Recently, our EVP of Innovation and GM of Thruster Matt Johnson attended Oculus Connect, an annual developer conference where engineers, designers and creatives from around the world come together to learn about virtual reality. During the event, Johnson attended several talks and workshops to collaborate with industry leaders about what the future of virtual reality will look like.
Hand-tracking leads to more emotional presence
It is common for new VR users to immediately raise their hands in front of their face only to be disappointed by their absence. However, with the use of positional hand-tracking technology, this may not be the case for long.
At the conference, Oculus exhibited their Touch Devices. Using a pair of wireless controllers, users can see and use their hands in digital environments ranging from old west shoot ‘em ups to virtual sculpting tools in a natural, intuitive and immersive way.
Takeaway: After curbing simulator sickness, input such as positional tracking is the next biggest challenge (and opportunity) to keep people immersed in the experience.
Multiuser experiences contain the missing magic
Playing games against a predictable AI can make a virtual reality experience isolating for the user. During the Oculus ‘Toybox’ demo, users were able to interact with each other in real time using Touch devices. The experience was lower fidelity, but the natural movement and emotion conveyed by a full range of motion showed the promise for many future use cases in multiuser experiences. Seeing another user’s avatar and hearing their voice added the emotional connectedness that some virtual reality content is currently missing.
Takeaway: While this example was somewhat frivolous, it demonstrates the opportunity for fields such as product design, engineering, architecture, training and social interaction to start using this type of technology.
Near-field and locomotion UX solutions on the horizon
A widely documented comment by early adopters is that the most compelling interactions in VR happen in the virtual space within a user’s reach called Near-Field. It causes some interesting challenges for experiences where users need to travel large areas or interact with far away objects.
Several developers presented creative UX solutions to overcome these challenges, such as the highly acclaimed spy puzzler I Expect You to Die by Schell Games. Users play as a secret agent trying to escape a trap filled room, where they can place and virtually manipulate important tools in the Near-Field for easy access. While this could never happen in the real world, this type of augmentation is what makes VR compelling enough to use unconventional methods to solve problems.
Epic Games’ announcement of the Bullet Train tech demo, a first person shooter, promises environmental interaction with all of the immersion and none of the nausea. The player moves through instant teleportation rather than artificial acceleration, which created a system of compelling locomotion around the battlefield. Even though you feel like a super augmented warrior in this simulation, the experience feels very plausible and natural.
Takeaway: VR developers are making great strides in UX on what were once considered limitations and are creating great solutions for them through novel interactions.
Affordable high-quality virtual reality is near
Samsung announced during the conference that the full consumer release of their GearVR headset on November 27th. While the high-end experiences like the Rift won’t arrive until early next year, the collaboration between Samsung and Oculus has produced a great low-cost VR solution for consumers that already own a high-end Samsung phone.
This platform represents the immediate opportunity for brands to extend into the VR space in a portable, convenient and accessible way. While the consumer market may take some time to adopt, many brands like Jim Beam are already using the technology to promote their products in innovative ways.
Takeaway: Consumers are hungry to learn about and engage with virtual reality content, which brands can take advantage of by creating field campaigns with mobile VR technology.
Great content will bring the users
Any new hardware platform is only as good as the content that developers create for it. For instance, Oculus Story Studio presented a great animated short titled ‘Henry,’ an interactive short story about a hedgehog and his adventures to find friends. This demonstrates the power of VR as a storytelling medium by allowing the viewer to connect with the virtual AI characters as the story unfolds, taking filmmaking beyond the normal “single focus” experience.
Games like Lucky’s Tale by Playful, Eve Valkyrie and Edge of Nowhere captivate through aspects like dynamic sound design, reimagined points of view and more. Top developers are using these techniques and combining it with their game development knowledge to create polished games that will draw consumers to the platform.
Takeaway: The investments being made by the platforms, investors and AAA developers that have committed to large-scale initiatives shows that VR is here in a big way.
Our world is on the verge of experiencing the next great computing platform. Despite its challenges, Bottle Rocket is confident that we are at the very beginning of the VR journey with plenty of opportunities for brands to take advantage of. If you’re one of the many people watching and waiting to experience this next step towards our future presence in VR, come talk to us.