Making a business out of virtual reality

2 min read

​Last year was widely described as the breakthrough year for Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR), driven in no small part by the sheer amount of hype surrounding these two technologies and the arrival of devices such as the Oculus Rift, HTC Vide and PlayStation VR.

Whether that hype will extend to real growth in the market was discussed by a panel organised by consultancy Futuresource and part of its ‘New Content Horizons’ broadcast conference.

Audiences are certainly becoming more aware of VR, according to the panel, and 2017 is expected to see further technological advances with more upgraded versions and smarter interfaces.

As to what was driving growth, the panel said that both hardware and content were critical.

Ignacio Monereo, business development, Android Apps & Games, Google, said: “Key drivers are content, consumer awareness and the technology supporting VR.

“We need more content, but we also need to ensure that the hardware side is meeting consumer expectations, hence industry partnerships with companies likes Samsung and Lenovo. Hardware enables an audience, but content will drive hardware sales. The price point will be critical.”

Scott Francis, CTO of THX, wondered whether talk about pricing was premature. “If you start at the high end and deliver high end capabilities, those capabilities will trickle down to the consumer. I don’t think we’re currently paying enough. I’d like to see a $50,000 haptic suit being developed and the industry pushing on with that, so that within five years, we’d see a consumer product on the market for $1000.”

How consumers see cost and value is crucial and while Monereo talked about the impact of Google’s Cardboard, an inexpensive VR format that had introduced many more people to the technology, he conceded that it had been ‘so low end, people may not have valued it’.

According to Karl Woolley, head of VR at Framestore: “A significant uptick in subscription pay per view services will be crucial, for many smaller studios the costs and technical challenges associated with delivering quality VR content is putting them off. Companies need to know that they are reaching a large target market.”

He also made the point that it was increasingly hard for content suppliers when hardware was changing so regularly.

“Content development is a problem when, every three months, we are seeing a new platform, controller or headset released on to the market. It means the user’s ‘best’ experience will be changing every five or six months and that makes it harder for content providers. To be honest, we are only just now starting to see what the hardware can do to support content.

“The gaming industry is at the forefront of developing VR and companies in that space are making significant investments. Games development is very expensive, so that is a significant move on their part. We need to think beyond gaming, however.”

COO and co-founder of Melody VR, Steven Hancock, said that it was critical that content was unique. “There no point in repurposing existing content; instead, we should be offering something that can’t be experienced or is unobtainable in real-life – whether that’s being sat in a Formula One car or being on stage with your favourite artist.”

Whether we’ll see a ‘killer app’ or a popular use case for VR remains to be seen, but the aim of making VR accessible to a mass audience seems achievable.

“Smartphones have the processing capability to support VR and portable versions are being tested. Mobile will be a key driving force,” Monereo concluded.