Virtual Reality as we see it now needs as many voices as possible to help shape what comes next.
There's no other way to say this, VR is cool as hell. Whether you're watching the Puppy Bowl live in Google Cardboard, wandering through a virtual puzzle on the Gear VR, shooting zombies in HTC Vive, or flying spaceships in Oculus Rift, good times are being had. We've shared these VR experiences with dozens of people so far, and the combination of wide smile and stares of amazement are enough to know we're not alone in knowing how great all of this is right now.
It's early days for this generation of Virtual Reality, and with that comes a lot of unanswered questions that can lead to consumer unease. With this set of VR experiences, however, a separate approach is needed. Even if you're not fond of living on the bleeding edge of technology, the time to buy a VR headset is right now.
We're in a social world now, and that means there's a direct line of communication between the user and the creator.
Early adopters have a long, long history of being screwed over. You buy the thing, love the thing, but then the company pivots and stops supporting the thing because a rival company became wildly more successful. Ask anyone who bought a Zune, or an HD DVD player, or a netbook. Ten years ago it was incredibly easy to buy something new and interesting only to get burned, and in several cases that burn was straight through your wallet. Anyone who lived through that era with any kind of extra cash on hand got burned by something, and as a result there's a whole group of people today who only buy when something is cheap enough or a guaranteed decent product. Taking a risk on something new and potentially expensive is a lot to ask, no matter how cool it is.
What a lot of those same folks don't understand is the way companies new and old had to react to those failure in order to survive. We're in a social world now, and that means there's a direct line of communication between the user and the creator. This means there are more creators listening and reacting, changing based on the voices that take the time to reach out an offer feedback. Sometimes this comes in the form of a Kickstarter campaign, like we saw with the original Oculus Rift. With time and an active audience, Oculus was able to tweak and tune their headset into something significantly more impressive than their original product offering. Even now that Rift headsets are shipping, the company is still listening to their users and working to improve wherever possible. You see similar examples of improving with community reactions in the HTC Vive and Samsung Gear VR, both of which changed in big ways over the year after their first demonstrations to the world.
Hardware isn't the only place where early adopters have a unique voice in the VR world. Right now developers are working tirelessly to build and perfect their games, and each of the app stores hosting VR content right now has a way to communicate with the people making those games. Google's Play Store makes reaching out and offering feedback on Cardboard games incredibly easy. Oculus and Valve both offer Early Access areas in their stores so you can participate in the development process by offering feedback on games you've played. Developers are constantly active on Twitter and Facebook as well, communicating with users and accepting feedback. The community is relatively small right now, which means every voice has a lot more weight. If you have an idea, you can share it and know you're being heard.
The combination of hardware options and the impressive rate at which 360-degree cameras are dropping in price while increasing in quality makes it clear VR isn't going away anytime soon. This new generation of technology is an exploration, and as consumers there's a unique opportunity to be a significant part of that right now. What already exist is a tremendous amount of fun, but knowing that you are also shaping what comes next by participating and communicating is incredible. It doesn't matter if all you want is a simple Google Cardboard experience or you're ready to pack up your living room so you have large enough space to enjoy room-scale VR, now is absolutely the time to get involved in Virtual Reality.