Customer Experience in the Age of VR

— Matt Urquhart, Sr Account Executive 

Virtual reality. Augmented reality. Mixed reality.

These have become common buzzwords in the media and a permanent feature in our vocabulary across technology communications. Not a day goes by without one of them being thrown around in brainstorms and pitches as a way to make campaigns more ‘interactive’ and ‘experiential’.

Virtual reality hit the consumer market in a big way in 2016, with the release of Sony’s PlayStation VR, Facebook’s Oculus Rift and HTC’s Vive headsets. This was the first time that businesses could gauge public reaction to this new hardware, using gamers as the guinea pigs.

Initial demand has been strong, with the future looking positive for the platform. In an interview with the New York Times, global chief executive of Sony Interactive Entertainment, Andrew House, spoke of his surprise at the popularity of the PSVR in its first four months on the market, with demand for the product far exceeding stock.

I must confess that I was a skeptic. I thought this new hardware was a fad that would disappear as quickly as it arrived. How could strapping a big piece of plastic to your face make a seminar or event more entertaining?

That was until I played a game on one.

Having only ever used VR to watch a video or look around an open space, this was the first time I used it to game. The difference was striking.

My opportunity presented itself at London’s EGX Rezzed. As a smaller gaming event than its big brother, EGX, gamers got the chance to try VR without having to endure hours of queuing for the experience.

The issue I had when watching an experience in VR was that it is a passive event which, while initially exciting and compelling, never engrossed me. Throughout the video, I was very aware that I was sat in a room full of people watching my reactions. Overall, it was a fairly uncomfortable customer experience. Actively playing a game was completely different.

At the event, I played Sports Bar on the PSVR, which transported me to a virtual bar with a variety of games to choose from including darts and pool. As soon as I was handed the movement controls I forgot that there was a queue of gamers behind me, silently critiquing my skills. I was immersed in the game and wasn’t bothered whether I looked silly – as you’ll see clearly in the video clip.

How does my five minutes of fun relate to communications? This new form of entertainment presents the industry with a unique way to present data and information. It transforms the customer experience. By gamifying content, we can engage consumers in a brand on a deeper level, rather than simply showing them.

So, next time you’re planning a campaign and have budget to play with, consider VR – specifically, gamified VR. This medium can be a powerful tool for brands, but only if used to its fullest potential – by giving users a sense of agency. VR is traditional video’s more intense and memorable – if a little demanding – younger brother and I’m excited to see brands’ creative use cases over the next few years.