How to take someone's VR virginity (the right way)
Updated: Oct 26, 2020
In today's episode, I speak from the heart about something that I've been thinking about ever since the Oculus Quest 2 was announced. And that is, what is the right and wrong way to give someone their first VR experience? I don't know whether that makes sense but it will make sense shortly so hang with me. We're going to talk all things new. First time and new audiences how to put them in VR, how not to put them in VR. What do you need to tell them before they put the headset on?
Read on for the full transcription or listen to the podcast episode here
So ever since the Oculus Quest 2 was announced, I have been thinking about all the people that are going to be having their first VR experience this year and how excited In fact, I would love the stats, however I doubt they would ever release them. I would love the stats from Facebook around how many people buying the Oculus Quest 2 are new users vs people who already own headsets that are just upgrading? I think that would be absolutely fascinating to know. But let's assume that a good proportion of them, probably not the majority, but a good proportion of people will be buying headsets for the first time. And this will be their first experience. How exciting is that? Do you remember the first time you put on a VR headset? I genuinely do. I remember, sitting on my bed in my parents house because I'd just moved home after after travelling and I remember putting on the headset and it was a Cirque du Soleil piece by Felix and Paul. I remember sitting on the bed, and almost knocking myself out because there's this scene where this kind of freaky clown dude with a pocket watch who comes right up into your face and I tried to move out of the way because I genuinely was terrified. I almost nutted the wall. And I remember laughing to myself and if you've listened to my TEDx talk, you will have heard me tell this story. But I genuinely did laugh out loud to myself, when I realised this isn't real, like why have I just had that response? How insane that there's this technology that has just made me have that reaction? That is so cool. And then like with anything, years in, this is just becomes commonplace to us doesn’t it? This headset is nothing new. There’s nothing exciting about Beat Sabre anymore, you know, take it or leave it. And that's crazy. Because when you think that when someone experiences that for the first time, it genuinely blows their mind. So I've been thinking a lot about the fact that this new headset is going to bring in a whole wave of new people. And it's got me thinking about the right and the wrong way for someone to experience VR for the first time.
Now, obviously, this is totally subjective and this is totally my opinion. But I've shown VR and I've been very privileged to show VR to a lot of first time users, whether that be friends and family who literally didn't know what VR was until I shoved them in a headset, or whether that be professionally in the context of VR cinemas, or VR showcases, showcasing at festivals. Even in situations like health care settings, or showcasing to clients to show them the potential or even helping them roll it out in the training, in the context of training in VR. So I've I've had a lot of experience, showcasing VR for the first time and what's interesting is, there is definitely a right and a wrong way to do it. This is this is my feelings on the subject.
So let me start by telling you what the wrong way to do it is… this is how I used to do it for a long time and it took me ages to gather that this is the wrong way. So the wrong way to do it is by, basically giving someone a headset, as if it's a smartphone, and they will just automatically know what to do with it. It's a bit like when you give someone who is an iPhone user, an Android phone, or the other way around. You understand what the device is, but that's as far as it goes because everything else is totally alien to you. That is literally everyone's experience when they experience VR for the first time because it has obviously got its own form factor. There's obviously the physical element of it, but also the operating system. And the way that you interact with the operating system is like nothing anyone will have ever seen before, if this is their first time in VR. So the worst thing you can do is just hand over the VR headset and go off and hope that they work out for themselves because they will be overwhelmed. The wrong thing to do is to turn the headset on, put it on your own face, and say - ‘okay, great, yep, that's ready and the video is playing and go’. They will panic. Suddenly it will be something like this…’Oh, no, I’ve pressed the wrong button, do I need a control? I’m in the wrong place, It’s upside down now…’ and you’re there trying to help them but it’s so confusing. It's just a total shit show.
The right way to do it, again, in my humble opinion, this is the the way that I found when I showcase VR for the first time, this is the way that lets people have the best experience possible. And this is what we want. When someone comes into VR for the first time, we want them to have the best experience possible, I will take my time at the beginning to let them know what to expect. For example…’ I’m going to give this to you in a moment, what you're going to do is, you're going to put it on eyes first. So put it to your face, get it comfortable, you know your eyes, and then pull the strap over your head. Don't try and put the strap on first and pull it over your head like a like a baseball cap. That's not a good idea. Especially if you wear glasses. So you want to go eyes first, and then we will adjust the rest, we’ll see if anything needs tightening’. Then take it off them, and explain to them that you’re going to have to set it up and have it orientated their way.
