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Strong Sales Don’t Guarantee Success For VR

In a new guest feature Geekzonia’s Peter Dobson speaks on how social could be the key to unlock VR’s future.
Sony is surprised by how well its virtual reality (VR) headsets are selling. Senior executives inside its video game division, Sony Interactive Entertainment, were initially cautious when settling on how many headsets it should manufacture, so reports of sales far outstripping expectations are very welcome to all in the VR community.

But while we have every right to be encouraged, there is a lot of work still to do. Sony’s impressive sales don’t necessarily mean that a successful mass market future for VR is assured. There is a small but real risk that VR still doesn’t have the long term appeal to back up the hype. While technologies such as augmented reality have struggled to make an impact due to a lack of compelling use cases, VR risks remaining a niche product unless it can offer experiences that users will come back to again and again.


Gaming is often cited as the so-called ‘killer app’ for VR – the use case that will persuade consumers to buy into the technology. In fact, those in the gaming community are currently debating which game the killer app will be, rather than if it will be gaming itself. This confidence is probably not misplaced, but there are several other contenders too.

For example, e-commerce is an area where VR can add a real edge. Online-only stores now have the potential to build experiences that can much more closely resemble that of a real bricks-and-mortar store. Customers will be able to much better envision how products look and feel, their size and colour, and so on. More than this, e-commerce companies will be able to create environments that defy the laws of physics and stretch the bounds of human imagination to show products in their best possible light. Imagine

However, not everyone is going to see the enhanced retail experience offered by VR as the reason to fork out for the hardware either. It could be, though, that to really hit its full potential in terms of scale it needs to enable immersive social experiences as well.

VR’s potential to enhance social media is reflected in Facebook’s acquisition of Oculus in 2014. Interestingly, some dismissed this move as folly, believing Mark Zuckerberg just wanted the latest toy. However, his vision of the long-term future of social networking recognised the importance of making it as immersive and fantastical as possible shone through.

Though the partnership between Facebook and Oculus has been underscored with calls for patience, suggesting that the social media giant doesn’t think it has it all quite figured out yet, the time for VR-enhanced social experiences is nearly upon us.

Hugo Barra - Oculus Announcement

We have reached a point where the technology is more readily available – not just through Sony or Oculus, but on mobile handsets as well. In fact, smartphones of the very near future will have VR capabilities built in as standard. To match up to this hardware, we need experiences that really provide large numbers of us to take the plunge. Imagine virtual worlds where you can live out your dreams in flexible surroundings that aren’t confined by the narratives of a game. Avatars that can be customised to your heart’s desire and environments where nothing is impossible. But for it to be really fun, you need other people there to share the experience. These could be people you already know or people who you’ve never met on the other side of the world, brought together with you through shared interests and passions.

Using the graphical capabilities of VR to create social-focused environments that defy the rules of possibility and destinations that are really worth going to will be what brings VR into the lives of the majority. Billions of people around the world are using social networks, so making the link between VR technology and social in a compelling way represents a massive growth opportunity.

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