘humanizing’ the experience.
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