In Response to the VR Skeptics

As a virtual reality agency, we’re often confronted with skepticism about our industry. We hear that VR hasn’t lived up to its promise, and that some stakeholders are apparently ready to abandon ship.

In June, TechCrunch published an article by novelist and journalist Jon Evans that asked the question: “Whither VR/AR?” Evans, who once expected wonders from virtual and augmented reality, now finds himself entrenched in the trough of disillusionment.

“Aren’t VR and AR supposed to be the Next Big Thing, not the Next Little Niche?” he asked. “And doesn’t that mean their reach is supposed to grow exponentially, not linearly?”

Evans identifies problems that every virtual reality agency should acknowledge and seek to address. Storytelling in virtual reality, for example, hasn’t fulfilled its potential – narrative experiences are often short, simplistic, and lack plot and character development. Headsets sales fell from 2016 to 2017, and while millions of smartphones are now AR-ready, Pokemon Go and furniture-placement apps remain the technology’s most heralded successes. Neither AR nor VR has reached a proverbial ‘iPhone moment.’

For all its pessimism, though, the article is hardly an obituary for immersive technologies; Evans is disappointed with AR and VR’s progress, but he is unwilling to label them failures. In some ways, we as a virtual reality agency agree with him – VR hasn’t yet become the mass market phenomenon that many of us predicted, but it still has plenty of life. We believe exponential growth lies somewhere around the corner.

And we’re not alone. A week after Evans’ piece was published, GeekWire released a more optimistic overview of the virtual and augmented reality industries. Reporter Taylor Soper acknowledged many of the challenges Evans referenced, but compared them more to speed bumps than roadblocks. He also discovered similarities between VR/AR and another once-struggling technology: internet video.

“There was a ton of hype and a ton of money invested in it, yet nobody was watching,” Tim Haradar, who managed Microsoft webcasts in the 1990s, told GeekWire. Ultimately, it was not a sustainable business for content creators. It’s like VR for developers today – you’ve got quite a bit of content out there, but you don’t have that mass penetration of headsets that allows developers to make their money back.”

Today, of course, smartphone proliferation and improved wireless connectivity have made digital video utterly ubiquitous. Virtual reality agency employees believe VR will follow a similar path. 5G internet, which we discussed a few weeks back, will enable higher-quality and more accessible VR experiences, and the next generation of VR headsets, led by the Oculus Go, will give curious users opportunity to experiment and get comfortable with virtual environments.

“Over the next 12-to-24 months, we’re going to see more headsets launch without cables and without external tracking cameras,” Against Gravity CEO Nick Fajt told GeekWire. “These advances get us closer to VR’s ‘iPhone moment’ where the technology fades into the background and you’re left with an intuitive experience that just works. It’s on the horizon.”

Augmented reality’s ongoing ascendance is also fueled by evolving technology. Apple’s ARKit and Google’s ARCore, both released last year, transformed millions of mobile devices into augmented reality viewers. A new version of ARKit was announced at Apple’s recent WWDC conference, prompting celebration from augmented reality enthusiasts.

Skepticism of the virtual and augmented reality industries is understandable; after all, it’s tough to replicate internet video’s success. But if investors continue to pour money into AR and VR and the technologies continue to mature, mainstream adoption is inevitable.


Illustration by Jonny Goldstein, via Flickr –