There is a lot of hype about virtual reality. Will it live up to it and become important for your business? Let’s take a look by first asking two important questions.

Q: How immersive is virtual reality?

A: Very. Here’s frightening proof;

Woman visibly distressed while killing Zombies

Q: Do we have a responsibility to use this technology for good?

A: Yes. This is why:

50% of children who are exposed to VR remember events as real one week after exposure

Although VR has been around for many years in various forms, we are at the beginning of our journey into this next era of computing. The exact impact of which is unknown. What we do know is that the space is ballooning:

There are already 454 VR & AR companies in operation today.

Driven by the consumer releases of devices such as the Facebook owned Oculus Rift, Google’s low-cost Cardboard, HTC’s Vive, and PlayStation VR (amongst many others), our society is about to feel the impact of a new world of human-computer interaction.

Don’t take this post as fear mongering! As you can see from the above videos, with great power comes great responsibility. So how much should you care about this emerging technology? Lets look at some unit shipping stats, business models and considerations when creating a VR experience.

How many VR devices will ship this year?

Yes, the question on everyones lips. As with all forecasts of this nature it depends who you ask. The most reputable stats to date that I’ve found are Motherboard reporting that Tractica (who specialise in tech market research) is forecasting a total of:

15.9 million virtual reality headsets to be shipped in 2016, and 200 million virtual reality head-mounted displays to be sold by 2020.

2016 sales break down into three categories being PC headset sales of 5 million, PS4 sales of 1.7 million and mobile sales (like Google’s Cardboard) of 9.2 million.

What are the business & revenue models?

For the AR/VR players, they could see a combined $150 billion in revenues by 2020 according to Digi-Capital.

Digi-Capital: VR is the frontrunner with $120 billion, while AR comes in at $30 billion.

The ‘$150 billion’ is comprised from a number of channels. Many mobile and social business models transfer across to the virtual world with a twist, alongside more ‘traditional media’ in new formats. Revenues will stream from the hardware itself, in-experience commerce, data, voice, film & TV, adspend, gaming, and of course the application of the technology within the enterprise.

Is it easy to create experiences for VR?

In short, no. Like all digital experiences, you will get what you pay for. However, with these experiences there is a lot more to consider than your humble app or website (including the creation of 3D soundscapes for the most immersive experiences). Keep in mind that true immersion for the user is critically important otherwise they will potentially a) get sick, or b) simply move onto a more entertaining experience.

Crafting experiences for VR is all about creating and maintaining a little something called ‘presence’. If you’ve not heard that word before you’ll be hearing more about it as time goes on.

‘Presence’ is when a person is 100% connected to, and interacting with, a world outside of their physical body via technology.

This ‘presence’ can be broken with a suboptimal experience such as a slowed frame rate, poor resolution, poor tracking or perhaps accidentally stepping on your cats tail in the real world. From an experience design perspective, I like to refer to the creation of VR and AR experiences as ‘orchestrating presence’ due to the various factors involved.

Should I wait before experimenting with VR?

Sales pitch aside, I actually don’t think you should wait. The key reason for saying this is that there’s so much to learn from a user experience point of view — let alone the steep technology learning curve — so experimentation early is important.

If you’ve not tried VR yet, do so, then consider if it will play a major factor in the fabric of our digital society going forward. Technology moves to quickly and you don’t want to become its latest victim.

Our lives are being shaken to their very core by technological change, with the Fourth Industrial Revolution transforming economies as never before.

— Jennifer Blanke, Chief Economist, World Economic Forum

So, should you care?

Everyone is different, but the evidence for caring is compelling. Of course once we’ve become accustomed to Virtual and Augmented Realities, Magic Leap will then launch with ‘Mixed Reality’ (beaming photons directly onto your retina) and potentially change the game. We’ll then all need to rethink things anyway!

What a time to be alive…