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Future trends for virtual reality in 2021

Welcome back to the Alex Makes VR podcast. In today's episode, I want to talk about the future of VR. That's right, I'm whipping out my crystal ball again and we're gonna talk future trends in VR. If you've got a subject or a question for future episodes, I know we're winding down 2020, at the moment but I might have a cheeky little special series coming up in the run up to Christmas. But please, I always love to hear from you. Let me know if you've got any questions for the show and you can do that by finding me at @alexmakesvr on Instagram or Twitter.


This is the full transcript of the episode, if you wish to listen to the podcast and other episodes head below:

So this episode is in response to a question that longtime listener of the podcast David, requested. David, thank you for asking this question because I put an Instagram story of asking what subjects I should cover in these episodes running up to Christmas and David suggested I think about the future trends of VR and what they will be in 2021. It's funny, because when I got that message, I was like - huh, what do I think the trends will be for 2021? I'm pretty quick off the mark and I just go on my gut instinct, I usually have lots of opinions about lots of things but funnily enough, I didn't have a clear idea.


When I saw the message, I didn't have something pop into my head and go - oh, yeah, hundred percent, that will be a thing next year, or I don't know, it wasn't quite obvious. I think that's probably normal for anyone working in this industry this year because of the impact of the pandemic, because of the fact that, especially for me as primarily bring a 360 filmmaker, and someone that creates VR work for headsets that are shown in a public space or in an exhibition or a cinema context, this year has been, obviously total dog-shit. All of those opportunities to showcase new VR pieces, all of those opportunities to get to new VR audiences have been taken away. VR has been kind of reduced to the people that have bought headset and have it at home. Or, you know, institutions or corporations that utilise it in house and I think because of that, I feel like I've lost touch a little bit with what's happening in the VR industry. All I have to go off is the people that I know who work in this industry, my network, the rumblings in the jungle, the newsletters I received from all the big XR industry folk, so I can kind of keep a pulse on what's been happening this year but my favourite way of thinking about what's next in terms of VR is always to go directly to the source, to see the reactions on people's faces when they try VR for the first time, to interact with audiences that have nothing to do with this industry and get their feedback on pieces. That that is how you kind of understand audience behaviour, that’s how you understand how the general public is interacting with this technology and although that's not necessarily the question that David asked, the question was, what are the future trends for 2021? I think for me, personally, I have absolutely no idea because generally, I look at trends from the point of view of well, you know, 90% of audiences that I've shown VR to this year.


Therefore, I think that we're going to see, you know, this kind of experience become really popular, or we're going to see…now if you'd asked me this question pre-pandemic, I probably would have said that this would have been the year that you would have seen a lot more independent venues and small kind of spaces, investing in a small amount of VR technology so that they could host pop up events. We would see more of a national rolling out of these VR cinemas because the equipment is getting so much more accessible and so good with the app and with the quest 2 coming out, you know, a key piece of kit that is incredibly powerful, probably the first time that we're seeing a technology that could be mass adopted, because it's so compact, it's so high quality. It's so versatile with what you can do with it, that it would make sense for example, you know, an independent cinema to invest in a few of those headsets, because then they could both host 360 cinemas, they could also use it in workshops, they could have it in, you know the for EA to have some kind of entertainment and play games on it, they could use it as a room scale art exhibition experience, because that headset is so versatile and can do so much.

But of course, the pandemic is a bit of a dampener on things, it's kind of removed. Mark, in my own experience, the way that I engage with people with VR is removed all of that and so therefore, my crystal ball is a little cloudy and I'm not sure what we're gonna see next year. I would hazard a guess that because of Facebook's mass investment in VR, I would expect that the quest two will be a killer. This Christmas, I feel like they already had amazing sales when it first went live, I feel like that will continue over Christmas and we will see more and more of a push into the at home experiences, the gaming side of VR, the social VR platforms. I mean, there's been some incredible advancements in social VR this year so I can only expect that that will continue next year. I think as events and live entertainment start coming back, we will see people adding these digital elements, we will see that there will be virtual options. You know, if a world conference comes back for corporate employees, maybe we're going to see some kind of immersive digital way of accessing it so that you don't have to travel to that place in particular, especially because different parts of the world are responding at different kind of rates, different speeds, I guess, to the pandemic. So I think we'll see that next year.


