Virtual realities and mixed reality is set to grow. Companies such as Meta (formerly Facebook), Apple and Google are so convinced that the Metaverse will be the next big thing, that they are reshaping their business models on the adoption of virtual realities in our personal and professional lives. VR and the Metaverse are featured in our digital marketing trends article too.
Virtual reality (VR) has become a hot topic over the last few years. The hype around VR has grown exponentially, especially since Facebook bought Oculus Rift for $2bn in 2014.
According to Grand View Research, the global VR market will grow to over $62bn in 2027. But will this growth exist within the gaming and personal world, or will it transcend into the business environment and change the way we work? Is it something we should start focusing more on, or sit back and let the hype pass?
There is clear commercial potential for brands within virtual realities and virtual environments (which are also being called the Metaverse). For example, these might include:
- Virtually branded clothing,
- Attending VR events such as sports events,
- Purchasing of apps and content,
- Sales and marketing opportunities.
“We’ll be able to feel present – like we’re right there with people no matter how far apart we actually are.”
– Mark Zuckerberg, Co-Founder and CEO Meta.
What is Virtual Reality?
Virtual Reality is a simulated environment that uses computers to create the appearance of presence in the real world or an artificial one, allowing users to interact with the environment and others as if they were in the same space. This means that you can virtually visit places or experience things that you couldn’t normally see or touch from the comfort of your home or office. For example, you can walk through a museum, ride a rollercoaster or even fly a plane all within your own virtual world.
Virtual reality is becoming more mainstream every day. These virtual reality technologies are enabling us to enter virtual worlds from the home, office or really anywhere with an internet connection. They provide a fully immersive experience as if you are there with a full field of vision. Most impressively, you can interact just like you can in real environments with virtual objects. That’s what’s making virtual reality experiences such a hot topic right now, especially with more virtual reality headsets planned for later this year and headsets like Oculus from Meta making the technology accessible.
How Do Virtual Realities Work?
How virtual reality works is through the combination of both hardware and software. The hardware is the headsets, glasses, gloves and even modified treadmills that you wear and can move on. The software is the operating system and virtual reality applications (games and systems) that enable you to do things in virtual realities.
Put simply, Virtual Reality developers follow the same guidelines used in film and theatre to create 3D virtual environments that correspond to the norms, expectations and mental models that our brains hold from the real world. What our brains then distinguish in VR in these virtual worlds is the “real thing”. This is why when you are playing a virtual reality game such as “Ritchie’s Plank”, when you fall off the plank it feels like you are genuinely falling from a great height, very fast! It’s also why the potential uses for the technology are creating such excitement amongst the tech community.
The hardware enables us to enter virtual worlds and experience fully interactive immersive worlds. Unlike using a computer with a monitor or a device, our entire peripheral vision is consumed by the immersive worlds we are in. You can’t just look outside, you are fully engaged in interactive experiences. For example, on the Oculus headset, you will enter the holding area which allows you to set where you wish to go next. This involves using a fully interactive computer-simulated environment that feels like you’re somewhere else. You cannot see anyone else around you.
The headset is like a pair of goggles, and behind this is where the computer power is. Meta has done a terrific job in creating effectively a powerful mobile phone using the Android operating system which you strap to your head and enter the Metaverse. Not only that, albeit at a loss, for now, they have made it affordable for many to be able to purchase this cutting edge technology. Some of the artificial environment in virtual reality systems is quite spectacular. Despite sometimes the graphics not being as high end as an Xbox for example, because you are immersed in numerous virtual worlds you don’t really care. It’s hard to explain, but to your brain, you are for the moment in that world.
What Can You Do in VR?
More and more companies are investing in virtual reality and it will be a hot topic for a long time to come. Many believe that this new technology will help them grow their companies, by changing the way people interact with brands. For example, car dealerships are using VR to allow potential buyers to “test drive” cars without leaving their homes. Other examples include travel agents enabling people to experience vacations before they book them, or retailers who offer the opportunity for shoppers to try on clothes. Some businesses even believe VR can change the way businesses operate entirely.
Applications of virtual reality include:
- For entertainment (particularly video games),
- For education (such as medical or military training),
- For business (such as virtual meetings and demonstrations).
Other distinct types of VR-style technology include augmented reality mixed reality, sometimes referred to as extended reality. Currently, standard virtual reality systems use either virtual reality headsets or multi-projected environments to generate realistic images, sounds and other sensations that simulate a user’s physical presence in a virtual environment.
