When we talk about disruptive technologies, we often also talk about emerging technologies. Virtual reality (VR) is one of these emerging technologies that is taking the world by storm. According to Grand View Research, the VR market will be worth $48.5 billion by 2025, which is a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 46.7%.
VR already has a great role to play in the entertainment sector. PwC estimates that, in the United Kingdom alone, the virtual reality industry will grow at a faster rate than any other entertainment and media industry. PwC has forecasted a CAGR of 76% with the VR industry expected to reach a value of £801 mln by 2021 in the UK.
“The VR market will be worth $48.5 billion by 2025.”
With great growth potential comes a great reality check. Is the VR industry ready for its big explosion? Are we really going to witness tremendous growth over the coming years? How will the VR industry shape the interests of consumers and investors? And what changes will we see in development and content?
Virtual Reality Needs a Reality Check
Virtual reality has gained increasing traction over the years, but what does the state of the industry look like today? Rafael Pavon points out the greatest myth surrounding VR – that it is ready for adoption. He says that, while it is an incredible technology and has seemingly infinite potential, there are still a lot of issues. However, he adds that developers are very good at solving them.
“The greatest myth surrounding VR – that it is ready for adoption.”
He explains: “It’s going to take some time. That’s the biggest myth – people’s expectations. I think that come down to the fact that our imagination goes faster than our execution, especially in technology”.
There are a number of variables at play. One important one is that, although the potential is infinite, there are technological problems in other areas including miniaturization, ergonomics and artificial intelligence. And without developments in those areas, the reality of VR is not going to meet consumer expectations.
Rafael contends that a lot of consumers simply won’t buy into virtual reality technology if this isn’t the case. He worries that VR developers do not realise this: “The thing is, it’s really easy to imagine [VR will be adopted quickly] and, for a lot of people, it’s very tempting to expect that. Not just imagine it but to expect it, and that’s the dangerous part. We need to go steadily and slowly because that’s how technology advances, but we’re still very close. We have those two things, and you have to balance your expectations”.
Source: Cisco blog
Content is King – Even in VR
Considering that even technology pushed by giants like Google in the form of its Glass product did not see mainstream adoption, what can be said of VR at the moment? “In cases like Google Glass, I think that it is one approach to VR that wasn’t for different variables; it wasn’t ready or it wasn’t the right approach. To be honest, I think that that’s going to be a constant. It’s gonna be a constant iteration of the headsets. I don't see these headsets, as we have them now, lasting the next ten years. They will come in a different… I don't even know how because whatever I think, in the end, it will be something different. Maybe they will look like regular glasses or they’ll be contact lenses; maybe it will be a plug in your brain or a pill that you take. Imagination is free and it I think it’s great in that sense but we’ll have to see,” he explains.
“Maybe [VR] will look like regular glasses or they’ll be contact lenses; maybe it will be a plug in your brain or a pill that you take. Imagination is free and it I think it’s great in that sense but we’ll have to see.”
As Rafael further clarifies: “There are a lot of different technologies involved in VR, and there a lot of demands from people. People might get a great technology like Google Glass and not care about it. This is the other part – people need to feel that that technology helps them to do something. It’s not just technology that needs to progress, it’s the content. Yes, this technology is incredible but why should I care about it? How is it going to help me in my daily life? And, what am I gonna get from it? That is the content part that needs to go along with the technology”.
VR is on Its Way – Slowly but Surely
What will catalyse the VR industry into actioning a viable consumer VR product? Perhaps it is more collaboration within the industry? However, Rafael believes this is not the case. He simply believes the industry will slowly but surely come together through innovation in a number of different fields. There will be discoveries in sound, haptics, miniaturization and more, but each will arrive at different times.
“The only way we can go ahead is to go ahead,” he says, comparing the industry to a famous cartoon where a dog runs ahead of a moving train, putting down rails as it continues barreling along.
“If you follow the way that humans have interacted with technology… there’s a clear progression towards three-dimension and using our bodies as the pointer.”
Expanding this further he explains, “The most important thing in VR, in this sense, is the fact that there’s no way back. It may be slower at some points, we may find ourselves waiting for someone to find a way to make things cheaper or smaller. But if you follow the way that humans have interacted with technology, from perforated cards to one-dimensional screens, then two-dimensional screens for which we had to create the mouse, there’s a clear progression towards three-dimension and using our bodies as the pointer or whatever. So, I don’t see a way back. It’s going to take some time and it’s going to take a different shape but we are going to interact with technology without friction”.
