Monday, June 6, 2016

First Impressions of Oculus Rift Virtual Reality (and What It Means For Marketers)

Me in my Oculus Rift: "Yes, honey, I am paying attention
to you and not playing a game right now." 
As a frequent early adopter of technology, I have sometimes experienced a unique and contradictory set of feelings when using groundbreaking tech: I can be simultaneously dazzled and also modestly disappointed. The former sentiment comes from the unmistakable leap forward the tech represents and the latter from the apparent limitations of version 1.0 (along with the knowledge my expensive new hardware will quickly be surpassed).

These conflicting emotions describe how I feel using my new Oculus Rift virtual reality (VR) headset, a product recently launched by Facebook. It's an impressive piece of tech that clearly demonstrates the promise of the future, but the drawbacks of this first version are also easy to recognize. Both the strengths and the challenges of today's VR devices will impact consumer adoption, as well as the opportunities for marketers.

My feelings about my new Oculus Rift are identical to the ones I had with my Atari 1040ST in 1986 and Palm Treo 600 in 2003. The Atari was one of the first home PCs with a graphic user interface and its 320x200 color monitor displayed images that seemed wondrous at the time, but I couldn't help but be frustrated at its slow speed and the need to continually swap floppy disks when using software. Almost two decades later, my Treo encouraged the same feelings--the ability to respond to email, take (terrible) photos and access the Web were awesome, but the kludgy interface, size of the device and pokey responsiveness were constant reminders of the hardware and software improvements to come. Using the Oculus Rift provides me those same synchronous feelings of wonder and mild exasperation, and that fills me with high hopes for the future of VR.

By mentioning some of the limitations of today's VR hardware, I don't intend to discourage others from considering a purchase, but anyone who invests in the initial iteration of leading-edge tech must expect some bumps in the road. Consumers and marketers interested in VR should be aware of the strengths and challenges of today's tech and what is likely to occur in the future. I will first share some of my feelings as an Oculus Rift user and then convey some observations about what this all means for marketers.


Reff said...

And onwards we march towards the "peak of inflated expectations!"
I'll be interested to see how this Cadillac experiment in VR plays out.

Augie Ray said...

John, I was told to avoid using the Gartner Hype Cycle in that manner, but yeah, that's what I'm thinking! :)

I am dubious of the virtual dealership plan, but I'll give them credit for thinking in an innovative way!

Baptiste Slaedts said...


What an interesting post! I am currently writing a thesis on virtual reality and the impact it has on marketers. Would a quick interview by skype be possible? It would not last more than 20 minutes, and I'm sure it would be a tremendous help for my research!



Augie Ray said...


I appreciate the comment. Unfortunately, since I work for a market research firm, I am not free to share my insights or research. I have to make sure that gets applied to my firm's paying clients. If you have a few questions, feel free to post them here, and I'll do my best to answer without crossing any lines I cannot cross.

Baptiste Slaedts said...

Hi Ray,

Thanks for the reply, and let me first say that I fully understand your position.

I was trying to use the Hype Cycle to predict when the technology will reach its maturity, more particularly in the marketing field. I am currently studying the potential for the virtual reality and the tourism marketing. I found out that many are investing in VR to « follow the hype », and lack a clear strategy.

My questions are the following…

First, VR appeared first on the Gartner Hype Cycle in 2013, having almost « finished » the slope of disillusionment, and already almost in the slope of enlightment. Why did it appear so late, and more importantly, why already so far in the cycle ? With all the hype around VR, don’t you consider that people, and particularly the media, could set the expectations quite high, only to be disappointed later by the technology ?

VR appeared in 2013, and in 2015, it was still predicted that it would only be « mainstream » in 5 to 10 years. With all the hype and the predictions around VR, it seems that 5 to 10 years before being mainstream is quite far into the future. Don’t you think VR could hit us way before that ?

And last but not least, VR will certainly live quite a « independent life » in the different markets where it’ll be used. VR will be helpful in medicine, gaming, etc. How do you see it evolving in marketing ? Don’t you think that we could « overuse » the technology ( we see quite a lot of marketing campaigns using it right now, both good and bad). Could it happen that we could kill VR in the marketing field ?

Thanks for your help, and I hope you’ll be able to give me some insights.



Augie Ray said...

I can respond to your questions from a personal context and not from an official Gartner perspective. I just want to be clear about that. (No quoting me as a "Gartner analyst"--I'm just talking from my perspective as an informed marketer and a current Oculus Rift owner.)

One thing to keep in mind is that our IT researchers will create their Hype Cycles and place hardware based on its maturity as a technology, not its maturity to marketers. In this case, I think they were looking at the past attempts at VR (such as Virtual Boy and even Second Life) and now we see that the technology has finally reached a point of nascent maturity and affordability for consumers.

So, as a hardware offering, it is probably rising out of the trough of disillusionment, and as I said in my blog post, as an early adopter of the Rift, it is certainly consumer ready (even if it has some version 1.0 limitations.) Of course, many marketers will rush in with giant expectations of how VR can be used to create powerful experiences, but many of them will be disappointed, just as they were in the past with mobile advergaming, Second Life and Facebook fan accumulation strategies.

My personal feeling and not the official Gartner perspective is that it probably will take 5 to 10 years to get mainstream. Many people who tried Cardboard once or twice didn't boot it up again, in large part because phone-based VR is so limited in graphics capabilities and control. As for the VR options requiring a tether to a PC or game console, those are expensive, and it will take years for the price to drop and the technology to improve before it can go truly mainstream. Gamers may be eager to buy $2,000 machines and $600 headsets now, but I don't think a lot of people will race in until the price drops and until far more general interest VR content is available.

And yes, we'll see very different adoption cycles for different uses. The business benefits for specific use cases could be great, and that would overcome concerns about hardware and development expense. As for marketing, the thing I tell people is to look for marketing opportunities deeper in the funnel--don't do VR because it's cool and buzz-worthy; do it because it can help people make more informed and confident decisions. Travel might be one such use case. The best program I've seen to date is the Lowe's Holoroom, which helps people to envision their new kitchen or bathroom, making better and more confident purchase choices.

Hope that helps. I agree there's a lot of opportunities and disappointments ahead for marketers, but there are ways to prevent unbridled optimism and help marketers make better decisions.

Baptiste Slaedts said...

Thanks a lot!