This past week in the U.S. “Black Friday,” and its digital sister “Cyber Monday,” saw many important and much-anticipated gadgets, games and entertainment options. But there were none more interesting than a Virtual Reality (VR) headset – Gear VR from Samsung that began selling on November 20th for $99. Despite having a very reasonable price compared to other entertainment devices launched in the past, the sales have a much bigger dependency on an external factor – consumable content. Unlike smartphones, where the user can look, store and search for content in real-time, VR headsets and other electronics are dependent on the hardware maker (Samsung in this case) and other prominent gaming, entertainment and even user-generated content providers.
As noted by @Anne Blanchard in her recent article about the surge in “digital downloads” over the last few weeks, very few games made headlines for targeting content towards these VR gadgets. The only hyped-up release was from an adult content provider – launching its content product arm targeted for Virtual Reality. Still the large potential of these VR gadgets has been untapped mostly due to the apprehensions about the prospective number of devices floating in the market and the upfront investment required by the game companies to venture into the new content. Most games and entertainment options are slated to launch sometime in 2016, which justifies the cautious approach the original content providers are taking.
What about user-generated content?
Facebook recently showcased 360-degree videos in its newsfeed. While 360-degree videos are not new, they videos look pretty amazing and provide that immersive experience of “being there” – the quality of videos has some gaps. The depth of field is noisy and in most cases does not have the same quality that users expect from High Definition (HD) and Ultra-HD videos. 360-degree videos are incrementally burdening on not just the devices but also on the expensive resources like bandwidth. Unless all dimensions of the video are watched, storage space is being wasted for the whole video. YouTube recently said that going forward millions of the videos on its site will have the option to be viewed in VR mode – though the problem remains that 360-degree videos consume at least three-four times more bandwidth than normal videos – ultimately impacting content viewers resources.
But, is VR content really difficult to make or more expensive than regular content?
Sony’s world studios’ doesn’t think it would be exponentially more expensive to make VR games initially. Most studios will not make full sized, expanded games to begin with – thus keeping control on the expenses, as compared to big titles as Call of Duty or Halo – which some estimated to cost over $200 million!
Is original content provider’s infrastructure ready to handle this kind of traffic consumption?
By just creating great VR content the issues with adoption of VR content is not completely addressed. N-screen or multi-device media consumption is not a new trend and poses many challenges for content owners. Among them, the critical ones are:
- The high cost of video streaming infrastructure to maintain
- The ability to publish content in multiple formats to cater multiple devices
- Maintaining a great Quality of Experience (QoE) even during peak demand
- Future proofing the media delivery for new delivery platforms
All of the above issues apply to creators of VR content as well. By using a reliable content delivery network (CDN), companies producing content for VR can address most of these issues and provide a great QoE.
Who will take the lead and produce the most popular VR content?
Will the large studios produce the next big game or entertainment video? Maybe not. Most viral smartphone games came from less known, individual developers. Take the example of flappy bird – one of the most addictive, viral downloaded (more than 50 million!) smartphone games ever. Facebook’s Oculus has pledged over $10 million to help game and content developers to create content and apps for the VR app store. So, the next big viral content that helps in making VR gadgets buzz a reality may not necessarily come from a big studio but a less known developer funded by one of these large hardware manufacturers.
The VR segment has a bit of a chicken and egg situation. Users may not buy devices before great content is available, and big content creators may not produce full version games before device adoption picks up drastically. There is a great power-push to make the VR platform successful. One of the largest social media company (Facebook), two of the primary graphical interface companies (ATI, nVIDIA), and big gaming software producers like Sony and Microsoft are all investing heavily in VR research and development. Soon we may start seeing more high quality, full version content made available before the VR headset adoption hits a critical mass.