Has virtual reality come of age as the ultimate communication medium?
Early Kickstarter backers are starting to receive their orders of the Oculus Rift – a virtual reality headset that is set to be a game-changer for the gaming industry. But what opportunities does virtual reality offer to experiential marketing agencies looking for a new way to engage consumers?
I recently dusted off an old shoebox which contained my obsessively collected files of everything and anything I could get my hands on about virtual reality in the early 90s. As a teenager I was hooked on the idea of VR and lapped up every magazine, article, book and paper on the subject and pored over them, dreaming of the day I could afford my own virtual reality headset (and in the meantime how I could hack one together using some plastic lenses and cardboard). It is the reason I joined one of the only VR companies going straight after University, why I co-founded Inition and why I’ve been involved with immersive media for over 15 years.
Unfortunately, back in the 90s, the (virtual) reality didn’t live up to the huge hype; the head-mounted displays (the key component of any VR setup) were heavy, low-resolution and gave the users only a small window (field-of-view). VR came and went out of the mainstream, with high-profile companies such as Virtuality that brought VR games to the Trocadero centre in central London, going under.
Virtual reality has been bubbling away in the background; at Inition we’ve supplied head-mounted displays (the key component of any VR setup) to dozens of R&D customers and deployed them in various experiential projects, but they were very expensive (usually in the tens of thousands of pounds) for anything with a reasonable spec and were usually quite large and heavy. VR’s comeback was heralded last year by Sony’s release of a mid-spec, low-cost unit; we modified it and put it to use in an immersive wingsuit flying simulator for TRO/Nissan.
The response was incredible. Every person that got off the sim expressed the OMG! reaction that other forms of marketing can’t match. The wanted to return, engage with the Nissan brand more; the ultimate permission based marketing.
This, however, was only a small taste of what was to come. The Oculus Rift trumped every one of the many hundreds of pieces of tech I’ve used or come across at my 12 years with Inition. A hugely successful Kickstarter project (raising over 2 million dollars), it has reinvented VR almost overnight and got some of the biggest names in the gaming industry to publicly back it.
The Rift is based on mobile phone screen technology and offers a huge field-of-view (akin to sitting in the front row of an Imax theatre), very fast orientation tracking (to allow you to look around) in a lightweight ergonomic design. It transforms the VR experience into something so compelling, it has the ability to transport you to an entirely other place the moment you put it on. VR is back, the next generation of head-mounted displays will transform not only gaming, but our whole experience of consuming and interacting with digital content.