More than just a booster for the gaming industry: Virtual Reality
For a long time, virtual reality was seen as a technology aimed to revolutionize the gaming industry only. But there are many good reasons to take advantage of the possibilities that immersive experiences create in other areas as well — including marketing. We spoke with Thomas Pfitzer about the potential of VR for businesses and how it can be used best.
If you scour the relevant blogs, websites, and articles for the latest and hottest trends for 2022 in the field of video marketing, you will come across the topic of VR, virtual reality, almost everywhere. Although the technology is no longer new and already established in some areas, such as medicine or pilot training, it still holds a lot of development and application potential - also in marketing.
The idea or the endeavor to almost immerse the viewer or user in another world by means of illusion techniques exists since antiquity. For example, in the Villa dei Misteri in Pompeii, one can find a 360-degree image frieze from 60 BC that completely surrounds the viewer, perhaps one of the first attempts to create an immersive experience for humans.
Since then, a lot has happened in the development of modern VR technologies. The first hot phase of the modern, non-analog form of a virtual reality begins at the latest with the technological advances and the science fiction hype in the 1980s. And so, the first ideas of what these virtual worlds should look like and how to get into them also emerge: among other things, via so-called head-mounted displays, or rather VR glasses. In 1987, the technology company VPL Research, in collaboration with the U.S. space agency NASA, succeeded in bringing the first commercial virtual reality glasses to market. What was considered utopian at the time is now almost mainstream. To date, the industry has turned into a billion-dollar business, with projected global sales of virtual reality products at USD 22.4 billion in 2025. This compares to USD 4.5 billion in 2020 (Statista). And usage and usage interest are also on the rise. For example, the number of people interested in VR glasses in Germany almost tripled from 2018 to 2021 (to 41 percent) (Statista). But how does the technology work in the first place, what is its major advantage, and where is VR being used?
Functionality and advantages
Virtual Reality, or VR for short, is the term for a complex technology which, through the symbiosis of software and hardware, enables the user to get immersed in a complete three-dimensional virtual world. The user's awareness of being exposed to illusory stimuli via the VR glasses recedes into the background or even fades out completely. Thus, the user does not experience things through a distanced window but has the feeling of being in the middle of the action. This works because the VR glasses use two displays, one for each eye, to show a simulated reality directly in front of the eyes or to project it directly onto the retinas. Because the image on one side of the glasses differs minimally from that on the other, the impression of spatial depth is created, and the brain converts the images into a three-dimensional world. In the process, users are - sometimes through the use of additional equipment - completely shielded from external stimuli. Users can move around in this world while the displayed view adapts to their line of sight and movements, enabling real-time interactions. 3D sound and/or applications that enable haptic perception further support visual perception, creating an experience that is often indistinguishable from reality for users.
Application in marketing and other areas
Although the average consumer has probably only been familiar with VR for the most part in the context of the gaming and entertainment industry, for quite some time now the use of the technology has not been limited to this sector. It is precisely the element of immersion that makes VR technology interesting not only for the gaming industry, but also for numerous other sectors, e.g. the healthcare sector, architecture and product design, engineering or education, but also marketing.
According to the Federal Association for the Digital Economy Germany, 54 percent of the marketing experts surveyed in 2018 already stated that virtual reality is a relevant topic for them in terms of their marketing strategy. Immersion arouses emotion and increases user involvement. Virtual environments can integrate content, data and facts that are relevant to companies. Products and services can be made directly tangible and experienced by the customer or end user. Users are brought out of their passivity, get actively involved in the experience and have the possibility to shape it themselves. As a result, they are more likely to absorb the information presented and actively engage with its content. The possibility of distraction by the competition is thereby eliminated. This offers enormous potential, especially for product presentations and configurations, for strengthening the brand experience, an improved customer journey and experience, but also for marketing events and at trade fairs. Because: through the intensive, emotional, and direct contact with the product, the service, the brand or the company, the user's attention increases and thus also his ability to perceive, store, process and ultimately retrieve important information (omina360). Corporate giants such as Ikea and Audi are already using the technology to provide a completely new and immersive shopping experience for their customers.
The contextual and environmental factors of virtual reality, thus, have a positive impact on both knowledge building and the application of newly acquired skills, which also makes the technology interesting for employee training, for example in the medical field.
What solutions are out there, how they can be implemented and what we can expect from the virtual reality market in the future is what we talked about with Thomas Pfitzer, CEO at EXP360, an enterprise VR solutions provider based in Switzerland.
- 1 What VR solutions are available for companies, especially in the healthcare sector, and how can they be implemented?
