Virtual reality started 2016 with such promise. The long-awaited release of Oculus Rift was finally happening. Mark Zuckerberg, who added Oculus to Facebook’s portfolio of tech companies in 2014, predicted that parents would soon be recording their child’s first steps in glorious VR. Virtual reality, it seemed, was about to be a thing.
Then reality set in. Oculus sold only 500,000 units in 2016, about the same number as HTC’s Vive, according to estimates. Meanwhile, the biggest hit tech product of the year was Pokémon Go, an augmented reality game that people played on their phones. Rather than being a breakthrough year for VR, it was instead a building year.
A year later, it’s tempting to surmise that VR is another tech flash in the pan like Google Glass or Ello. It’s not. Though VR headsets might remain too expensive and niche for everyone but power gamers, VR is coming back and setting the stage for mainstream success.
With VR now just one major hit away from becoming a real thing, advertisers who have shied away from VR should give it another look. Here’s why.
2 Reasons VR Is Coming Back
While some have argued that VR is a dud, some interesting developments have taken place.
1. Phone-based VR is taking off: While sales of VR headsets have been sluggish, Samsung reported that it shipped more than 5 million Gear VR headsets last year. The company claimed success by linking the device to a mobile phone. Some 98% of VR use is actually occurring on phones.
2. VR is coming to a mall near you: In addition, a startup backed by Steven Spielberg is investing in mall-based VR storefronts that feature VR experiences linked to film franchises. Sony’s Imax also recently opened a VR theater for gaming in Beverly Hills.
These two use cases show a viable path forward for VR: Both as a phone-based experience that could set the stage for a Pokémon Go-like craze and a mall-based experience that could be a half-step between an arcade and a movie theater.
A mall-based VR experience could function as arcades did in the 1980s — as gateways for exposure to technology that was better than what you could get at home. One key barrier to those $600 headsets is that even if you could afford one and were apt to spend the money, it’s unlikely that that would be the case for all of your friends. Being able to share that experience would be a boon for VR adoption.
Mainstream Success Is One Hit Away
Judging by recent history, people don’t buy tech products just to own them, they buy them to access an experience. Lotus 1-2-3 was the original killer app that prompted businesses to see the utility of PCs, for instance. People bought iPods to access thousands of songs. More recently, most people got their first taste of AR via Pokémon Go.
Similarly, VR needs one hit experience to break through. VR movies are already hitting at various festivals and Spielberg and other Hollywood A-listers are said to be working on VR projects. Given the attention that VR is mustering, there will be a race to see whether the first hit VR property will be a movie or a game.
Meanwhile, prices for the high-end versions of the technology will continue to fall as well. Granted, this confluence of factors may not gel in just the right way to make 2017 the year of VR, but that scenario is looking increasingly likely and the future is looking increasingly virtual.