Virtual reality is a term that has been thrown around since the early days of computer generated media and design at the dawn of the digital age. There were software companies who ventured into the idea of strapping a massive, dorky looking device to one’s head and subsequently transporting their conscious into another dimension - one crafted by the software engineers and manipulated by the user in real time.
Sadly, most of these experiments fell flat because the limited virtual worlds were so far removed from actual reality people felt no emotional connection to the content they contained. The fad wore thin, and companies like Nintendo enjoyed massive flops in products like the Virtual Boy *cringe.
But today is a new day, and the technology is finally catching up with the user experience in a way that is giving birth to a brand new flavor of virtual reality. Companies like Samsung, Valve, Sony, and Facebook have thrown briefcases full of money at the idea, and came up with a number of compelling virtual reality headsets that do more than just transport the user into another dimension, they’ve managed to make those dimensions believable, emotional, and inherently human.
Virtual reality now sits at the front line of digital innovation, leading the charge for more immersive user experiences and newer, more effective ways of digesting content. If it reaches the hands of the masses like many technology experts think it will, we could be looking at a revolution in digital media on scale with the likes of the TV and the personal computer.
What does VR mean for digital innovation? Only time will tell, but it could mean everything.
What can VR do for you?
If you work in an industry that relies heavily on the production, distribution, and subsequent consumer consumption of digital content, chances are virtual reality has something to offer you. This goes for TV and movie studios, social media companies, video game developers, architecture and design firms, and many other industries that rely on creating a variety of user experiences that revolve around digital media.
VR has the capability to make those experiences better, more relatable, and mind-blowing in a way that makes people forget there was ever another way of viewing content. Of course, the newness of virtual reality will eventually wear off as it becomes more and more mainstream, but in so doing it simultaneously closes a stranglehold on the normalcy of digital media consumption, and every subsequent innovation that might stem from it.
Better experiences translate to a more successful business model. If you can control people’s emotions, you can control their preferences, their habits, and their spending tendencies. And not to say the ultimate goal of innovation is to make money, but for better or worse, progress and success is tied to the economic growth it carries with it.
Which brings me to my next question: when will a triple A virtual reality experience become affordable enough, and cheap enough to produce, that it will catch on with the mainstream consumer media?
It hasn’t quite happened yet. When this latest wave of virtual reality headsets made their way to market, they did so with a massive groundswell that changed into a mere trickle when sticker shock set in with consumers. The price of admission is steep, reserving the highest quality VR experience for a small corner of the market.
Of course, with any new technology, this is poised to change, and when it does, it will mark the emergence of the next great platform for digital innovation. Companies will become confident in pouring resources into virtual reality content because there will be a large enough install base for it to be economically feasible. This will be the tipping point, and what follows will be the digital revolution virtual reality pioneers have been waiting for.
There are, however, other factors to consider when prognosticating about the future of VR. The biggest question remains: do people actually want virtual reality?
At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how inexpensive technology gets, if you can’t convince people it is an essential addition to their home entertainment suite, they won’t get on board and that technology stays locked behind a few niche industries as a support mechanism to tried and true methods of digital content delivery. That is where VR sits right now, waiting for its big break to change things in some major way.
Until that happens, we can still look at the power virtual reality technology currently possesses. For those who have experienced it first hand, it’s easy to see the potential. But, until the market catches up with that potential, we won’t fully understand how virtual reality is poised to change the future of digital innovation.