A person using virtual reality equipment is able to look around the artificial world, move around in it, and interact with virtual features or items. The effect is commonly created by VR headsets consisting of a head-mounted display with a small screen in front of the eyes, but can also be created through specially designed rooms with multiple large screens. Virtual reality typically incorporates auditory video feedback, but may also allow other types of sensory and force feedback through haptic technology Virtual ” has had the meaning of “being something in essence or effect, though not actually or in fact” since the mid-1400s.
Below are some examples of how virtual reality is already being used.
Games and Gaming
We’ve likely all played a computer game at some point in our computing lives, and virtual reality takes this to the next level. Rather than playing a game with the outside world visible outside of the screen, you are playing on, imagine entering the world and being completely in it and interacting with the gaming world you enter. You can go for a round of golf, play table tennis, go skiing or perhaps you prefer flying. There are even zombie-apocalyptic worlds to enjoy and many mysteries and puzzles, which feel a bit like a novel coming to life.
If you like playing card games such as Poker, then take a seat and pick up and play with your chips as you play against other players from anywhere. Maybe, you want to test your senses and walk out on a plank hundreds of feet above a city and test your nerve? When you fall it is quite literally one of the strangest sensations. You can also play relaxing games like VR fishing which lets you enjoy different environments of your choosing. It really takes gaming to the next level.
What is interesting, is that when the Xbox and Playstations focus on creating greater, more enhanced graphics for a more real-life experience, when you enter virtual realities, you almost don’t care that the graphics are not as high quality because you adapt to the world you’re in.
Virtual reality games are set to explode. We are already seeing this happening with games such as Flight Simulator being used by amateur pilots to enjoy the world of flight without leaving their homes. This technology used to be just available to those lucky enough to enter a dedicated simulator. But now, you can play whenever you like.
Other games which are proving popular in VR already are:
- Ritchie’s Plank,
- Beat Saber,
- The Elder Scrolls,
- Tetris (just keeps coming back in new forms),
- The Climb,
- Poker (which literally feels like you’re at a poker table),
- Vader Immortal,
- Batman: Arkham VR,
- Superhot VR,
- Tripp (a relaxing meditation experience),
- Trek VR (a relaxing walk and escape),
- Big Screen (to watch films and more literally in a virtual cinema).
More and more games are getting released onto the Oculus headsets. For even more detailed graphics in-game, you can hook the headsets up to powerful gaming computers via a sync cable and the experience becomes even more real. With maximum peripheral vision once in the games you really can escape to another world. Many of the games and immersive technology are built using Unreal Engine which provides a rich, unified framework for building virtual reality apps. It’s a similar development environment used for games on the Xbox for example, but modified for the latest in virtual reality and augmented reality technology.
Education and Training
Due to the immersive nature of virtual realities, training and education could benefit greatly from this emerging field of technology. From an education perspective, I could see this working in two ways. The first would be through immersive video experience, the second interactive engagement through scripted digital storytelling. Each offers its own educational benefit by creating impact.
For example, Oculus TV has created an excellent TV experience called ‘Surviving 9/11’. It works well as a shock factor and historical education. There is also a first experience called ‘Meeting Rembrandt’ which demonstrates the power of meeting historical figures and learning in a different environment to great effect.
From a training perspective, interactive training sessions and exchange of information across interactive dashboards and the sharing of knowledge, set in country retreats and expansive scenery create the sense that you have escaped the office, only to still be in it. It’s a way of interacting with information in new ways to fully engage. It doesn’t have to be anything too fancy either, it could just be sitting with your team in an auditorium watching the same video on a large screen and talking things through. This would be much more impactful than watching a training video on a small mobile screen with distractions all around you. You’re more likely to retain the information conveyed and it will be much more impactful and emotional.
Medical and Health
Virtual realities are already being used in the medical arena, especially within training such as helping surgeons train for operations in advance.
Virtual Reality gives access to all the information in the living human body – you can see areas that you couldn’t reach before, even with a scalpel and incisions. Currently, medical students train on cadavers, which are often not available and (obviously) do not behave the same way a live patient would. In VR, you can see minute detail of any part of the body in vivid 360-degree CGI reconstruction. You’ll also be able to create training scenarios that replicate certain surgical procedures.
Patients with physical ailments are taking advantage of the ability to see the inside of their bodies in virtual reality. Virtual reality allows patients to partake in a virtual walkthrough of their procedures by virtually stepping into their own individualized 360° VR reconstruction of their anatomical structure and function.