So let's say you're putting them in a 360 video and it might be that you don't have an app that hosts it, you actually need them to select the 360 video. So you might say…’so what's going to happen is I'm going to put you in the headset, and have a look around, you're going to be in like a little holding room and you're going to see tiles, little video thumbnail tiles in front of you and what you can do is ,you’re going to use this controller, and you're just going to point at it and use your index finger to pull the trigger. You know, push this button, and that's going to start the experience. Once you've started the experience, if they've got headphones, then you can put your headphones on. Don't put the headphones on before the experience starts. Why might that be? Well, that's because every time I've ever showed a piece of VR where someone's put the headphones on first, they undoubtably can't figure out what they're doing, because it is quite an overwhelming thing and they've got lots of questions and it can automatically feel claustrophobic and confusing. It's just not a good shout. So always get them to put the headphones on last when the experience has started and you've already made sure that everything's working.
Okay. So to run that again… you say, ‘here's the headset, and it's the controller. In a minute, you're going to put this headset on, you're going to put it on eyes, first pull the strap over the back of your head, you're going to be in a waiting room and in front of you, you should see thumbnails of videos, they're going to be right in front of you. What you're going to do is you're going to use this controller, you're going to point it at the video on the left hand side.’ Make sure that it's easily accessible to see, this is why I would always recommend if possible using your your own app, or deploying the video in a way where they have much less to deal with in terms of finding the right file or that kind of thing.
But anyway, you carry on…’you’re gonna use this trigger and this controller, and you're going to press with this button…when it's lined up, you'll see little dots.’ If you're using gaze technology, you can say….’you can look around, and a little white dot is going to follow where your eyes are, when you want start the experience, you can just look at that tile, and you will see the white dot align with that thumbnail title and that will start the experience.’
So again, this is totally going to depend on what experience you're showing and sometimes, especially if it's my friends, I will try and put them in the Oculus home to begin with, because actually, when someone's never done VR before, even the Oculus home, where, you know…you're in that cool, kind of futuristic, fancy mansion house with the glass ceiling, you see the stars, and it's beautiful, especially on the quest, you can walk around a little bit. And sometimes I'll put my friends in that to begin with, because I really want them to just first have that wow factor and get comfortable. This is something that not enough people factor in when showcasing VR for the first time, when someone puts on it will be overwhelming, you need to give them a little bit of time to acclimatise to the VR environment before you start overwhelming them with instructions.
So if possible, try and give them that bit of time. Of course, if you're running a synchronised experience, which is what I will try to do, especially if it’s a time sensitive or a tech illiterate crowd, then I will get it to the point where it's literally a case of - they put the headset on, without the headphones, I will start the synchronised experience and then as I say, as soon as the video starts playing, you can put your headphones on. This, to me is like the perfect kind of solution, because then I can see very quickly, whose headset is not working or who's accidentally like clicked out of the app or anything like that, because I can see because they've not put the headphones on. So then I can go over and checking if everything all right? They might say ‘oh nothing's happening’ and you go ‘could you just take off for a second, I'll just quickly check it and have a look.’ And then you can very quickly, work out what is what's going on with that. And the other thing that I like to do is physically show and tell them ‘this is the headset, this is the controller, this is what you're going to do this…’ Tell them what you're going to see when you get in there, so you're setting their expectations, then they put it on, you help them adjust, then you get to the point, once they've played the experience, once they're in to the point where they're ready to be left to their own devices, headphones on.
