Last year when Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg bought Oculus Rift, many viewed virtual reality (VR) as a very cool yet niche technology that would ultimately be aimed at creating an immersive experience for video gamers.
Fast forward a year and a few months, and a number of brands are utilizing VR to enhance their own interactions with consumers, creating deep illusional experiences that go beyond the world of video games.
“When looking at the best examples of successful VR, it’s the ones that take the viewer to an extraordinary place or opportunity; somewhere where they feel privileged, exclusive and observational,” says Niklas Lindstrom, head of interactive production at Droga5.
Here are some ways that you can make VR work for you:
Thanks to technology advances in computer graphics, 2D representations of products were no longer impressive. As a result, many brands in fashion, consumer packaged goods (CPG) and real estate, began experimenting with VR.
In June of this year, SapientNitro brought a New York City store to the heart of Cannes in a VR experience dubbed “Apartment by the Line”. By putting on a Samsung Gear headset, users were able to walk around the Soho-based apartment and tap items to add them to their shopping cart.
“E-commerce tends to be flat across various categories as it’s all about conversion. VR is a different and more vibrant way to engage with consumers without the hard sell,” says Gary Koepke, vice president and chief creative officer of SapientNitro North America.
Aside from retailers, real estate developers have been using VR to boost leasing and sales. For example, commercial real estate company Jones Lang LaSalle (JLL) has been working with a variety of 3D mapping and spherical video technologies to offer vivid VR tour experiences, showcasing building interiors and exterior spaces.
“VR has tremendous potential in the real estate industry, offering a way for our clients to view buildings as if they are right there, with a high degree of realism and flow. 3D content offers a unique way to explore an interior not only as it is today, but also what that space could become with a build-out,” says Tom Lombardo, chief operating officer (COO) and executive vice president of digital and mobility marketing at JLL.
Sridhar Potineni, director of innovation at JLL, adds that technology advances in 3D mapping cameras and spherical video cameras or rigs are improving the quality of VR experiences and lowering production costs. And his team can produce 3D content in a more efficient way.
“This technology is being met head-on by the next generation of VR headsets that bring these immersive experiences to life. There is less of a barrier to using these technologies together since the newer headsets are affordable and very powerful,” Potineni explains.
On November 20, Facebook shipped its first consumer VR product that powers the Samsung Gear VR unit. Prior to this move, Facebook already developed a mobile app called Oculus Social Alpha that lets up to five users watch a Twitch or Vimeo stream in a virtual home theater setting.
“Even though it is only avatars representing you and the other people, their heads match your own head movement in the space, and then you are able to talk to each other. The notion of someone turning around looking at you and speaking to you directly is pretty powerful,” says Droga5’s Lindstrom.
Although the app is limited in features, it offers a glimpse of what VR social networking will look like: a user is connecting with someone he or she has not yet met in real life, and they can share an experience with them even though they are not there physically.
“A practical example of [VR social networking] could be a marketer like Disney creating a unique experience for Star Wars fans. The fans can have a sit down talk with the Director J.J. Abrams in a small movie theatre setting where Abrams can show exclusive clips from the upcoming movie The Force Awakens. Fans can log-in from all over the world to ask questions and discuss the movie with him and the other fans,” Lindstrom explains.
Publishers and filmmakers have also been exploring the potential of VR and how it can be used for storytelling. The New York Times has developed its own VR app and collaborated with Google to ship Google CardBoard to all its print subscribers.
In November, the Times, too, debuted its first VR film, “The Displaced,” telling the stories of three kids that are currently displaced from their homes by war and persecution.
While the concept seems very cool, the reality of filming VR videos is somewhat more difficult because shooting for this medium requires different techniques, according to a video interview with Saschka Unseld, creative director of Oculus Story Studio.
For example, the way empathy works and the way comedy works are very different in VR. When filmmakers are shooting for 2D, they usually use a close-up scene to show intimacy. But this approach doesn’t work for VR films because viewers are very close to their headset.
“If we look at and see how many decades it took to master the craft of film storytelling and even something more recent as crafting great games, you understand that it takes time,” says Droga5’s Lindstrom.
“We need to give VR some space for experimentation and failures along the way. There will be a lot of attempts to try proven techniques from other genres – some will work, and some some won’t. [Out of these experiments,] the manual of storytelling in VR will be evolved,” he adds.
VR is not only revolutionizing the way people experience video games, but also changing the way people shop, network and receive information. For the time being, storytellers, marketers, advertisers and game developers have just scratched the surface of what VR can do. But as time passes by, they will be more adept in leveraging this medium.