Virtual Reality: 5 questions you should ask before jumping in
“Virtual Reality… sounds cool and exciting! We need to get into VR!”
At Little Chicken Game Company, we love clients who think this way. VR applications have a lot to offer – as educational or marketing tools, or just for fun. What intrigues us is that a technology thought to be limited to early adopters, is such a big game changer on so many levels. Virtual reality is changing how we think about concepting, creation, distribution, and the business models behind content, so VR devices are now an important market, so you can get it from retailers as HotRate to be able to play the games we develop.
We are aware that this can make conceptualizing and developing VR applications quite daunting. Unlike traditional media, there are no standardized formats. TVs have standardized display-input; VR-headsets do not. You cannot simply swap your DVD into another machine and press play. VR applications are often bound to specific hardware and operating systems. Besides, not many people have access to a VR-headset at home.
Yet… projects like the Albert Heijn Dino’s which we developed with &samhoud media are showing a ‘VR for the masses’ shift that might just make this the optimal time to start experimenting with VR in your organisation.
This is a tricky one. Bear in mind that a lot of people, including some clients and developers, have never experienced virtual reality, and are not aware of its possibilities and varieties. Besides the usual target audience characteristics, you now also need to think about their hardware. Do they own VR hardware? If so, which types? If not, are they likely to purchase the required VR-headset? If so, how and where will we distribute it?
Additionally, what user experience are we providing? Are we simulating reality, offering an escapist fantasy, or providing an essential service? Very few standards exist for any of these experiences. The lack of existing rules might be perceived as daunting, however we take it as a challenge to be among the first in the marketplace to set the standards.
Vitens Watertreatment: kids learning about water treatment through VR
Should it be monetized and how?
This is a great topic to discuss. If the project owner is a retailer like Albert Heijn, a potential solution is to monetize the required hardware, which not many people will own already, since virtual reality is still in its infancy. Mobile VR Cardboard glasses retail for as low as €2.50, and cases like Albert Heijn show that consumers don’t mind purchasing parts of an otherwise free campaign.
Oculus Rift and HTC Vive both unlock new commercial ecosystems and app stores. HTC Vive is developed by Valve, the pc and mac gaming giant that sells to more than 125 million gamers worldwide. They are in a perfect position to secure a strong market position when it comes to VR, much like Apple’s Appstore is now. Getting in first may be the soundest business choice you can make at this point.
In short, when you deliver a VR project to an audience, you have the choice to provide players with hardware and software, either with or without a link to a major new marketplace. It’s a unique moment at the birth of a medium, and a unique redefinition of how a campaign, whether it’s promotional or educational, is funded or even deemed profitable.
Should it be interactive?
VR now comes in two main flavours: interactive VR and 360 Video. The first is VR as we see it in games and interactive installations such as the HTC Vive. Such interactive VR, or real-time 3D-based VR, uses input peripherals and gaze recognition to convey body and hand motion in order to allow direct participation in the game or simulation. Microsofts Hololens uses sensors to scan the environment and the user’s hands and limbs, resulting in an experience very close to looking at reality, even without peripherals.
Another form is 360-video VR. In this scenario, users are passive participants in a 360-degree video experience, experiencing real world recordings. The main difference with regular video is that you can look around you and experience the content as if you were in its center.
Complex monetization such as in-app (or in VR lingo “in-experience”) purchases require the user to make choices, making interactive VR the preferred medium. However, if your content exists as a 360 video, interaction will be limited and perhaps not even required. Then again, if you wish to truly simulate an experience, or trigger a feeling of “being there”, interaction is the key component. At Little Chicken, we have developed custom technologies which combine the two flavours, mixing and matching interactive VR and 360 videos.
ING chaingame: highly interactive VR can enhance professional training
Resato Waterjet VR training: simulation as part of industrial processes
Do we understand the technology?
Using VR for your organization’s purposes does not require you to be an expert on the topic, you will inevitably learn a lot about it during development. For example, here’s an an issue which might occur when visualizing your own VR production.
During the concept phase of the AH dino’s app, the initial focus was on the VR documentary aspect, rather than on interaction. We soon realized that to deliver a truly epic 360 video exprience, we would need at least a 4K resolution and stereoscopic sound effects. The fact that we needed a separate recording for each eye (this is how the player perceived depth just like in a 3D Imax movie) would double the amount of video, resulting in a file size of 1 Gigabyte or more. This of course would not suit Albert Heijn’s purposes; downloading such a huge game would pose a significant hurdle to success and mass appeal.
This lead us to use real-time 3D VR technology. We rendered or displayed all the visuals using game technology. We call this real-time rendering, and it is how your kids’ XBox or Playstation creates interactive worlds. Amazingly, the resulting file size of the app is now only around 100 MB. This technology choice then defined our content, our visual look, and our development process in turn, bringing new possibilities as well as limitations.
So choosing a technology isn’t necessarily about choosing between something like interaction and video, it’s also about the secondary technical hurdles you need to take, and understanding the driving technology behind VR.
Are we willing to change our own processes?
In a competitive marketplace where innovators are staking a claim on an entirely new content eco-system, one cannot afford to make the wrong choices. VR is a game changer. It allows brands to become hardware vendors, it requires game development experts to become video experts, and it requires video producers to become game development experts. It’s no longer about the platform or just distribution. It is a new type of collaboration between companies such as our own and brands and organisations, requiring much more cooperation from all parties. Integrating the lessons companies like ourselves have learned over the last 15 years as pioneers and innovators in mobile/online gaming/digital design and now VR.
So that’s a few questions you can ask yourself of the many that you should. Sounds daunting? It doesn’t need to be. We at Little Chicken will always be there to unlock the doors to a more fun and playable future.