Upfront: I’ve never played a video game.
I’m 100% sure I’ll never buy a Virtual Reality (VR) headset.
So, this an “outsiders perspective” on VR.
My first VR interaction was at a Virtual Reality conference in Vancouver, BC. I participated in a demo by a company using VR to create data on buying habits. A modern update on “focus groups”.
I put on the headgear and the gloves.
Suddenly I was in the aisle of a brightly-lit drug store carrying a little wire mesh basket.
I wasn’t told what to buy. Or what to look at. So I just cruised the aisle. I didn’t need anything from the drugstore. But I saw some toothpaste that looked good. The packaging was light purple highlighted with metallic sparkles. Simultaneously childish and scientific.
I reached out into this virtual reality, pulled a trigger on my right-hand glove, grabbed the toothpaste and dropped it into my basket.
It wasn’t difficult to see the utility of the technology. A toothpaste manufacturer could tweak the colour and design of the toothpaste package – in real time – until I picked that one.
You send one set of headgear to São Paulo, and you can quickly find out if Brazilians like the same shade of purple. If you were thinking of a signing an endorsement deal with a celebrity, you could stick their face on the virtual package and see if it made a difference.
At the same conference, another company offered VR tours of private American universities. As a parent of a prospective student, I could walk down the hallways, enter any room I wanted, observe the lectures. For the parent of a prospective student living in Guangzhou, China – absolutely brilliant.
This difference between a coloured brochure and a VR tour – is the difference between bumping into furniture – and having an orgasm.
Both involve physical contact. But experientially they exist on different planes.
By the time I left that conference, I understood the awesome power of VR technology.
It wouldn’t be hard to come up with a list of 1,000 things it can do better than video or photos.
But is VR ready to take over the world?
Historical context may be helpful.
Eighteen years ago, investors thought the internet would destroy brick & mortar retailers. It shook things up but it didn’t kill it. There is a very simple reason. People are intrinsically social. I like watching movies with friends because I enjoy hearing their laughter, their groans of displeasure and then arguing about the movie later.
A VR Friday night looks a bit frosty for my taste.
In a deliciously well-written article, “It’s Time To Break Up with VR,” early VR adopter
Dan Ackerman describes his slow disenchantment with the technology.
Dear VR: It’s not me, it’s you.
We’ve had some good times, we’ve had some motion sickness, we’ve bumped into a few walls. But after giving you the benefit of the doubt for the past two years, it’s time to throw in the towel. Virtual reality may yet become a massive mainstream hit, but it’s not going to happen with this generation of tech.
Ackerman pre-ordered “the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive on day one. I also grabbed one of Sony’s PlayStation VR headsets as soon as they were available. Naturally, I later added the Oculus Touch controllers for the Rift and the Deluxe Audio Strap accessory for the Vive.”
In Ackerman’s opinion, “The biggest issue holding VR back is the games, or lack thereof.”
I recently attended a VR panel discussion at the Hong Kong Film Market. Panelists included VR executives from Baobab Studios, DV Group, Atlas V, Flight School Studio and Digital Domain. Between them, they executed over 1,000 VR projects as well as visual effects for some mainstream films.
I was expecting these Technology Wizards to talk about “locomotion”, “refresh-rates” and “stitching”.
But do you know what they talked about?
The VR bosses sounded exactly like entertainment moguls from the 1930s.
“Modern audiences crave good stories” “Our job is to create lovable characters” “We help gifted story-tellers realise their vision” etc.
It’s true, VR can offer exciting new experiences. But it’s not a new game. It’s an old game (story-telling) with new rules.
3D went through the same maturation process.
The first time you sat down in a theatre and a butterfly flew into your eye-ball – you thought “Wow!”.
The fifth time you thought, “Get this fucking butterfly out of my eye-ball and let me look at the actor’s face”.
Equity Gury principal Chris Parry is one of the believers.
“We’re nearing the time when VR and its various spin-offs can and will be finally monetized. We’re here, you just can’t see it yet… We like Ydreams as a good undervalued entry point.”
Equity Guru writer Stephen Hermann owns VR hardware and he believes, “ This is a good opportunity to look at innovative hardware and supply chain companies.”
Corporations are making big money bets that VR will achieve massive market penetration.
IDC Research predicts that the virtual and augmented reality will grow from just over $9 billion in 2017 to $215 billion by 2021.
New hardware is flooding into the market, among them:
- Samsung’s (SSNLF.NASDAQ) Gear VR
- Facebook’s (FB.NASDAQ) Oculus Rift
- HTC’s Vive.
Facebook paid $2 billion for Oculus, Zuckerberg thinks he can sell a billion units.
Two things are clear:
1. VR is a thing.
2. In the future, it’ll be a bigger thing.
We’ll continue to follow the technology and find wealth-creation opportunities within it.
Full Disclosure: We have no financial relationship with any of the companies mentioned in this article.