Pioneering consumer virtual reality

There are a number of compelling reasons about why now is a good time to start working with virtual reality (VR). Most of these points apply to augmented and mixed reality as well.

Pioneering VR

I start off by introducing my two main assertions regarding the current situation of consumer VR:

1. Anyone can become a VR pioneer. Consumer VR is being invented right now, and VR as a media is being defined. VR research has been conducted for decades and in that regard experienced VR researchers have an advantage over hobbyists. But the spread of consumer VR hardware leads to democratization of this new media; now the masses can also have access to high-performance VR equipment. This situation can be compared to the arrival of home video cameras, which gave rise to influential film makers such as Stephen Spielberg.

2. Individuals and small teams can make a big impact in VR. Many areas of consumer VR are uncharted territory, and in that sense independent developers and big companies are on the same level. Both can make major contributions in the field. You could for example get lucky and create a killer application for VR; think of Minecraft, Kerbal Space Program, and other small projects that came to be very influential. Not all discoveries and innovations need an enormous budget and a large team of engineers. A few years from now it will be more difficult to influence the field of VR as it becomes more established. *

This ongoing pioneering phase of consumer VR offers numerous opportunities for developers and creatives:

  • Finding application domains and niches where the use of VR is advantageous.
  • Building social VR platforms.
  • Producing unprecedented, culturally significant VR content.
  • Developing tools for VR content production and distribution, e.g. the photoshops and wordpresses of VR.
  • Pioneering VR content fundamentals, such as effective VR storytelling techniques.
  • Creating better 3D user interfaces for VR and helping to define related standards.
  • Engineering hardware innovations.

Some of these opportunities will have big monetary rewards, and some have important consequences for the future of human culture and the way we interact with computers.

Further considerations

The hype surrounding VR is currently helping developers, and makes it easier to pitch your ideas. But be aware of the inflated expectations that will inevitably lead to a backlash of some magnitude. Furthermore, a mass adoption of consumer VR devices takes several years. So prepare for the long haul. Unity co-founder David Helgason suggested that new VR companies should have funding for the next 2-4 years.

Most developers in the Western world will target the English speaking market. However, one should not underestimate the Chinese VR market, and the possibilities that it offers. For example, gaming cafes are very popular in China, and they are gradually equipped with VR devices.

And finally, lets not forget that VR is fun and the technology provides countless ways to express yourself, both artistically and experimentally. If you want to get involved with VR development, but don’t know where to start, these answers on Quora will point you in the right direction.


* Assertion 2. relates to user-led innovation, which is a concept where not only big producer companies are a source of product innovation, but also individual users (including small companies) and communities. In my PhD thesis that is currently being reviewed I discuss VR also from a user-led innovation perspective, while the main focus of the thesis is in VR application development. One example of current user-led innovation in the field of VR is the abundant experimentation with different forms of VR locomotion:

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3 Responses to Pioneering consumer virtual reality

  1. jerry isdale says:

    An important part for individuals (and larger groups) is to do some literature research. VR has been the subject of LOTS of research by garage enthusiasts and PhD candidates for 20-30+ years. Many avenues have been explored using the too-expensive equipment of the past. The big breakthroughs this time around is the low cost (<$3000 for a kickass system) and the big $$ flying around for investments. The low cost lets more people be the bleeding edge.
    And some will find their way to info-vis and other related really bleeding edge where they put aside gravity, ground planes and other artifacts of physical world. Navigating your business logic and logistics train in the cyber realms need not be scifi fantasy anymore

    • Takala says:

      Thank you for the comment. I agree wholeheartedly and also recommend learning from past research. Whether by coincidence or conscious choice, many of the current VR demos from 3D spatial painting to sword fighting have been already implemented years ago by VR researchers or enthusiasts.

      Besides doing searches in Google Scholar, anyone doing a literature review might be interested to see Virginia Tech’s VR Knowledgebase, which does a nice job indexing research findings:
      http://knowledgebase.cs.vt.edu/browse/index?

  2. leadingones says:

    Enjoyed your article! If you are interested in Virtual Reality development check out
    http://www.leadingones.com
    We have free tutorials covering Unity and Unreal for Vive and Rift development.

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