Harnessing The VR Hive Mind
In preparation for his VRX2018 talk given in San Francisco last week, nDreams’ CEO Patrick O’Luanaigh wanted to find out what the collective ‘hive mind’ of leading VR experts thoughts about the future of the technology and whether VR will have a ‘hockey stick’ moment… here he goes in to the detail.
At nDreams, we’re constantly gathering information so we have a considered view of what we believe is going to happen to VR/AR over the next few years. As part of this, we talk to many different partners and try to figure out how hardware and software sales are growing and what big changes are on the horizon... I wanted to know whether there is a consistent narrative amongst the experts in the field, or whether everyone has a different view.
I contacted 28 leading experts from a range of leading VR hardware companies, film/entertainment companies, major VR developers, big chip manufacturers, VR analysts and a few other influential people heavily involved with VR. 25 of them were happy to provide the information, and I have aggregated and anonymised their feedback.
Will VR have a ‘hockey stick’ moment?
Firstly, I asked them whether they felt that VR would have a ‘hockey stick’ moment, where it really takes off and becomes truly mass-market.
Clearly, you’d expect people who work in VR to be more bullish about its future than the average person, but equally to be more aware of the data and what’s going to happen in the coming years. And 84% of the respondents were confident that VR would have a hockey stick moment eventually. Interestingly, half of the people who said no felt that an MR headset would hit the mass-market, but not VR alone.
More interesting to me was WHEN they felt this would happen. Would this be scatter of answers all over the place, or did a consistent view emerge?
2021/2022 emerged as a very clear window, with two thirds of the respondents all picking that two-year range. I also asked them what they believed would drive this ‘hockey stick’ moment. The clear top five answers were (in no particular order):
- Ease of use
- Form factor
- Better technical capabilities
- Killer content
Other notable responses included ‘Apple headset hitting the market’, ‘Cloud streaming’, ‘Eye tracking/control’ and ‘the launch of Oculus Quest’.
Those that didn’t believe VR would take off gave their reasons as being that the hardware is just too big and bulky, there isn’t enough compelling content and that there just aren’t enough reasons for people to use VR.
Will VR and AR converge?
I then asked the group if they believed that VR and AR devices would converge into a single device, and if so, why?
A significant majority (68%) of respondents felt that the two technologies would converge. Reasons given for this were:
- The commercial saving of having one device rather than two
- The fact that AR glasses are “effectively just VR headsets with transparency” (i.e. they share a huge amount of technology)
- Leaders such as Michael Abrash are guiding the technology in this direction.
One respondent also mentioned that Facebook have just aligned their VR and AR divisions across both hardware and software, which seems like a relevant datapoint.
The reasons people who don’t believe that VR and AR will converge gave included that the use cases are just too different, there will be surely be ‘best of breed’ separates (as well as merged combo devices), and that it’s just too technically challenge to realise.
So, to summarise…
The majority of experts sampled believed that not only would a hockey stick moment happen, but it would happen around 2021 and 2022. A 3-5-year window is to us unsurprising and largely aligned to our more optimistic internal forecasts. The Oculus Quest is largely touted as going to be able to drive the market given it offers an all-in-one wireless experience with motion control and 6DOF, but also, we’d expect a new generation of VR headsets to be rolling out by then.
On the flipside, many respondents believed this will happen later or potentially not at all, possibly due to consolidation with AR or a lack of content. They may indeed be right – our more reserved forecasts highlight that it may take until the next generation of untethered devices, and next gen tethered headsets to really hit their stride, for mass adoption to occur. Whilst you could also argue that ‘of course’ respondents working actively in the market will believe it will happen earlier than the market realities will allow
However, focusing on either side feels like its missing the most important point. From our respondents what we can see is that the vast majority – experts with a large influence on the future success of the VR market – believe the hockey stick WILL happen at some point in the future. And as leaders in companies with large stakes in virtual reality, are actively planning for and aiming to deliver this mass adoption, whether it takes 3 years, 5 years or even 10 years to get to that point.
As long as you’re prepared to be patient for a little longer, VR will become one of the most important and disruptive technologies of this century.
Patrick O’Luanaigh is the CEO here at nDreams. He has over 20 years in the video games industry, holding senior positions at Codemasters, SCi, and more recently as Creative Director at Eidos where he was responsible for titles including Tomb Raider Legend, Hitman Blood Money, Just Cause and Conflict: Desert Storm. He left to found nDreams in late 2006.