Outlook 2018: The future of VR is location-based
Brian Nilles
Issue: December 1, 2017

Outlook 2018: The future of VR is location-based

Brian Nilles is the Chief Strategy Officer for OptiTrack (http://optitrack.com), a developer of 3D tracking systems. Here, he looks at some of the opportunities location-based VR offers and its potential to bring premium VR experiences to the masses.

Virtual reality has been the hottest of industry trends beginning with the Oculus Kickstarter in 2012, but uptake has been slower than the lofty projections anticipated. Bright minds armed with deep pockets have accelerated the development of VR technology, helping to raise the quality bar and bring prices down. However, the most compelling content made available by premium VR content creators is still largely out of reach for most consumers. Content accessible via devices like Google Daydream or Samsung Gear VR has its purpose, but the quality of experience achievable on such platforms is limited by the resolution and technical specs of current mobile devices. Furthermore, VR content creation tools and techniques are still evolving as the industry collectively determines best practices for working in this new medium, and monetization strategies for VR remain up for debate.  

There’s certainly no one-size-fits-all approach to navigating VR to success, but location-based VR has emerged as a formidable ambassador to bring premium VR to the masses. Like movie theaters and laser tag, location-based VR gives participants an experience not easily (or affordably) replicated in home. These experiences provide access to high quality content at a relatively low price point, are generally untethered allowing for free roaming, and can accommodate multiple participants for a more  social experience. Since the physical setup required for location-based VR is rather minimal, companies can swap out content for new experiences, encouraging repeat customers.

Several innovators in the VR space, including The Void and Nomadic, are already embracing location-based VR, which is in turn driving up the demand, and in some cases reinvigorating retail space as rising online commerce has led to a decline in shopping malls. Beyond gamified content, location-based VR also lends itself to immersive storytelling, and leading feature film directors are beginning to explore the medium. Alejandro González Iñárritu’s visceral Carne y Arena, which takes the participant through an attempt to cross the US/Mexico border, was recently awarded an honorary Oscar “in recognition of a visionary and powerful experience in storytelling.” The installation’s success and positive critical reception will likely inspire other filmmakers to take a closer look at VR. Outside of entertainment, location-based VR also holds potential for countless applications in simulation/training, education, design/manufacturing and real estate, offering a means for companies to save time and money through more efficient iteration.
While VR has come a long way in the last five years, there is still road to be travelled on the path to mass adoption. Location-based VR, however, is a step in the right direction – pushing VR as a whole forward by inspiring content creators and technology developers to innovate and capture the interest of the next generation of VR pioneers. As VR tools progress, and as consumer hearts are won, I believe we’ll see the exuberance curve yield to the more moderate but still very robust growth phase with the applications that provide real value.