VIRTUAL REALITY: WHEN THE REAL WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH
Yeah, yeah, we know you heard a million times already: virtual reality is the Next Big Thing. Yet the world still lacks wide-scale, real-life use-cases. Sure, you can play games and watch videos with it, but does it just…stop there?
Ever since the beginning of time, people have been looking for ways to escape the daily grind. The times when we passed on stories through cave drawings (as you surely remember) are completely over. Then came books, video images, podcasts, games, ... but now these are all becoming a bit too passive for us, too! We increasingly want new experiences – things that would usually not be possible in our daily lives.
Virtual Reality vs. Augmented Reality vs. Mixed Reality
Virtual Reality (VR), Augmented Reality (AR) and Mixed Reality (MR) all have something in common, namely that they all aim to bring to the real world something digital as realistic as possible. With VR, the boundary between the real world and the digital world is greatest. You put on a headset, being completely isolated from the real world and then enter a virtual one. The nuances between AR and MR are smaller.
With AR, you use a screen to view digital things in the real world. Think for example of Pokémon Go. You can look for Pokémon in the real world through your smartphone screen, but the Pikachu in your living room is, unfortunately, only visible when you extend your smartphone in front of you. With AR you, therefore, use a device as a "window" to view digital matters in the real world.
Mixed Reality brings out the best of both worlds, literally. With MR, the user is still in the real world, but that world is now also being enriched with virtual additions. The best known of its kind is undoubtedly the Microsoft HoloLens. When the user puts on this headset, for example, they can conjure up a board game on an empty table. MR enriches the real world in the most realistic way possible.
One of the most used (and much-needed) applications of virtual reality is gaming. Gamers no longer want to sit behind their TV to take part in a race; they want to actually be inside the racecar. We no longer want to control an aircraft from behind our screens; we want to sit in the cockpit and look at what surrounds us.
With the arrival of Oculus and PlayStation VR, it looked as though virtual reality would definitely breakthrough in the gaming industry, but in the meantime the technology has not yet grown to its potential. And by far. The required hardware is demanding, extensive and, moreover, there are not enough decent games to experience in virtual reality. For the time being, VR within gaming is mainly limited to tastings. When you play fifteen minutes in virtual reality, you are blown away by the cool technology, but after that more and more people are starting to realize that technology is still in its infancy.
A positive development is that the prices of VR headsets have fallen. Oculus has launched its standalone headset Quest for $399. It is one of the first headsets that reduces the hassle of VR and makes cabling unnecessary and powerful external hardware (like a gaming PC). The PlayStation VR costs a laughable $220 on Amazon at the time of writing.
When we fantasize about the possibilities of VR, we often get stuck with entertainment. Think, for example, of experiencing a football match as if you were at the stadium, but actually were sitting at home on your comfy couch. Or imagine attending a theater show without having to make the trip there. Or how about watching a movie on a giant cinema screen, without annoying people next to you who are constantly busy talking or on their phones. The entertainment industry is, of course, a very lucrative market for virtual reality. Virtual museums, theaters, cinemas, sports stadiums, amusement parks… make an alternative experience accessible to anyone who cannot get the real experience because of, for example, the cost or a distant relocation. We, obviously, don't have to tell you that porn also has a – very – large share on the VR market.
We have written before that education is one of the most promising areas to apply VR. MARK.SPACE developers would like to stress that there is indeed potential in virtual reality for education. For example, when children learn about the human body, they are still limited to images and videos. What if the whole class put on VR glasses and everyone went through a vein together? Everyone looks around and thus gets to know the human body by experiencing it with their own eyes. Or, for example, VR during history lessons. Why simply listen to someone who tells about what happened in the past, when you can actually relive it yourself with VR glasses?
It seems like a funny sight, men and women in formal environments, making crazy movements wearing their VR headsets. Yet VR also found its way to the business world, at least to a limited extent. One of the things for which it can be used is for training. In some cases, employees have to be prepared for scenarios that are difficult to reproduce. You could think of a bank robbery or shooting, but something like Black Friday should not be inferior in terms of intensity. Walmart cooperates with VR company Strivr to prepare their employees for the busy bargain day. The employee puts on a headset, is immersed in the crowds, and then has to make the right choices.
