Ask your colleagues or your neighbours and chances are, if they have heard of VR, they’ll tell you that this is a new way to play games.
Who could blame them – as of today, the VR app stores display a vast majority of games, probably around 80%. VR hardware is also marketed as the new console – even the Oculus Go, not a gaming headset by any means, was revealed at GDC. On YouTube, VR influencers are mostly gamers. Last but not least, Steam reports that out of the 24 most popular VR apps of 2017, 21 were games.
Historically, gaming has been pushing the computer industry forward. In the 90s, the rise of video games forced hardware manufacturers to quickly improve their microprocessors speed and graphical cards. Without gaming, progress would have been much slower, because no other applications had such heavy graphical requirements. A few months later, these components would be installed on non-gaming devices, pushing the whole industry forward. And the cycle continues.
The VR industry will evolve in the same way. Gaming is a great industry to serve first – gamers are savvy early adopters, and the content puts a lot of constraints on the graphics, position tracking, and hand controls. It is a great test-bed for the nascent hardware: if it works well for graphics-heavy games, it will work well everywhere.
Over the next couple of years, as the VR industry starts to hit the early majority of consumers, content will evolve beyond gaming. We have talked about VR being a new interface to consume content. Currently, we spend 100h per month on the Internet, including 60h on social media, and about 25h playing games. We believe that Virtual Reality will be exactly that – a mirror of our real lives, in the digital world. Games are important, but they’re not everything. Fundamentally, we are social animals, and thrive to communicate, exchange ideas, and form relationships.
Mark Zuckerberg branded VR as the most social media yet, and we think he’s right. The sense of presence that it creates makes it a great place to watch videos, communicate with friends, exchange opinions, learn, watch sports, play, or shop. In other words, we believe that VR will evolve from being a gaming hub, to become a social and entertainment hub, a single destination to connect with others and consume content, progressively taking our attention away from our TV, desktop computer and even our smartphones.
Sure, there will be games in these worlds, but that will only be a fraction of the activity. Most of our time, we will spend communicating – just like we do now. This is why we are super excited about social platforms like High Fidelity, Sansar, Atom Universe, SomniumSpace and others. These will be the platforms were people meet, discuss, argue, play, and shop. We believe that collectively, social VR will eventually be bigger than Facebook, and this is why we are developing tools for them to monetise and connect them together.
Platform vs Destination
However, the dynamic of social VR differs from the social media you know. Today, we would consider Facebook as a destination – a place where we interact and communicate. High Fidelity and alike, on the other hand, should be considered as platforms, giving their users the tools to build the destinations.
We strongly believe that the future of social VR lies in hyper targeted communities of like minded people, or worlds, built around a specific topic. You can think of it an evolution of Facebook Groups – where people gather to discuss and share specific passions, rather than a more generic news feed.
In VR, these hyper targeted worlds will look drastically better than a web page with a description. A world about the New England Patriots would be replicating the Gillette Stadium in Boston, enabling the visitors to re-live the last game, watch highlights, explore a photorealistic lineup, and even dance with the cheerleaders.
The world for ‘2nd year geography students at Cambridge University’ wouldn’t be a classroom, it would be a Google Earth type of experience, where students can help each other learn by pinning their research to the actual location of the globe, for others to see.
There would be one world for each planet ever mentioned in Star Wars, and the world would be that planet, a genuine replica of what is shown in the movie. Every member of the community will be able to edit the design of the world, just like anyone on the internet can edit the content of a Wikipedia article. The design of the worlds become a part of the content.
You get the idea. If I had to guess, that is how I would describe the future of Virtual Reality – immersive, hyper targeted worlds, empowering people to live their passions. Some of these passions are games, but it goes beyond that -a fundamental need to build, share and communicate about the topics we love.
Because they are built by people, these communities are limitless. That is the real power of VR – just like civilisations have built real cities to live in, now is the time to build virtual ones. That is only possible with the cooperation of hundreds of people – the social element. It won’t matter if these worlds are hosted by company A or B – this will become secondary, because the worlds themselves are the destination – the brand.
Companies like High Fidelity or Sansar have understood this, by becoming user generated platforms, giving the power to their users to create and populate their worlds. Just like hyperlinks on the web, we believe it is critical to find ways to connect these worlds together. We call this collection of worlds ‘the Metaverse’, and we predict that VR history will be split between pre-Metaverse era and post-Metaverse era. But that is another story 🙂