Virtual Reality: Two Likely Use Cases For An Emerging Tech

Following on from our recent article looking at VR’s in terms of the history of entertainment technology we now look at two likely use cases where it will find its audience.

Let the Games Begin!

Ever since the introduction of Space Invaders in 1978 -arguably the first video game to have a sense of tone and atmosphere — the medium of video and computer games has striven for more and more immersive experiences. The HD renaissance over the last decade has led video games to start delivering on the promises made by outlandish 80’s game cassette covers that the blocky 8-bit counterparts of the day could never deliver. VR could feasibly be the next phase in immersion from the world’s biggest entertainment industry in terms of both vision and audio. With the VR screen dominating the user’s sight and the recent advances made using binaural sound providing 360 degree soundscapes, the player can experience the game world completely through their character’s eyes and ears like never before.

Obviously, the tech will only truly shine with games using first person perspective but, with half of the top ten selling games of 2015 mainly using that perspective, it would appear that gamers’ current tastes are in the technology’s favour. Recent social media activity also bears this out with games taking up 10% of the overall conversation (the third highest percentage after the more general terms of “technology” and “business”), and the conversation numbers peaked with the reveal of Sony’s Playstation VR, the device most clearly aimed at the video game market.

But are gamers willing to pay the hefty asking price which is more than the console itself? The fact that the motion control peripherals required by the Sony’s VR rose by over 1000% in sales after its announcement and pre-orders for the headset pushed it to the top of Amazon’s best sellers list in March this year seems to suggest that they are. After the latest generation of consoles didn’t provide a giant leap in terms of functionality or graphical fidelity, the new experience of virtual reality could be what gamers have been really waiting for and are prepared to pay the price to have it.

And it would seem that VR’s appeal with gamers plays into Sony’s hands the most as their headset is paired with the most popular games console of the current generation, but there is another form of entertainment that could tip balance into other headsets’ favour….

A Dirty Secret

There is a kind of dark matter present in the world of home entertainment that is little talked about but has nonetheless been a major force in the success of various technologies. The format wars between Betamax and VHS and, 20 years later, between Blu-ray and HD-DVD were decided by the adoption of one particular industry: the porn industry. Although the determining factor in those two tech battles was more space for content on both VHS and Blu-ray, VR could offer the biggest leap forward in the presentation of pornographic content since DVD offered a dramatic increase in picture quality. One of the world’s leading porn sites, Pornhub, already has a dedicated VR section and high quality virtual experiences could offer the chance for the industry to financially rejuvenate itself after years of being undermined by the proliferation of cheap amateur content.

Since only established porn studios would be able to afford the means to produce a proper VR experience, they would wish to sell that content rather than stream it for free. This initially seems ill-advised since people don’t tend to start for paying for something they’re accustomed to getting for free, but the increased level of immersion from using VR can only be achieved using the right technology and those who are skilled with it. Although it could prove to be initially expensive for the studios to adopt the format, if audiences find the experience to be significantly superior to free content then it could be a wise investment for them.

While it is likely that the porn industry will wait on the initial success of VR before fully engaging with it, this could be a secret weapon for the likes of Oculus due to their headset running on an open PC platform, rather than the closed Playstation platform of Sony’s VR. Add to that the probable reluctance of Sony to associate a family product with pornography then if other manufacturers find themselves lagging behind in sales, it could be very advantageous for them to start to court porn studios to produce content.

While it’s difficult to ascertain any level of certainty regarding the influence of pornography in the interests of potential VR adopters due to its (understandable) absence in general conversation on social platforms; it has been an immensely powerful force in the past and could still have a potentially pivotal role in VR’s future.

What Dreams May Come?

Looking at the current conversation and pre-orders, the immense appeal of and anticipation for VR is clear, but its long-term success is not. History and recent tech trends would suggest it is not set for mass market success, but it’s appeal within the gaming market and a potentially powerful ally in the porn industry could help it overcome the boom-then-bust narrative that it’s seemingly writing for itself. VR may have captured our dreams, but a successful future remains a virtual reality for now.

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David Murphy

David Murphy

EntSight Researcher