The Future of Virtual Reality and its Implications in Marketing

It’s surprising to see how far technology has come in just a decade, let alone a hundred years ago. Though it is surprising to see how far we’ve come it is greatly anticipated to see what is to come. Will the future bring flying cars, AI’s like Jarvis from Iron Man, people living in space, or similar scenarios we’ve read in books or seen in movies? Or will the foreseeable future bring something a little more realistic? Kevin Kelly’s book The Inevitable forecasts twelve technological forces that will shape the next thirty years. According to Kelly, much of what will happen in the probable future is inevitable. In the book Kelly outlines twelve trends: Becoming, Cognifying, Flowing, Screening, Accessing, Sharing, Filtering, Remixing, Interacting, Tracking, Questioning and Beginning — that will forever change the way in which we work, learn and communicate. Though all these trends are fascinating, I will be only looking at virtual reality and the future it brings.

Virtual reality is computer-generated simulations of a three dimensional image or environment that can be interacted with in a seemingly real or physical way by a person using specialized equipment, such as a headset. Thus the user suspends belief and accepts it as a real environment. Virtual reality (VR), which creates a totally artificial environment, is primarily experienced through two of the five senses: sight and sound. The simplest form of virtual reality is a 3-D image that can be explored interactively at a personal computer. More Sophisticated efforts involve such approaches as wrap-around display screens, actual augmented rooms with wearable computers, and haptic devices that let you feel the display images. The early focus on virtual reality has been on gaming and hardcore gamers willing to drop big money on high-end VR headsets and powerful computers to drive them. Though gaming was the early focus for VR, the industry is actively looking into other forms of entertainment.

Virtual reality (VR) has become a fascination of mine for a couple of years’ now especially when VR headsets are taking off. Traveling is another love of mine, nothing beats exploring new places and experiencing new cultures. So it is very exciting to see the future of virtual reality combined with destinations. Another aspect that I’m passionate about is the sharing of events and how VR will make sharing such occasions more meaningful for those who just don’t get the time off or for medical reasons. I will also be touching on how virtual reality can improve medical conditions and learning.

First, is what virtual reality could do for the future of travel. If you have ever been abroad then you know that it isn’t known to be cheap. Even though many times the cost is well worth it not everyone has the resources to take vacations unless it is business related. If I remember correctly, less than fifty percent of US citizens own a passport. Virtual reality provides that chance to those that don’t have the resources and, or the time.

Imagine that you just had a very hard week at work and you need to unwind and escape for a while. You pick up your VR headset, put it on and escape to Dubai or Amsterdam for the evening. Basically anywhere you ever wanted to visit. The beauty about this is that you can pick and choose where you want to go from the comfort of your own home, on your own time and most probably for free. Cutting out the arduous tasks in the planning process altogether: hotel room booking, transportation and navigation, restaurants and planning outings and events. Virtual reality technology, however, is revolutionizing the traveler’s experience by making it boundless. Soon enough there will be databases with files upon files of user generated virtual reality from all over the world. Since people can now visit any place on earth, essentially for free, what is going to happen to travel agencies, international flights and the impact to marketing these places. One, is that professional companies will start charging for a series of professionally videoed virtual reality applications that users can buy. This could possibly also include a subscription based service where, let’s say, twice a month you receive a new file of a different place that you can enjoy. Though this is an acceptable option it probably won’t be that successful because why buy what you can get for free. Even if the free version is of lesser quality.

“When copies are free, you need to sell things that cannot be copied” (Kelly). The next idea comes from Kelly’s chapter on flowing. Essentially, for products and services, “we prefer to deal with someone we can trust, we will often pay a premium for that privilege. Brand companies can command higher prices for similar products and services from companies without brands because they are trusted for what they promise.” Kelly call these “generatives” — “generative qualities add value to free copies and therefore are something that can be sold.” Essentially, “better than free” (Kelly). Therefore, since virtual applications will be a free resource this could have the effect of promoting the actual destinations. Since people can only experience so much through user-generated videos they would want to experience the real thing. Since nothing can replace being there in person, what all five senses can provide.

