What Virtual Reality needs to become mainstream
By Linc Gasking
There is a lot of excitement around virtual and augmented reality, and rightfully so. Not only will VR and AR change how we do many things online, but it’s going to affect many of our offline activities as well. In the future Mom is going to drop into your kitchen for a quick chat before dinner — but this time teleporting in with 3D VR facetime. You won’t go to apple.com, but rather a virtual Apple Store, perhaps with a personal demonstration of the iPhone 10 from Jonny Ive. You’ll dance with Beyonce in your living room, virtually test drive a Tesla with Elon Musk, and watch your home team from your sofa with your favorite athlete by your side. As virtual reality becomes the next computing platform, the Internet will transition to a full 3D digital reality.
As a medium, film enabled us to place different strips of images together into a montage of video to create an emotional story. Virtual reality brings storytelling to a whole new dimension — literally — by immersing us in a digital space with real people in the closest way to real life. We’re already seeing the magic of mixed media in VR, which promises a whole new type of bonus film content where your living room becomes a virtual IMAX with Ridley Scott sitting next to you, talking you through his favorite scene.
But back to your mom. It took a few years before she was on Facebook. Before you find her in virtual reality, five things need to happen to make the next great platform truly mainstream:
1. Simplicity. Right now VR is too complicated for most mainstream consumers. VR needs to have its iPhone moment — where simplicity trumps everything. There are three requirements in order for that to happen:
EASY TO WEAR: Stuff like cords and wires, headphones, USB, and motion trackers need to disappear; and the headsets need to be more comfortable to wear and experience (it can’t make you nauseous).
EASY TO USE: Some of today’s high-end devices require programming skills. That won’t fly for most folks.
EASY TO EXPERIENCE: Content has to be easy to create, share, search and discover. User Experience and User Interface have to evolve past actually having to read the manual (or a dozen troubleshooting forums).
2. Compelling Content. In virtual reality, content is still king. Computer games can be incredibly entertaining, but will not get the masses to take the VR leap. Games are also expensive to create and aren’t readily scalable which is limiting in their ability to satisfy the voracious demand from consumers once they get their new devices. Virtual reality will need ways to create native content in volume. The content that keeps us most interested involves people (and cats), enabling us to relate and emotionally connect with the stories. Especially if the stories are about those we know and care for, especially our family and friends.
Content about people needs to look and feel real in VR. There are only so many people in the population who will accept computer game graphics — but the Uncanny Valley will likely turn off the majority of people.
The type of content needs to be game changing — it can’t just be perceived as an extension of film or television — it has to be experienced and perceived as a generational leap in media.
3. Industry Collaboration. Right now there is a huge groundswell around virtual reality with hundreds of companies rushing to create hardware and software platforms around the world. As we’ve seen, the biggest tech companies are all focused on carving out their piece of the VR opportunity. At some point, all these different players will need to find a way to talk to each other in order to deliver a software+hardware stack that is seamless to the user. Content creators need to be able to create a single piece of content and for users to experience it on any device they choose. Compatibility is critical to driving growth of the whole digital reality platform.
4. Personal & Shareable. Why is Mark Zuckerberg so excited about virtual reality? As he shared at the Vanity Fair event last week, he wants to capture personal moments like his baby’s first steps. It’s these personal moments that people connect with emotionally and share with their friends and family. And if you look at any viral content, it starts with someone being moved and compelled to share.
Virtual reality and augmented reality — these things feel so foreign and conceptual. We live in a deafening world of hype, and it’s probably going to take your best friend to insist, “This is the best thing I’ve ever seen”, for you to actually believe them. You won’t become a convert until you’ve actually tried it and experienced that extra dimension of reality — where you take the headset off and you can’t believe everything you were just experiencing has disappeared from the room. It is going to take an army of virtual reality fans to spread the word about how amazing it is to reach the VR tipping point.
5. Improve our lives. The Internet, and technology as a whole, has had an immeasurable positive impact on the world, and virtual reality is poised to do the same. Some obvious initial opportunities are in education, e-commerce, entertainment and live events. Imagine being able to go to a concert of a band that’s no longer touring. Or attending a Stanford lecture from across the world.
The potential to teleport to an entirely different space and time will allow people to connect on a level that’s never been possible before. It’s going to teach us more about each other, inspiring a new level of empathy, and will connect us with people and relatives we’ve never met. And perhaps it will even teach us something that we haven’t even imagined yet.
We’re just at the very beginning of a transformative time in the internet as it begins to move to 3D with virtual and augmented reality. We at 8i, are just at the beginning of our journey as well. We’re thrilled to have an incredible group of investors backing us in our Series A funding, and look forward to partnering with them, our team, and our content creators to make virtual reality more human.
Linc Gasking is cofounder and CEO of 8i