I surveyed 120 VR developers
I asked WebVR and UnityVR developers what their toughest client-related challenges were on projects
Nine months ago I was curious what VR developers struggle with most. I’d had my own experience in this field and during a conversation with a VR agency director, client frictions were raised as a key resource drain.
A quick note on WebVR and Native VR
WebVR is virtual reality in the browser. Other kinds of VR generally fall under ‘native’ VR, which is a VR experience in an installed app. Basically, WebVR offers lower performance and quality but is accessible more easily. Native VR will be more powerful, but requires an install.
WebVR is much more commonly linked with things like ecommerce, the ‘metaverse’ and ‘web3’. Native VR is generally more often linked to games, training and creative apps like Tilt Brush. Unity3D is a popular tool for Native VR development, which is why I polled the Unity 3D subreddit.
I didn’t use fancy books or frameworks for my questionnaire. I was inspired by a blend of personal experience in VR and UX. And my conversation with a VR agency director. This is what I asked.
What is the most common challenge when building a VR app for a client?
- Client’s lack of budget for their vision.
- Client’s lack of VR expertise/understanding affecting feasibility of their idea.
- Client is too attached to their vision even if it could be better.
- Client’s idea is too vague, lots of back and forth to agree on the build.
One caveat, I should have added a fifth answer saying “not answering, just show me the results”. It is possible some people just wanted to see the answers without having a preference. Reddit only shows answers to participants.
The options might seem a bit harsh to clients. I think the term ‘client’ should be used interchangeably here with stakeholder, product manager, etc… And this is a survey from the point of view of the developer.
The options explored
1) A lack of budget
Every designer has had that project where you have clear aims, good research and buy-in for your designs. Then the news arrives that you need to produce the dreaded MVP. Not to iterate or refine, but as a final product.
This can lead to costly u-turns when the MVP fails to deliver value.
2) Lack of understanding affects feasibility
I love Celebrity Bake Off. Nothing brings a smile to my face like a well-meaning newcomer forgetting eggs or using too much fruit. Only to watch their creation disintegrate into a puddle in front of Paul Hollywood’s icy stare.
Sadly, some ideas just won’t work. And it can be time-consuming to explain why during a project.
3) Attachment to vision
Obviously, what you’re building needs to deliver value. This can mean scrapping ideas and changing as you learn. But with some stakeholders, you can’t always pivot away if there is a strong attachment to an idea.
4) Idea is too vague, lots of back and forth
Some things can be mapped or wireframed rapidly and offer value. Others require substantial research to identify clear opportunities. If this research is missing, it can lead to zombie designs that fail to have an impact.
The survey results
The client’s lack of understanding, budget and clarity led the charge. Clients appeared to lack understanding more in the Unity cohort’s experiences.
WebVR developers may be building more desktop browser experiences, which are easier to understand. While UnityVR developers might be building native apps for actual headsets, which clients may lack more experience with.
Client attachment to vision scored low in both communities. They appear happy to question ideas and iterate.
I believe virtual reality development is suffering from poor understanding and communication. Clients are underestimating budgets. They are requesting unfeasible experiences. And they are providing ideas that are not researched for or fleshed out enough.
Clients appear to need more control in projects. Creativity is probably isolated in silos with developers. This is most likely not deliberate, nor desired. A developer probably has better things to do than iterate low-fid mockups.
A combination of entry level tools and knowledge should empower the clients to refine their vision before even briefing a developer. This would ultimately save money and time spent on u-turns and corrections.
The VR space is ripe with opportunities to develop frameworks and processes that traditional software development has benefitted from for years. It will be exciting to watch this field mature.
What is matchboxxr?
I hope you found this post valuable. As the founder, I feel I should mention matchboxxr. Matchboxxr is an online tool to create and share simple, interactive XR/VR prototypes.
Turbo charge projects, reduce the risk of mistakes and empower non-developers to articulate ideas.
At the time of my writing this, matchboxxr is running a beta program for potential users to freely test our software in exchange for feedback. Please get in touch if you think you would find this useful.