Every week we're digging deeper into modern virtual reality with an open letter from a figure working in the industry. This week, Tony Mugavero (founder and CEO of Littlstar) talks about mobile VR and immerse video experiences can help ease people into new behaviours.
Virtual Reality is an absolutely crazy and exciting space right now. The basic technology has been around for decades and has come in many forms, yet it seems like right now is the first time anyone has really seen it, a modern movement that feels "once in a generation".
Let me start by saying: if you haven't experienced anything in VR yet, it's mind blowing. It's not like 3D TVs, it's not like the Virtual Boy from the '90s, it's not a corny gimmick. It's the real deal. It will fundamentally change the way we interact with computers and each other, and will touch every industry in the world, making it better. With all this greatness comes many challenges, and it's on us as an industry to tackle those challenges, listen to consumers, and build the future together.
Once Oculus was acquired, a new era of computing was born. The perfect storm of hardware, software, network capacity, and technical savvy took shape. Billions of dollars of investment started to flow, tools were built or reworked to power experiences, content creators felt refreshed, studios and networks are starting to feel like they have a new and exciting challenge, and regardless of any smidge of scepticism from any corner of the planet, the early adopters, super fans, and VR champions are literally willing this industry into existence.
Perhaps the most substantial challenge of them all for us in the VR industry however is changing consumer behaviour, and it has no clear solution right now. "Why would I use VR when I have a TV and a computer?", "People are getting sick!", "It will screw up our kids' brains!", "Who wants to strap that ridiculous thing on their face?", "It's so anti-social, we're all doomed to never leave the house again!" All real concerns. As the CEO of Littlstar, a premier global network dedicated to immersive virtual reality and 360 video, I think about these challenges quite a bit, and think about creative solutions that flow well with the market forces and consumer behaviour we have today. It has been reflected in our strategy since day one, and it's working.
First let's talk about consumer behaviour itself. That requires a number of forces working together in concert, to create a powerful mechanism to actually potentiate the change. It's hard… incredibly hard to change consumer behaviour. With TV for example, you needed great content, which required new cameras, production techniques, and talent. You needed enough TVs in homes so people could discuss great shows with friends. This required low prices on the hardware, cool factor, and dedicated space in your house. TV became critical to consuming cultural information and the latest news, it spawned new industries like video games, and it became a tool in our everyday lives and even the workplace. You can now buy an affordable ultra thin flat panel with 4K OLED and easily display anything that can be moved around the internet, cable, or satellites.
Now, as consumers with televisions, we can comfortably sit in our living rooms and watch Game Of Thrones without commercials on a streaming service, and discuss it instantly with everyone in the world on social networks in real time on our smartphone, with our laptop open next to us doing work for the next day at the office. This is a clearly defined behaviour that hundreds of millions of people exhibit, which took decades to establish, on a hardware platform that has been refined and iterated on with content, talent, and production techniques that can play on every emotion while we're sitting in that living room. That's not to mention all the other behaviours around smartphones, computer monitors, laptops, entertainment, and work.
These are massive forces working in concert! Decades' worth of social constructs intertwined with technology, culture, and communication. Getting people to change that collection of behaviours, and more importantly how they spend their time, is an incredible challenge. These behaviours will take some adjusting to make room for VR and AR in our everyday lives. So how do we work with these forces and not against them? We need to leverage consumer behaviour and devices that already exist to introduce people to new content and technologies.
Big parts of the solution are smartphones and 360 video.
There are billions of smartphones already in the market, and 360 video is great content to get people engaging with immersive content. Video is a familiar format which doesn't require much work for the consumer to enjoy. It's simple and mostly passive. The same piece of content can be viewed without a VR headset, which is a great way to show people immersive content in a bar or social situation. Want to see the content in VR? Pop your phone in a VR headset like the Gear VR. This combination is a huge driver of adoption of VR in an environment where behaviour change is incredibly difficult.
Granted, everything lives on a spectrum, and there will always be high end highly interactive VR on gaming rigs for people who are ready for and wanting that sort of experience. However, the other end of the spectrum is lighter weight experiences that can be an awesome initiation to VR without the requirement to spend thousands of dollars and dedicate 100 square feet of space in your house.
Some may argue that 360 video is not VR. But done well, cinematic VR is absolutely a "virtual" reality. I've felt like I was right in the middle of Paranormal Activity (and been terrified), and felt like I was part of the show Quantico. If it's high resolution content in 3D with spatial sound, 360 video is VR.
My challenge to anyone reading this is to go try a VR experience immediately if you haven't already, and if you have, introduce as many people as you can to it, whether it's on a headset or a smartphone. Be the messenger of magic. Get people excited. Create more content and more devices. It all gets better the more we put into it, and it's already pretty amazing!