Equally important is that the employee focuses on the right things. A supervisor always follows what the employee is looking at. User applications do not stop there, since Walmart is focusing even more on technology. For example, the American supermarket chain has recently taken out two patents on a concept for a VR showroom. With this Walmart wants to close the gap between online and physical stores, so customers can simply put on a VR headset from the comfort of their home, walk through the store and thus add products to their shopping cart. That way customers won't become victims of the Black Friday madness phenomenon.
The Spielberg movie Ready Player One sketches an image about a virtual reality that really makes you think. Is our life going to shift to a digital reality that will become more important than the real world? In the film, where you live no longer matters, because you spend most of your time in a virtual world anyway.
In games, such as World of Warcraft, we regularly see players being addicted to the digital playing world. They want to spend more time in the World of Warcraft than in the real world. Friendships are being made, plans made, successes achieved... The great appeal of a virtual world seems to be the ubiquity of gamification. You will be faced with a challenge and will be rewarded for this if you bring it to a successful conclusion. We sometimes complain that life is not easy, but on the other hand it has never been easier. Medications ensure that we live longer, we just get food from the supermarket instead of having to hunt, tasks are automated ... How great would it be to flee to a digital world in which you are always satisfied with all the challenges you face?
What We Need for VR to Work
Writing for a VR products and technologies developing company, MARK.SPACE content creators are occupied daily with the latest VR trends and news – for your reading pleasure – but can sometimes end up in an information "bubble". It almost seems as if everyone is constantly walking around with a VR headset, yet most people don’t fully know what it entails. Let's take off our pink VR glasses and determine what is needed for Virtual Reality to finally become successful:
1. Better games: There are certainly a number of very strong VR games, but the number of AAA games can be counted on one hand. The best example at the moment is probably Resident Evil 7, this game was made from scratch for a VR experience. It is not for nothing that it is the most popular game for the PlayStation VR, with an average playing time that is twice as long as other VR games. It is a chicken or egg story, without good games the gamers fail, without a large group of users, developers invest too little in VR games.
2. More business VR content: Games look flashy, yet it’s business VR content that can make a difference. Virtual Reality already has an impact on heavy industry, retail, and the medical sector, for example. In the business world, nobody cares about bulky VR glasses, as long as it doesn’t yield returns.
3. Cheaper headsets: A $500 VR headset, controllers for $100 each, a few trackers and also a $1500 gaming PC. This is not exactly a shopping list that is feasible for most consumers. The Google Cardboard and the Gear VR are not that powerful, don’t let you walk around freely, and the experience is much less impressive. But the price is much lower. With the new Windows VR headsets, the price of "real" VR becomes a lot more attractive, as do the PC system requirements. The first generations Rift and Vive are also firmly discounted.
4. Wireless VR: The Google Cardboard and the Gear VR are limited but they are far at the top when it comes to sales figures. In addition to the low price, these VR glasses are wireless, which has a major impact on the experience. With new "inside out" tracking as used on the Windows VR headsets, separate trackers are unnecessary, the Oculus Go is a new wireless headset for a reasonable price. The Oculus Quest (formerly marketed as Oculus Santa Cruz) is also a fully wireless VR headset with full freedom of movement.
5. Social Virtual Reality Etiquette: During the flooding in Puerto Rico, Facebook director Mark Zuckerberg made a virtual visit to the disaster area and then did something "fun” and “magical” to promote his new VR-platform during a live stream. Not cool, Zuck! As a society we still have to learn how VR fits into a social experience. AltSpaceVR had to stop their activities until Microsoft breathed new life into this social VR platform, there are two VR successors of Second Life in the starting blocks. VR is social, while its users… aren’t.
Virtual Reality is not a technology that draws a sprint, it rather runs a marathon. Every single day, an innovative application of VR is added, from 3D paintings, to assistance of demented seniors, to virtual tours made for school children. The hype is over guys, but the trend continues.