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Is working in VR right for you?

In today's episode, I want to talk about - is the VR industry, right for you? Should you be working in this industry? We're going to dive into all of that and all of hot takes on the kind of person that should be diving into VR versus those who maybe not so much!

Read on for the full transcription or listen to the podcast episode here

So is the VR industry right for you?

This is something I've been thinking a lot about recently. And I know I say that about a lot of subjects. But it really is front and centre for me because I have to be really honest, and say that over the kind of four or five years that I've been in this industry, I have absolutely had a very love hate relationship with VR. I think from a my point of view, if you are the kind of person that loves technology, loves the challenge, loves the kind of the endorphin rush of being up against a ridiculously hard thing to pull off and then being able to see that project comes to fruition and you're the kind of person that will, you know, hustle and and kind of indulge the struggle of it, because you know that the payoff is going to be so worth it, then maybe this industry is for you.

If you are the kind of person that wants things to be fairly easy, and I don't mean that patronisingly, I just mean, you know, if you want to be able to watch a load of YouTube videos and learn exactly how to do everything, if you want your work to be seen by a lot of people, and if you want the journey of going from coming up with the idea, to making it, to getting it out audiences to be quick and quite simple.

This industry is probably not for you.

I think the biggest thing you have to think about is - what about VR kind of draws you in, in the first place? For me, I didn't really know anything about the VR industry when I actually jumped into it.

All I knew is that the first time I put on a headset, I was like, wow, this is nothing I've ever experienced before. This makes me so excited as a filmmaker, it kind of opened all of these new opportunities in my mind, like, wow I've never thought about the idea of telling a story where you could actually feel like you were there. This opens up this whole new world of storytelling. And then the more I dove into the industry, the more I got more involved, the more I started meeting people in the industry and learning about the different technologies and learning about the kind of subsections of the VR industry because that's the thing VR is a small niche thing, but actually within it, there are so many different sub niches of different kinds of creators in different kinds of projects, different kinds of businesses. And so I kind of came into it beautifully blind, I guess. And as such, I didn't really question whether or not this was the right industry for me to be working in because when I just started going, and admittedly I got in around 2015/2016. So round a kind of like a resurgence of interest in VR. At that point. There was a lot of money being pumped in, Oculus had just come out with their first developer kits for the Rift, brands were super excited about this new thing they were gonna throw money at it. Some of the first projects that I ever worked on for brand were just like, literally threw money at these projects without even really thinking about, oh, how are we actually going to get people to see this though? And so it was a really promising time and there was a lot of momentum in the industry back then because it was a whole new lease of life for this medium that has been around technically for decades.

So it was very different to how it is right now. Right now in 2020, we are absolutely in what Gartner describes as the trough of disillusionment, which if you don't know what that is (Gartner I don't actually know who they are assuming they're some kind of analytics company I probably shouldn't look that up) but anyway, they have this thing called the hype cycle. If you don't know what that is, Google it, or I'll put a link in the show notes. If I remember. Gartner's hype cycle which basically looks at the hype cycle in which every new technology has to go through in order to make it to mainstream. It's not just a linear line upwards in terms of adoption. It's absolutely this rollercoaster ride. You go through different cycles. It's exactly what it sounds like. You go up, you know, everyone's excited, everyone's buzzing about it, oh my god, new technology and then slowly people's initial buzz wears off. And it's kind of a bit like dating.

Everything about you know, when you first meet someone and you're super into them and you're obsessed, excited, you've got the rose tinted glasses about it. And then after a while, you start to notice their flaws. And you start to see them for being a person they are. Who isn't necessarily great all the time, then maybe you realise after a few months, actually, you're a bit of a dick and, like, you're not bringing any value to my life. It's kind of like that with technology and until technology crosses a certain threshold and can sustain itself, and adds value to people's lives on top of being cheap enough for people to adopt it, it's going to take time. There's enough content and there are enough reasons why someone would want to spend time in a VR headset, but it's not mainstream yet.

We are absolutely in a place where especially during this pandemic, and the money seems to have kind of like frozen and no one wants to spend money on this stuff other than in the enterprise sector. And the and the gaming sector to some extent, although I don't know because I'm not a gamer. So I hold my hands up and say I'm not the most well versed person with what's going on in that ecosystem, but from what it looks like, it seems there's a lot of steam (pun intended) and behind the VR gaming side of things, an enterprise will still a exponential growth in that area.

