Is Social The Killer App For VR?

Thought Leadership
tom.ollerton recently published this article by our Innovation Director, Tom Ollerton, looking at why social media could provide the perfect platform for VR to go mainstream. They’ve been kind enough to let us reproduce it below.

VR could be the future of communication, or an overhyped technology that will never become truly mainstream. There are a lot of contrasting opinions in the press at the moment, with some commentators championing VR, and others who believe it will flop and become the next 3D TV.

Given that current social VR networks are composed of close-knit communities of early and enthusiastic adopters, there’s still a lot of work to do. But, despite this, I think that VR could live up to the hype—and here’s how.

When Mark Zuckerberg bought Oculus, he said: “Oculus Rift is really a new communication platform”. While there will be huge opportunities for gaming and movies, the killer application for enhanced reality will be social. Connecting with each other is a universal compulsion at the deepest neurological level. Any technology that helps us to connect in a more effective way—just like the social media platforms themselves—has a huge chance of being a world-changing innovation.

Fuelled By Communication
Home computers became ubiquitous when Apple advertised the iMac as an internet computer. It took the PC from a hobbyist device to a mainstream communication device. Communication was the fuel that fired the iMac’s adoption. And, likewise, VR’s ability to help us connect and communicate in a better way than all the existing alternatives will define its future.

A number of startups and some of the bigger players are going head to head to make this happen, with providers competing to make VR more useful, accessible, and social. Take AltspaceVr, which previously announced its closure before being resurrected earlier this year. It’s a 3D interpretation of the internet, where you can do all kinds of weird stuff including making a VR phone call, and it is wide open for brands to get involved once it hits scale.

Or there is Rec Room, a free Steam app—a multiplayer platform developed for gaming and online media—for HTC’s VR system Vive, which is a “VR social club” that’s all about multiplayer gaming. Here users can take part in a multitude of sports-style games, from ping pong to basketball to disc golf, or even VR paintball. And, of course, Facebook is going big on social VR with a high-end social VR experience on Oculus—Facebook Spaces—and a low-end, and much more available, Facebook social VR on Samsung Gear.

Big Brands Try Their Hand
Big brands are already experimenting with VR. We’ve seen a lot of focus entertainment—an obvious target, given that VR technology can give a clear boost to consumer experiences. Google’s Dunkirk WebVR game for Chrome is a collaborative VR experience that transports users back to the beaches of Dunkirk in June 1940 and allows them to play socially in the browser. Entertainment brands can easily cut and paste their storytelling assets into the social VR world—this is beautifully teased in the upcoming Marvel Powers United VR.

Our team in Paris recently worked on a social VR campaign for Renault, during which it launched the Pitstop Challenge—a collaborative social VR game where groups of friends got the chance to step into the shoes of a technician on the paddock of an F1 circuit. This use of social VR has helped to bring the brand’s sponsorship to life, and gave fans the chance to experience the brand—rather than just watch it.

VR is among us, and it’s already proving attractive to brands, but it won’t go mainstream without having a seamless user experience—and being social. My advice is to wait until headsets have massive penetration in U.K. homes, with at least one killer app that everyone uses—possibly Facebook. Or if you’ve been spending too long reading the marketing press online instead of actually meeting people in the real world—you can try VR dating. Good luck.