Eyes on the Horizon — Takeaways from XR Connect London

Recently I had the opportunity of presenting at XR Connect in London. Now in its second year, XR Connect brings together industry leaders as well as indie development teams and studios from across Europe with a Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality focus. The two day conference and exhibition is a fantastic opportunity to not only connect with others in the industry but get a feel for the pulse of the market as a whole from both a business to consumer as well as business to business perspective. Putting the great technical & development presentations to one side, the main takeaways from the market overview presentations touched upon several key insights.

Fixed Installations VR: Fixed installation virtual reality experiences got a lot of traction over 2017 and are only expected to continue to see rapid growth over 2018–2019. We are arguably seeing a renaissance of the arcade industry with consumers willing to pay a premium to experience VR in a public space but still not willing yet to splash hundreds of euros to own the hardware. These fixed installations go from high end premium experiences such as The Void all the way down to your local VR arcade. Expect to see such arcades continue to gather momentum holding hands with e-sports/multiplayer VR experiences and the recent “Escape Room” industry. I will look to explore this in more detail in an article over Q1.

Social VR: With platforms such as Altspace being bought out by Microsoft, VRChat breaking the 2 million installation mark and success stories such as Star Trek Bridge Crew, social experiences took centre stage in many presentations and demos at booths. Social experiences are very much the “in thing” for 2018 with virtual reality allowing a level of human presence that surpass any other platform. Chat experiences, co-operative experiences, competitive experiences and spectator experiences (see next point on Esports) are all emerging as exceptionally popular drawing in new users and consumers to VR while breaking the misconception that virtual reality is an isolated and lonely experience which was forged by the older development kits and early experiences from 2015–2016.

eSports & VR: Please allow me a moment to gloat — I wrote an article about this back in the summer of 2017 and was happy to have been on the money. As the eSports industry continues to steam roll towards the $1 billion mark and hoover up the next generation of avid fans & players, virtual reality is set to play a pivotal role in evolving this industry over 2020. Virtual reality will not only allow a new way of spectating traditional eSports (spectators immersing themselves into the games being played) but unlocks a whole new generation of athlete competing on virtual reality experiences, one that is doing more than just furious smashing at a keyboard. As social VR experiences and competitive multi user VR experiences continue to flourish watch this space closely over 2018–2019.

Investment & surviving for startups: Not everything was bright and peachy across VR & AR, and my presentation was amongst a handful that looked at addressing the pink elephant in the room; although at a glance there appears to be large amounts of investment in the industry most of this funding is not trickling down to the startups and SMEs who are struggling to survive as we enter another year of an underperforming consumer market. Business to business solutions are where the money is at in the short to medium term, while its quite apparent that unless you are funded (hello Oculus & HTC) tackling the consumer market is still unfeasible — Playstation had a slightly different tune suggesting a 500,000 euro project could see a return on investment with its now 2 million user base on PlaystationVR.

Blockchain & Cryptoproperty: Blockchain technology continued to show a strong presence mainly within the gaming arm of the conference suggesting that blockchain powered systems such as cryptoproperty (magic swords, special armour, cool guns in finite quantities) will be bought, sold & traded as a norm amongst gamers, which although is already very well established is usually platform locked, meaning you cannot trade your property across different games or applications. Blockchain will also see the emergence of VR & AR specific cryptocurrencies that will be used by users as well as companies for the buying and selling of services and goods. Keep an eye on this space — the blockchain is coming and it will impact how you do business.

Augmented reality with ARCore & ARKit: ARCore & ARKit were not widely demoed however there was indeed much talk and high expectations around these two platforms. Perhaps because they are still being guarded behind the developer wall and are not out in the consumer space developers are reluctant to drop large amounts of investment. Whatever the reason both are being pegged as a stepping stone towards fully wearable augmented reality headsets yet there was a wise word of caution that without tangible use cases both platforms still run the risk of falling into the gimmick trash basket.

The march towards a fully onboarded headset: There was a general air of optimism around the next generation headsets releasing this year from Oculus Santa Cruz to OculusGo. The awkwardness of wired VR and the impractical nature of using your phone for mobile VR rather than having a fully onboarded headset was hinted as being a major friction point for consumer adoption. Although I agree it is a critical point I personally believe other factors (content, resolution, price point) coupled with social awareness and acceptance are just as important. Oculus are themselves focusing much funding on applications for the OculusGo looking to make the platform a success story of this year.

The missing players: Interestingly apart from one exhibition booth there was no presence of Microsoft’s Mixed Reality solutions and headsets which might be a worrying indicator of their awkward market positioning, and somewhat underwhelming specs — I hope we see more use cases and tangible applications for this fledgling side of the industry or it might be buried before its even had a chance to grow legs.

I look forward to see how 2018 plays out for these takeaways and joining XR Connect 2019.

Originally published at www.glitchstudios.co.