Virtual reality is no longer just a gimmick

Virtual reality is no longer just a gimmick

L3’s Creative Director on why L3 is embracing Virtual Reality

We’re all aware of VR headsets – they’ve been around for decades. I still remember my first experience, in an ‘80s arcade on England’s east coast. Although the graphics were as ropey as the arcade itself – and as fast as the redraw on a ZX Spectrum – I still remember the feeling of immersion. Being ‘in’ the game tasted of something. I had no clue what the taste was, but I knew I wanted more of it.

So skip forward thirty years and I’m opening up a shiny, black Oculus dev kit. I’m minutes away from tasting that thing again. No slot for a pound coin this time, just a case of plugging in the right cables. The experience this time around is everything you’ve heard people rave about for the last few months. To feel so completely immersed is fun and most apps are a joy to play around with. But what I’m really struck by, is the commercial potential for VR as an experiential tool. It feels like tech is taking a major leap – but headsets aren’t new, so what’s so different this time?

Our culture has shifted up a gear as technology carries us forward and we sweep technology along with us. Ideas are realised much quicker and the way that happens is much cooler too – community-based ventures are superseding VCs – Oculus Rift itself was a result of crowd funding. We’re able to experiment and share our explorations socially. The community is open and honest and by holding up the mirror to new thinking, we’re learning quickly from our mistakes.

VR and AR have invigorated L3’s creative thinking hugely. Previously considered gimmicks, they are now an integral part of our experiential offer. We have always carefully considered the customer journey, but we can now take advantage of these powerful tools to create truly memorable experiences. Beyond the wow factor that VR instinctively draws from people, there are deeper issues to explore, with communication and navigation being two interesting areas.

I find it fascinating to watch how people come to terms with finding their way around the front end of an app, when they can’t rely on a mouse, track pad or keyboard. They struggle initially, then become excited and empowered when they realise they can make their choices by simply looking. With Facebook’s involvement now opening up the world beyond consoles to VR, it won’t be long before we see Rift-enabled front-end design permeating the net. Maybe we’re set to see a new raft of neck-related RSI complaints too, rather than hands and wrists.

Ultimately, the deciding factor in the success of VR, will be content. We’ve been here before with AR and it fell away after initial excitement. This time around, there seems to be a genuine and palpable feeling coming from developers and creatives who are keen to circumnavigate the gimmicky waters. At L3, we are looking at how this tech can enhance people’s interaction with brands. The wow-factor will always make jaws drop, but making that experience richer by taking a holistic approach – considering those subtle human elements like intuition – will make the difference between good and great moments.

The next six months will be pivotal in terms of VR’s future. Experiential agencies are set to deliver groundbreaking work that will excite clients and customers. Considering new ways to refresh sight and sound in areas like education, sport, medicine, entertainment, property and communication, will change the way we work and play. Trade shows – a key part of our business – are set to transform too. And in the retail sector, we’ve already seen how AR can allow you to try on virtual clothes and accessories. Just imagine how the customer will be spoiled in brands’ flagship stores, once VR really gets going. This new tech is already making the leap from craze to credible and could soon make things unrecognisable. Facebook certainly think so. Keep watching people…

Owen Thomas, Creative Director