Immersive Technology’s Hidden Crisis
The Immersive technology industry, including Augmented, Virtual and Mixed Reality technology, is booming according to analysts, yet most are missing two key red flags that underlie the entire industry: talent & skills.
Either way you look at it, analysts predict a huge amount of spend in the industry. At the bottom end of the spectrum, Goldman Sachs sees a minimum of $80b by 2025, in the middle, ABI Research predicts the market will hit $100b by 2020, with the top end IDC sees upwards of $143b by 2020.
While the spend is increasing, the industry is facing a hidden crisis. The industry has a massive skills shortage which is hampering growth. And yet, despite the skills shortage being so inimical to the growth of immersive technology and such a critical part of future growth, the issue is barely being discussed.
How do we know this? ImmerseUK, the government body which helps develop Immersive technologies in the UK, has highlighted this issue in their latest report, which include concerns from leading XR companies such as REWIND and Kinicho.
“Concerns about skills were, however, the most frequent issue in most locations (just under half of respondents flagged skills shortages as an important issue, and a quarter were worried about the supply of skills from education). Several companies we interviewed expressed concerns about this.”
Further to this, ‘Skills’ was identified as the second highest blocker to growth in the Immersive Tech sector.
Comparing Job Markets
In the above graphic, 65% of respondents cited skills as a major barrier to growth in the immersive economy. A similar barrier exists within the games industry although it is far less severe than in immersive technology. The games industry has grown gradually over a number of years, growth that has been lead by high-quality content, and the issue of a lack of talent with specialized skills has become less problematic in line with continued growth.
Immersive technology on the other hand, is still very much in its infancy and has yet to see the widespread uptake that would help attract talent and quell the skills shortage. To put this into perspective, the global interactive entertainment industry is set to hit $143.5b by 2020 according to Newzoo (Nov 2017). To think that VR, AR and MR are growing at a comparable scale to the games industry is shortsighted and naive. It’s hard to find anyone who’s experienced VR, let alone owns a headset or even regularly spends time in virtual reality, compared to video games consumers.
This may change with the advent of the Oculus Quest, which seems to be the first consumer device offering a really attractive price and feature package. We can only hope that hardware manufacturers help by providing innovations on the hardware which will enable content makers to sell more. Content has always been the key to developing the industry, which historically has been the way the games industry has worked.
State of the Job Market in 2018
To understand the state of the immersive tech, let’s compare the UK games industry to the Immersive Tech industry. Reports suggest that the UK employs over 47,000 developers and makers, which is a big difference compared to the mere 4,500 employed in Immersive Tech according to Immerse UK. Comparably, a $143 billion dollar industry can be generated with 47,000 game developers supporting it, yet it is clear that the Immersive tech cannot provide this level of output in such a short amount of time. Much like an engine, without the fuel, the sparks of creativity will be igniting hot air.
How Do We Get Out of this Crisis?
In terms of how we can work to begin closing the skills gap. Let’s look to two specific areas where we’re seeing some widespread success in immersive tech. First, the application of mixed reality within enterprise, for training purposes, and secondly, the cross pollination of talent from the games and films industries to immersive technology.
The Success of Mixed Reality Within Enterprise
Fortunately, the market is very healthy with larger and larger projects on the horizon. Microsoft has just announced a $480m HoloLens project with the U.S Military. While this is a government contract, it indicates the size and scope of Immersite tech, as this is probably one of the largest contracts in the industry, we can assume that this is why Magic Leap was battling to get it too. The U.S. Military is not the only company to be investing heavily in this tech, Daimler has been using HoloLens to train their their global after-sales staff. Mercedes- Benz Global Training has been embracing XR for training purposes.
“Mercedes-Benz Global Training educates employees worldwide in management, products, branding and sales. The network spans 800 trainers working at 150 locations across 120 countries. Employees can also access a variety of training sessions via the company’s Global Training App.”
This level of investment shows a clear shift in Enterprise, looking to immersive technologies such as AR & MR as a way to save on cost and get better training results. (Full Disclosure: The Daimler project was Produced by the Author of this article while at Microsoft). Wide scale VR successes are limited, though Audi has announced that they have made 1000 VR car dealerships This is most likely one of the larger wide scale deployments of the technology, yet they remain far and few in between.
MR Could Lead the Way for the Widespread Adoption Immersive Technology as a Whole
Where VR failed with consumers, MR will prevail within enterprise and later consumers. The net result is a wider global adoption of immersive technology which will subsequently get refined and distilled into better products. These will feed the consumer appetite for augmented technology resulting in more work for the industry. Harvard University has worked on extensive research focused on the potential of immersive technology for training purposes. This research shows that enterprises are actively looking to use immersive technologies to engage, improve and create new ways of working.
Cross Pollination of talent from Games and Film
Talent in the films and games industry will help form the nascent immersive tech workforce. Agencies in these sectors are the most adapted to work on immersive projects and the first to be tapped to create new work. As the skills for these sectors cross over, namely due to the nature of the work and the use of similar tools like Maya, 3DS, and Unity, you will begin to see a more diverse pool of talent. This cross pollination of talent is already taking place. Bored of CG? Work in games. Bored of Games? Work on Holograms. So new talent will emerge from these sectors to help fill the initial gaps in the market.
How Can we Close the Gap?
The UK has a great initiative, one that is quite unique, placing the UK as one of the top 3 immersive technology centers in the world. Their program, which sets aside over £80m to fund new projects under the Immersive UK fund, helps to foster both R&D and creative content. The Immersive UK fund has been created in a typically British way, focusing on pragmatism and the long-term sustainability of the industry, helping to catalyse the growth of the immersive tech software ecosystem and consequently creating a more attractive market for young talent.
The initiative aims to build the future but also deliver on content to build a new audience. This is a key part of the strategy, which will help to fuel the market and inspire new talent finishing university to dream and build the future of tomorrow. In spite of the uncertainty surrounding Brexit, the UK has a leading function in the development of the Immersive industry.
There are some clear industry trends over the last few years: lighter tech, less cables, higher quality output, enterprise success, we’re going to see this industry boom.
Now it’s time to make sure we build the right talent to enable that growth.