Baby steps of proper VR demoing in public installations
Virtual reality is still in its infancy, and like any infant it requires a delicate touch, most importantly for those pioneers who are trying it for the first time and the minders who guide them through what can be an emotional and breath-taking first experience. Although the technology is making leaps and bounds forward, in particular with next generation headsets coming out later this year that will finally look to cut the cord, it cannot be denied that virtual reality in its current iterative state needs proper supervision to ensure public installations are enjoyed by users in a safe & contained manner.
Having experienced hundreds of virtual reality experiences across nearly a dozen platforms and minded over 1000+ users through VR experiences at events/exhibitions/conferences over the last 4 years I have seen my fair share of heavy handed approaches to presenting virtual reality. Here are some of the tips & tricks I’ve learnt in minding first timers explore virtual worlds;
Before the event;
– Ensure the experience you are going to be demoing allows users to explore & navigate around with as little assistance from a minder as possible. An intuitive experience designed with the novice in mind is far more welcoming to a new comer than an overwhelmingly complex one that risks pushing the user to the point of taking the headset off or needing someone to help them navigate the world like a VR invalid. If you are developing the experience then this comes down to a lot of user testing (outside of your tech savy colleagues!).
– Choose an interaction input solution that is easy for your target user. Although the Oculus Touch are pretty sweet they might be intimidating for the non-gamer. We at Glitch find Leap Motion a great choice as it allows the users to use the most familiar form of interaction available to them; their bare hands. And a little bird told us generation II is very much on track for 2018 – brilliant.
– You would have thought by now the VR community would have figured this one out but its 2018 and I still feel the need to say this; avoid overwhelming the novice user with fast moving / fast paced experiences such as flying or skiing experiences. Or if this is “your thing” then make sure it is as water tight as possible when it comes to motion sickness. A bad impression for early stage VR lasts a very very long time.
– Communicate with your booth design/construction counterpart. If you are building the booth yourself or working with another supplier make sure you are communicating your needs around the VR component for the booth. We have had issues where very low standing walls, steps and other booth constructs made for potential tripping hazard for VR users.
Setting up at the event;
– Less is more with the technology. Hide the cables, wires, PCs, keyboards & mice required to get your Oculus or HTC Vive up and running. Trust me by 2020 it will all be neatly integrated into the headset itself, but until we get there fake it till you make it; a single headset with its cable running into a hole in the wall is a much prettier sight than a PC, monitor & all the trimmings piled in a corner or under a desk.
– Don’t assume your development space or office is the same environment as your public installation. You will learn the hard way that UV lights, loud noise (which can also cause vibration), too much sunlight (UV lights again) and even strong radio signals can interfere with VR headsets, lighthouse setups and controllers.
– Keep enough distance between each VR installation and other installations beside it or real world objects and bear in mind what your space would look like if it were to be become crowded (more relevant for exhibitions where attendee flow on a stand can be hard to predict). We have had close calls where VR stations were just a little too close and user hands were reaching out to the private parts of unaware bystanders.
During the event;
A well designed VR experience set up properly in a well designed installation space will ensure a smooth experience for both user and minder during an event, but even in ideal circumstances a minder’s role is to ensure the user has a seamless journey into virtual reality and back again;
– If the user needs instructions prior to going into VR, make sure they are short and punchy, don’t boggle their mind with more than one or two simple instructions as I can guarantee you these instructions will be forgotten seconds after their experience loads. If more instructions are indeed required then the experience has not been designed properly.
– Tell the user how long they are going to be in virtual reality before they put the headset on. Users, especially slightly anxious users, will draw comfort in knowing how long they are going to be venturing off this realm of reality.
– Don’t touch the user. Ive seen it countless times that minders try and guide the user, either by gently holding their shoulders to turn the user around or taking their hand to show them where they need to press. This is not only a major immersion breaker but erodes at the overall user experience making some users quite self-conscious.
– Always act as the user’s guardian. More times than I have liked I have had to tell friends/colleagues of the user NOT to touch/shake/play with the user while they are in VR. I get it, VR is a novelty, and to see someone you know having that “wow” moment can be great fun, but don’t touch…
– Don’t hurry the user through the experience. You might have seen it a thousand times and understand which points (and there is always one or two) in the experience users might get a little stuck or slow down but don’t pre-emptively assist the user through these points. Let them figure it out, its far more rewarding for them and avoids breaking immersion.
And finally after a user has completed the experience allow them space and time to reflect on what has just happened. The best VR minders take off the user’s headset and allow a period of reorientation. Ask the user how they feel, what they experienced, what they liked most. Be part of the journey back to this reality for the user before sending them on their way.
As a virtual reality minder you are a guide & a champion for the VR pioneer, it’s a role of responsibility and an incredible part of history in the making as you witness the first baby steps of humanity’s journey into the uncharted virtual realms.