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FutureVision: The next wave of reality

Alex Wills, executive director, Content Studio R/GA London 
R/GA has operated at the intersection of creativity and technology since day one. So, with the birth of a new medium that demands the utmost synergy of the two, it’s only right that FutureVision sets out to uncover the genuine facts of virtual reality in its pivotal year. In this latest report, we’re taking a close look at emerging trends in VR, sharing our collective global point of view on how the medium is performing and thinking about why brands need to start developing a strategic long-term view on the value of this revolutionary format. First developed in the 1960s, written about extensively in science fiction for over a century and imagined in movies and computer games ad infinitum, VR nonetheless still suffers from an image problem.

Many people think it’s antisocial, gimmicky, or destined to end up on the technology scrapheap alongside 3DTV. The main reason for this is simple: not enough of us have been exposed to true and varied demonstrations of its potential. More than any other (new) media out there, it simply has to be ‘experienced’ to be understood. Interestingly, the humble arcade is seeing a renaissance in China, rebranded as a VR destination and springing up in new venues across the country. Large scale ‘screenings’ are becoming more commonplace, launching big-name entertainment experiences such as the recent MR. ROBOT Season 2 ‘extension’. The top movie companies are all in heavy production on similar VR extensions for their new franchises and we’re getting tantalising glimpses of technology breakthroughs that stand to revolutionise mobile and social experiences.

We might still be at Year Zero in terms of VR tech, but you can get your hands on tools and experiences right now that are already game-changing and having an impact across multiple industries. Automotive and architectural innovators are blazing a trail, almost by stealth, while gaming and entertainment creators are the more obvious leaders. As you read this, Sony’s mainstream VR entry for the PlayStation will just be launching – and with an installed user base of 40 million for the PS4, the potential new audience is incredible. The best thing about the emergence of a brand new medium is that no one is an expert yet: it’s an open playing field, where some are more willing than others to push the envelope.

Claire Beale, global editor-in-chief, Campaign
Many years ago a rival publication to Campaign launched in Second Life. As they crowed about their cutting-edge credentials, I remember wondering whether we were in danger of being left behind. Today, Second Life still exists but it never really fulfilled its promise to redefine reality for us all. Meanwhile, my rival publication soon found real life too challenging and went out of business. It’s not easy to identify which of the seemingly endless parade of new technologies is going to fundamentally and forever change the way we do things – and which are merely dazzling fireworks (Pokémon Go?).

But the developments in augmented and virtual reality showcased here in R/GA’s latest FutureVision report suggest many of these new experiences will eventually become established norms. Clearly, though, this new virtual world poses an enormous set of unique challenges for marketers and their creative partners; from achieving a level of quality that does justice to the intensity of the experience, to finding a way to cure the nausea VR can induce – let alone working out how to incorporate a compelling brand message into such an overwhelming scenario. But as R/GA’s analysis of the latest applications shows, the key is ensuring that the VR experience is more than a novelty that soon palls.

To succeed, these new technologies will need to be either useful or (repeatedly) seductive. And if you’re going to use them to market a brand, then ideally they will need to be both. There’s nothing new there, of course: that’s the formula for successful marketing whatever the platform. And the formula, no matter how advanced and exhilarating the technology, is centred on one vital ingredient. R/GA’s Nick Law nails it: "In the end, it’s going to be about the quality of the content." Sure, you need to understand the kit and what it’s capable of. And you need to understand how it can be harnessed to sell a product or service. But once you’ve understood all of that, you’ve got to create the magic that makes it come alive. When the technology’s as exciting as this, creating that magical content is a thrilling challenge.