VR Consumer Adoption — Crossing the demo chasm
Every morning, on my way to work, I walk past a UPS store that has a poster promoting their in-store 3D printing services. A sharp closeup on a navy color figurine with a bright blue letters caption overhead teases the reader, like an invitation to a universe of endless opportunities: “What will you print next?.” Every morning, the same thought goes through my head: “Wow”, I think, “Absolutely nothing.”
Virtual Reality entertainment content is nearing a risky place I call the demo-chasm. There are some really awesome demo pieces out there, such as VRSE’s “Evolution Of VR”, Wevr’s “The Blu”, horror pieces such as “Sisters”, and a swath of Littlstar and Vrideo 30 second videos, but there is VERY little entertainment content that creates repeat usage.
The term “Chasm” is drawn from the well known technology adoption rate theorem as shown here. The adoption chasm exists in the second wave of adoption, in the “early adopters” consumer group, and reflects the point in which a certain type of technology either gets adopted by mass consumers, or stagnates and even fails.
We are just before that point, at the shift between the “Innovators” group to the “Early Adopters” group (with the first version of HMD and VR content delivered). I believe that in about 12 months we will see whether the type and amount of content that is released is the right fuel for the “VR Rocket ship”.
It’s rare for even industry people to watch VR on a daily basis
I often ask other peers whether they watch VR on a daily basis, and for what reason. Most often the answers are “not daily”, and “to know what other people are doing”. It’s rare for even industry people to watch VR daily for pure entertainment.
What would it take for VR to cross the demo-chasm? The short answer is “content”, but there are several layers here that must be uncovered.
Engagement, not impressions
Most industry reports focus on how widespread VR is and will become, in number of mobile phones, headsets etc. I would posit that engagement metrics are even more important at this moment — number of times used, length of use, money spent on the platform, et cetera.
Since the “Innovators” are the platform’s “best customers” (in terms of enthusiasm, and forgiveness), we need to see what would be the equivalent of a strong “unit economic” in people before we believe it can massively scale.
For example, this chart shows an increase in Monthly Active Users (MAU) of Google Cardboard’s VR app, since more and more people downloading it, but doesn’t show an increase in its Daily Active Users (DAU), meaning these people don’t check the app very often. It is hard to tell whether it’s the amount or quality of content, but with more and more content releasing, the truth is soon to come out.
To see that strong engagement from users, we need to strive to create the kind of content that makes people put a headset more often for longer periods of time, such as serialized, episodic content. Since it would probably be best to put new users in a headset for no more than about 15 minutes at a time, taking feature films and chopping them into 10–15 minute episodes can do the trick, or even music videos can be an attractive genre, with the right length (4–5 minutes) and large fan base to drive adoption.
We can’t just take traditional film/tv script, replace all cameras with 360 cameras and expect the masses to fill the HMD queues like it’s a Stan Lee comic signing at Comicon. To roughly quote Peter Thiel (from “From zero to one”), in order for customers to adopt a new technology, the experience needs to be 10 times better than the experience on the old platform. It can be cost, speed/efficiency, accuracy, or any other metric that customers care about.
In order for customers to adopt a new technology, the experience needs to be 10 times better than the experience on the old platform
Let’s face it, the current state of VR entertainment is far from being a 10x experience. To get there, we must become better at storytelling in VR, and using the unique characteristics of VR (such as presence) to content’s advantage.
For example, a vertical in which the experience is getting close to being 10x better is gaming, which is why it is commonly refer to as consumer VR’s lowest hanging fruit. Games such as AudioShield, Budget Cuts, The Climb and others hold great promise to change the way gamers play. Recently, an interesting survey found that even before almost anyone has a quality headset, more than 1 out of every 7 game developers is developing for VR — ahead of the Nintendo Wii and only 7% behind Microsoft’s Xbox One. If you didn’t care about this platform before, I hope you start caring now.
Lastly, outside of content, to cross the demo-chasm and become ubiquitous, devices must get smaller and lighter. As much as we enjoy looking like aliens wearing large headsets on our faces, it’s hard for me to imagine my mom wearing a Gear VR in the foreseeable future.
The day VR devices reduce to be the size of sunglasses (or the Avegant Glyph) without compromising too much field of view, battery life and performance, we’ll be on the right path for mass adoption.
Agree? Share! Disagree? Comment! Would love to hear your thoughts.