For me, virtual reality is not a big market, and there are a number of proof points why. First off, remember the buzz around virtual worlds like Second Life way back in 2005-2006? Brands were excited by the prospect of creating virtual experiences that immersed their audience directly into the brands, so they set up homesteads to engage with consumers, but the consumers were outnumbered by the brands. The idea is invigorating because of the depth of interaction coupled with the reduced cost vs. real-world experiences, but it still lacked quite a bit of reality.
Second proof point: the “miss” of 3-D TV. 3-D television was supposed to revolutionize the TV experience, but to date it has not caught on. I would argue it’s been completely passed by. Consumers didn’t want to be immersed in their TV experience for many reasons (clunky interfaces, glasses, etc.) and while 3-D is not the same as virtual reality, it is a stepping stone to get there.
Third proof point: just look at the wave of horrible virtual reality movies. Anyone remember “Johnny Mnemonic”?
All that being said, I understand the tipping point for VR to be the Facebook acquisition of Oculus. If Facebook were to start crafting virtual realities as an extension of its social platform, it could change the game for how many people actually see things. Still, from my perspective this is going to continue to be a niche, although potentially large niche, opportunity.
Virtual reality requires a few things that create impediments to mainstream adoption. First and foremost is technology, which can be pricey. Those Oculus goggles are not cheap. Unless hardware costs are decreased dramatically, you are limiting the audience right off the bat.
Second, VR requires focus and full immersion. You cannot be engaged in VR while multitasking, and most new-media formats are meant to be multitasked. Mobile is the fastest growing medium and it’s primarily because you use your mobile device while you’re doing other things. It pairs well with TV and other media, but VR does not.
The other impediment is that VR requires a stationary audience. You have to be at home, immersed in the reality being presented. It’s not an intermediary experience, like checking your phone while on the train or in line at the grocery store. That focus of location, compounded with the required focus of attention, means you have to be committed to VR 100%, and in an increasingly fragmented world that kind of commitment is hard to come by.
I think VR is a natural extension for gamers because most of the criteria mentioned above are typical of hardcore gamers. They are focused, they are not multitasking, they purchase expensive hardware and they access that hardware at home.
VR is not something I see taking off big time, so brands diving back into virtual reality need to be careful of their investment, know what the potential truly is, and the timeline for reaching that potential. Otherwise the results could be much like wave one of virtual worlds: virtually nonexistent.