When, back in March 2014, Facebook spent $2 billion to acquire virtual-reality headset manufacturer Oculus, a lot of people wondered whether that was a smart move.
But at this year's F8 developer conference, Facebook unveiled a tool that reflected its expectation of making good on its investment: the beautiful, saucer-shaped Surround 360 videocamera. Best of all, the company promised to release open-source designs for Surround 360 this summer via GitHub.
Now that Oculus Rift has debuted at select Best Buy locations, there's just one final catch to Facebook's VR incursion: The company needs entrepreneurs to take part. Just as Facebook relies on third parties to create content for its social network, it's hoping that content creators will flock toward its Oculus platform.
For better or worse, Oculus and other manufacturers of VR sets -- the HTC Vive, Playstation VR, Samsung Gear VR and Google Cardboard -- are taking the "build-it-and-they-will-come" approach. Now, it's up to entrepreneurs to create content that shows consumers what their high-tech headsets can do.
Virtual reality in the real world
The following areas are particularly ripe for VR content:
The gaming console: From Minecraft to flight simulators, expect VR versions of nearly all upcoming games. VR has removed all barriers between the gamer and the game, and entrepreneurs have debuted some truly sensational VR video games so far. While there are still some bugs to work out, the public is clamoring for the exciting future of virtual gaming.
The big screen: Who doesn't want to join a Spartan charge or hike the Ewok-filled forests of Endor? Film presents a huge opportunity for entrepreneurs looking to snag VR viewers. Although not many VR feature films are yet available, entrepreneurs are already experimenting with taking viewers out of their seats and into magical stories.
Allumette, for example, puts you inside an endearing virtual world that gives you X-ray vision, 360-degree observational abilities and the imagination of Hans Christian Andersen.
The classroom: No matter what you might think, VR isn't all fun and games. Bill Gates has proclaimed VR as a motivating tool for schoolchildren, connecting tomorrow's students to virtual Abraham Lincolns, Thomas Edisons and Ernest Hemingways. But the possibilities don't stop at school-aged students. VR will facilitate hostage training for police officers, surgical trials for physicians and language immersion for foreign language learners.
Related: Why Virtual Reality Is Vital
The workplace: VR has the potential to change the way we move society forward. VR technology will allow engineers to design and manipulate 3D objects with greater ease than that available with a mouse and keyboard. Marriott's in-room VR experience suggests that travel agents will be able to encourage customers to book trips by first offering a taste of that dreamed-of faraway place. And home improvement companies will enable customers to virtually deck out their homes before they purchase that new kitchen or bath.
Bite before you chomp
VR promises to condense whole lifetimes of experience into viewable, participatory bites. But before your business breaks a tooth on a VR application that's doomed to fail, it should take stock of consumers' appetites.
Entrepreneurs considering a foray into VR should first take the following steps to explore their concept:
Ask, "What assumptions are we making?" There's always a heightened risk involved in a new market, so sit down with your team to determine the riskiest assumption of your big idea. Do you expect that users will have fun playing a war game? Are you assuming that a forest will be visually appealing in VR?
For example, at Yeti, we recently created Tiny Eye, a VR seek-and-find game. We purchased a 360-degree camera and quickly discovered that large, open spaces didn't translate well into VR for our app.
Get started on a prototype. Once you've tested your assumption, use what you've learned to construct a prototype. At Yeti, this meant building small, simple worlds for Tiny Eye and a simple app that we could take to users. We littered a few objects about the test worlds and engineered the app to give feedback when a user picked up an object.
Recruit some guinea pigs. When testing your idea, you'll want to show it to people you know will love it. But, resist that urge, lest your sales figures pay the price. Instead, let dozens of people play with it, especially those who might not be enamored with VR. At Yeti, we shared the app with anyone who walked into our office. Even the 7-year-old son of a client wasn't excused from giving the app a try. Thankfully, he loved it!
Iterate, iterate, iterate. If you have a prototype with rave reviews, you've made incredible progress. Continue building out features, perfecting the product and testing along the way. With Tiny Eye, we spent months, from prototype to launch, improving the app's user interface, adding sounds and creating animations. We even built an extra level pack for in-app purchase, setting us up for new lines of revenue and allowing us to test additional assumptions. Win, win, win.
With the debut of Rift and other VR platforms, virtual reality is now more "real" than ever. While VR has opened new worlds for investment, it's up to entrepreneurs to be bold and jump in.
Pick the type of content your users will crave, then challenge assumptions relentlessly. Test rigorously and iterate religiously. A new reality awaits. Will your business be a part of it?