Author(s): Raghu Gopal
The virtual reality experience is scattered across a varied choice of headsets and content with no one predominant type of virtual reality. From free pieces of cardboard to systems costing more than $1,000, the technology is just as confusing to many consumers as it is entertaining them.
There's some hope on the horizon. The leading makers of virtual reality headsets announced last week the creation of the Global Virtual Reality Association. But this is an industry promoter group, not a standardisation organisation. It doesn't appear to be working toward cross-platform compatibility, but rather in sparking awareness of and interest in virtual reality among consumers, government agencies, educators and researchers.
The organisation was founded by notable virtual reality companies: Acer Starbreeze, Facebook's Oculus, Google, HTC, Samsung and Sony Interactive Entertainment.
Industries often create such promoter groups for lobbying and marketing efforts to expand the size of the overall pie. Companies can be fierce rivals on store shelves, while cooperating to ensure a smooth runway exists for take-off. CCS Insight believes that several applications for virtual reality have started to emerge including entertainment and education, but the cumbersome nature of the varied solutions and experiences makes the whole thing seem very experimental at present.
Content creators are certainly eager to have a new channel for their products. Games companies, film studios and television producers are aware of the disruptive potential of virtual reality, but most available titles are often samples rather than full-blown versions. This is owing to the limited addressable market at present, which makes it difficult for content creators to make large investments given the minimal immediate returns.
We note that at this early stage, the Global Virtual Reality Association is focusing on virtual reality hardware. The organisation has no dedicated content studios for members and there are no efforts for software harmony. This has created a problem of fragmentation that the association needs to address.
The history of the PC, smartphone and games markets reminds us of the recurring theme of "two": a tendency toward two major mainstream platforms. There's Windows and Mac, Android and iOS, and PlayStation and Xbox. (We acknowledge Nintendo has its place.)
There's very little appealing content yet for virtual reality — just some content that people settle for because of its novelty. However, there's no doubt that the technology has potential and CCS Insight is very bullish about its long-term opportunity.
The virtual reality industry has been led by start-ups, which were quickly acquired by big players. Start-ups will still have the opportunity to disrupt, but should embrace the Global Virtual Reality Association as a platform to help grow the market for everyone. Most hardware is still at the entry level stage — version 1.0. There's a long journey ahead before it grows up and flourishes.