Recent price drops in virtual reality headsets have created a wave of excitement in our community by signaling a significant and encouraging step toward mainstream adoption of the technology. However, tech experts and VR aficionados alike know that hardware accessibility is just one small piece of the puzzle, which also consists of better content creation tools, applications, network mechanics and more. Another crucial component of the big picture is social VR. For those unfamiliar with the fairly new term, it generally means multiple VR users share the same virtual experience regardless of their physical location.
Historically, human interaction has been a powerful force in many of today’s game-changing technological advancements, especially, as its name suggests, social media. One example is how the gaming giant, Nintendo, started their recent comeback after collaborating with Niantic to release Pokémon Go, a location-based augmented reality game with physical team play. The social aspects of this massive multiplayer gaming app contributed to its enormous popularity.
Similar to the Pokémon Go approach, the market can activate greater interest in VR by offering more social interaction opportunities, as they play a critical role in mass consumer adoption. Following is a look at the advancements, hurdles and opportunities for social experiences in VR:
One of the most pivotal applications in the growth of social VR is the introduction of platforms in which users can virtually engage with one another, similar to traditional social media outlets. This includes AltspaceVR, Facebook’s “Spaces,” Linden Lab’s Sansar (creators of Second Life) and TheWaveVR where interactive content and live moments are shared as well as game-play with personalized avatars.
These platforms enhance general communication applications. We can now share our environment in 360-degree video, make calls, play games and even watch movies with one another. Furthermore, many experts believe that the increasing interest in live moments on VR applications and platforms, such as esports and concerts, will make the market especially appealing.
VR is considered the next revolution for real-time events, similar to the shift from radio to TV aside from the fact that we have the ability to share these live moments and engage with each other. The live VR market is already flourishing, and by 2021, it is expected to exceed $75 billion, where concert, gaming and sporting events already take the lead in the industry.
Live content is experiencing tremendous success on social platforms that support video, such as Instagram and Twitter. Livestreams in VR mirror the current trend of live video on popular social networking sites and allow people to have intimate conversations in real-time. Viewers are spending more time on live video than on-demand content, and brands and content creators have taken notice. Subsequently, live video is fast becoming the foundation of much of the content on the internet. By 2019, video content alone will account for 80 percent of all global internet consumption and VR livestreams will account for a large percentage of the projected rise.
For the most part, premium VR content (360-degree video and real-time computer graphics) is produced by professionals with expensive camera rigs. The ability to create rich VR content has been one of the biggest gaps in the lack of social interplay in VR.
Thankfully, companies like Samsung are making 360-degree cameras more affordable and mobile. Also, 360-degree imagery has recently become widespread with many mobile phones carrying pre-installed camera apps for 360-degree photo capturing. These advancements allow users to create and share 360-degree videos, photos (VR-selfies) and livestreams, which is key to further encouraging social interactions in VR.
Content application tools
The ease of sharing high-quality content is crucial to empowering VR users, but equally important are application tools that set the stage for the next killer social VR app. Whether developers create VR games, social experiences or educational apps, users need simplicity and intuitive usability within application interfaces. These consist of eye-tracking technology and motion control for improved displays in addition to better navigation and avatar creation that allow life-like interactions and versatility. Even though extensive implementation of these technologies is still a ways to go, software development kits (SDKs) and application program interfaces (APIs) are more available thanks to companies/platforms such as Oculus, HTC Viveport, making it easier for developers to bring a natural, human-like engagement between digital alter egos to life.
With these tools firmly established, we will likely see a surge of stellar VR apps that encourage socialization. One such case is Mindshow, which provides a VR toolset for storytelling and the possibility for users to construct their own animation that unlocks unimaginable boundaries of creativity. In the social context, these toolkits provide a sky’s-the-limit mentality in VR development that will bring more social exchanges.
There’s a lot of technical mechanics to overcome when it comes to VR content distribution for socializing. Major players in the space like Samsung Gear and Oculus Rift all permit content production on their individual platforms and are mostly unshareable. The increase of VR app creation and marketing will alleviate this issue and social platforms like AltspaceVR will continue to progressively facilitate the production of cross-platform content where multiple users can interact on PC or mobile with different VR headsets and enjoy the same content.
Another major obstacle amid these various platforms is internet bandwidth. This relates to connectivity requirements, speed and data storage. Blockchain technology has recently surfaced to be a logical and versatile solution to this problem. VR platforms that are powered by blockchain’s decentralized, immutable ledger technology will give users better experiences; alleviating overwhelmed data networks. Blockchain’s ability to handle workflows equally among participants and eliminate intermediaries promotes an ecosystem where users can socialize and transact freely.
As the industry continues to enable users to easily create and share experiences, along with the increasing rate of investment in VR, it’s clear that technological capabilities will dramatically increase over time. Consumers will soon participate in the ultimate VR experience while the community as a whole perfects the art of immersive socialization.
Stan Glukhoedov is a VR evangelist as well as the CEO and co-founder of Prosense.tv, a global leader in broadcasting live VR events.