The Quest for the Holy GVrail
From conference to conference and blog post to podcast, sentiments and catchphrases are repeated: “content is king,” “VR is an empathy machine,” “VR is looking for its killer app.”
With so much chatter, it isn’t hard to wonder how many of this opinions are built from real experience with the medium. Undoubtedly, most people who have experienced VR in 2018 have been exposed to Wevr’s classic underwater adventure The Blu, or Google’s ubiquitous Tilt Brush (or one of its many knockoffs or derivatives).
Perhaps it is because these came so early in the new wave of VR that they are considered entry level or demo-stage – but their pervasiveness and success are more likely indicators that they are killer apps indeed. But what is a killer app – by definition, something that serves a specific function that knocks all competitors out of the way.
This leads me to wonder if indeed what we are looking for is not something bombastic and visually or physically overwhelming, and instead something utilitarian that is also accessible to the widest range of users.
Kleenex, toasters, custom insoles, Google searchlines. These are all elective but also make life better, easier and are very simple to understand.
The Ocarina of Time
Google Earth is one of these: it checks the boxes of being both functional and improving quality of life while being accessible and understandable. The UI is intuitive, the analogies of travel, discovery and participation feel natural, and it is vastly useful in providing a visceral and embodied, spatially relevant understanding of the globe, the world we live in and the relationships of space and culture among them, at least from a topographical perspective.
Another killer app has proven to be VRChat – the free and open-world social platform for Virtual Reality. It has been propped up by meme culture and social media – and has become a big hit among Steam gamers and Twitch streamers alike. This goes to show that a killer app doesn’t need to have flaming racing stripes or a blue hedgehog, but rather be available, accessible and without barriers to entry (like price and complexity or closed ecosystems) to have the potential to pop.
All of the above – The Blu, Tiltbrush, Google Earth and VRChat, came to their popularity very organically. Of course, they have some marketing behind them, but no one can market something into the heart and minds of people and stay there artificially. These are cases worth examining and understanding how to build new opportunities for people to find a way that VR truly fits into their lives, hearts and minds – something it is completely designed to do.