Is Misleading Marketing Doing VR/AR a Disservice?

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, there is nothing like putting someone into a VR headset for the first time. Nine times out of ten it is an undeniable, “WOW” experience for the user. In many ways, this reaction to the Virtual world is an affirmation that VR does in fact have the potential to change the way humans interact with computers, both for business and entertainment.

However, the key word to that statement is “potential”, something VR is imbued with massive amounts of, but that ultimately will take lots of time and resources to fully realize.

VR is at a point where the hardware is here, but the software is still playing catch up. Yes, there are a number of excellent experiences out there, but many of them are still what most people would consider short demos and proofs of concept rather than fully fledged games.

And this is completely fine. VR is so new and different that it takes a whole different set of design philosophies to properly create a VR experience. Those who are most excited about VR understand this fact and are happy to wait while Virtual Reality builds, assesses, and improves upon itself in the coming months and years.

After all, part of being an early adopter is being a part of a community that is rapidly working to improve itself.

However, in today’s times of freemium content, marketing hyperbole, and overly expectant consumers, there is a clear and present danger of over-promising, under-delivering, and leaving potential VR (and AR) supporters feeling burned when their experiences with this tech are alarmingly unlike the experiences they were promised in advertising campaigns.

For example, take a look at this ad (or skip through it rapidly to get the idea) from Microsoft:

As an advertisement, it’s awesome. Exciting, eye-opening, and highly futuristic. But, unfortunately, it is not an honest representation of the products it’s endorsing. I’ve tried the Microsoft HoloLens, and I have to say that as long as you keep your expectations in check (IE, you understand the realities of new technologies), it is an incredible experience- one that gets me excited about where we’re heading in the future- but ultimately it is nothing like the ad above. In the real HoloLens, only a very small portion (roughly 25%) of your overall field of view actually has an AR overlay.

The non-existent hand tracking technology featured 58 seconds into Microsoft’s “Windows Holographic” ad

Moreover, from a pure VR standpoint, check out 0:58 in the video. Where on earth did that hand-tracking technology come from? The accuracy and detail of what that gentleman is experiencing with the HTC-Vive is years off, and yet here it is in a modern VR/AR commercial.

This is the problem.

One day, Virtual and Augmented Realities are going to be commonplace, but right now, their impact is at risk of being dampened by false promises that threaten to turn what should be exciting first time VR and AR experiences into disappointing wake-up calls that places the trust of their target markets on the line.

VR and AR are both incredible, important pieces of technology, brimming with potential. But right now, that potential is still being unlocked. In order for content creators to construct the best new experiences, they need time to experiment without the burden of impossible expectations.

“The Lab” is as much a series of experiments by their creator, Valve Software, as it is a serious of mini-games for Vive users to enjoy.

These mediums both need time to grow and have their libraries stocked with high-quality content. That content will take time to create, largely because developers are still learning how to create for it (some are finding ways to monetize that creative process-like Valve did with the Lab). Everything from the design philosophy to the business models of VR/AR are all new and will take some fiddling with to get right.

Unfortunately, many marketing firms seem focused solely on building the hype to a fever pitch and by doing so they’re beginning to choke the long-term profitability of this first generation of VR hardware, not to mention the disservice they’re doing to the people who would be the most excited supporters of these products had they not been over-promised.

Ultimately there is a reason that the most respected high-end VR experiences are only a few minutes long, or (if they’re longer) are highly repetitive. It is because everybody is still figuring out this new medium and how to best utilize it’s unique strengths and weaknesses.

Still, when developers do stumble on something extraordinary- like the feeling of immersion presented by titles such as “The Blue” or Valve’s “Aperture Robot Repair”- the results are often extraordinarily exciting, giving users a peep into the future of entertainment.

The key right now is for users to keep in mind that VR is a brand new, barely post-embryonic technology. It has time to grow, adapt, and mature. But for such a young industry (born from the ashes of its 90’s heritage), it is already doing incredible things, and I anticipate it will continue to flourish and impress.

So spread the word! VR is incredible, AR will be amazing! But please, keep your expectations grounded in this reality and whatever you do, don’t fall prey to the hype-machine. It’s just more fun without it.