If you follow me on Twitter, you might have seen a post a few days back where I shared a survey for virtual reality creators to share their feelings about the state of immersive development / building as the first month of 2017 draws to a close. It was insightful to take a look at what people are using to build with, and to read comments and feelings about what’s going on in the world of VR and AR.
The survey was mostly open-ended, and not conducted by any scientific means, but it does seem to align with the sentiments that I’ve been hearing from folks working in virtual and augmented reality when I chat with them in person. Some of the survey responses were around developer tooling, while others were long-form questions about what people were feeling around the state of the industry, consumer attitudes, and more. A total of 32 respondents answered the survey questions.
Collectively, the sentiment around what people felt about VR & AR development in general seemed to be that most respondents felt as though there was a lot of potential, but mainstream adoption was either a few years off or had not lived up to expectations yet. Some felt as though the hardware still needed to improve, while others expressed a feeling of it being a gamble, fearing that large studios would treat VR as an afterthought and slowing down progress. Still, several answers held strongly positive enthusiasm, while also accepting that the development process was likely to be a long and challenging one over the next year.
“VR is here to stay, but growth is going to be slower than anyone expected, and analyst hype and wild speculation of a multi-billion dollar industry is going to be dead wrong… In 2017, VR devs are going to be best served by learning how to create and use this new medium and prepare for the future by increasing the creative talents and know how of their staff.”
Diversity and inclusion appeared several times on the survey, with respondents commenting that more could be done to help people outside of the industry find ways to get experience or learn. Constantly evolving tool sets and quickly outdated tutorials and documentation were commonly referenced as pain points developers faced when trying to build projects. Quite a few folks expressed that they were waiting for augmented reality devices to take a more prominent place in the industry, and for consumers to become more invested in the hardware, while others felt as though many VR apps or games didn’t take full advantage of the medium.
“There are too many wave-shooters, games that don’t need to be in VR, and short non-interactive experiences.”
Consistently, VR and AR makers are actively willing to learn new apps to build immersive apps. Over 80% of the 33 respondents said that they loved trying new tools or occasionally experimented with different tools, and another 9% said that, because they were looking for a good software fit , they tried new platforms and tools often.
When it comes to motivational blockers, a number of themes popped up. Several responses mentioned being frustrated with limited funding opportunities available, saying that the options tended to be highly specific for certain types of content. The current incarnation of physical devices was also a common answer, with quite a few respondents commenting on the size, weight, and ergonomics of today’s devices and a lack of consumer adoption at scale. A couple of people mentioned that there could be improvements around tooling, noting that it was hard to get full control of their app’s behavior using a game engine and to optimize for specific devices.
“I’m concerned about hardware fragmentation before we even get started. Any additional time spent supporting yet another device or ecosystem, takes away from time spent on creating quality content”
Interestingly enough, it seems as though most people who responded to the survey, while recognizing the challenges of today’s industry, remain focused on longer-term vision and are content with the idea that it may take a bit of time to get there – and some feel as though staying too excited about everything is actually detrimental.
“It’s an exciting time for developers and content creator without a doubt, but it feels that all the hype is counter productive.”
Fundamentally,it seems like this upcoming year will be one of opportunity, innovation, and realism. As we become increasingly critical of hardware, content production, and experiences, the industry as a whole will need to get on a new level to take advantage of the promise of upcoming technologies that facilitate amazing immersive apps. In the meantime, it’s up to all of us to help each other continue to grow and stretch the industry to its full potential – here are a few ways that you can do so:
- As an enthusiast: encourage wacky projects and innovative experiences. Tell folks when you see something they’re working on that you really like, and be constructive in giving feedback. Raise awareness for interesting things that are going on that you see, even if it doesn’t fit into the model of release-ready, perfect game. Yes, sometimes things will break before they get better – but innovation doesn’t happen when people are repeating things, afraid of taking chances.
- As a creator: share as much as you can with people you trust. If you don’t have a network of developers, makers, or support that you can turn to when you’re feeling excited and want to share, or down and needing some motivation, I highly recommend reaching out to some of the folks on the VR Devs or We Make Realities slack channels. I promise – we all need a network sometimes, and it makes a huge difference to get a virtual hug when you’re needing one.
- As an investor: keep the reality of this adoption curve in mind, and be patient. Take more risks to facilitate better innovation and creativity in a space that thrives off of opportunity. This one might be a little biased (I’m not an investor) but you can definitely make a huge impact by creating programs to support small teams focusing on immersive technologies to help them through a year or two while the market balances out. Offer to host events or showcases for smaller companies (and please, don’t charge them $1000 to do it) to meet the people building the next generation of entertainment.
- As a larger company that’s already profitable: consider hosting smaller meetups or community engagement groups to facilitate knowledge exchange. One night and a few pizzas could make a huge impact in people’s lives as they’re starting out, especially if you work someplace outside of LA, San Francisco, Seattle, or New York.
- As a person, be supportive, friendly, and realistic on the side of optimistic. We need to make it okay to express doubts and skepticism, but we need to do it with the mindset of being positive and solution-oriented. Be supportive of the people taking the biggest risks, and understanding of the reality of the industry when expectations are delayed or fall short.