In the past 24 months we have seen a tremendous growth in the healthcare sector – through our worldwide partner network we see constantly growing VR use in the following areas:
- Pain surpression/treatment without medication
- Treatment of various types of anxiety (e.g. fear, small spaces, large crowds, etc.)
- Virtual Excursions in e.g. retirement homes or also in home care situations (mobility without being mobile), getting people out of isolation
Our company provides the technological foundation to manage and distribute the content needed for the above treatments. Our partners bring the know-how and expertise to deliver the solution to the patient. I dare to say that at the moment the healthcare sector is the fastest growing VR segment in our portfolio.
We have recently been asked to combine VR headsets with “bio sensors” (e.g. bloodpressure, etc.) while watching specific content. When doing this it is important to show the doctor during the analysis/diagnostic part what the patient looked at when values change (a simple example: in VR the Lion can be behind you and the reaction is certainly different once you notice that )
- 2 What are the advantages of VR technology in general and specifically in the area of employee training, e.g. in the medical sector (diagnostics, education/training, therapy…)?
VR eliminates one of the biggest problems in our time – distraction! A simple example… if you wear a VR headset during a training session there is no way you can look at your Mobile Phone for new messages at the same time.
Obviously the immersion is the other element – with our toolset you can train people in the exact environment where they will be working lateron. This significantly reduces “time to effectiveness”. Creating such training environments is a lot less effort then one might think. And with our tools they can be interactive too.
In the therapy sector the possibility to easily escape from the immersion is probably one of the most helpful options. Let’s take a person who is afraid of small spaces and who has problems entering an elevator full of people. You can put him on an elevator in VR and the way to quickly escape is to tell him “simply close your eyes”…. With such an approach one can slowly but surely bring people closer to the desired exposure level.
- 3 Why should companies deal more with the topic of VR and for which companies is the use of virtual reality particularly useful?
VR will/is changing our multi-media world. Companies like Meta (former facebook) are investing big time into VR. It will not be long before Apple will follow. Years ago companies were told “Mobile First” when e.g. developing websites today I would tell them VR is an additional channel they have to cater for in their digital presence. A couple of points to consider when planning VR investments:
- With home offices becoming the norm rather then the exception how can you bring people together and make them part of the company (creating an office feeling without being there)
- When running a webshop – how can you improve product descriptions and presentations (VR/360 based alternate front end)
- When training people how can you bring them directly into their future work environment without really taking them there and how can you avoid distraction during the training
- When onboarding new staff would you like to reduce “time to effectiveness”?
With a new generation of VR headsets (smaller footprint, better display quality, handtracking, etc.) just hitting the market companies who have a presence in that space will benefit greatly. It is also important to understand that 360/VR content can be used in many different ways – e.g. Marketing Shots of a Hotel Room can quickly become a foundation for training when adding different overlays to the same image with the right 360/VR toolset.
- 4 What kind of developments can we expect in the VR market in the future? How do you envision the future of VR?
Well it won’t be long before every office desk (home office or real office) will not only have a second monitor but also a VR headset. Everything you do today on the PC/Mobile device will be possible on/in the VR headset: Video Conferences, Presentations, Shopping with a complete new Product Experience (look – touch – feel – try), Entertainment: watching sports – being in the middle of it, watching concerts with surround sound and being in the middle of the crowd, Travel: Go there before you go there, etc….
I know this is a risky statement but years ago it was “Mobile First” – a few years down the line it will be “VR first”….
EXP360 now has 7 years of commercial experience in this fairly new multi media sector – this is an invaluable advantage for our customers.
About Thomas Pfitzer, CEO EXP360 AG
Thomas holds a Diploma in Hotel and Tourism Management from the Hotel Academy Klessheim in Salzburg, Austria. After 10 Years in various Hotel Management Positions in Europe and aboard Cruise Ships he joined AIDA Cruises as Director of Hotel Operations which included the development of the revolutionary Club-Ship Concept. In 1996 he was asked by Fidelio Management to join a team of enthusiastic entrepreneurs to build a cruise focused software package which became the leading PMS software solution in the cruise industry. Fidelio Cruise today is part of the Oracle Hospitality Group. In 2003 Thomas starts another software company with venture capital from a privately owned British Pension Fund and successfully established Rescompany Systems Ltd as a provider for Reservation and CRM systems in the cruise sector, later adding a PMS and POS solution to the product portfolio. Since 2009 he held the position of CIO/CTO for AIDA and Costa Crociere - subsidiaries of the world’s largest Cruise Company – Carnival Corporation.
End of 2016 Thomas founded EXP360 AG in Switzerland and has since established the company as a global platform for VR/360 content distribution. The core focus of EXP360 is on multi-channel content playout and multi-use of content.