Since we are speaking about virtual reality we also have to mention augmented reality and what it can bring to the travel industry. Augmented reality (AR) is a technology that superimposes a computer-generated image on a user’s view of the real world in real time. Thus providing a composite view. AR uses the existing environment and overlays new information on top of it. If you’re still not sure what it is think of Pokémon Go — it interacts directly with the real world environments and supplements them with new content, Pokémon. Augmented reality can provide richer and deeper content on a product, experience or scene with data, video, sound, gaming, graphics, web links and so on. AR can complete simpler tasks in the travel planning process. For example, AR makes it possible for you to take virtual tours of your chosen hotel selections, and check out the amenities they offer. Selecting a hotel that will best suit the plans you have during your stay. Furthermore, since AR is available from your mobile devices, it makes access to information portable and simple. If your travels take you abroad, into a country where you have limited understanding of the predominant language augmented reality can make translations simple and effective. Augmented reality makes the arduous planning process much more seamless, interactive, and simple.

The second field that virtual reality can completely change is in the sharing of events and special occasions. Take events like concerts — since artists makes most of their money through concerts, public relations events and other entertainment sources instead of music sales- artists or more likely their record labels could sell a virtual reality view of said concert. Immersing the users, that could not attend to concert, into the concert environment. Of course, this would be offered at a lower price than tickets or even entirely free. The user would basically get to experience the sight and sounds of the actual concert without the hassle of transportation, overcrowding and long waits in line. One of the major benefits of VR is that you can control what you’re looking at. If you want to see what the crowd’s reaction is from the stage, you could turn around and look at the crowd. Or if you wanted to view a bass players hand you could do that too. With many VR experiences that portray real events and, or places there are certain aspects that you can’t capture. Unlike live performances you aren’t able to experience the vibe of the room or energy of the crowd. Nothing replaces being there in person. Nothing replaces live, in person, seeing your favorite artist on stage. Virtual reality may not be able to fully replicate the concert-going experience as of yet. Since it only covers two of your senses, sight and sound. Eventually, it will cover all of your senses: sight, touch, smell, taste and hear. Making virtual reality that much more realistic.

Similar to concerts, virtual reality will greatly impact the sharing of events and occasions on a more personal level. In other words, take an event, like Christmas, and your grandmother is not able to attend. Virtual reality offers a solution to share this holiday with your grandmother, even if it’s in a small way. A way to include family members in special occasions that they might not be able to attend, the birth of your child, weddings, graduations, recitals, etc. Being able to come back and re-watch these occasions. Much like Dumbledore’s pensive, where he can revisit memories and thoughts freely. This does not just include those that can’t show up because of work or costs but for those that have medical conditions that won’t allow them to travel, those who have always been excluded.

This goes right into my next topic of how virtual reality is revolutionizing medicine and healthcare. Developing and implementing VR in ways that can help train, diagnose and treat in myriad situations. Such as exposure therapy and treatment for PTSD. Take a patient that has a phobia of flying. “The VR experience provide for controlled environment in which patients can face their fears and practice coping strategies — all while in a setting that is private, safe and can be easily stopped or repeated” (Carson). The same thing applies to PTSD treatments. It can also help individuals who are dealing with pain management by distracting this with VR games. This also applies to phantom limb pain. Instead of playing games just for distracting patients, patients use a virtual limb to complete tasks. Helping them gain some control and learn how to manage some symptoms of phantom limb. Another way virtual reality can revolutionize healthcare and medicine is in surgical training. Training for surgeons usually involve cadavers and a gradual, precise process of assisting experienced doctors before taking on more responsibilities. Virtual reality could provide another means of practice, without any risk to real patients.

Virtual reality has unlimited uses from travel, sharing occasions and memories, to healthcare. It seems that VR technology is finally “producing fruit” there is still a need to get consumers to purchase a VR headset. In order to convince people to produce VR content, you need an audience of people to watch it. Of course in order to get people to spend money on VR headsets, there needs to be content to watch. Thus stuck in a chicken and egg problem. Exploring virtual reality in the fields of travel, sharing of events and healthcare will provide new markets that were not originally planned for. Bringing virtual reality out of the gaming realm and into exploring real world destinations, healthcare and the sharing of precious occasions.

About the Author:

My name is Anna Sedgley. I was born in Chongqing, China but quickly moved to Missoula, Montana at the age of two, where I currently still reside. I attend the School of Business Administration of the University of Montana. I am in my last year, studying international business and marketing with a digital marketing certificate. My love for travel first inspired me to write about virtual reality in the field of travel. Moving onto how virtual reality can revolutionize sharing events and occasions, to what it can do to improve healthcare.

Kelly, Kevin. The Inevitable: Understanding the 12 Technological Forces That Will Shape Our Future. Penguin Random House.