Virtual Reality (VR) has long been an abstract idea mostly seen in futuristic scenes in the movies, until recently. At this point, many of us have already experienced it first hand, whether through gaming, Google Cardboard, or any other number of event demos or technologies.
As VR emerges as a fully baked industry, there's a huge debate raging about whether or not it will be viable marketing tools for businesses.
The promise? Since VR allows you to create completely immersive experiences where the user feels like they are transported to another world, it's a way for brands to get a customer's undivided attention. A no-distractions moment is a marketer's dream.
At the same time, for VR to really take off and be attainable to companies that aren't just the big names with millions of dollars to spend on advertising and marketing, a few things need to happen first. The right convergence of investment, hardware, software, content and business applications must gel at roughly the same time. Much of this is happening right now, which is why we're seeing decades of VR hype finally begin to deliver on its promise.
At a recent panel in L.A., "VR is the Future of Storytelling," hosted by Dell, I moderated a discussion with some of the leading innovators in the VR space to gain a clear understanding how, exactly, brands can take advantage of this emerging technology. What came out of it reached beyond the scope of mere storytelling: the panel offered an entire framework for how the once nascent concept of VR was beginning to emerge as a key component of business, entertainment, social good, and more.
Here, I bring you several VR trends you'll likely see take shape in 2017, setting the stage for years to come...
#1 - VR will become normalized.
If you think about what VR is, an artificial environment created by computer hardware and software, and presented in such a way that it appears to be a real environment, you can make the quick assumption that the entertainment industry has been a player in this space for years. But they've been the exception not the norm. Enterprises are still learning how to leverage VR to improve business process and gain a competitive advantage.
"2017 will be the year where VR becomes normalized, where the sudden influx of consumers will meet a virtual tidal wave of content developed by both small and large studios alike, facilitated by the big guns behind the Vive, PlayStation VR, Oculus Rift and more," says Andrew Abedian, level designer at Survios.
"The fundamental idea of virtual reality will cease to exist as a purely sci-fi concept, and instead transform into an industry of real, desirable products used as platforms of the imagination."
And as VR hits the hands of the masses, which may still be a few years in the making, the cost of the technology and creating VR content will decrease.
#2 - Brands will focus heavily on creating VR content.
Much like how companies quickly met the demand for mobile friendliness, brands will also speed up to meet the needs of a world with VR.
"VR content creation will be a gold rush in the beginning much like mobile app development was at first. Proliferation of new entrants into the space will happen for many years to keep up with the demand," notes August Bradley Kite & Lightning.Cenname, COO and CMO of
At the same time, in order for this VR content to be consumed on a regular, programmatic basis, the proliferation of more affordable, accessible viewing devices must occur.
"Unless you're fine with only reaching a niche of hardcore gamers or computer nerds, you basically have to aim at mobile VR (like Google Cardboard, Homido, etc.) when you make content," says Jessica Naziri, founder and CEO of TechSesh.
#3 - Big companies will invest so that VR can flourish.
Dell, for one, is actively applying VR in their own business environment--not just through technology, but through application--bringing VR creation to the masses. The company has also developed a line of workstations specifically catered to VR content creation. The idea is to bring VR experiences to the masses by democratizing the technology to build it.
"We've been talking with many of our customers and partners in this field who have amazing ideas and are more eager than ever for comprehensive technical solutions that are both powerful and accessible," says Liam Quinn, CTO, Dell Technologies. "We've been focused on delivering intelligent and immersive computing experiences for years. Now, there's a wider market for it, the implications of which are far reaching and yet to be seen."
#4 - More VR in fashion and retail, providing a personalized, immersive experience for consumers.
With VR, the excitement and energy of the front row runway experience can now be had by many, simply by putting on the headset, and immersing oneself in the content," remarks Roy DeYoung, SVP of Creative Strategy at PMX Agency.
"Brands like Dior and Topshop experimented with this in 2016, and they'll likely continue to invest more in the upcoming year, because it's creating a place to make a much more intimate connection with consumers. VR really came to life during the fall Fashion Week, via partnerships like Intel and the Voke app, bringing the normally more exclusive experience to many more, and creating substantially more exposure for the brands."
Google's hope was that Fashion Week fans would view the Rag & Bone mini documentary on Daydream, its lightweight, mobile VR headset.
"Google just released Daydream View, which makes VR more comfortable and gives you a simple controller, letting you do a lot more than look around," says Naziri. "But Apple is the company we all want to see explore VR, and I imagine this will be coming soon."
You can also expect VR mirrors (and AR) fitting rooms sooner than later. "This is an especially attractive opportunity for brands looking to lay the groundwork for hyper-personalized, luxury experiences," adds DeYoung.
#5 - VR Filmmaking will slowly make headway.
While the entertainment industry isn't a spring chicken with regard to creating alternate worlds with tech, filmmaking is just now beginning to incorporate the power of VR.
"We'll see relatively few cinematic narratives on the high end systems, though a small number of standouts will achieve good market share relative to games," says Cenname. "These will be computer graphic animation narratives built on gaming engines, not live action films. High end position tracking in live action will require a new kind of technology enabling volumetric capture, this is not going to be happening at any scale in 2017 -- though it will be the future of VR filmmaking down the road."
While studios may not be adopting VR quickly, brands are leveraging it to tell important, emotionally compelling stories, often to bolster Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives. Adrian Grenier, actor and filmmaker, recently partnered with Dell to create Cry Out: The Lonely Whale Experience.
"I hope the result of this VR film will be greater understanding and swifter change, so that this ancient and beautiful life form, as well as many others, do not disappear from our oceans," remarks Grenier.
Dell's objective: showcasing how their technology can be leveraged to educate and inspire positive change.
Another great example is Qualcomm Wireless Reach's recent launch of Mothers of the Atlas: a VR film highlighting their maternal health program in Morocco. The film provides an in depth look at how mobile technology is saving the lives of women in the rural Atlas Mountains, and brings the issues to life in a unique and compelling way through the immersive experience that only VR can offer.
Beyond the hype
Despite several large-scale initiatives by the world's leading tech companies to bring VR to the masses, gamers will continue to drive the market.
In other words, while all of the above predictions are fine and dandy, and completely legitimate, power users will be the ones to continually define the VR industry; and companies that can successfully reach those power users initially, will ultimately win the VR market wars.
"Gamers are the one demographic at this point with an installed base of computers powerful enough for full VR," says Cenname. "So gaming is where the action will be in 2017 on the high end platforms."
While the hype around VR will rise dramatically in 2017, beyond just gaming businesses should continue to focus on making VR accessible and solving problems (think education and healthcare); thus building a core foundation and framework for VR to take root and thrive over the next several years.