VR is Here, For Now

2016’s been a nightmare, hasn’t it?

Not in that ‘man, work was a nightmare’ kind of way, like, an actual nightmare. From the cavalcade of celebrities lined up at St Peter’s gate to the (allegedly) sexually-deviant man-baby that could be the next US President, there have been points of this year that feel as if the entire planet has been consumed by a grim SkyNet/Matrix-esque fever dream.

OK, melodramatic hyperbole aside, the recently launched PlayStation VR has, nonetheless, got loads of people thinking about the real-life impact of what might come to be should the rumble around virtual reality actually take hold of the collective mainstream…and if you’ve watched the latest series of Black Mirror, it’s completely understandable as to why.

PS VR, while nowhere near the first consumer VR accessory, looks set to be most people’s first proper foray into handing the majority of their sensory control over to a computer. Virtual reality has existed for some time already, usually the mainstay of PR stunts and gimmicky fairground style rides. Now, VR is in our homes, helping us turn our couch into a lake or pretend to be actual Batman.

If you haven’t used virtual reality kit before, it’s still quite pricey, can get a bit much here and there and critics will suggest no-one wants to stand up (as a number of early games require) and be completely consumed by something on their entire face for a couple of hours at a time.

However, give them some meatballs and they’ll gladly throw them around a kitchen for the best part of an hour, as IKEA recently found out.

Yet there are very real advancements that VR-led tech can bring us. The National Autistic Society created a virtual reality experience that put people in the shoes (eyes?) of someone living with autism to highlight how little people truly understand about the condition. There are realistic chances that, within the next few years, new surgeons will be trained with the help of virtual reality.

Gigs, sports events, press conferences…the potential is huge, and more importantly, no longer the plaything of the uber-rich or hyper-nerdy.

VR used to be the thing that people used to guarantee an instant lasting impression for product launches, low-cost experientials and the like. To some effect, it still is, but bearing in mind the Facebook smartphone app launched a mere six years ago and is now so commonplace your mum can embarrass you at a moment’s notice, will we see VR become the next logical step in not only entertainment, but advertising and high-end broadcast too?

VR is the most immersive entertainment form available to the general consumer right now and with the early reviews for Sony’s version being generally glowing, it’s probably not going anywhere quickly. But as users become more and more used to the idea of having their films and games beamed directly into their heads, alongside the inflated production values that will inevitably ensue, there will have to be richer content.

The reason smartwatches and glasses haven’t caught on (aside from the cost) could be down to their ‘one-trick pony’ nature, whereby, once a user has worked out the crux of what’s going on – and is no longer bamboozled by the shiny lights and whistles – the novelty completely wears off.

Conversely, smartphones and tablets have a virtually endless amount of ‘stuff’ you can load into them, they’re now the way a lot of people view their favourite digital content as a matter of course – those peddling VR have this in their back-pocket too.

In the PR industry, VR had plentiful benefits – you could take journalists and consumers to places and let them do things they wouldn’t usually be able to within an hour of their time. While it’s all well and good laughing at things like Ronnie O’Sullivan face-planting trying to VR Pool – it’s just as cheap to buy an actual pool table and in two years the novel effects will have well and truly disappated.

The main priority from here on out should be ensuring a depth of quality and story, hooking a prospective audience into something they really can’t get anywhere else. Which Game of Thrones fan wouldn’t want to place themselves on top of ‘The Wall’ or have a stroll around King’s Landing? Similarly, sports fans could take tours of their team’s stadiums from the comfort of their own armchair.

Again, it’s back to the idea of it being more than a ‘one-trick pony’ – as the suits behind Twitter have recently found out with short-form video platform ‘Vine’, the originality soon wears thin if you don’t renovate your offering – those investing or planning to adopt VR platforms into their day-to-day should take note.

New Faces, Same Exceptional PR Campaigns…