Virtual Reality - Game Changer?
Is virtual reality the future?
In 2015, Carat organised what no doubt will be the first of many Carat Digital Day’s. On this day, we took time out of our schedules to learn about the new products and technologies coming down the line from different corporations such as Facebook, Twitter, and Google. However, none captured my attention as much as the Oculus Rift demo where we got to experience Virtual Reality first hand. This was a strange experience to say the least, and what surprised me the most about it was how completely immersive and tangible I found it. It was strange to have your perception of reality be so drastically altered, and I guess this got me thinking about the applications of this technology.
Straight off the bat, it would seem that the most apparent application of this technology lies in gaming, in particular in Multi-User Domains (MUDs) or Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games (MMORPG), such as Second Life, Ultima Online, EverQuest and the largest of them all World of Warcraft (WOW). These worlds are ‘experience worlds’ that are highly interactive, collaborative, and commercial and in many cases mimic real worlds, both financially and socially.
Over the years more people are spending more and more time and money in these virtual worlds. Couple his with the growing popularity of MUD’s with the increasing adoption of Virtual Reality headsets and these arenas seem to represent a new frontier for brands and advertising to play in, with many early adopter brands already paving the way.
“Standard” doesn’t make the cut in Virtual Worlds:
Looking at the examples of brands dabbling in this arena, it’s clear that the standard advertising doesn’t make the cut. Instead, brands are opting to develop more of an experiential presence in these worlds. For instance, in 2015 alone, Second Life hosted 74 stores of real world brands such as Ben and Jerry’s, Toyota, and Adidas.
Here, similar to their real world counterparts, Second Life avatars can try on clothes, purchase goods and explore the stores. Interestingly, consumers are prepared to spend additional money on more expensive branded virtual goods as they perceive the real world value of the brand.
Having real world brands in these virtual worlds appears to be a mutually beneficial exchange between brands and users. Not only does this result in a more authentic experience for the user, but it offers brands a unique branding platform, as well as an opportunity to demo and test new products before they are launched in the real world.
Virtual Worlds - Test and Learn Tools:
In 2006, Starwood Hotels showcased an excellent example of this. They constructed a prototype of the proposed new hotel in Second Life and invited Second Life players to visit this virtual hotel. This activity gathered feedback for the proposed hotel in the real world. The comments altered design features in the real world hotel which was launched in 2008. The result of this project not only gave the brand excellent feedback, but it raised the profile of the brand in the real world, as Starwood Hotels was the first hospitality firm to open in Second Life.
Furthermore, companies such as IBM and Text 100, who regularly look for innovative ways to conduct business, bought a headquarters in Second Life. In less than 10 weeks, and with a budget of $10,000, Text 100 constructed a virtual base for IBM. Immediately, IBM began holding global meetings there, all members of staff attending as their virtual selves. Fascinatingly, when the employees were asked for their feedback on the virtual experience, they reported that they found the meetings ‘more lively, more interesting, more fun, more human and more personal’. These revelations are suggestive of the ease at which virtual worlds blend with real worlds and the power user-generated, immersive environments such as Second Life possess for brands and corporations alike – a power which remains relatively untapped.
What these examples tell us, is that, virtual reality gives brands access to a new frontier where the boundaries between the two worlds are rapidly dissolving. It seems Virtual Reality enables marketers to tell stories and engage with consumers in ways that were not previously technologically feasible.
Furthermore, virtual worlds when coupled with VR headsets, not only amplifies the gaming experience but it will improve the level of data that can be obtained, making the exchange between the consumers and brand ever more valuable. In theory, Advertisers will be able to know what consumers are looking at, when they are looking at them and for how long. The consumer data gathered on the back end of VR platforms is, essentially, everything advertisers wish they could gather in the real world.
Ultimately, the best applications of MUD’s and VR headsets are probably still to be uncovered, but it’s clear to see the ample opportunities this technology is already delivering for brands. It represents a totally new frontier for gaming, storytelling and communication which is different to anything that has ever gone before it. Considering this, not only will VR be an interesting space to watch, but it will equally be an interesting space to play in.