Virtual reality’s capacity to transport you elsewhere can allow it to be used to create simulations for the situations in which psychological disorders arise. No longer will a therapist need to accompany a client to a scenario to assist with therapy such as their fear of flying, or crowded spaces. These can now all be recreated safely within VR. Interestingly, studies have shown that VR can help speed up physical recovery time by ensuring patients remain focused and engaged within the environment they are getting their therapy. Imagine performing your exercises on a beautiful beach rather than a hospital.
Already many are using VR for meditation and mental health and well-being. You can escape into another world for guided meditations and begin your day in a world away from your immediate surroundings. This has already been proven to reduce anxiety and reduce stress levels in participants and is no doubt an area that will expand greatly in the future. Entering the virtual world is enabling patients access to a safe space to rest, recover and relax. Everyone knows how lying in a hospital bed can be tiresome, but this might become easier and improve healing if you could enjoy an immersive experience during your recovery period.
I can see themed areas emerging in this arena too such as if you’re a fan of Star Wars the potential to train with the Jedi for example – again a commercial incentive for interactive content for businesses to go into VR and use existing assets in new ways (if you’re Disney in this scenario).
Entertainment and Immersive Experiences
Whilst our home televisions keep getting bigger, what if we all started to hang out in immersive cinemas to watch our favourite films together? Perhaps we’d all prefer to go back in time and walk the streets as they might have been during World War 2 to experience the way life used to be, or perhaps go back further and visit medieval times? What if we were able to jump into the movie we were watching as events unfold?
You can already jump onto a rollercoaster in VR and feel the bit of your stomach jump as you ride up and down – it can really feel like you’re on one. Virtual realities are shaping the way we interact and consume our content too. I recently watched on Oculus TV and experienced where the D-Day landings were placed over scenes of Normandy as it is today and how it would have looked on June 6th 1944. It gives a real visceral experience of the historic events that day and puts you back in time as close to almost being there and witnessing the momentous day in history. You just don’t get that kind of experience watching television.
The COVID-19 pandemic changed the way many of us do business and for those not used to using video conference calls pre-pandemic, we all know what this is now. There’s just one problem, we still feel far away when on a call. This is where VR comes in. Imagine sitting around a table or meeting room as if you were all in the same room.
Not only do meetings in VR support remote working, they also reduce our travel time and mean we all become more productive due to the lack of travel required. Admittedly, there are times when a face to face meeting are a must, but for everything in between, I wouldn’t be surprised if VR remote meetings start to become more normal over the next few years. After all, there would be no need to fight over who has use of the conference room either.
I wonder if in the near future we might even do away with our mobile phones and engage in more interactive phone calls too. I suppose it would depend on the context, but surely you would be able to gain more visual cues from a 3D immersive phone call than not being able to see the other person on the end of the line at all. After all, we’re all much more used to using video conferencing now following the COVID-19 pandemic.
Further Uses of Virtual Realities and Virtual Worlds in Business
There’s no mistaking that the private use of VR can also extend into the business world. Some of the items mentioned above overlap, for example, education and training, so this has been left out of the list below as has video conferencing and virtual meetings.
Here are a few further uses of how virtual realities could be used in business moving forwards:
Product demonstration is the key to sales in many industries. Some businesses, such as clothing retailers, use VR to let consumers try items on. If a brand is selling a new product, virtual reality can be used to allow customers to see, touch, and feel the product before buying it.
If you conduct product demos for your business, choosing augmented reality or full-on virtual reality might be one way to stay relevant and current with your target market.
VR is a great way to exhibit products at trade shows, expos, or conventions. Instead of relying on presentations, scale models, or static images, retailers can directly present their products to customers to increase engagement. Better still, the prospect might not even need to leave their home.
if you were involved in lighting design or architecture, you might for example be able to bring your plans to life through virtual realities and enable customers to vividly experience their new home or show them how subtle lighting can make a difference to their wellbeing. It’s easier to change a model than to rebuild a house after all. With virtual realities, you can bring people’s dreams to life.
The most innovative and successful companies are constantly training their employees. Virtual realities could play a major factor in creating that immersive, full-on experience when learning new things at a business, whether this is the latest standards or gaining on the job experience before it even happens.
According to PWC, trainees learnt four times faster using VR and were 3.75 times more emotionally connected to the content being taught. The added advantage of replicating dangerous scenarios makes VR training an attractive training option.