It is quite possible that in the future, VR or AR may not even be known by these terms anymore. It may emerge as a mixed reality or real reality or some other new-fangled term that may mean nothing to the developers of today, according to Pavon.
VR Should Be Worth the Hassle
As a filmmaker, Rafael Pavon works with VR on a daily basis. He works for Future Lighthouse and is mainly focussed on narrative storytelling and trying to figure out the language of that. He says, “It takes a lot from film, which is the most obvious… well, the most obvious is video games and films. It takes a lot from theatre and plays; there is a lot of language of the stage in which you’re aware of space, you’re aware of other people – which doesn't happen in other mediums. The way that we are putting things together – some which work, some which don’t – we are making mistakes and learning from them. It’s a completely new way of interacting with something, so we’re looking for those skills in other disciplines”.
“When they take off the headset they should feel that it was worth all the “friction and hassle”.”
He says that since they can’t push the tech further, they aim to create content that is memorable for people. He thinks that people should feel that they embarked on a journey, and one of the things that he thinks is important is that when they take off the headset they should feel that it was worth all the “friction and hassle” of putting on a wired headset. Remarking on this he reflects, “Sometimes the computer doesn't work, sometimes you see weird things and artefacts… something that’s worth all that hassle is what we wish there was more of”.
Learning From Mistakes
Pavon has been working on content with film studios and Oculus as well as other partners for two years to create new content which they will be producing soon. He thinks that the main idea is to learn from the mistakes that they have made, which he says were many, explaining that he would like to develop an intuition which he feels is still not there. He is of the view that there are not many people who have the authority to say that they know a lot about VR, but he feels that their intuition is developing and can now anticipate certain things.
As he says, “it’s not the same as in film, it works in a different way. Some things work, some things don't. Then again, the better our intuition gets, the more potential and opportunities we see for completely new content that hasn’t been done yet.”
The Way Ahead is Challenging
The key would be to create a reactive world, Pavon says, but he does not know how long it would take to do this. He explains, it would be “reactive to you and the way you are feeling. This is gonna take a lot of time and a lot of technologies like biometrics, like haptics and, as you say, artificial intelligence. The idea is that a creator is able to create a world that they don't even know how it will behave. When you start your experience, you can't anticipate it – and you are the creator.” This would be their final aim – a world that creates itself based on a certain set of rules, but is unique to each user.
“The idea is that a creator is able to create a world that they don't even know how it will behave. When you start your experience, you can't anticipate it – and you are the creator”
Investor interest is also crucial for the growth of VR. Pavon thinks that a lot of people invested in VR without the knowledge of its true potential. He thinks that it is going to be bigger than anyone can imagine, but not in the way “they want” and not with the shortsighted approach that they have had in the past.
Speaking about the challenging times that lie ahead for the VR space, he says, “It won't happen magically. This means that people need to have a long-term vision because, as I say, there’s no way back. You need patience and, obviously, resources to survive and be able to monetise which will happen in the short/medium term. You just need to understand the technology better. You need to understand the massive challenge that we have in front of us, but also the fact that there’s no way back. So that the challenge for a lot of investors and people in general”.
In total, Future Lighthouse has produced three Lighthouse Originals and four bespoke films for private clients. In one of their in-house productions, Melita, Anaaya, a brilliant Inuit female scientist and the eponymous Melita, an advanced AI, are appointed to find a planet that humans can inhabit after the world begins to collapse due to climate change in the year 2026. Their journey to save humanity from extinction sees the relationship between Melita and Anaaya evolve, and a drastic decision change things forever for them both and the rest of humanity along the way. This beautifully animated film is available to watch on Oculus and Samsung Gear VR.
Another Lighthouse Original, Tomorrow, is a narrative VR experience about how humans have evolved through language over time, taking you on a mesmerizing journey from prehistoric caves and the Amazonian jungle to the top of the Himalayas, and is available on Google Cardboard and Samsung Gear VR. This is all alongside producing VR mini-episodes for Sony Crackle’s original series, Snatch, and Spanish broadcaster, RTVE’s series, El Ministerio del Tiempo (The Ministry of Time), branded content for Beefeater Gin, and co-producing, with Oculus, Campfire Creepers.
This article was prepared with the help of the WebSummit press team and co-authored with BDJ tech writer Shivdeep Dhaliwal.
Illustrations by Kseniya Forbender
To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Margarita Khartanovich at [email protected]