Virtual reality has become something of a “like it or loathe it” phenomenon in the world. Yet, despite many people claiming that VR will never “make it” or become popular, statistics show otherwise. According to a PwC report, immersive evolutions are said to benefit the US economy alone by up to $1.2 trillion by 2030 – those are some big numbers for a system and a niche that is supposedly yet to find a home.
Virtual Reality in Gaming
Arguably, it’s currently utilized in the largest capacity via gaming, from the augmented reality of Pokémon Go, through to Beat Saber – both of which quickly became household names upon their release. “It’s definitely been a rollercoaster ride so far”, QA manager, VR expert and host of The VR Talk Show, Kris Gruchalla tells me, “there are so many platforms, nothing is solidified as THE platform for VR and it isn’t user-friendly if you don’t know about PC’s. You can go in completely blind if you don’t know the basics and that’s where the Quest has seen major success, because you don’t need any console of PC – you just buy it, put it on and play games”.
“Indie games especially, have moved into the AA niche – these independent game companies are moving into the mainstream and most VR titles come from indie companies. We’re definitely getting there. The comfort factor has become more important and a new, wireless generation of headsets have become available” she explains. Interestingly, there’s also an increase in the level of body-tracking technology that is coming out alongside these, with finger-tracking in particular, so that games can interact with your entire body and create a more realistic experience for players.
All of these factors are helping more individuals than ever suddenly find themselves considering VR as their next gaming purchase. A sizeable investment, given that the Oculus Quest can start at around £400 or above, and this price being one of the reasons why VR has yet to make it into every household. And yet, if the prices were made more affordable, it can be argued that most people would make the jump into immersive technology – so there’s still clearly an appealing factor to the wider market. Especially as, according to eMarketer, up to 20.8% of the population in the US currently use AR and VR technology.
The biggest appeal, when it comes to VR games, is its accessibility. Anyone can use the systems, whether they’re sitting or standing, and every game goes through a rigorous testing process that allows people of any age or background to use the system. “Movement systems have to be created to work with everyone – but every system also needs to work against motion sickness. Similarly, the training system needs to be fast but simple, to meet these same needs” Kris tells me, “every game is created so that your grandma can experience meeting a shark, or a young kid can play Beat Saber – all with the same system”.
Virtual Reality In Health And Social Care
Clearly, the investment is being made to help push the role of VR in gaming into a more accessible realm – and, like many things we see coming to the forefront of the digital age, this tech is being transferred into the wider world. It is no secret that there are many applications for immersive technology – particularly in the fields of healthcare and social care.
In a world hounded by a highly contagious virus that has entire countries on lockdown, it can be argued that virtual reality can help to combat isolation. Better still, for those who have disabilities or health issues that prevent them from interacting with the world via typical methods, it may open up the opportunity to explore and create.
A few months ago, a paper published in the scientific journal Nature revealed that scientists and engineers had come together to create a device that allows the wearer to literally explore the sense of touch. This could help isolated users to transmit a hug through social media, or even allow prosthetic users to feel the shape of an object that they’re holding.
For those wondering just how “real” this sensation could truly become, we can once again turn our attention to users of virtual reality in other areas, such as gaming. Kris explains that “it’s surprising how quickly your brain adapts to VR in what we call the ‘treadmill effect’. Whereby, once you’ve left the system, your mind can take a few moments to process that it is no longer in that world. As an example, we released a game a while ago that required arm motions to run in the game – and we became so used to it that we used the same hand motion in order to turn corners in real life, that we had to complete in the game”. With this in mind, it is – perhaps – safe to say that we should limit the time spent in these virtual worlds!
VR systems, of course, use the entire body and your own movements to simulate changes in the environment in the virtual world you inhabit. With that in mind, there are still limitations as to who can use this – but with research in the healthcare sector increasingly turning to virtual reality and augmented reality, there seems to be a strong case for further investment. Doing so could lend us the capabilities of allowing those with limited movement to explore new environments, once again.
Kris tells me that there are even games coming out that allows those who are bedridden to see something a little different. “There are fully interactive games you can play while lying down, or you can simply look up at the stars and do some constellation-spotting. Oculus even has an app where you can sit courtside at a basketball game, where you can invite friends and – if you want to – throw popcorn at each other”.
On the other end of the scale, there have been huge leaps in dealing with mental health issues that crop up through our lifetime, thanks to virtual reality. Oxford VR recently found that their therapy-VR treatments had a positive, lasting effect on up to 70% of participants, and have even suggested that this style of treatment can help with everything from depression to schizophrenia and beyond. With mental health costing the UK roughly £94 billion per year, the emerging data around immersive technologies suggest that we may not only be able to help people cope with trauma or mental health atypicalities, but help our economy to recover, too.
Virtual Reality In The Wider Economy
The gamification of everyday training has been shown to be highly effective in providing cost-effective solutions to major companies. While flight simulators have been used for decades, the technology has now advanced to cover more realistic simulations and a wide range of different environments. ExxonMobil, a multinational oil and gas company, use virtual reality to train employees in health and safety by simulating start-up and emergency exit procedures, for example.
Fortune Business Insights recently published an article suggesting that the use of VR in education and training is increasing its market size at an astonishing rate. It is even predicted that, by 2026, it will reach up to $13,098.2 million (roughly £10.5 million) and will continue to grow beyond this – and that’s just one area of potential for the VR market.
That being said, the BBC recently decided to shut down its VR Hub, which was dedicated to storytelling and exploration, despite the growing market, citing that they will be sharing the research and information gathered through the experience with other markets. The reasons behind this closure aren’t entirely clear – but, given that they will still be licensing the materials produced and are keen to share their info, they could yet make a comeback with further programmes in the future.
Similarly, Samsung decided to drop the Gear VR from any future productions and Google also announced that their Daydream VR headset would be discontinued. The reasons here, however, are a little clearer in that the main drawback to these systems were current “limitations constraining smartphone VR from being a viable long-term solution” in an interview with VentureBeat. Most notable of these limitations was the major drawback of apps struggling to keep up with adapting their systems to meet VR usability. In the end, you can’t have a good-quality system that provides value, if there’s nothing on that system to actually use.
With this in mind, it’s fair to say that virtual reality definitely has a place in the future of our economy, as well as practical uses in medicine and – of course – its natural home in gaming. Whether or not this will happen sooner or later is still up for debate, and depends entirely on the work that is being produced now. Of course, this leaves virtual reality as one of the best areas to invest in, right now, thanks to the inevitable growth we’re about to see in this niche.