To the man with mastery of a hammer, all problems look like nails
Virtual reality is not a nascent industry. Although many people are relatively recent arrivals, the industry itself is more than a quarter of a century old. Consensus views of the failure of the industry in the 1990s have exculpated the early pioneers from business shortcomings by lamenting the limits of the technology at the time. In reality, few have extrapolated the key lesson of such a disaster. Although the technology was limiting, the failure of VR was due to a lack of humility and an inability to realize that insiders were incapable of doing everything themselves. Studying past failures and recent forays, it is clear that if VR is going to thrive, a sense of humility must be present in any person, company or industry that is involved in virtual reality.
The content creation industries are a vital part of the VR equation. Most people cite the lack of VR content and companies willing to produce it as a major anxiety for the future of the medium. In addition to the video game and technology industries, Hollywood serves as the third major component of the VR trinity. While it is true that the VR industry lacks robust content (despite a few promising outliers), the greater worry at present is that much of the content is of such poor quality that it could potentially sully and dilute the entire VR industry.
No one yet knows how to make truly captivating virtual reality content; the rules are still being defined. We know our own industries inside and out, and science fiction has provided sufficient inspiration, but those will not create a formula for success. Virtual reality lies at the convergence of all previously established industries and relies on the groundwork of its predecessors, yet it must become greater than the sum of its parts.
No one group or individual will control the discourse. In order to function properly, the input of all of the supporting industries must be part of the content creation equation. For the foreseeable future, VR is not going to be dominated by anyone, except those who keep their mind open and learn through empiricist efforts.
This is not going to be an easy transition for many in these component industries. They often consider themselves masters of their own realms—protectors of a secret formula or process. This view creates a dangerous precedent, one that results in VR content that is a simple extension of preexisting works. Virtual reality is not simply another screen. Its an entirely new way of experiencing content due to an unprecedented level of immersion. Although the rules aren’t completely defined, there are “best practices” that have been determined by earlier, experimental efforts.
Unfortunately, at present, many pieces of VR content are simple reflections of productions for other mediums. This is a dangerous mistake that threatens to derail all VR efforts. While some will argue that simple porting techniques are a natural part of the evolution of VR content, the medium should focus on crafting wholly original experiences. Unfortunately, many content creators continue to see virtual reality as another screen and many are porting content halfheartedly, ostensibly as a cost saving measure. In truth, these actions really reflect the larger problem of a lack of both humility and regular conversation among component industries.
Far too often, content creators who dominate their traditional mediums are filled with hubris because of past success. Traditionally, these companies would stumble and subsequently drop out of contention with respect to the new platform. However, due to the lack of VR content and definitive experiences, these lackluster efforts could cost the new medium dearly, potentially even derailing the entire platform. All VR component industries, especially the content creators, have to be able to openly say “we don’t know”. In a new venture such as virtual reality, this simple phrase propels individuals to seek out others with different knowledge and experiences in order to collaborate on novel efforts to difficult problems.
Virtual reality offers unparalleled potential to create so many different human experiences and endeavors. It is vital that the trinity of component industries—technology, video games and Hollywood—pledge to work together, cross-pollinate and leave their often haughty opinions of themselves at the door. None of these industries alone can provide all of the answers to the seemingly incalculable number of unknowns attached to virtual reality. Under the guise of such a tremendous challenge, humility is really what is needed. Open collaboration will flourish under such a culture and virtual reality’s tremendous impact will be unleashed.