Becoming A (Virtual) Reality?
Published 30th June 2015
When Doc Brown and Marty McFly set the date inside the DeLorean to 2015 in the Back To The Future film trilogy, we caught a glimpse of what the world might look like: flying cars, self-drying clothes and hoverboards were the pinnacle of technology in a world that had progressed so much in the 30 years following. Unfortunately, aside from smart watches and selfie sticks, we’re a long way from flying cars. However, the world of virtual reality is fast approaching in a big way, and it’s something that can revolutionise entertainment, and potentially how we will interact with brands. One company leading the way in virtual reality (“VR”) is Oculus. The Californiabased company raised an initial round of capital in 2012 (of which $2.4m came from the crowd-funding campaign Kickstarter) to develop its successful prototype. Palmer Luckey, a VR enthusiast, is the brains behind Oculus. In 2011 at age 18, he created his first head-mounted display (HMD) in his parents’ garage. Several prototypes and countless blog posts later, Luckey went on to hook up with a number of other VR entrepreneurs, including John Carmack and Brendan Iribe, who assisted in developing the product. Subsequently, Luckey left university to focus solely on what was then the un-named Oculus. In 2014, Mark Zuckerberg announced that Facebook would acquire Oculus for a deal worth US$2bn in cash, plus Facebook shares. The Oculus Rift is the product that was originally devised in Luckey’s garage three years earlier, and is on track for release as a consumer product in Q1 2016 at a cost of around $300 (although you can pre-order the development kit now).
The product involves a head-mounted display (HMD) unit covering the user’s eyes and line of sight, with the option of headphones for an all-around peripheral VR experience. Oculus boasts that the HMD unit includes custom-tracking technology that allows the user to experience a 360-degree view in a virtual world. Additionally, the Oculus Rift uses a stereoscopic 3D view, which they say will create a more realistic view than you can experience in a movie theatre or at home with a 3D TV, as your eyes will capture images the same way as they do in the real world. It’s clear that the Oculus founders are nuts about VR, but they are not the only ones paving the way for this cuttingedge technology being readied for the mainstream consumer population. Other tech companies, including Sony, Canon, Microsoft and Google, have all dipped their toe in the world of augmented experiences with varying degrees of success. Microsoft’s Kinect took the Nintendo Wii experience to the next level, albeit without the immersive feel of a HMD, using an extremely intuitive platform instead that’s proved perfect for gamers and the entertainment space. Canon’s MREAL is a mixed reality advanced 3D experience, catering more for the B2B market. It allows users to experience a product before manifestation, allowing customers to see goods, such as custom-made cars, before they have been built. Google famously stepped into the market with Google Glass, which was developed to give people information they need at their fingertips in a hands-free format, but in a similar way to how we use smartphones today. Google Glass never made it to mass market, and earlier this year, Google announced that while it remained committed to developing the product, prototype production would cease.
Finally, Sony’s Project Morpheus aims to be released around the same time as the Oculus Rift, and is specifically targeting PlayStation 4 gamers and taking them somewhere – in their words – ‘…where your brain tricks you into thinking you’re actually in this place’. It’s not only Silicon Valley that has been pioneering augmented and VR. Casino platforms have been offering customers the chance to play with their live dealers for years, and even interact with them. The difference with using an HMD is that your whole peripheral vision will encompass a casino room, allowing for greater interaction with the dealer and other players around you and – more importantlyfor a casino - external distractions are reduced to a minimum. So what makes Oculus Rift stand out? Well put simply, it’s the presence of Facebook, bringing with it a double-edged sword of huge power and influence in the market, but also major scrutiny over data capture and usage. Mark Zuckerberg says Oculus’ growth focus over the next 4-5 years is purely on offering a virtual world inside and outside of gaming, while Facebook wants to become a portal for an increasing range of experiences, from watching sporting events, talking to friends and family, taking part in a virtual study session, having a consultation with a GP, or sitting at a poker table with the greatest players in the world… the potential is endless. With that potential comes a huge amount of data, and who better than Facebook to mine data from us? Imagine the possibilities for brands to market their products through VR; they could feasibly target these using information gathered on household income, spending habits, health, affiliations and interests, not to mention your deepest and darkest desires that the world of virtual reality will give rise to.
It’s in sport where VR will arguably start to get interesting, with football in particular. Globally football has never been bigger and more advanced off the field. The amount of money within the English game from television rights and selling the Premier League abroad means that untapped markets such as Africa and Asia can afford to sell their ‘product’ to more people than ever before. Imagine sitting in your living room with the ability to virtually transport yourself to Old Trafford or Anfield for a Liverpool vs Manchester United game, or the Camp Nou or Santiago Bernabeu for ‘El Classico’. You’ll be able to experience everything as if you were actually sitting in the stadium, with the only cost being signing up for a Facebook – or in this case – an Oculus account. What’s more, imagine getting the latest live match odds sent directly to your screen, tailored to your betting habits based on your previous experiences. It brings the term betting-in-play to the next level. Plus, there is the opportunity for each team in question to push their own brand or sponsors’ products, which can be purchased at the push of a button or voice command, without having to enter credit card or address details. Alternatively, a local pizza delivery company may send a message 10 minutes before half time, giving you the ability to choose your pizza toppings whilst you keep an eye on the game. The greatest potential benefit for brands that will use VR advertising is that it will be extremely targeted, and likely highly affordable too. If and when (most likely, when) Facebook decides to open up Oculus to companies, it’s still unclear how that particular model would work. However, advancement on the cost-per-engagement structure would make sense, considering the nature of the product; no doubt ad-relevancy would take prominence over a simple CPC or CPM model. What is clear is that VR technology is seriously making its way into the mainstream in 2015, and it could potentially be the biggest advancement in our way of life since the iPhone. Although we’re not entirely close to where Robert Zemeckis envisaged 2015 to be in Back To The Future, we are getting there. Arx Pax also used Kickstarter to fund the ‘Hendo Hoverboard’ invention, a sublime piece of engineering that uses disc-shaped hover engines to produce opposing magnetic fields, providing lift from the ground. It’s uncertain when the Hendo Hoverboard will be released to the mass market, but this year on 21 October (the exact date made famous in the film), Arx Pax plan to gift one of these hoverboards to each of the first 11 people who pledged $10,000 towards the development project. Smart watches have given brands time to stop and think about the shift in traditional digital marketing to consider how we can interact with people as part of their regular routines. But smart watches are just the beginning…where we’re going we don’t need roads.
“But what makes Oculus Rift stand out? It’s the presence of Facebook, bringing with it huge power and influence in the market, but also major scrutiny over data capture and usage.”
“Imagine getting the latest live match odds sent directly to your screen, tailored to your betting habits based on your previous experiences. It brings the term betting-in-play to the next level.”