But everywhere else, it seems especially on the consumer side of things, there's definitely been a drop off with brands, marketing, they don't want to do VR activations. They're too expensive. And they don't reach as many people as they could, if they did just a traditional brand video that they could run Facebook ads against and be seen by 10s of millions within a week.

That is a lot harder. And there's a lot less money in the system for VR right now, If you're coming at it from more of a creating content for an end consumer, or creating something that isn't necessarily in the b2b space that has a massive return on investment.

So with that being said, I think that if you're the kind of person like I am, admittedly, like it kills me. I wish I wasn't like this. I can see where this technology is going and I'm sure you can too. I'm sure that the reason you're even entertaining the idea of being in the VR industry or if you are in the industry, whether the reason you've stuck to it for so long, is because fundamentally you believe in the technology, you believe in what it can do for people for the world. You want to see it evolve and get to the place where you yourself would use it for 6/7/8 hours a day like we do with our phones.

And with that, sometimes that is enough to kind of carry you through. I've had so many conversations with people during COVID about you know, the fact that is this a good time to reevaluate. Is this a good time to step away like - is this a good time to say you know, are we done with VR guys? Are we tired?

You know what, we had a good run. But you know, the slog, let some new whippersnappers come in with loads of passion and motivation and enthusiasm that haven't been bashed down for the last four years of the craziness of the roller coaster of the VR industry and let them like pick up the torch and run with it for a bit to push this medium forward. Is that what we is that? Are we agreeing this guys? What are we what are we saying?

From a my point of view, that big high level, big picture point of view, I believe in VR more than ever. I believe in immersive tech more than ever, I genuinely believe that VR will revolutionise everything in our lives but it will take years. I don't believe that this is a five year thing. I do believe that this is a decade away. At least until we're at the point like we are with mobile phones. Where it's just common to use a VR headset for longer than 15 minutes at a time. But I fundamentally believe in it, I genuinely do. And I mean that from the bottom of my heart, and I'm sure that you listening, whether or not you're new to VR, or whether you're already in the industry, I'm sure that you think that too, and that's what keeps us going, right?

But within that, that doesn't necessarily have to mean that all you do is VR. So for me, a really big thing that I've had to kind of come to terms with recently maybe the past 12 months, I've absolutely been at the point of burnout with just purely making VR projects, because the thing you need to know is and this comes back to the question of is VR right for you? Every VR project is a slog, every single VR project will have a million challenges. And they might be different challenges every single time. Because the tech advances so quickly, and there's always a new workflow, there's always a new way of doing things. There's always like, a new kind of taste that people have or there's a new behaviour. Or there's a new feature, like hand tracking or something or there's a new piece of equipment that you have to learn how to use or things like that. There's always something every single project you do in VR, will be some kind of challenge. It's not going to be as simple as recording a video on your phone and uploading it to YouTube and bam, essentially, the world's your oyster. So I realised about a year ago that I needed to slow down and to not try to do as many VR projects.

I'd actually take a little bit of time away to do some other things that give me fulfilment, hence the podcast. Hence talking to you guys, hence, focusing a bit more on putting out some kind of content and especially also leaning into the fact that yes, I work in VR. And yes, I make VR and that is my thing that is my brand like Alex makes VR but I'm also a multifaceted human, who really loves self development and big philosophy. And I love to have those deep kind of conversations with my friends and my family and just everyone in general. I always say to you, you know, if you've got a subject or something you want me to talk about on the podcast, you can DM me, but you can DM me about anything. DM me about my thoughts on an AI. Nietzsche's philosophy. I don't even know whether that's how you pronounce it. But anyway, I'm coming back to the point. Having taking the pressure off myself actually and going, you know what? VR is really hard. And it's okay to go through periods of like working very hard on VR projects and working on something that you believe in, but then also taking some time away to work on some other stuff, you know, and balancing it. One thing actually I've been thinking about is, as we're going into pre production on Bad News, which is and I feel like I keep repeating this, but just in case this is your first time tuning into the podcast - Bad News is my latest VR dystopian drama, which has been funded by the British Film Institute network, and we're going into pre production hopefully early next year. It's a really big deal. I'm very excited by it. But there are so many moving pieces to that project, that even sometimes when I sit down to start working on it, I get very overwhelmed very quickly because there is a lot involved. And because it's a relatively small budget, and it's a case of like, okay, you know, when you work with smaller budgets, you do have to take more on yourself. It's not like you can just say - I'll just hire three other people to deal with that headache, and they can look at the logistics of trying to shoot that scene or whatever it might be. And absolutely, I'm now at a point where I'm like, you know what, I'm going to take my time with that project. And, and I'm going to, I'm going to make it the project that I wanted, but also acknowledging that it's going to be a real hard slog, and there's going to be a million challenges. And it's going to require a lot of people to be involved. And there'll be a lot of decision making. And actually, that takes a lot of brainpower.

