Sony’s much anticipated entry into the virtual reality (VR) market will hit markets later this year. Speaking a the VRUK festival, here Jed Ashforth, senior designer at Sony Computer Entertainment Europe, outlined the key issues marketers need to consider to harness what is a very new and largely unexplored platform.
VR works differently because the concept of the screen has gone
"Traditional screens are a certain size, and we have had to learn through that medium how to communicate. While it is a great viewing window there a rules and limitations to a screen. Once we take the window away all the rules change; everything is different. Things we knew previously don't apply any more in VR. In VR we have an infinite 3D scape. There is no concept of something not in this world that is separated from the player any more."
Be conscious of giving users a nasty surprise
"Since the language has shifted in VR, developers must look wider than traditional gaming tech. They must be very conscious not to give players a nasty surprise, since they are so immersed it is easy to scare people since for any new user going into a VR experience it is not like a video game, it is much more like real life. The player expects that the same laws are going to apply to real life, so unreal elements need to be framed like a traditional video game, with signposts letting the player know what is coming next, to eliminate the possibility of a bad experience."
In VR the player is not just viewing the world, they are interacting with it
"The player controls the camera and action through motion - becoming the avatar. That kind of deep immersion that can be achieved in VR is fragile, and is very easy to shatter with the slightest thing being out of place, since the dependence of things being real life is much higher."
There are experiences that VR cannot achieve
"Mismatches are inevitable. For instance, while a lot of people think skydiving seems like the perfect fit for VR, in fact there are so many elements that would not match up with expectations, all of which will pull the player out of the game. The experience has so many outdoor elements that are so hard to simulate: We recommend you never simulate you emulate. You want to manage experience not shatter experience."
Identify problems at user level and offer alternatives
"Since players inhabit their avatars, they are more likely to opt out of challenges that play on their personal phobias, since they “bring their own baggage” to the experience. For example, someone with a fear of heights might not want their avatar to cross a very high bridge. The key thing for developers is identifying that these problems happen at user level and coming up with solutions, so if the player shakes their head they are presented with alternative options, for instance the view can shift to third person so the player is empathising rather than inhabiting their avatar. The approach to take is very much considering each individual user and what would be good for them."
Sound is half of the experience
"As well as visuals, sound plays an important part in VR, which is 50 per cent of the experience. Binaural audio that accurately models the way sound enters the human ear helps deepen the immersive experience."
Sony’s PlayStation VR headset may be priced at $299, according to rumours.