The thing is, I don't think we're gonna see mass advancements in the tech itself, because I feel like the quest two was already a big leap forward in VR in terms of like a mass piece of equipment that could be mass adopted. It's interesting though, because as I'm recording this, I'm actually just starting to listen to Ready Player Two. Now, for anyone listening that isn't heavily embedded in the VR industry, you might know Ready Player One as the Steven Spielberg movie that came out. I think it was last year or the year before, which was based on a book written in the early 2000s. I could be wrong about that but essentially Ready Player One is like the holy grail of fiction in virtual reality. If you've ever heard someone in VR refer to the Oasis, It’s a little bit like referring to the Matrix. You know, the Oasis is this big virtual playground, the virtual world which everyone exists in the future, because we all use our headsets. But it's interesting, because I've just started reading Ready Player Two and I'm not going to give anything away about the story but within the first chapter they kind of give you a sense of what the book is going to be about and literally, within that first couple of chapters, all they're doing is exploring the ethics of brain interface VR. So as in the moment, and in Ready Player One, it was the case that you put on a headset, and if you wanted to move in the virtual world, you had to move in the physical world, you know, you have these omni directional treadmills that you can kind of walk on, which gives you the illusion of walking. Or you might have a haptic glove so that you can kind of feel the sensation of touching something, you're using your hands to control things in the virtual environment but you're physically having to do it in the real world as well. But where I think all of this goes and this is terrifying to kind of predict, but and I don't think this is happening in our lifetime, and it's not it's not happening anytime soon, although Elon Musk is definitely trying to make it that way with his new company Neuralink. But in Ready Player Two they talk about the ethics of brain powered VR, this idea of putting on a VR headset that connects directly to you, you're kind of prefrontal cortex or whatever the fancy word is for the part of your brain that controls movement and sensations. You could be laying down, but in the virtual world a bit like in a dream, it would physically feel like you were doing certain things. If you were running, it would feel like you were running. If you were eating a banana, it would feel like you were eating a banana, it would taste like you're eating a banana.


Have you ever had those dreams? Have you ever had those dreams where you can actually taste something? I had a dream the other night about eating a cookie and it was the first dream where I could actually…I felt like I could taste the cookie and I woke up so kind of mind blown, because I was like…that’s never happened before. That's so weird and anyone that's been following me and even pre podcast days, will know that I love to think about what the future of VR is and I love to think about that big picture view and I'm also a massive proponent of VR for good and how it will, you know, it will take someone that doesn't have necessarily all of their kind of motor functions in the real world, and be able to give them this new lease of life. Whether it's, you know, they've got some kind of disability that doesn't allow them to move in the real world, all of a sudden VR offers them this outlet, another way of living. Just think that could be even a case of, if you couldn't hear or if you couldn't taste or all of these different senses you could now experience that in this VR world. Anyway, side tangent and also just, this is, for me, this is the breakthrough. When you start to think about dreaming, you start to realise that this is not the work of science fiction, this could be a reality, as scary as that is and that's why obviously, the ethics of it need to be heavily debated.


I don't think this is happening in 2021… getting back to the subject of the podcast, but the very fact that when you dream, you do feel like you're moving, you do feel like you're running, you do feel like you're touching things that proves to you that your brain is already capable of living in that virtual world, in creating this other reality and so tapping into that with a VR headset is obviously possible. Again, I don't think it's happening in our lifetime, but it was interesting because in the book, obviously, they're exploring the ethics of that. They're exploring the ethics of whether that kind of technology should be allowed into the world and it got me thinking about the fact that, you know, this year more than ever has shown us the potential of VR, it's shown as what VR is good for, and what it could be good for. Imagine all of those kids that couldn't go to school for months, and their poor parents, having to juggle their job and be an at home teacher. Imagine if they had a headset at home where they could have virtual lessons. Imagine if that was just an option…like…oh, little Jimmy's sick, and he's staying home because he's contagious, but actually he could put a headset on and still be part of that lesson. He doesn't need to be left behind, he can still have that same education. Imagine the homework for talking or learning about ancient Rome is to put on a headset and actually visit ancient Rome. Just imagine what that's going to be like in the future.


So if this pandemic has taught us anything this year, is that the future of VR should be accessible, it should be that we start to look for these practical ways and these, I guess, beneficial use cases, you know, schools, hospitals, care homes. Imagine all those poor people left in care homes that weren't allowed to be visited by their families. I remember when my grandma went to a care home briefly and it was heartbreaking. It was heartbreaking that we couldn't see her all the time or, you know, there had been like an outbreak of like the flu or something. So you physically weren't allowed on the premises or all of those things, and you just feel helpless. Imagine if they could have, a VR headset on my grandma and I could have put a VR headset on and we could have been together in a virtual space and she wouldn't have needed to have felt alone. Anyone that has listened to my TEDx talk will know I talk a lot about my grandma, she's a massive inspiration to me, for why I even got into VR and why I’ve persisted with it and one of my core kind of driving passions, I guess, behind VR altogether. I believe that in future less people will feel lonely, less people will be left behind because they aren't rich enough to have an elite education, or every kind of person that goes into a new job will be able to learn and train in the way that makes sense to them in practical, real life, so they won't be left behind. If they're dyslexic, and they can't do the written test, or they've got, you know, an attention disorder where they can't focus on like video or something, a straight narrative video that's been playing to them, you know, there's so many, I just, I could talk about this forever, because there are just so many opportunities that VR could provide.

