Overcoming obstacles for immersive tech to thrive

By 28th May 2019Food for thought

At the end of 2018, we released an “XR for business” white paper in partnership with Raconteur and The Times. In the issue, it highlighted the four obstacles that the XR industry must overcome for success, these were:

  • No standardisation
  • Hardware
  • Limited Content
  • No Optimisation

It’s important that as an industry, we keep these challenges at the forefront of our mind, and how we can leverage these barriers to increase adoption rates. In this article, we’re going to take a deeper look into these obstacles, the reasons for this, and how we can overcome them.

No standardisation

Looking at the XR landscape, developers are torn between eight different major platforms that you can publish content to. What might seem reasonable for companies with the resources to develop for multiple platforms, is costly and impractical for smaller developers.

More importantly, focusing on the consumers of VR, it’s confusing and intimidating for people to choose what headset to buy, depending on what platform it’s supported by. Consumer purchasing decisions should be made on the basis of the hardware and its cost, not the current software on the machine (which could change as contracts end etc).

A proposed solution, backed by the likes of Oculus, Vale, Unity, Epic, Samsung, Magic Leap and Google is OpenXR, an initiative that aims to develop a cross-platform VR standard so applications only need to be written once to run on any VR system.

Until then, consumers will be limited to the device they buy and are at risk of not purchasing a device at all.

A t Make Real, we faced this problem when designing our Loco Dojo game. It’s currently available on Oculus Store (Oculus Rift + Touch), Steam (HTC Vive) and Windows Mixed Reality, as well as in VR Arcades running Springboard VR, Synthesis VR, CTRl-V and other VR Arcade systems. As developers, we want as many people to enjoy the game as possible, so have developed for multi-platform, despite the cost of adding each platform support, using clever input design parity.

Hardware

Both VR and AR headsets right now are bulky and expensive. Not only that, they require a certain level of technical knowledge to even set up the device – there’s having to purchase the right PC that is compatible with VR, aligning up the sensors correctly and installing the software.

With an average cost for a headset and laptop around £2000, XR is limited to a certain audience size who have the means to purchase this (and see the value in spending that much money). Meaning the audience right now is often Businesses seeking better ways to use immersive technology in their training or aid their employees to work more efficiently.

For developers, this immediately puts a limit on the type of content they are able to develop to see success. It’s why there aren’t thousands and thousands of really great VR games – which further discourages consumers from buying.

Make Real has relationships with all major VR hardware producers, and therefore we use the hardware that best fits the project we are working on. Letting the project needs to shape the hardware we use is important for success, whereas having to meet the needs of existing hardware limits the project from the get-go.

Thankfully, looking forward to the cost of hardware is reducing, and so is the ease of use. One piece of hardware available now since May 2019 is the Oculus Quest, the latest offering from Facebook. Priced from £399, users no longer need a VR compatible laptop to run content, providing complete wireless freedom. Could this be a major breakthrough bringing virtual reality to the masses? We think so.

Limited Content

A huge problem within the XR industry right now is the limited amount of content available to consumers. Right now, PSVR has a good selection of VR games and movies (around 600 to buy or download for free), but this is extremely limited compared to a Games Console like the PS4 which has over 2000 titles (just games). It’s a major turn off for consumers buying technology that doesn’t have the content or support to back the price tag.

Remember a few years back when the tech battle was between HD DVD vs Blu Ray?- both were overpriced technology (only to be beaten by 4K HD), but the technology makers signed deals with content creators like Sony or Universal to create films exclusive to one particular title. This approach was the fall of the technology as it forced consumers to make only one choice – automatically making them ignore half of the content.

Oculus announced recently that it pledged $0.5bn to invest in content for their platform and it’s what the industry needs. Rather than the hardware developers working independently from software developers, there needs to be greater integration as both parties thrive on each others success.

No optimisation

With the technology industry being so public facing, the technology we build (constantly in alpha and beta testing versions) is so rapid that all our mistakes are on show, damaging public perception of the tech. Take 3D TV’s for example; the technology was tried and tested way before it was ready for consumers, resulting in a bad reputation and it is ‘just a fad’ or a ‘gimmick’.

For XR experiences to feel intuitive and become a success, they must be compatible and work with (not against) your existing technology and software. A problem is that with the lack of proven return of investment for these software and hardware companies, they are unlikely to buy in and develop their products in the near future.

One advancement to help solve this problem is all major platforms now running virtual desktop apps such as Web Browsers like Chrome, or software such as Adobe Photoshop.

Conclusion

Looking ahead, it’s clear the industry not only aware of the problems it faces but has some guidance from previous technology fails on how to overcome this and become a mainstream consumer product. With headsets becoming easier to use and cheaper to purchase, and hardware producers investing in software and experiences for their platforms.