Giving People Their First Taste of VR

Something I hadn’t even thought about when I decided to start a new company is that I was going to be doing lots of demos of our product. It’s the first time I’ve been in this situation, giving high-stakes demos to potential investors, potential hires, friends, family, and anyone else who wanted to try. I spent the entirety of my career up to now on the other side of this kind of demo, wading through the marketing slides, waiting for the demo starts, making a polite joke when early software breaks (ours hasn’t), and generally sitting there waiting to be impressed. I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect on the other side of the table.

Thanks to Frank Ippolito for letting us make a silly gif of his VR session

I’ve always heard from friends in the PR world that these kinds of demo tours can quickly turn into a grim slog. After all, you’re locked in a small room for hours on end, running a never-ending stream of people through the same basic loop — chat about the product, show the demo, get feedback, then politely usher them out so you can move on to the next person. My experience has been the polar opposite of that.

Doing VR demos has been a blast, despite being stuck in a cramped, windowless basement for ten hours a day. Since we set up our basement demo room, we’ve been running demos back-to-back-to-back for the last ten days, and giving people their first taste of real VR is ridiculous. As an adult, you don’t get to see other people express the kind of raw unfiltered joy that VR evokes in normal social situations. If you’ve never tried VR before, even Valve’s plain white loading screen feels like a revelation.

A month or two ago, a friend told me that he discovered that it was actually impossible to overhype the VR experience with the Vive. He had gone from telling people “yeah, it’s cool” to “this is going to change the way you look at the world” to “this is the best thing you’ll do this year”. At that time, he’d run a few dozens friends and acquaintances through a handful of games and experiences, and had never sent anyone home disappointed.

After running demos for the last week or two, we haven’t sent anyone home disappointed.

I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of watching people try VR for the first time. We’ve run more than 60 people through our demo, and they always follow a similar flow. The people who haven’t tried VR before start with skepticism, typically rooted in bad experiences from earlier hardware. The skepticism fades as soon as they see the loading room Valve has built. By the time I let them take the controllers from me, they’re hooked. Grabbing the controllers is most people’s first magical VR moment —the first time you touch a real-world physical object that you can only see through the filter of VR is a singular experience. And no one gets motion sick.

After they do a couple of laps through our demo, I usually give people a look at some of the other Vive experiences. People universally love Tiltbrush. Somehow, Google’s 3D drawing app simultaneously evokes memories of the first time you drew something on a computer with a mouse (using tools like MSPaint or MacPaint) and also reinforces that VR allows users to do things that would be impossible to replicate in the real world.

Then I run them through a handful of other games and experiences, before taking off the goggles. Another common effect is that most people experience time dilation — what feels like 5 minutes in the goggles is actually closer to 20 or 25. The first question we get from people after they come back to reality is either “How much does the hardware cost?” or “What do I need to get this in my house?”