In mid-November, TechFire LA held a panel event on the state of Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR). As panelist Nathan Burba from the gaming company Survios tried to tease apart the difference between the two, he said that AR co-exists in reality while VR is disconnected from reality. Yet they have overlap.
For those still unsure of the difference, think of AR as Pokemon Go where you’re adding digital interaction into your current space; whereas for VR think of putting on a fancy headset that covers your eyes and immerses you in a fully digital world … and may make you queasy. It was surprising, by the show-of-hands, that well over three-quarters of the room admitted to VR-nausea. As Mindshow’s Gil Baron pointed out, the nausea impacts most people—and first time he tried the Oculus Rift he was queasy for 4 hrs!
As TheWaveVR panelist Nicole St. Jean noted, nausea doesn’t mean there aren’t awesome things happening in the new all-digital world. She described her company’s work as an “interstellar music festival of the future” complete with a virtual dance floor and e-drugs. The majority of the music is electronic dance music (EDM) as it lends itself best to being visual (versus aural and single-stream), plus there are community-run shows nearly every night of the week. Additionally, she predicted that the future will have VR creators and influencers—just like we currently have with YouTube and Instagram.
Gil Baron stressed the creativity and educational aspects of the technology. His company’s ability to let kids (and adults) create animated cartoons using their own bodies and voices helps give reason to the importance of storytelling. To paraphrase his thinking: This is not choose your own adventure but how your being there changes the virtual experience. I interpreted this as the story of George Bailey and "It's a Wonderful Life.") Creativity should be intrinsic to the experience. In response to people being so immersed they forget reality, he responded, “Think about people at a restaurant—they’re all on their phones.” In other words, people are already disconnecting from everyday reality.
Overall, the panelists were interested in the social experience (music, games, narrative) that the technologies brought forth, which aligns to their industries: music, animated film, and gaming. Yet they agree the technology for VR isn’t there yet—at least not to go mass consumption. Mr. Burba mentioned it being still very far away as it doesn’t have the fidelity of real life, while Mr. Baron nuanced it a bit more by saying that VR is currently “just good enough” to be used, yet not fully there; however, the human brain fills in much of the experience to mimic elements we might already know what the sensory load is like, such as riding an elevator. And Ms. St. Jean noted that on her platform the maximum number of attendees is around 700, yet at a real-life music festival, there could be 100,000 attendees—and that’s the goal!
Once the tech is more there for building better experiences along with better hardware, then it will become more of the everyday. Yet as Mr. Burber summarized, for narrative storytelling film is much better and that VR is the medium of life. It’s great for learning because if you can do it in real-life, then you can do it in VR. Participants should go into it less like they’re going to the movies and more like they’re going on a trip. Thus, normalization of the VR experience will help people understand what’s possible and re-calibrate consumer expectations.