So on one, on the one hand, I don't know what the future holds for VR in 2021 because I feel like in 2020, I have really lost touch with those end users, that kind of entry point for VR, which I used to so love doing and I'm hoping that in 2021, we will start to see those come back. I don't think it will happen quickly, I think it's more likely going to happen in 2022. If there's a successful vaccine next year, I feel like the year after people will start to get back to their routines, wanting to go out and experience new things, they won't be as scared or cynical about putting a headset on their face. I also think that maybe not next year, but a year after we're going to see some of these early AR wearables, like Apple Glasses or Project Aria that Facebook's working on. Maybe we'll see some kind of AR glasses that comes out, and is the first sign of like, mass adopted AR glasses. I think that's going to be a huge one for VR, because when someone gets used to wearing a pair of AR glasses, it's not as big a jump to then to put on a VR headset. It will introduce a lot of people into this kind of augmented world where we have digital and reality living alongside each other and that's going to be really important for anyone working in the VR industry.


So next year, I'm excited about working on a couple of really cool projects which I hope will be ready to go to… not a mass market, but the general public, like someone that isn't the kind of person necessarily to have a VR headset at home, I want to see more companies adopting VR as a really viable way to have a virtual experience, that is like additional to an in person live event kind of experience. I know a lot of my clients are exploring that already. They're having it as this, you know, opportunity to do remote working or to have remote collaborations or to visit events that they can't physically be I think we're going to see more and more of that next year, hopefully. And more than anything, I just hope that the steam in which VR kind of had going pre pandemic, continues to. Steam is probably the wrong word…perhaps the fire roaring behind VR. We were gearing up for another kind of wave of new VR, kind of innovation, new people coming into the industry and the pandemic killed that a little bit because it removed that first time VR experience for a lot of people.


So I'm hoping that by the end of next year, we'll start to see that comeback, we'll start to see that momentum build again and then in 2022, I'm really hoping that will be the year that we really start to see a real kind of uptake in all of the immersive sectors. I think we're going to see some mad stuff in the next couple of years.


So that's it from me today, that was a real rambly one, but I just love this stuff. When people ask me, why are you working in VR? Truth is, it's not because of right now, in fact, a lot of the time I'm very frustrated with VR right now. As someone working in this technology, though I love using it in the jobs that I do, in the big narrative projects and the big training projects and the big kind of commercial things that I'm kind of involved with, I love seeing the potential of this medium, but for me, the exciting part and the bit that really kind of keeps me hanging in there even when I'm like - oh god. It's so hard is the future. I’m thinking about what this looks like in 10 years time, thinking about that whole cohort of students that if another pandemic happened in five years time, they would be so much better off, they'd be so much more better equipped, because they would have this technology that would allow them to not only continue and kind of, you know, substitute their education, but actually, they're probably thriving. It would make their education, not necessarily better, but it would be as good if not already better, because of the technology.


Those are what I think might be the trends for the next couple of years, and especially next year, those are also my thoughts on some of the ethics that we're exploring as we go into the future of immersive technologies.


If anyone else is reading Ready Player Two please let me know, let's form a little book club or something, let me know where you're at. I am pretty slow, but I'm loving it so far and I'm sure any kind of VR nerd, you know, if you're like me, will love it too. There's loads of amazing philosophical and ethical questions to pick out in this book so far, and I'm only two chapters in. So let me know, reach out to me on Instagram or Twitter at @alexmakesvr.


If you enjoyed this episode, or if you thought it was interesting, or if you just found the podcast and you want to show your support, I would love it. If you would share the podcast, whether that be with a friend that you think might find it interesting or sharing it on your social medias and tagging me, it honestly makes my day. I've had so many beautiful DM’s over the last week, kind of in response to my birthday, and it has been lovely. There are lovely words about the podcast, which just make my heart swell and it makes me want to keep doing this. It lights a fire under my ass to be passionate about it and I am super passionate about about this kind of stuff and I'm passionate about you guys.


Thank you. Thank you for listening. Thank you for making 2020 less sucky by being on this journey with me and let me know if there's anything that I can do for you to help you with your 2021. I know we're not there yet. I know there's definitely episodes left in December. So don't think you're getting rid of me just yet but I just want you to know that I am here for you. We're all in this together. Have a great day wherever you are in the world and I will speak to you in the next one.


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