If the 2014 Game Developers Conference (GDC) was when virtual reality (VR) videogames became a serious proposition, then the 2014 San Diego Comic-Con (SDCC) was the same for VR marketing. While last week’s event didn’t hold many reveals for videogames, the Oculus Rift VR head-mounted display (HMD) was used heavily for marketing from several high profile movie studios. 20th Century Fox led the charge with two promotional demos, one for the home release of the upcoming X-Men: Days of Future Past, the other for its Sleepy Hollow TV series.
VR advertising didn’t stop there; Warner Bros. also used the Oculus Rift to show off its upcoming disaster movie, Into the Storm, while Legendary Pictures made headlines with its experience based off of 2013’s Pacific Rim. Clearly, then, both the HMD and the technology has caught the eye of marketing teams, looking for innovative ways to show off their products. In the case of SDCC, it’s resulted in some unique experiences that bring audiences closer to movies than ever seen before. But is this necessarily a good thing?
At this early stage in the VR industry, the advantages of VR marketing actually outweigh the potential setbacks. Oculus VR essentially gets some free publicity for its upcoming device, which is yet to receive a consumer launch date, while consumers get to experience media in an entirely new format, with the remaining memory serving as one big advert for the movie that it was based on. Everybody wins, essentially.
The worry stems from the abuse of that marketing, just as it does any form of advertising. Videogames are no stranger to this debate; in-game advertising has been a point of contention between player and publisher in the past. While it’s certainly too early to see just what role marketing will play within the VR industry when it hits the mainstream, there’s a fear that it could become too intrusive, stealing our attention away from the unparalleled escapism provided by the technology. Those fears were one of the many concerns expressed by some fans when Facebook acquired Oculus VR earlier in the year, though both companies have reassured that this won’t be the case.
Certainly the marketing opportunities the technology presents are unique. Thinking beyond movies, there’s the chance for industries such as cars, home improvements, household appliances and many, many more to be used within VR. Imagine walking into a car showroom and taking the latest model for a test drive while simple sitting inside it in a stand, or testing out kitchen appliances in a supermarket before you buy them. When the Oculus Rift and Project Morpheus HMDs take off you can be sure that these kinds of examples will start cropping up everywhere. Companies such as Figure Digital have already been set up to serve such a function.
For now, that’s not necessarily an issue. Marketing could prove to be an important factor in VR’s success. After all, every VR advert for a movie is an advert for VR itself. That said, it’s hard to shake future concerns about loading up a VR video on Youtube and being forced to sit through an ‘immersive demonstration’ of a product for the eighth time, or taking your eyes off of the focus of an experience to quickly gaze at a 3D billboard advertising another upcoming release.
For now, we’re too far off for these to be major concerns. Hopefully the future of VR marketing focuses on innovation and avoids intrusion.
‘VR vs’ is VRFocus’ weekly feature that takes an issue currently challenging the VR industry and discusses how to fix it. Looking at everything from the videogames in development to the strength of the technology, we highlight the problems and try to come up with the best solutions.