Virtual Reality: changing games or game changer?

tyler greerVirtual reality technology is becoming a hot property. Tyler Greer asks whether it will really have a reach beyond video games.

One day back in the early 90s I switched off the Sega Mega Drive and got myself along to an exhibition touting itself as the new frontier in gaming: virtual reality. Strapped in to a cumbersome, heavy piece of machinery I played Dactyl Nightmare, a dreadful Cubist nightmare which left me disoriented, ill, and disappointed for the state of the machine-human relationship.

Not fast enough could I return to Sonic the Hedgehog and my new-found appreciation for the human-couch relationship.

Fast forward 20 years and both VR and I are in a much better place, though only one of us is the star attraction of the 2015 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. (Spoiler alert: it ain’t me). Yet for many of us, VR still sits alongside hover-boards and baldness cures: a sci-fi pipedream unlikely to be troubling us anytime soon.

Mark Zuckerberg disagrees, and he recently stumped up $2b to purchase VR developer Oculus Rift to prove it. And he did so not because he wanted to shift Facebook into the gaming space; but rather because he is betting on VR being a significant player in the communications and social networking space. Beyond the dramatic improvement in technology, this is the critical paradigm shift that will be the rocket fuel for VR development and adoption.

Crucial to this is the other great buzzword which fell out of the CES this year, namely the Internet of Things. It’s perhaps confidence building to know that this was also the buzz term of CES 2014. This is important for VR in that it takes what was conceived of as a closed environment into the space of an open, connected one, and that changes everything.

This means we can draw into the VR experience the other important elements of our lives – the people, the utilities, the shopping, the health diagnostics, the work. The lot. As always, technology begets technology.

Gaming has come a long way since Sonic

Gaming has come a long way since Sonic

What it also begets, is advertising dollars. The question for those in media, branding and marketing is how to best be a part of this. VR will further entrench that most valuable campaign goal: engagement. Here we will have advertising tools that are monumentally impactful, allowing for consumers to experience deeply a brand experience. For those who believe in advertising as storytelling, the chance truly places the audience within a narrative, offering marketers a completely new way to tell a story.

For travel brands, for sporting equipment, for movie and game promotion, for auto and clothing brands, cosmetics and health – almost any category sends the mind racing with creative potential. How consumers will move from experience to purchase through to advocacy will take forms we can scarcely yet imagine. And this is before we even start to think about dating networks.

Perhaps the hardest thing to grasp is the grasping of it at all; accepting that it really might happen. Those of us old enough to remember 2006 felt the same way about social networking. But the groundwork is already being laid – every engagement-focused media in which brands allow consumer control is a lesson in how we will need to operate in VR. Engagement is critical now, and will be even more so in the future.

Coca Cola, HBO and Nissan have all dipped their toe in the water. Yes they have advertising budgets that would give most CMO’s a nose bleed but if they are experimenting, it is time to at least take notice.

It’s never a good idea to predict the future, at least not publically. But the convergence of game-led virtual environments, rapidly expanding connectivity, and wearable technology means that the VR experience is a legitimate reality. And it’s a reality that is likely to be built a bit less on pterodactyls, and a lot more on human connection.

Tyler Greer is head of strategy, APAC, for Exponential


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