We've written about the communication strategy VR will need to go mass market, so today we're blogging a panel at the Silicon Valley Virtual Reality Conference forecasting VR's adoption over the next 5 years with Palmer Luckey, founder of Oculus VR, and other leaders in the VR industry. Here's highlights:
Panel question: When did you realize VR was something with great potential?
Palmer Luckey: It didn't hit me in one single moment, the potential was already laid out for me in movies and novels. I saw the potential way before I did anything about it... It wasn't until later that I realized that things weren't as good as they were portrayed in the moves.
Jens Christensen, CEO, Jaunt VR: His co-founder went to Bryce Canyon and later was trying to explain to him how awesome it was, but couldn't do so with photos. Jens wondered if they could better convey that with VR, so he bought an Oculus Rift on Craigslist, and said "Wow". That's when they started the company.
Amir Rubin, CEO, Sixense: Founded the company with a Hollywood producer (Avi Arad) and has been experimenting with VR for about 25 years, first with the military; his first experience was as a reservist in the Israeli army. "It was over 40 pounds of headset... But it was enough to show me if I can take this to the market, it's the future of experiencing content." From there it became an obsession. Avi Arad, who produced Spider-Man, wants to create an experience of what it's like to be Spider-Man.
Ed Mason, CEO, GameFace Labs: Game company working on 3D stereo gaming in 2012, keen to see where VR would take them. Realized that mobile was the future of VR -- "untethered VR is the experience we're after."
Drew Oetting, Partner, Formation 8: VC firm that backed Oculus Rift. "The room was absolutely packed" during a demo of the Rift, including partners who flew in from Korea. "Virtual reality in general has become a thing we're increasingly interested in."
Panel question: Mobile VR versus tethered desktop PR?
Ed Mason says while the PC will always be much more powerful platform, we'll see mobile VR become much more powerful. "Within the next 3-5 years" we'll get "pretty good" VR experiences on mobile.
Palmer says that consumer VR can only be done well on PCs now ("My passion is making VR as good as it can be"), but adds that he's seen very powerful versions of VR on mobile that haven't been released yet. He adds that VR will move to mobile eventually. "If and when phone manufacturers start to pay attention" to VR. Otherwise, mobile on VR will always be a step behind. Even the iPhone 5 has calibration issues that makes VR difficult.
Panel question: Will other big companies follow Facebook and Sony into VR, and is there a VR bubble?
Oetting thinks potential with large companies collaborating with small developers will happen, but he isn't concerned that Oculus will face competition from a large competitor.
But is there now a "VR bubble"? "Valuation is difficult to discuss in a technology like this," Oetting says. "Oculus is a fundamentally transformative technology", so it's hard to set a valuation on it. "I defer to Facebook on that". Palmer Luckey adds: "There might be an Oculus bubble, but there's not a VR bubble."
Indeed, Oettiing's firm just invested in another VR company. "If you see companies raising hundreds of millions of dollars but making no product", he says, then you can worry about a bubble. But right now it's mostly seed funding. Jens and Amir chime in to say "Facebook got a great deal" with the purchase of Oculus Rift.
Panel question: Have we seen the killer app of VR yet?
Palmer Luckey: I haven't seen many people who've accurately selected a killer app before a platform launched. Even great games on VR now aren't clearly a killer app yet. We'll need a much larger audience to determine what's a killer app. Amir says there's a Kickstarter called Loading Human, "Look at the video they released today... I believe that is positioned to be a killer app." Oetting notes that VR is a total shift in form factor, so it's like asking what's the killer app of mobile. "It's truly a new platform... The promise of VR is that it's something that's going to have so many applications", it's hard to define any one single killer app. Amir argues we need a We Sport of VR (the Nintendo Wii game that drove so many sales of that console).
Jens: Think of things like travel -- what is it like to see your potential hotel room and pool? "I think that could change the travel industry." (Others in the panel disagree.)
Other possible killer apps: Live concert experience, or a Super Bowl front row experience. Ed Mason suggests VR chat with increased presence could be a killer app.
Audience question: Are you building VR goggles which accommodate glasses?
Palmer: The consumer version of the Rift should work with 90% of the population, including glasses wearers.
Audience question: Standardization of the VR experience across platforms?
Palmer: I don't think it's smart to build a standard today. standards will eventually rise up, but we don't want to impose one yet. There are multiple ways of pushing video, it's really hard to build a standard experience, "when we don't even know what the best way is today". That would end up trending standards toward the largest player.
Audience question for Palmer: You and Carmack talk about building the metaverse as a moral imperative - why?
Palmer: "This is one of those crazy man topics", he begins, but says it comes down to this: Everyone wants to have a happy life, but "it's going to be impossible to give everyone everything they want", such as expensive consumer items. With VR, however, you can do that. It's easy for us to say, living in the great state of California, that VR is not as good as the real world, but a lot of people in the world don't have as good an experience in real life as we do here. Also, it's going to be useful for training, and education, "There's a lot of reasons that it's imperative we create a perfect virtual reality." Ed Mason also mentions people who are bedridden can benefit from VR.
Still, Palmer adds that we shouldn't expect a perfect VR experience in the next 10 years. "As it stands, there's a lot of work that needs to be done."