Virtual Reality Leaders on What It’ll Take to Bring VR to the Mainstream

TheGrill 2017: without great stories, the tech “almost doesn’t matter” said one VR expert

Three virtual reality trailblazers looking to move the technology beyond a niche audience and into the mainstream shared what’ll need to happen in the next decade while speaking at TheWrap’s TheGrill event in Beverly Hills.

In short: great stories or “experiences,” better functionality, improved hardware and a continued evolution in consumer habits will lead to increased adoption of VR.

“We’re really focused on story and character,” Anthony Batt, co-founder of WeVR, told TheWrap’s Matt Pressberg. “If you can’t get interested in that, it almost doesn’t matter in the tech and hardware.”

Looking to make its users forget about the bulky hardware needed to run high-end VR, the Venice, Calif.-based company has aimed to make its experiences as “immersive” as possible. It has tried to accomplish this with content like “TheBlu,” an underwater exploration of a sunken ship that includes giant whales swimming right in front of the viewer.

Creating more experiences like “TheBlu,” that are “just plain fun,” as Batt put it, will attract new adopters. At the same time, between Netflix, going to the movies, and watching traditional TV, he felt “people are burnt out on the same.”

John MacInnes, founding partner of VR studio MacInnes Scott, echoed those sentiments. He pointed to his 5-year-old son as a prime example of the changing consumer landscape. “He loves it, and it’s completely natural to him,” said MacInnes.

Paramount Futurist-in-Residence Ted Schilowitz said MacInnes’ son will be “in the sweet spot” for when the maturation of VR hardware and content intersect. Millions like him will look at VR hardware not as a novelty, but as a second-nature device.

“Every 18 months, you have a full turn in technology,” said Schilowitz. “When he’s 10, he’ll be right in the sweet spot. The media that he’ll consume and the device he’ll do it on, will be a very comfortable native device, just like his smartphone now.”

When pressed on the apparent “trough” VR adoption finds itself in now, Schilowitz wasn’t concerned. Instead, he said the current landscape is “hitting a bit of a gestation period,” but that the “next wave of commercialization is already happening.”

The Paramount exec concluded the next five years will likely continue to have a lack of “tentpole” experiences — due to tepid hardware purchases and a growing understanding of what makes good VR content. But Schilowitz expects to see an experience emerge between the current high-end offerings and the coming “tentpole” event that will draw a new generation of VR fans.

“At some point, there will be the viral [experience] that everybody has to go see this thing,” said Schilowitz.