The other thing you can do and this is something that I like to do, especially in the context of showcasing a particular kind of experience. If I'm going to show, let's say a documentary. When I'm showcasing a piece of content that might have some kind of emotional response, I like to say, especially in a group setting - ‘does anyone have experience with VR before?’ Then you figure out very quickly, who already has been in a headset, it doesn't necessarily mean they've used that particular headset, but they've had the experience of VR before. If the majority or if even if just one or two people haven't, then you want to say ‘okay, I'm just going to run over some basics. So this is a VR headset. When you put this headset on, you'll be transported to a new world, it's going to be absolutely magical. I'm so jealous that you're about to have your first VR experience, because I wish that I could go back and have my first time experience again. You know, it's going to be wonderful. But here's some things you need to know before you put the headset on. And remember, this is virtual reality so you can look everywhere. Don't be afraid to look around and to explore’.
If it’s a 360 experience, tell them you can swivel on their chair, whatever it is, if it's a room scale experience, you want to remind them that they can interact with things. And this is really, really, really important. If you are showing an interactive project, you need to tell them and set their expectations right up top as to how much interacting, they will need to do, because this is one of my biggest pet peeves with interactive projects when they're not showcased, right, they are just an absolute frustrating waste of time. I've gone to some festivals before where the volunteer clearly had no idea what the content was and they just put me in a headset and I'm like, so what am I supposed to do, like, am I supposed to be doing something? Some interactive experiences don't work until you interact in a certain way. So setting expectations right up top is really important.
For example…’okay, in this experience, you're gonna be asked to interact, you will be prompted by a voiceover or by a glowing object. When you need to interact, all you need to do is use your controller to do XYX, blah, blah.’
To be fair, the experience designer of that VR piece should have factored in a lot of that and so hopefully, you won't need to do too much, too much of that prep but basically, you want to set those expectations. You can add -‘remember, you can look around, you can explore, when you put on the headset, it will feel like you're potentially not in the room anymore, so just make sure that all of your belongings are either tucked right underneath the chair, you put them to the side. And you're you've got a clear space around you. So that if you do want to kind of turn around and interact with things, and you're not going to trip over anything. And it's also worth noting that if this is your first time in VR, or even if it's not your first time in VR, you might want to adjust the headset a little bit to make it more comfortable. I'm happy to do that for you if you want help with that. But if you want to do it yourself, this is how the straps work.’
And you just basically give them a quick demo of that. What else you need to say…
‘If this is your first time in VR, you might find that characters in the scene come up quite close and it can feel quite alarming because it does feel quite real. So if at any point you are uncomfortable, just close your eyes. Because remember, you're in VR, if you start to feel dizzy, or you experience any kind of nausea, that is very normal for some users, again, just close your eyes. And if you continue to feel that way, just take the headset off. If you have any problems at all, during the experience, if you've got something doesn't start or there's something that doesn't feel quite right, just put your hand in the air and I will come to you.’
I'm I'm generalising this for a group experience but what this does is this really makes that person feel super comfortable when they go in the headset for the first time. Now, of course, I'm not giving this very elaborate speech to my friends at a house party, but I will give them some version of that kind of speech in terms of this is what to expect.
This is quite a visual thing so I'm hoping that it will come across helpful in audio form but I just think it was quite important. I thought it was quite important to talk about because it's been on my mind, because there will be so many new people having first time VR experiences. But also, I guess it lends itself to the broader conversation about the fact that as people in this industry, we have a responsibility to make that first time experience very palatable. You know, when we put on a headset for the first time, even if it was a bit complicated and a bit technically difficult, we worked it out because we are tech savvy, we are early adopters, we kind of knew that we were going to stick with it and work it out, like nonetheless, but for someone who's not like that, or for someone you just want to get them in as quickly as possible to have the best experiences possible. These are some of the things that you need to consider. So you need to set their expectations Of course many people will be having their first time experience alone and having their first time experience by themselves, those kind of people will be the kind of people that will be able, I'm assuming anyway, to troubleshoot and they will have, if they're the kind of person that have ordered an Oculus Quest 2 because they really fancied it, they will hopefully have a great experience because they were always going to be willing to look into how to set it up for themselves. Does that make sense? But when you're responsible for someone's first time experience, you can just remove all that friction that potentially hampers the experience by just setting that expectation right up top. Especially if you're offering this to clients, you need to basically show that this is a very seamless experience, It doesn't have to be overwhelming and technically complicated, which sometimes it can be but ultimately, we want them to want to try it, love it and see the benefit in it.
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