Over the weekend, I had the opportunity to attend one of the largest virtual reality expos in the Pacific Northwest, hosted and organized by the oldest virtual reality studio in Canada. Now in its second year, CVR hosted speakers from such outlets and organizations as NASA, Google and CNN, as well as international designers and developers from Australia, France and even Lebanon.
Part of the goal with this year's show was to showcase the local talent here in Vancouver, as well as the remarkable talent from all around the world. We wanted to see what's happening not only in with virtual reality, but also with augmented reality and mixed reality. So, where do we go from here?
Armed with two motion controllers and the VR headset, I navigated around the multiplayer arena for a fast and frantic game of new-age dodgeball. With each controller, I could pick up and shoot the balls at the opposing team (the game is played in a 3v3 format). Each controller is also used to launch a teleporter, which was the primary way of moving around.
This title, among others, illustrates the multiplayer potential of VR gaming. Just because you get lost into your own world via a VR headset doesn't mean you need to enjoy that world on your own. But something that I picked up on very quickly at CVR 2017 is that while much VR innovation is being driven by gaming, that's not where we find the biggest opportunities and areas for growth.
In her keynote speech, MediaMonks VR executive producer Kelly Kandle highlighted how VR is being used with brand marketing. Brands need to be marketing with and not just marketing to consumers. It's become much more collaborative in nature, as consumers seek experiences and conversations over just things.
"Marketers are really using it," echoes CVR 2017 event producer Anne-Marie Enns. "It's not the gamers who are providing the revenue stream."
Instead, the most rapid expansion can be found in other areas. "A lot of enterprise are adopting [VR/AR/MR]. And I know just within our tech industry, working in it, that you see it so much more, like people using it in medical and education. Like I know that it has popped up so many times this year as an educational tool for people."
Indeed, non-gaming has very quickly become the biggest area of growth for virtual reality, augmented reality and mixed reality. We're seeing it used more prominently in entertainment, for instance, providing the general public with enhanced experiences previously not available to them.
The hardware is getting better, but the content needs to get there too. Vinay Narayan, executive director of strategy with HTC Vive, further asserts their commitment to supporting the people and firms who are creating this content. He said it doesn't do much good when media come to demo something a few months later, only to learn the company has shuttered.
"Since day one," he states during his keynote presentation, "the future of immersive technologies, whether it's AR, VR or XR, the convergence of such, has been driven and will continue to be driven by the development community."
When someone asked Narayan about global sales and the installed user base for HTC Vive, he was quick to point out that units shipped is not a good indicator of adoption. The marketplace has become one-to-many, like with the rise of VR arcades and other public installations.
But going back to the previous point, the growth isn't going to be in gaming. VR gaming will increase in popularity, but nowhere near at the same rate as other industries. More and more companies are going to use them in training and development, like in automotive, architecture, medical diagnostics and so on.
The average VR consumer is only spending $40 a month on content. By contrast, industry and corporate initiatives lend themselves to much larger sunk costs (hundreds of thousands of dollars or more) and much longer timeframes with more customized solutions, resulting in a tremendous opportunity for developers.
Having worked with virtual reality at NASA for 25 years, lead VR innovator and engineer Evelyn Miralles asserts that VR is a proven technology and "the hardware is going to get better, faster, smaller, I have no doubt." They've been using virtual reality for training for years.
"Augmented reality is the other technology that is just getting there to the point of being used consistently for this," she told me during our interview. "That's where I see our use of those realities, augmented reality, is going to be a part of us and how we do business to assist the astronauts in operation and training."
In particular, they're looking into how both VR and AR can be best utilized in the context of building habitats on planetary surfaces. Imagine the potential as we prepare to terraform Mars, for instance.
VR gaming may be the hot new kid on the block with the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, PSVR and other devices, but the industry for VR, AR and MR is so much bigger than just blasting away at aliens in a virtual environment or playing a game of digital dodgeball.
While at CVR 2017, I saw one booth showing off how VR could be applied to real estate. Another had a 360 camera mounted to a robot spider. There was also talk of how car dealerships could leverage the technology to show off every conceivable model and configuration without having to keep the actual vehicles on the lot. And then there is all the potential for VR or AR-enhanced training.
You can expect to see rapid growth and expansion in the next five to ten years. We might not all have VR helmets and we might not all be walking around with the next generation of Google Glass, but we might be using it at the office a heck of a lot more. Check out the slideshow below for more photos from CVR 2017.