Strong Stomach Required

Welcome to the first (optimistically) of many random stories about creating more and talking less. With my first of the series being centered around Virtual Reality and how creators are still putting their story over usability and the user.

Over the last couple of years, I’ve lucky enough to experience the very best and the very worst in Virtual Reality. But one thing during my time exploring VR that hasn’t sat well with me was the idea that we still need strong stomachs to experience it all. Why would any publicly facing technology and storytelling medium require all users to have fighter pilot strength against motion sickness? Just the other day a VR experience finally pushed me over the edge, and as well inspired me, to write about it.

To start off, the “ Nerve — Do You Dare” VR experience released by Lionsgate for Google Cardboard in support for their latest film was ripe conceptually to be great. On the surface, it sounds perfect for VR by giving the viewer the opportunity to be a watcher or a player in a series of risky dares. Before I go into detail, I am very sensitive when it comes to VR motion sickness. I truly enjoy VR, great VR. However “Nerve — Do You Dare” is not a great VR experience.

First Up. I accepted the dare to walk across a ladder between two buildings. I should have known better because within 1–2 seconds into the dare I violently had to rip the headset off because my black bean soup was coming back up for seconds. I’ve experienced poorly executed VR demos in the past but this one surprised me on how terrible it was. Especially when comparing to previous Lionsgate VR content. First, my head wasn’t attached to the body that was trying to cross the latter with. It was floating about a foot ahead so when I turned around I could see my body and where my head should have been. Next, was the camera shake. Instead of moving the camera slowing across the latter to avoid any motion sickness, they decided to air on the side of realism. As my character inched across the latter, so did my head, up and down and side to side. That’s where I lost it, and almost my lunch. Coming back around to the point of this story — why are developers and storytellers “STILL” doing this sort of thing? Why are experiences still moving viewers with disregard to the well being of the user themselves?

Vomiting and a strong stomach have always been associated with VR over the years. However recently I’ve noticed that theme popping up more often across numerous blogs and articles. Bloomberg recently got into the details of WB’s latest Batman: Arkham VR experience and how they had to tame their experience to be comfortable for viewers. The article quotes how the developers said “We kind of felt responsible.” to make sure that they created an experience comfortable for all viewers. “Kind of”, might have been an interjection, nonetheless, it should have always been their responsibility to create a comfortable user experience. Yes, I understand mistakes happen. But with VR, and any other UX driven mediums, the creators are responsible for the users and the experience they have. The Bloomberg article does go on to describe how the developers improved the experience and solved for the motion sickness. But questions why was that an afterthought? What if ever time you answered your mobile phone there was a fairly decent chance of an electric shock? Would that pain out-way the amazement of being able to talk to anyone, almost anywhere with no wires? Maybe, the first time it happened in a laboratory. But more realistically, no it would not be an acceptable experience for the general public. VR is still a new and hot buzz-worthy technology however VR creators still need to be responsible for the viewers. and be able to create the best story putting the viewer (the only person that matters) first.

To quote from John Oliver and steal a line from one of his bits. “How is this still a thing?” Why are VR experiences not putting the viewers first? Valve put out the “The Lab” an incredible VR experience showcasing some of the best VR content and demo experience available in my opinion. But what Valve did so utterly well was show how to solve for complex user interactions in VR. They provided the best practices of VR for creators to base their experiences from. Of course, they didn’t solve for every use case. However, they did provide the tools to be able to create their own. For example, teleportation. Giving the viewer full control on how to move around a 3D space, which did end up being used to move around in the Batman VR experience. In the future, let’s make sure we are always putting the users first. Let’s continue to create more, tell amazing stories and innovate using VR.

With hopefully most of my discussions and stories I’m able to back up the talk. So I’m exploring and continuing the VR experience I had the amazing opportunity to create in partnership with WEVR last year called the ‘The Apartment’. It’s not a publicly accessible experience but if you wish to experience the “The Apartment” for yourself hit me up if you’re in the bay area. With the original experience, we spend a great deal of time making sure the experience was comfortable for all viewers, even VR virgins. The goal of updates is to give more of the control to the user. If users want to walk, they can walk around the room(relative to the constants of the 360 film and room scale). But if they want to go somewhere else, they can Teleport around the room. To do this I’m working with VIVE and any OSVR supported VR controllers, their haptic features, and the natural instinct to want to walk, and touch objects into a Retail 360 focused experience.

The process is slow because I do have an amazing full-time gig.

Want to collaborate? Reach out.