If you read my previous blog post, you should now have a very basic understanding of what Virtual Reality is, its history and the current state of the industry. Now that you are familiar with the technology, it might be useful to know what it is currently being used for and what it might be used for in the future. At the Virtual Reality conference I attended in San Francisco, the main focus was gaming, as it is widely believed that this will be the primary use for VR in the early stages of the consumer market. There was however acknowledgement of the vast array of other uses that are currently being developed and will evolve as the market matures. These applications include; health, travel, sports, news, art, social interaction, user generated content, world building, real estate and adult content. I personally believe that five of these applications in particular will be most popular in the early adoption of the technology and that they will be a major motivation for consumers to buy their first VR headset.
1. Video Games
This is, as mentioned above, the most obvious and most promising use for VR. The promise of a fully immersive video game that truly gives you the sense of presence in the game is the most attractive feature of gaming in Virtual Reality. The development of VR, though initially for military purposes, has also progressed hand-in-hand with games, since this is naturally a very tactile technology. Since video games already aim to put you into another world and let you interact with it, VR is able to take that goal one step further by giving you an even greater sense of immersion than ever before. And since screen resolution and computing power (previously major development hurdles) are steadily improving every year, this experience will become increasingly more realistic. The coupling of video games and VR can therefore be seen an inevitable evolutionary step and is the reason why video games are believed to be the major selling point for initial VR adaption. Another reason is that hardcore gamers already invest large sums of money in good hardware set ups and will therefore be more willing than the average consumer to invest in a tethered VR HMD like the Oculus or HTC Vive, which will presumably cost around 400 – 500 Euros at launch.
2. Adult Content
Since I have likened Virtual Reality to the Internet in multiple instances to this point, I will once again do so and predict that adult content will have a massive market in Virtual Reality, much like on the Internet. It will presumably, for some, even be a prime motivator to purchase a mobile VR headset due to the previously unattainable level of involvement a viewer can have in video content. VR Porn Reactions is a video of people watching VR porn for the first time and their reactions will give you a good indication of how powerful this technology is in combination with this sort of video content.
3. Travel and Tourism
Imagine putting on your VR headset and suddenly you are in a gondola, calmly cruising through the canals of Venice. Then you decide to virtually travel to the Grand Canyon to witness it’s majestic and humbling magnitude. With 360° video content on the rise, experiencing extraordinary locations all over the world will becoming increasingly easier, especially with user generated content in the long run. There are already a number of demos such as helicopter flights through amazing landscapes on the Samsung Gear VR and Destination British Columbia’s river tour experience to promote tourism in a specific region. These show promising potential for VR to be used as a sort of promotion or advertisement tool that creates the desire to visit places in real life rather than just experience them virtually. Marriott Hotels took this one step further and created a teleportation booth which you can step into and use the Oculus in. It will then take you to places like Hawaii and even let you experience the sensation of wind in your hair and sun on your face, to create a greater sense of physical presence.
4. Social Interaction
Facebook’s acquisition of Oculus Rift came as a surprise to many, due to the prevailing idea that VR is an inherently solitary experience, which does not align with Facebook’s purpose. Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s CEO, has however explained why he made this acquisition and what he sees as the future of social VR: “Oculus Rift is really a new communication platform. By feeling truly present, you can share unbounded spaces and experiences with the people in your life. Imagine sharing not just moments with your friends online, but entire experiences and adventures.” Zuckerberg’s idea of sharing experiences in virtual space is already being developed and materialized by Second Life creator Philip Rosedale, who has founded a startup company called High Fidelity. His open source software allows the creation, exploration and sharing of virtual worlds, which is summarized in a statement on the website: “In less time than it takes to deploy a website, anyone can launch their own sharable, scalable and immersive virtual reality environment”. At the conference I attended, Rosedale gave a demonstration of this concept and showed two people in a virtual space, interacting with objects on a table in real time using input devices that tracked their hand movements. This concept of virtual realities with avatars is nothing new (SecondLife, Runescape, World of Warcraft etc.) but the degree of immersion enabled through Virtual Reality HMDs gives this concept an even greater appeal than ever before.
Though the above listed uses for VR are more the initial popular uses, I would also like to mention the hugely promising use of VR in the health sector, not just in hospitals and medical centers but also for the private user at home. This will presumably not be a use developed for the first generation of HMDs on the market, due to the amount of testing, certification and licensing required, health related VR apps will be hugely popular in 5-10 years time.
It has already been used for various therapeutic purposes and proven to be highly successful, more so than opioids even, leading to believe that there will be apps for VR in the future that will offer relaxation and therapeutic remedies for any possible issue. Uses also include treating PTSD in veterans, overcoming certain phobias and anxieties (public speaking, insects etc.) and general pain relief for patients.
Stay tuned for my next post to learn more about how VR will shape our future and change our society, in both positive and negative ways.