(VRfun18) Metaverse needs to solve problems, not be the problem

Metaverse and virtual reality sells beyond gaming and technology markets if it solves problems. It will not sell if it creates them. We’re getting better on hardware and high quality content, but how do we actually distribute the fabulous 360 degrees pieces?

Photo: Meridian Treehouse. Shared, synchronised immersive reality experience. 180 participants brought to the moon at the Smithsonian.

The technology is absolutely great. But it will develop and expand in use only if it actually solves problems. Be it decreasing training costs and risks, reaching unreachable worlds, educating more effectively, boosting sales or increasing traffic at events. COVID also helped professional implementation of VR which is closer to the real experience than Zoom, Google Meet or Teams.

In order to address the problems described above (and many more) by using VR tools we need the following:

1. Content — that’s the most important part. There are number of really good and high quality 360 degrees productions for entertainment, art, documentary, education or training with the examples of “Flight of Voices” live VR concert experience by CreatorUp or “Expedition Palau” oceans diving movie by Meridian Treehouse. You can also film 360 degrees movies by yourself using any of the amateur spherical cameras.

2. Hardware — you need a headset or a number of VR headsets to present the content. The most popular devices include currently: Meta Quest 2, Pico G2 / Neo3, HTC VIVE Focus and Flow (coming up as the glasses — size headset). Meta is however still struggling with adaptation to business / education use since it abandoned Oculus for Business solution and now you need to have one Facebook account per each headset.

3. Distribution — once you have the content and the headsets you need to look for the best ways to distribute your piece. The best ways depend of course on the audience and objectives of the movie / project. At first you need to ask yourself if the content should be public and available to mass audience or should be used by a closed group of people, for instance as a training tool. Distribution needs to be easy for the participants and managers, reach as many people as possible, ensure high turnouts at events and be hygienic which is still not common.

CNN VR launched 2 years after Richard Quest found VR strange. Source: Twitter

Fortunately, what was “very strange” 7 years ago to the leading CNN journalist Richard Quest isn’t strange anymore. But still, if you have a great VR content, the question remains how do you want to show it?

Being from the event management industry I thought VR is a perfect tool for business events and presentations. VR is a much more compelling medium for modern presentations than a powerpoint. That’s the end of theory. The failures were very painful. At one of the presentations senior managers got lost in the gears and watched a wrong video. Then came an event for 20 people in VR goggles and speaker from the podium. Complete disaster. Entirely asynchronic playback, some couldn’t event launch the video.

Photo: Virtual Horizons Foundation

It’s a bit like seating 100 people for a presentation, each with a complicated TV set they see for the first time and asking them to operate it fully by themselves. It just couldn’t go through.

Try to convince even the most advanced brand to invest 60,000 USD in producing of a great 360 video for 300 people. “Exclusiveness” of content does not always sell. Marketing needs to see the cost per client ratio and defend 200 USD / client might be difficult. Lowering production costs is usually out of question. What are the options then of improving distribution rates and thus solving problems instead of causing them?

1. You can publish or livestream the 360 content on Youtube, Facebook or Vimeo. You really get to millions even if watching VR on a desktop computer is not very immersive. Facebook has the greatest potential in implementing social VR. Both YT and FB offer as well 360 degrees livestreaming options, however if you look for high quality you need to look for professional services.

2. Top production houses try to establish their own distribution platforms and aspire to become the VR HBOs or Netflix. Of course gear producers like Meta, Pico or HTC support and build content platforms, but these are more for gaming and for the consumer market.

3. Limited availability of hardware, difficulty in selecting the best experiences and loneliness in VR pushes us into the old good movie theatres, arcades or events. We actually usually want to experience emotional hype together, with friends or a family.

4. Film festivals provide an extraordinary distribution channel for VR content and they are the drivers of good and professional presentation of VR. Leading festivals, supported by Cinema Diversion distributor of VR content, included immersive programmes, including the Sundance Film Festival, Tribeca Film Festival, SXSW, CPH:DOX, Cannes and Venice Film Festivals.

5. Synchronized experiencing solutions for multigear events emerged in kind of response to my (and others’) distribution disasters and nightmares. With apps such as Showtime VR Story you can organize events for 10, 40 or 300 users at the same time at the same place. These solutions work a bit like a one-device remote controller for many participants experiencing VR. Large events or event marketing activations can score good turnouts and good cost-per-client rates — 2 or 0,2 USD for reaching a client instead of 200 USD.

Showtime VR Story at VR Days 2021 in Amsterdam

The of such system has no limits. 500 people run every week through the “Walk on the Moon” multi-headset installation at Smithsonian museum in Washington DC. Therapist of the psykologpartners clinicfrom Sweden treat their patients by using VR and the remote management system. Firefighters from Australia train their recruits with 360 degrees movies played synchronically. Royal Air Force from UK is teaching their pilots. PwC is training their 300+ staff in cybersecurity using the Showtime VR Story module for branching narrative.

Virtual reality is fun. It triggers people to experience and scream “WOW!”. But in order to make it a serious medium we need to stop thinking only about technology and perfect stitching in 360 degrees video. Turn the concept upside down and get a bit of a client’s and end user’s perspective. This means to distribute it well. Easily, professionally, to thousands and millions rather than hundreds of enthusiasts. Then VR becomes a solution to pains of many, rather than their another headache.

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