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VR is overwhelming and confusing, finds the BBC

By on July 26, 2017
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The BBC has just published detailed consumer research into VR attitudes and adoption, in partnership with research firm IPSOS.

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It is a great, not-too-long, read and I urge it you to read it in full. A handful of things leaped out at me.

VR is at the end of a long list of entertainment choices

Virtual Reality is not yet an entertainment choice that people consider. “When the headset was used, it tended to be the last media option they turned to, having exhausted TV, their PVR, SVOD, social, gaming…. the rest of the internet(!)”, say the researchers.

“It isn’t replacing any of my media habits… it’s not as easy: you have to get your phone ready, slot it into the headset and then find something to watch. Normally I can just flick on the TV and watch something instantly!” – Female, 18-44.

VR has high activation energy

Convenience wins. MP3s are lower quality music streams than CDs, but they are more convenient and cheaper. While some people will value the premium experience, the mass-market often chooses convenience and ease-of-use. Here is the list of reasons why the participants in the panel felt VR might not fit into their lives yet.

  • Safety and security – some audiences were concerned about being shut-off from what’s happening around them.
  • Social norming – some were anxious about feeling stupid in front of friends, or self-conscious about their appearance, hair and make-up.
  • Physical space – often audiences weren’t in the right physical situation – sitting down on a sofa after a long day or lying in bed is not conducive to an experience which necessitates turning around and looking behind you.
  • Proximity of headset – the headset needs to be conveniently available. Many of us will have hundreds of potentially entertaining distractions in our homes; however, it will tend to be the ones which are the most visible / proximate / easy to engage with which we use. If a headset has been put away on a shelf, in a cupboard, or under a bed, it will not be front of mind.
  • Social interaction – for some audiences the insular / individual nature of the experience was off-putting as they preferred connecting with others either digitally or in physical space.

Experiences with purpose are better than just experiences

The researchers stated, “experiences without a narrative or goal tended to fall flat – experiences with good story-telling or clear objectives worked well.” In a report aimed at TV audiences, that focus on narrative is likely to leap out, because few TV people understand the role and importance of systems in game experiences. My prediction is that this report will lead TV companies to make “telly, but in VR”, rather than game-like experiences.

The activation energy in VR is real problem. The On-Ramp to using an experience is onerous, and the value of the experience, particularly after the initial “wow” moment, is not yet clear for enough players. The BBC found that one of the main use cases was watching 2D content, but on an enormous virtual screen that took up the whole field of view. That suggests we still have some way to go to make experiences that players or viewers care about.

Image credit: The People Speak, via Flickr

About Nicholas Lovell

Nicholas is the founder of Gamesbrief, a blog dedicated to the business of games. It aims to be informative, authoritative and above all helpful to developers grappling with business strategy. He is the author of a growing list of books about making money in the games industry and other digital media, including How to Publish a Game and Design Rules for Free-to-Play Games, and Penguin-published title The Curve: thecurveonline.com