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VR vs. The Press Conference Problem

If there were ever a technology that truly had to be seen to be believed, it’s virtual reality (VR). Once confined to outlandish sci-fi stories and having failed to deliver on its hugely exciting potential in the past, the promise of consumer VR is finally nearly here for real. The tech still faces a lot of commercial obstacles in its quest for customer’s money, however. Arguably one of the biggest issues is how to show VR to the masses. It’s difficult to picture exactly what the likes of the Oculus Rift and other head-mounted displays (HMDs) offer without actually trying them for yourself, and that presents a major problem for one of the most popular ways to advertise new products, the press conference.

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Within the technology and videogame industries especially, press conferences are exciting events. Rumours build up for weeks before corporations march onto enormous stages to provide updates that they hope will delight, surprise and, most importantly, sell. Nowhere is this truer than the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), held once a year in Los Angeles, California. The 2015 edition of the show saw videogame publishers and platform creators out in full force, and many had hoped to see VR take centre stage at some of these shows.

That didn’t quite happen. While Oculus VR’s pre-E3 event for the Oculus Rift went down well, few could disagree that Sony Computer Entertainment (SCE) disappointed with its brief segment on the Project Morpheus HMD for PlayStation 4. When quizzed about its VR-light show later on in the week, the company echoed statements about how VR couldn’t be shown off on-screen, while also hinting towards its reluctance to devote more time to a technology that’s unproven in many people’s eyes.

The press conference problem is indeed a strong one for VR, and not one that’s easily solved. The lack of talk on Project Morpheus didn’t inspire confidence in SCE’s attitude towards the device though, as VRFocus has already discussed, a strong show floor went some way to making up for that.

All that said, Oculus VR put on a perfectly enjoyable show for the Oculus Rift in the lead up to E3, making major reveals such as a partnership with Microsoft and the introduction of Oculus Touch, it’s very own input solution for VR experiences. Granted this show was likely only to be watched by VR enthusiasts and those that have tried the technology before, but the company proved that you can have a meaningful, exciting conference devoted to VR. You can make major announcements, reveal surprising partnerships and showcase 2D trailers that at least give some idea of what’s coming to your system.

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A handful of possible, if ambitious ideas spring to mind when it comes to actively solving this issue, however. For the past two years, SCE has been broadcasting its E3 press conferences to select cinemas throughout the US. Why not take this approach and apply it to Project Morpheus? March out kiosks with HMDs that are live-streaming the event to allow users to feel as if they’re a part of the action. Similarly, those inside the venue itself could have Project Morpheus units by their side to watch any VR trailers. Perhaps the event could also be streamed to browsers in 360 degrees at home.

To that end, some may recall when SCE handed out the ‘Cardboard Edition’ of Project Morpheus at GDC this year. These low-end HMDs are distributed for free as a means of marketing for many companies, relying on a user’s smartphone to display content. Perhaps the company could release a free app that holds 360 degree videos of each of the VR titles on display at E3 and beyond? It would certainly be an interesting way to market the device and go some way to showcasing its potential.

Truthfully there might not be a better time to showcase what VR can do until it’s on sale. By then, consumers will be able to walk into retail outlets and try the kit for themselves, then buying them on the spot. Until that time, this is likely to remain a key problem for VR technology and something that the community as a whole will have to work to overcome.