Virtual Reality (VR) is an exciting new technology with a lot of potential, and we’ve spoken to a number of folks who are already exploring ways to augment their businesses with VR. As a technology that provides new modes of interaction and information consumption, VR is highly attractive to corporate trainers, nonprofits with a message, publishers, and other professionals looking to provide a more visceral, immersive means of connecting customers with their services. All of this potential comes with a caveat, though. Like any media, VR has a set of best practices to make the most of the tech. If you rush in too quickly, you might make investments that you’ll later regret. To help mitigate that risk, we’ve assembled a few pointers on how you can augment your mission with VR - read on for our recommendations for incorporating VR into your business strategy!
Pick Your Platform
VR is a category, not a product, and there are a number of options from which to make your platform selection. Each of these options has strengths and weaknesses that you should consider before you invest.
This is the current best-in-class option because of a few key differentiators. First, it’s supported by Valve, developers of Steam, which is the premier marketplace for PC gamers. This gives Vive developers an existing (and massive) marketplace with a high appetite for VR content, something the other providers simply cannot offer. Additionally, the HTC Vive is the first VR platform that offers robust peripheral integration out of the box, allowing users to manipulate their virtual environment in a way that feels natural and intuitive.
This headset started the VR revolution with their staggeringly successful Kickstarter campaign. The company has since been purchased by Facebook, meaning that the hardware development of the Oculus Rift is shored up by a mountain of Facebook cash, also known as Zuckerbucks. Additionally, Oculus has plans for its own marketplace, which will be smaller in scale than Steam (at least at first), but will have the advantage of being exclusively dedicated to VR content. There are no peripherals available yet for the Oculus, but their Oculus Touch peripherals are up for pre-order and will ship this December.
Along with their announcement of the Pixel phone, Google finally revealed the specs for their Daydream VR platform. Similar to their already-quite-popular Cardboard solution, Daydream VR is a headset that incorporates a phone (namely, the Pixel) as its content-delivery device. Between the cost of the phone and the headset, consumers will pay around $700-800, which puts the Daydream at the economy price tier of the current VR product landscape. With the cost of the headset and the computer needed to run it, both the Oculus and the Vive will run you well over $1000, so Daydream is your best bet for “affordable” virtual reality.
Write Your Business Plan
That’s right - there’s no escaping the almighty power of due diligence. There will be people in your organization that want to run full-steam ahead into a purchase with very little consideration of the ROI, and who could blame them? VR is pretty nifty. But niftiness aside, and in case the last section didn’t put a fine enough point on it, I will state this bluntly: VR equipment is not cheap. You run all of your purchasing decisions through a filter of strategic and budgetary importance, and VR should be no different. Before you embark on your journey into the virtual realm, consider defining the following basic elements of your business plan for your VR initiative:
Who is your buyer? Who is your end user? Are they the same or do you need to develop separate messaging and experiences for both groups? Consider the type of people you expect to drive adoption for your content as well as the type of people who will get the most out of actually using the content.
Goals and Objectives
Your VR project should have specific goals. You can use SMART as a basic framework for developing those goals - that is, make sure your goals for VR are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. Align those goals to the change you’re trying to make in your audience, whether it’s a new perspective, deeper understanding, or simply feeling more entertained than they felt before they plugged in.
Is your VR experience going to convey a message? Will it demonstrate a product? Will it train a sales force how to sell a certain offering or service? VR represents a greenfield opportunity as a means of media consumption, so there are many applications for the tech that have yet to be imagined or realized. While the only current limit of what VR can do is our imaginations, we predict a few strengths and weaknesses for VR in the next section of this article, based on our current understanding of what it can and cannot do.
Design Your Content
The chief strength of VR is immersion or the sense of presence. VR is unique in this regard; no other form of media consumption makes you feel like you’re “really there” in the same way that VR can. In fact, the first really compelling educational experience in VR might not be what we think of as a traditional gaming experience - it will likely be something that capitalizes on that sense of presence like Sony’s VR demo “The Deep” by putting players inside a shark cage, or like Google’s Tilt Brush by letting you paint in 3D space. So what does this mean for businesses? It suggests that the best applications of VR will be those that are most impactful when experienced first-hand. Keep this in mind when you’re designing your content or considering VR as a platform - what about your goals for VR is best experienced first-hand? What about your mission can only be understood through immersion? If you can identify and crystallize these aspects of your objectives, you’ll find strong value in VR as a platform.
Another consideration for content is that with VR, one player is siloed off from the rest of the world, essentially wearing a blindfold with two screens inside. At first that may not sound very promising for engaging more than one individual at a time, but what we’re really describing is one player who has one set of information (the images in the VR headset) and a whole set of observers who can potentially be turned into players with a different set of information.
A good digital example of asymmetrical gameplay is Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes, where one player inside a VR headset is defusing a bomb, and other players provide information as experts interpreting a bomb-defusing manual but without being able to see the bomb themselves. An educational or training game that had asymmetrical roles of this sort would take advantage of VR’s immersion and “cool factor,” but just as importantly, would give opportunities for team-building and collaboration between players. You’ll need to consider creative solutions like this for business applications of VR. As an added bonus, that asymmetry makes your experience much more scalable - requiring one purchase of a VR rig and headset, as opposed to a discrete purchase for each participant.
These are just some of the factors you should consider when rolling out a VR project at your business. At this point, we’ve worked with several clients to prototype VR projects for their business objectives, and we’ve got a few tricks up our sleeves. If you’d like to chat with us about your VR plans and our advice for success, drop us a line!