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Focal Point: Is VR Antisocial?

Focal Point: Is VR Antisocial?

We ask our industry panel - the brightest and sharpest VR professionals from around the world - one question about the VR industry, business, technology or trending stories every week. Here’s what they have to say about the perception that VR is inherently antisocial...

 

Many people describe VR as an antisocial experience, or disconnected from other people, but is that a bad thing? Or do you disagree with this notion entirely?

 

Dominic Eskofier, Virtual Reality Manager EMEAI at Nvidia 

“Just look around you on the subway; there’s a ton of people staring into their smartphones, not at all aware of their surroundings. Even though someone might get the impression that these people are being antisocial, they’re often being highly social – they chat with their friends, share holiday pictures with family or arrange a night out with colleagues.

“And it’s the same thing for Virtual Reality; you might be alone at home, but you could be exploring the surface of the moon with your friends, sharing a memory with your parents or taking part in a rock concert with thousands, if not millions of other people from all around the world.

“By that definition, Virtual Reality will be the most social medium of all; spending time in the same room as others, no matter where they might be. I think that is amazingly powerful and something that’s hard – if not impossible – to do in any other medium.”

 

Perceptions of VR being antisocial is the second most significant blocker to purchase after cost.
Jonathan Wagstaff

Jonathan Wagstaff, UK & IE Country Manager, CONTEXT 

“Perceptions of VR being antisocial vary across countries and demographics, and it is the second most significant blocker to purchase after cost. In a recent survey of 2,500 consumers in the EU by CONTEXT it was found that those living in the Mediterranean climates such as Italy (45%) were more likely to think of VR is this way, compared to northern Europeans who are perhaps less accustomed to the year-round café culture.

“A large percentage of those respondents who identified themselves as gamers across all countries didn’t see VR as being a solitary or lonely activity: 12% as opposed to 39% of non-gamers. This is understandable given that the experience for most non-dedicated gamers is that of the FIFA players or casual Wii Sports users who often play with or against peers in the same physical space, compared to more hardcore enthusiasts who are no stranger to single-player modes.”

 

Dean Johnson, Head of Innovation at Brandwidth 

“A large part of our current digital activity is focused on a single screen and most of the sharing takes place with the remote audience beyond the device. VR allows us to share a live or prerecorded event with the rest of the world as if we were actually there. A digital representation of ourselves isn’t necessary for us all to feel part of something, but gaming and interactive involvement steps up a level when we see our opponent or fellow traveller.

“Is VR antisocial? Yes, if you’re with friends on a sofa or a crowded train carriage and the only one wearing a headset. Is this a bad thing? In the short-term it isn’t going to be socially acceptable and you’re likely to have your bag stolen on that train, but Facebook has big plans to bring everyone into its virtual world – even if we virtually punch them in the face when we get there.”

Picking a fight in the Facebook offices via Oculus' Social VR.
 

Just because you look isolated from the outside, that doesn't mean you're alone in there.
Oskar Burman

Oskar Burman, CEO / Founder at Fast Travel Games 

“I think VR has the potential to be the most social form of gaming that has ever existed. Playing with other people in the same world gives me a higher form of ‘being there’ with other players than I've ever felt before. This is just going to accelerate as 3D controllers improve and we can communicate with our hands and fingers with more detail. Just because you look isolated from the outside, that doesn't mean you're alone in there.”

 

George Kelion, Communications Manager at nDreams 

“I disagree strongly in the immediate term and even more strongly further out. Right now, some of the most popular and exciting VR experiences are ones that you can share with people who aren’t in VR, such as Keep Talking And Nobody Explodes  or The Playroom VR.

“It seems likely we’ll see a proliferation of such experiences over the next few months, as publishers and developers push games and experiences that are as much fun for the people watching or playing via the living room big screen as for the person wearing the VR headset. In addition, VR apps such as Tilt Brush are inherently social, in that the works of art created in VR by one individual can then be enjoyed by numerous others, also in VR.

“As we look to the future, we can look forward to ever more social experiences taking place in VR. Since Ready Player One’s OASIS and Snow Crash’s Metaverse are such huge influences on the VR development community, you can expect to see a big push towards creating hyper-connected, persistent online worlds hosting diverse experiences that don’t offer one particular thing. You could go there to game, to shop, or to hold meetings and much more besides.

"The draw of creating another version of reality running in parallel to our reality that millions of users can connect to all simultaneously is simply irresistible for VR developers, and we saw the first glimpse of what that will look like during Mark Zuckerberg’s recent on-stage demo at Oculus Conn3cts earlier this month.

“In the meantime, we are beginning to see an explosion of multiplayer VR games with titles such as RIGS and EVE: Valkyrie, in which VR’s inherent sense of presence enables users to feel much more connected to both their team-mates and adversaries than with traditional flat-screen games.”

RIGS on PS VR leads an explosion of multiplayer VR games. (See what we did there?)
 

Anyone who says VR is antisocial is designing the wrong kind of experiences.
Shiraz Akmal

Shiraz Akmal, Co-Founder/CEO at SPACES 

“We strongly believe in the social aspects of VR. We’d suggest that anyone who says VR is antisocial is designing the wrong kind of experiences. Of course, VR is an individual experience, but our lives are filed with experiences that are individual: reading, writing, playing an instrument, exercising - even watching TV. But those experiences can also create a greater connection between individuals and we think VR is the same; it can be social, mind-expanding, world-improving and tremendously enriching.”

 

Julian Price, Chief Marketing Officer at vTime 

“VR technology is, in itself, socially isolating. However, the VR experience does not need to be. VR creates a ’new world’ for the user and, as with this world, that is better experienced with others. It’s human nature for us to want to be part of a ‘group’ and to share our thoughts, feeling and experiences. That’s why we live in urban conurbations and not scattered around the world, living in isolation. Time spent in VR is far more rewarding if you have the opportunity to share that time with people who really matter to you.”

 

Justin Corcoran, CEO at Phosphor Games Studio

“We strongly disagree that VR has to be an anti-social experience. One of the reasons The Brookhaven Experiment had such viral success this year was because it was so fun to play with others. From videos of people getting their family to play and busting a gut watching, to our partnership with Gamblit Gaming to make a betting version of Brookhaven where one person plays while others bet on their performance, to everyone who tells us they are throwing a VR party to take turns watching each other play and see who can get the furthest, this one title has proven to be very social. “Then there are Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes, Oculus’ Social VR, AltspaceVR, and more experiences that are specifically designed to be social interaction mediums. VR, like any powerful technology, can be both social and antisocial in its application, it’s not inherently one or the other.”

Keep Talking And Nobody Explodes: the definition of social gaming!

The future of social VR is very exciting.
Simon Barratt

Simon Barratt, Director at Barog Game Labs 

“I completely accept that it may be a bit like wearing the helmet out of BBC’s classic Knightmare TV series if you’re in the same room as a person in VR! However, in terms of the social interactions that can be had playing online in VR, you only have to witness the movements of another person’s virtual head to realise that this is a more human-like social interaction than we’ve had with any multiplayer gaming thus far. Couple that with tracked controllers, voice chat and lip sync and the future of social VR is very exciting.”

Editor

Steve has been a games journalist on and off since the first PlayStation made games ‘cool’, but he’s never forgotten the thrill of finding a Space Invaders machine in the wild. Neuromancer is one of his favourite books and The Matrix is one of his favourite movies, so he’s been ready for VR all his life.

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