Virtual reality needs to solve problems, NOT be the problem

Old good cinemas and arcades are back. With VR experience. VR theatre at VR Days Europe, Amsterdam 2016, photo: Laisa Maria

Virtual reality will sell beyond gaming and technology markets if it solves problems. It will not sell if it creates them. After a few spectacular failures in a professional distribution of VR, film and tech enthusiasts from Denmark and Poland got the point and now jointly launch a unique pop-up VR cinema at CPH:DOX film festival in Copenhagen.

The technology is absolutely great. But it will develop and expand in use only if it actually solves problems. Be it decreasing training costs and risks, reaching unreachable worlds, educating more effectively, boosting sales or increasing traffic at events. Therefore we need to move from “VR is a mystery” to “VR easy in operating and implementing”.

Marketers I meet from big and small brands usually say: ok, VR is cool, but the cost per reaching a client is too high, sales of VR headsets are low and experiencing VR is not very convenient. I have no time for another struggle.

CNN VR launched 2 years after Richard Quest found VR strange. Source: Twitter

Fortunately, what was “very strange” 2 years ago to the leading CNN journalist Richard Quest isn’t strange anymore. But still, if you have a great VR content, the question remains how do you want to show it?

Being from the event management industry I thought VR is a perfect tool for business events and presentations. VR is a much more compelling medium for modern presentations than a powerpoint. That’s the end of theory. The failures were very painful. At one of the presentations senior managers got lost in the gears and watched a wrong video. Then came an event for 20 people in VR goggles and speaker from the podium. Complete disaster. Entirely asynchronic playback, some couldn’t event launch the video.

It’s a bit like seating 100 people for a presentation, each with a complicated TV set they see for the first time and asking them to operate it fully by themselves. It just couldn’t go through.

Big companies, Samsung, Microsoft, HTC, Oculus improve experimental hardware. Samsung exceeded 5m sales of their gears, Sony noted 1m sold VR Playstations, HTC VIVE and Oculus Rift reached a few hundred thousand items sales in total. However, even with over 10 million Google cardboards, which really brought VR to people, that’s not enough to go beyond “fun” and to mainstream virtual reality in such sectors as marketing, education, serious training.

VR changing the world with the United Nations & other world-changers at the World Economic Forum in Davos 2017. Photo: World of VR

Try to convince even the most advanced brand to invest 60,000 USD in producing of a great 360 video for 300 people. “Exclusiveness” of content does not always sell. Marketing needs to see the cost per client ratio and defend 200 USD / client might be difficult. Lowering production costs is usually out of question. What are the options then of improving distribution rates and thus solving problems instead of causing them?

1. You can publish or livestream the 360 content on Youtube, Facebook and recently Vimeo. You really get to millions even if watching VR on a desktop computer is not very immersive. Facebook has the greatest potential in implementing social VR.

2. Top production houses try to establish their own distribution platforms and aspire to become the VR HBOs or Netflix. or JauntVR select and collect the best VR experiences in their applications. The largest news agencies introduce VR in their online platforms as well, including CNN or the New York Times. Of course gear producers like Oculus or HTC support and build content platforms, but these are more for gaming. They don’t really select.

3. Companies such as NextVR experiment with high-end 360 degrees livestreaming directly into the VR goggles from sports or music events. Quality, high speed internet pose some questions, but that’s going to be an important new way of distributing TV content.

Separately, but still together in a different world during VR Days Europe, Amsterdam. Photo: World of VR

4. Limited availability of hardware, difficulty in selecting the best experiences and loneliness in VR pushes us into the old good movie theatres, arcades or events. We actually usually want to experience emotional hype together, with friends or a family. VR arcades are growing around the world, just to mention IMAX, the Void or VR cinemas (Paris, Amsterdam, Zurich, New York) for dozens of seats each. The VR theatre in Amsterdam hosted over 60,000 visitors in the first 9 months of its operations!

5. New synchronized experiencing solutions for multigear events emerged in kind of response to my (and others’) distribution disasters and nightmares. With apps such as Showtime VR you can organize events for 10, 40 or 300 users at the same time at the same place. These solutions work a bit like a one-device remote controller for many participants experiencing VR. Large events or event marketing activations can score good turnouts and good cost-per-client rates — 2 or 0,2 USD for reaching a client instead of 200 USD.

6. Film festivals provide an extraordinary distribution channel for VR content and they are the drivers of good and professional presentation of VR. Sundance Film Festival has its already renowned “New Frontier” section, after last year’s success Tribeca Film Festival plans a series of VR premieres in April, Samsung, World of VR and AiAiAi are launching today at CPH:DOX in Copenhagen a full 10-day VR theatre for dozens of gears featuring the best documentary 360 degrees movies from around the world. Same goes for the Millennium Docs Against Gravity film festival in Warsaw. VR is not a toy there, but a full-fledged part of the programmes.

Virtual reality is fun. It triggers people to experience and scream “WOW!”. But in order to make it a serious medium we need to stop thinking only about technology and perfect stitching in 360 degrees video. Turn the concept upside down and get a bit of a client’s and end user’s perspective. This means to distribute it well. Easily, professionally, to thousands and millions rather than hundreds of enthusiasts. Then VR becomes a solution to pains of many, rather than their another headache.