At the moment, I'm actually like, quite enjoying just the autonomy of being able to do little projects by myself. You know, and like, maybe that's something to think about. Because even if you do work in VR, and maybe don't always need to work on those big VR projects, maybe you don't always need to be doing the most cutting edge, the most crazy, new advanced thing. Maybe it's okay to also take the time to just work on little passion projects, you know, work on your own little things. I remember when I first started making little original, 360 films. And one of my favourite things was during the period that we were making Keyed Alike, which was very stressful, and that had lots of moving parts to it, as well as no budget, o that was exciting. But at the same time, I was kind of balancing that out by literally just me and my Samsung Gear 361, one my first 360 cameras. And, and I was staying at my brother's house, with him and his wife and a bump. But I remember just getting inspired to make like a little film that I wanted to play around with perspective, and I made this terrible (it's never seen the light of day, I don't even think I finished editing the whole thing) little short film about being a hamster, because my brother had one. And it was like a swapping perspective between me and the hamster. And we were having this conversation about you know, being on the hamster wheel of life. Basically, everything I do has these kind of big, what does life mean undertones? You'll know that if you've seen any of my projects,

but yeah, that was really satisfying and I needed that kind little side thing that I could just do by myself with no real challenges because I was just gonna keep it super simple with two camera setups, super basic, like I was gonna write the script, only me involved, I acted in it. So it was something just so simple, but it was for me and it was just easy to do. And I think that's the thing that's missing from the era.

At the moment is, everything is 10 times harder than other mediums. So it can sometimes feel like a real challenge. And that's something that you need to be aware of if you're not in the VR industry yet. That is basically the reality of every project. Firstly, fight for your money. And then secondly, you have to try and make that money go as far as possible in a medium that is 10 times harder to make than any other medium. So those are, those are my kind of general thoughts on the subject. I don't want this to sound discouraging because I think there's absolutely a place for everyone in the VR industry. And like I said, if you are the kind of person like me, who fundamentally believes in the future of this technology, then you need to be part of this industry. You need to have your say about what this technology ends up being, what it's used for, what kind of content you can consume on it. We want you know, we want as many people as possible to come into the industry. That's why I'm so passionate about it, giving you all the tips and tricks and exploring things with you and telling you what I'm thinking about or what I've learned along the way just so that you can join this industry, so that there are no barriers to entry.

If you are the kind of person that enjoys a few challenges because although they do absolute head in, you love the buzz of the fulfilment of actually finishing something, and it's like God, that was the hardest thing I've ever done, but I feel so good for having done it. That is absolutely, the industry for you. If you believe in the technology, if you are resilient, if you are able to deal with rejection, in it for the long term, then this is the industry for you. If you are excited about playing in a new medium that has pretty much no rules set so literally, it's a bit of a wild wild west where this is no rulebook to follow, to even break the rules, then this is the industry or you.

Okay, I think I've covered everything from what I was kind of thinking about, just before I started this episode, but yeah, let me know if you're someone that's contemplating jumping into the industry. Reach out, let me know what you're thinking of doing. Let me know if there's anything I can help with. If you're already in the industry and you're struggling, but you needed a boost to remind you why you're in this industry in the first place, reach out, let me know if this helped, or if you just decided to quit overnight because of this episode (well, you know, maybe long term butterfly effect, this is is gonna be a good thing for your life) that's okay too, either way, I'd love to hear from you.

I know people that I met at events like two, three years ago who did step away for a couple of years because they needed to do something else because it was too hard. And they stepped back now.

And it's amazing. They've got this new lease of life, they're re-energised. They're excited about the medium again, because there's been so much advancements since then. So either way is fine. It's just getting that balance right and it's just being self aware and recognising what kind of projects you want to work on, and the kind of person that you are. And can you deal with the realities of this industry? So there you go, guys, that's my thoughts on should you be working in the VR industry?

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