With more and more people working remotely, VR is a great way to bring everyone into the same ‘room’. You can use it for morning standup meetings, long-form training and communicate and collaborate as if you’re all in it together. It’s a great way of keeping people engaged whilst at the same time remaining focused.
Data Immersion and Visualisation
This is one area where Virtual Realities could excel. Rather than looking at data in 2D on paper or a screen, we can now interact and engage with the data that we produce. If you like, you can “walk among the stats.” Imagine getting literally the ‘bigger picture’ as you immerse yourself in the world of data. This is because you can create a dedicated space to review the information from.
Still confused? Picture this. Instead of seeing a list of someone’s connections on LinkedIn, imagine seeing a 3D world where all the different connections and networks an individual has and seeing visually how one connects to the other. This is just a simple example, but you can see how using VR things can start to relate to one another. You can process information much faster this way as you can start to see patterns and data flows previously not considered.
With virtual realities, you can create a much greater scale to work in. With the increased immersion that your space brings, you become fully focused on the task at hand. It’s currently more difficult to become distracted by the real-world environment and distractions such as phone calls for example.
Another benefit longer term will be the ability to bring your team together to look at data holistically, from different departments. This will increase learning, but also collaboration and everyone will be able to see data in a whole new way.
Video marketing is on the rise. The reason is that video is one of the most emotive forms of marketing. If you don’t agree, have you ever cried watching a film? Moving images have the ability to create greater emotions within us, thus a greater connection with the content we’re watching. Virtual realities offer to take this to the next level.
Storytelling is something humans have done for centuries. It’s a core component of how we communicate and learn. Disney has done this almost better than anyone and unsurprisingly VR and content are at the core of their future strategy. With virtual reality, we can now immerse prospects within our brand and services in ways never before imaginable.
You might be thinking, well we can’t afford the kit that we now need to make all this new content. What’s interesting though, is you don’t need anything new. Websites and videos all work in their current format within the Metaverse, it’s just on a much bigger scale than our monitors. For example, the YouTube app on Oculus puts you into a cinema-scale arena with options to move the screen and choose how you want to experience the content in front of you. You don’t need to do anything new, just place your content on the existing platforms that function within the Metaverse.
Prototyping is a vital step for any business developing products. Without prototyping, you miss a vital step in analysing a product’s market viability and any potential design flaws. Prototyping can save you a lot of money and time. Prototyping in virtual realities within different scenarios takes this further into the realm of the real-world and customer experience before anything has been built. Here are some examples of how prototyping can work well in VR:
- Aerospace and aircraft design
- Military capabilities
- Car design
- Housing, architecture and design
- Consumer electronics
VR enables you to collaborate and witness prototypes in scale previously not enjoyed until full-scale models are created. In essence, VR becomes a sort of simulator for product creation. Testing and modelling can be assessed and reviewed with minimal cost.
BMW is already using virtual realities to build prototypes of its vehicles. No longer are they building full-scale cars from clay, but full-scale VR models can be modified at a moment’s notice speeding up the approval process and reducing engineering costs considerably.
Augmented Reality (Mixed Reality)
Most of us are still living in the real world and long may this continue. But there is a way in which these two worlds could come together and work exceptionally well. This would be augmented reality.
Augmented reality is where you take the current world and build views on top of the world we interact with. In other words, it’s a mixed reality. Here’s an example of how this could work in practice.
You’ve just been to the furniture store and purchased some flat-pack furniture (from some well-known Swedish store perhaps…). You get back home and open up the box. Only this time, you put on some glasses and Sven is now standing next to you, who will guide you through assembling your furniture step by step.
Perhaps you take your new BMW for a drive, pop on some shades to avoid the sunshine in your eyes, and now you have a road map in front of you taking you straight to your next meeting with the latest traffic news and turn-by-turn instructions all via augmented VR.
This sort of augmented reality would also be exceptionally useful when visiting a city for the first time, showing you the latest events and shops with the latest sales in town.
The opportunity is endless.
Virtual Realities Summary
Hopefully, this article has shown you how virtual realities and virtual environments are going to affect our lives and why it’s creating quite a buzz in the technology sector. Technology should be here to enable us to do more with less and I think VR will enable us to experience the world and technology in a potentially safer, more immersive, and collaborative way.
Key takeaways from this article:
- Virtual realities are computer-simulated environments.
- Can provide an immersive virtual learning environment.
- VR allows you to play, learn and relax.
- You can use VR for prototyping, communicating, demonstrating, and entertainment.
- It works via hardware and software.
- May develop into augmented reality in the real world as the technology develops.