VR/AR Discussion with Sipra Thakur

I spoke at UCLA Anderson's Second Annual VR/AR Collective meet-up this week. Having worked on several large-scale VR campaigns with studios and launching IMAX's VR Centre, I was in great company with other execs from studios and location based VR companies.  I thought I would share highlights of what we discussed here:

These views are my own opinion and do not reflect the views or opinions of former employers. 


1. So the Vision Summit just happened last week. As always, John Riccitiello captivated the audience w his keynote.  He predicted VR/AR to "really take off" and hitting critical mass within 12-24 months, with 3 main factors to drive adoption:

a) price

b) mobility

c) content

Regarding price, with current tethered systems at $1k-$2500, his point was it's hard to move significant volume of any tech at that price point, but he's confident that we'll see all-in-one high-end mobile HMDs well under $1000 by early 2019.

Regarding mobility, he defined this as not only being untethered, but feeling comfortable enough to walk around, truly mobile while in headset or wearing AR glasses. He predicted this will occur within the next 3-5 years.

Regarding content, his theory on the current content problem (being low-quality content and not enough content) is because AAA content creators (major non-gaming and gaming studios) won't produce until they can justify production expense. And that isn't there until they're guaranteed a population of 100 million AR/VR devices. Which he also feels will happen in 2019, soon after the price is right.

Do you agree with these predictions and why or why not? If not, do you have any predictions of your own?

Sipra's response:

1. I think he’s pretty on point with all of this. In regards to price and content, they are quite related to me.  It's come up in some conferences about there being a chicken and egg problem between the two.  There isn’t much incentive to produce AAA content for the market because there aren’t enough headsets out there.  Because there isn’t a lot of content, there’s not a lot of incentive to buy a $2500 headset. If prices don’t fall, it needs to be content driving purchase. 

In regards to mobility, I don't see it being as big an issue as price and content just yet. I see VR as an extension of gaming, and people are used to being homebound for the more complex games.  The headsets can be heavy, especially for smaller frames (like myself being a woman), though. It could potentially knock out a sector of the market.  But, seeing this as more of a gaming platform currently, it is falling in place with the target male consumer.  



2. So let’s talk industry growth and, more specifically, the perception of industry growth. Here are some stats:

In 2016, VR closed at an aggregate $2.7B in revenue; AR at $1.2B (with $600M due to Pokemon Go alone).

On the one hand, you hear evangelists like Riccitiello making the point that closing out 2016 at a total $3.9B from an effective $0 in 2015 is, his words, “stupendous”.

On the other hand, you hear dismal reports of VR not living up to the hype. Best Buy pulled almost half the Oculus demo stations in February, WSJ wrote a scathing article last year decrying the lack of depth and breadth of content, Vrideo went under, there are widespread concerns that many consumers are turned off and will be hard to convince them to come back.

Most folks have agreed we’ve hit the gap of disappointment/trough of disillusionment. The question is how long we’re going to be here.

What do you make of this- Is it going to get worse before it gets better or is this as bad as it gets? Do we have a problem? Or are we ok? Or both?

Sipra's response:

2. There will still be growth in the market.  The technology is still in its relative infancy and there is a long road ahead to improve upon.  Like you said, there was no market in 2015 even.  

VR grabs a lot more headlines than AR does at trade shows and press, but I think that’s where there is more growth opportunity.  It integrates with devices and areas in which people are already familiar so it’s easier to adopt, like Pokemon Go. 



3. On a more upbeat note, there is a bright light in our ecosystem at the moment. If VR/AR is the “darling” of tech, then location-based VR is the “darling darling” (location-based VR is a physical location with VR experiences).  Some folks welcome this development as a means to accelerate VR/AR trial; others are worried it may stall device purchases.

What are your thoughts on location-based VR, particularly with regard to it as a business opportunity, its contribution to VR as a whole and what it means for content producers?

Sipra's response: 

3. I think it’s a necessary means to an end.  It’s too expensive to just go out and buy, so this offers a trial and adoption method for users to see if it’s worth buying.  It’s like a video game arcade to me.  Once the price points of in-home gaming systems fell, so did we see the fall of arcades as well. I think we’ll see the same in VR: as the systems become more affordable for in-home use, location based VR will also diminish.  There is a small window whereby VR centres can have an advantage because of the current price point and novelty of the experience. 



4. Let’s focus in a bit more on the topic of content. The other day I read and shared what I thought was an interesting article by Courtney Harding at TV Rev that spoke to the need of serialized content in VR. She described a phenomenon of there currently being too many one-off titles with little compelling reason for viewers to keep coming back. She cited as an example who many of us would consider a leader in VR content, the NY Times. They have 360 videos of everything from police raids to fashion shows to the migrant crisis in Europe, not exactly a cohesive content strategy. We could probably and fairly say the same about many other producers like Jaunt, Within/Here Be Dragons and others.

Why do you think this phenomenon of so many one-offs is? What can we do to address the problem and drive the market past this (if you even think it’s a problem)?

Sipra's response: 

4. It’s hard to budget and plan for a market that doesn’t exist in a significant way yet, so I can understand why there hasn’t been a significant investment in serializing content.  As the market matures, and I think this also ties heavily into the success of location based VR, there should be an investment in serialized content to keep people coming back. 

If I were looking to produce content now, I would make sure to concentrate on experiences that are more immersive and participatory rather than passive. I’ve seen both and the passive ones are pretty lackluster.



5. Lastly, a fairly open-ended and subjective question: What are you most looking forward to in the next 12 months?  I’ll go first: I have two: the release of Ready Player One and what that can really do for immersive media and consumer awareness (not to mention the what’s sure to be amazing Vive experience they’re devving alongside it) as well as Instagram’s rumored supporting of 360 photos and video.

Sipra's response: 

5. Facebook was late to the game on AR, but they have made their statement having surpassed Snapchat in daily active users.  With the head-start they have with the VR Oculus component and distribution, however slow Oculus development has been at this point, I think they have only begun to reveal what they can do.  At F8, Zuckerberg commented on the camera becoming a tool for this, and I think it’s going to make it an interesting daily touchpoint in our lives. 

Also, the Vive tracker from HTC, a universal Lighthouse tracked device that you can attach to any object to track it within VR.  Price point is right, $100.  The idea that you can attached it to any object and track it within VR is pretty cool.