How VR is scaling interest in niche industries
Virtual reality is exploding in a number of industries. Here’s some of the ones busting at the seams.
Sometimes, the smallest shift in technology can turn a niche industry into a mainstream juggernaut. The rise of consumer virtual reality in the form of the Oculus Rift and competitors most certainly qualifies as a shift of this sort—and not a minor one.
Most industries will change in some way under the impact of widespread VR while some will literally explode into the limelight. Here are several that seem the most likely to see this sort of transformative growth.
While it’s arguably no longer a niche industry, online education today bears little resemblance to the industry it could become with the widespread adoption of virtual reality. Imagine if you will a doctor educated entirely online—with as much hands-on experience as any traditionally educated medical professional. Or, to go a step back to less drastic shifts, imagine the myriad technical schools out there. With virtual reality to assist, these schools can now train competent professionals through a purely digital medium.
Of course, this is part of a larger shift to education. Surgeons training online or off will likely all take their first stabs at procedures via virtual reality within the decade. Student machinists will be able to practice their trade without wasting materials or risking expensive machines—or limbs. That these new virtual education tools will go online as easily as off is just a bonus.
The poker industry
The poker industry exploded in a big way with the rise of pinhole cameras in broadcast matches back in the late 1990s—virtual reality could represent the next logical step in expanding the appeal of viewing the game. It will also have a violent impact on online poker as the technology grows widespread; many view online poker as incomparable to real matches, due to the absence of body language and other traits crucial to the game. Virtual reality could change all of that.
Really, the same principal applies to all similar games of skill and games of chance. Virtual reality is a major opportunity for digital gambling as a whole—but poker will likely see the most substantive changes as a result, as it has before. The appeal of watching a realistic roulette spin is, after all, quite different from the actual playing difference created by realistic virtual poker.
Savvy marketers have used digital tourism to raise interest in real tourism for years, but the rise of functional VR devices changes the game completely. There are two divergent industries that will certainly spring up from this niche marketing tool to become greatly important:
- Advertising via virtual reality. It’s quite simple; with widespread consumer VR, the travel industry will likely lean heavily on that technology to entice people to travel. This is already appearing in the wild, as savvy tourist boards and travel agencies put together short virtual snippets for VR-tech owners—a group that is, of course, also more likely to possess the funds necessary for extensive travel.
- Pure virtual tours. While it will take considerably longer to create fully immersive complete tours of popular destinations, it’s neither impossible nor unlikely. One might eventually be able to purchase tours of famous locations like the White House or the Apostolic Palace—or entire cities, like Paris or Tokyo. While it won’t be quite the same as seeing the real thing for years yet, the ability to shirk the limitations inherent to normal tourism adds its own unique appeal.
A third possible industry relates to another item on this list, MMO games. Virtual tourism need not constrain itself to touring real-world locations; a savvy team could put together full-featured immersive tours of Mordor from Lord of the Rings, the Enterprise from Star Trek, Pandora from Avatar, and countless similar locations. Taken a step further, these sorts of tours become immersive digital worlds to play and adventure in (more on that later).
While eSports such as League of Legends and other competitive video games have certainly raised their profile in recent years, they remain very much outside of widespread mainstream appeal. The advent of virtual reality could change that, completely transforming the inscrutable nature of most competitive video games into something with true mass appeal. A view from the digital ‘stands’ of epic battles and competitions playing out may be exactly what certain eSports staples need to make it into the mainstream.
Really, this applies to any competitive gaming which would traditionally be too dense or slow for audiences to enjoy. Chess, trading card games like Magic the Gathering or Hearthstone,
Massively multiplayer online games such as World of Warcraft allow players to adventure in a digital world alongside thousands of other players, but even the biggest MMOs lack true mainstream appeal; a video game world is ultimately a video game world. Virtual reality could greatly impact the way the public perceives such games, however. Going a step beyond the digital tourism we discussed earlier, imagine engaging in such worlds alongside countless others. Not just playing a video game, but interacting as a part of a fully immersive living, breathing world. It’s still years away, but such a digital realm could integrate every other item in this list to create a truly cohesive realm, finally achieving what we’ve been aiming for since the days of Ultima Online. Many developers have already stood up to take their own stab at it, but it will likely take a while for one to get it right.
While online shopping certainly isn’t niche, certain items have long resisted online sales—no one wants to buy a $5,000 suit, a $50,000 car, or a $500,000 home without seeing it in person first. Virtual reality could make shopping online for these items mainstream, something reasonable to do, by giving consumers hands-on experience with the item they’re purchasing.
Going a step further, we might see online shopping as a whole become the dominant way to buy certain items. Today, buying pants online is considered a bad idea, as even identical cuts from a brand can vary slightly. With accurate digital avatars and properly designed interfaces, however, one might swap between pants with the push of a button, seeing exactly how every pair will fit—without the fuss of actually changing clothes.
Be prepared to see all this and more. The real appeal of virtual reality lies in immersion in the traditionally unreachable. After all, you can see pictures of a home online, but it doesn’t compare with a walk-through. You can watch poker streams online, but it’s not the same as being able to lean over and watch a player’s face – just to see if he has a tell.