The novelty factor - PC Retail

The novelty factor

Two years since the launch of the Oculus Rift, VR needs to prove why it deserves to stick around
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Virtual reality is an established tech at this point. While there is still a large number of people who haven’t tried it out, most people with a rough understanding of the tech space in 2018 will at least be aware of how it works, even if it’s just with a headset you stick a mobile phone in. While that increased level of awareness and category education can only be a good thing, we now find ourselves with a whole other, more complicated question: how does VR functionality outlast its novelty?

Back in October 2016, Oculus CTO John Carmack (of Doom fame) said that ‘we are coasting on novelty’ when it comes to VR. Now, 18 months later, there is every chance that the industry has run out of coasting momentum.

“Consumers have high expectation of VR,” notes Chillblast sales director Ben Miles. “It’s a tech that has been launched unsuccessfully in the past (e.g. Nintendo’s Virtual Boy) and this time people are being told it’s here and this time it is awesome.” Certainly, with high prices and expensive marketing campaigns, the messaging being conveyed by headset vendors is that we are in the VR age.

But a problem we now are facing is that while the hardware is becoming increasingly accessible, there isn’t enough content to keep users hooked. VR, for many, is still waiting for its Super Mario Bros. moment. “The technology is only as good as its content,” declares Exertis’ head of gaming Ross Holt. “Consumers are looking for both killer apps (games) and essential use-cases beyond gaming. Think about what Wii Sports did for Nintendo.”

While the vendors themselves continue to profess that the tech will continue to grow into the market, from both a vendor (Nokia cut its investments in VR in late 2017, citing market developments that were taking longer than expected) and a retail perspective, desires to be involved have cooled. “We’ve found that a lot of people use VR a few times, and then go back to using a normal monitor,” says Phil Griffiths, owner of Chips Computers in Chesterfield. “This is because the games they want to play don’t support it and or the novelty wears off.”

Another contributing factor here is cost. While prices have come down – Oculus’ ‘Summer of Rift’ promotion (that saw the headset slashed to £399) was made permanent in October – they are still a high barrier to entry for tech with no killer app. “Nearly three quarters of consumers who are interested in VR have stayed away due to the price of the devices,” states GfK’s Carl West.

SUPERHOT VR

So perhaps the best way for the Channel to make money from VR right now isn’t from consumers, but by selling for enterprise use.

This certainly is the case for system builder Chillblast, says Miles. “Our approach to selling VR is to offer it as an end to end business solution. As well as delivering class-leading VR-ready computer systems, Chillblast also has the in-house capability to produce complete VR solutions from scratch.

“We’ve worked closely with a broad range of clients to deliver a wide array of VR experiences, from product configurators for the automotive industry to virtual reality architectural walkthrough experiences and training simulations for defence and airline sectors. Our in-house team of game developers can model any scenario a company requires and our solutions are scalable from a single product launch to a complete training or simulation solution.”

PR guru Maggie Zaboura agrees that business is where VR will really shine. “Gaming is just the start, just look at the success of VR experiences at theme parks, in cinemas, car showrooms and travel agencies. The British Museum hosted a VR experience that took visitors back to the Bronze Age, and the Natural History Museum worked with Sir David Attenborough on a VR exhibit. Thomas Cook’s VR experience of flying over the Manhattan skyline led to a 190 per cent increase in New York excursion revenue, and Canada’s VR trek through British Columbia’s Great Bear Rainforest led to a 5 per cent increase in visitors. Even NASA are experimenting with VR for training purposes, and these show the broader potential. Content and platform providers should consider cases like these when developing a VR strategy.”

VR is one of the most divisive topics in the Channel today. For every person saying that it’s a technology that will revolutionise the way that we will live and work, there is a skeptic calling it a fad that will go the way of other failed experiments (“Unfortunately, I see VR going the same way as 3D TVs,” says Griffiths). The truth is likely somewhere in the middle, with long-term potential still there but the immediate future is a bit murkier.

As Utopia Computers boss Craig Hume puts it: “If you are just looking for a quick profit VR is probably not for you, at least not now. However if you have a passion for technology, I say spend your time understanding, sharing and exploring, the future is just round the next corner and who knows you could become the next specialist to be able to take advantage of this amazing technology.” 

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