by Anupam Kundu, Senior Account Manager, EPAM
January 11, 2017
Take your pick between Westworld, Humans, Black Mirror, or countless other TV shows, AR/VR technologies have become mainstream and intriguing to the average consumer. To remain competitive, industries beyond media and entertainment need to start implementing these innovative technologies to drive customer engagement and bridge the gap between humans and machines.
Through our experiences developing AR/VR for clients, we’ve learned a few lessons along the way to create meaningful, engaging, and immersive experiences for our clients and their customers. Here are some of our keys to success.
1. Building AR/VR experiences is a social sport
Creating engaging experiences with AR/VR can’t be viewed as a one-person game – it involves constant collaboration and communication between people with different skills and diverse experiences. Truly immersive user experiences are created when the team is composed of 3D designers, psychologists, researchers, programmers, marketers, program managers, and even event producers and musicians. Team diversity in age, gender, nationality, and skill level generates more creative ideas and concepts in a shorter amount of time. This doesn't mean that all companies should invest in a large team – simply bringing together a few colleagues with different roles in the company can result in highly creative ideas.
Recently, we were involved in building an immersive VR experience for a WWII memorial that attracts up to 1,300 tourists each day. We realized pretty quickly that the storyline demanded a mix of engineering, design, and production skills. Our experience design team had to focus on building a storyline and sorting through historical content to make the narrative more immersive and relevant, while our engineers and 3D artists created the critical components to make the story come alive. Constant collaboration between these two groups of people was essential for success.
2. Diverge before Converging
Anthropological experiments have now proven that an effective narrative can significantly increase the perceptive value of any given object. Both AR & VR provide novel approaches to telling stories about everyday objects: make the invisible visible, animate the inanimate, and humanize technology. This requires both structured and unstructured exploration of complex concepts and the ability to refine those concepts into a holistic experience.
A good AR/VR experience becomes great when the associated storyline positively influences the presence and facilitates seamless integration of virtual content with the real environment. This requires thinking, making, and learning (Discover-Define-Design-Deliver) to happen iteratively and continuously before a successful launch.
In all of our AR/VR development work, we follow a virtuous circular model (see above). During our Discovery phase, we focus on divergent activities that suspend us in imaginary situations, let us wander around looking for new linkages between disconnected objects, creating new concepts and stories through connections, and asking open-ended questions to qualify the experience and spur more ideas. Defining leads to Convergence activities around refining, arranging, and selecting from the myriad of generated opportunities while understanding the constraints of time, funding, demand, and technological feasibility. Our experience has taught us that this process cannot happen in a silo, but rather needs to happen seamlessly where we diverge on concepts only to converge on ideas that create excitement.
3. Gamification is important - games are not
Most business gurus will tell you that immersive games will be the biggest area of influence for AR/VR technologies. They believe that gamers across the developed world will buy PC VR head-mounted displays, depth sensing phones, and AR headsets to introduce AR/VR to everyone. This may be true given that young gamers have always been early adopters of new technology. But when we build immersive proofs of concept for our customers in the retail, travel and hospitality, and banking industries, executives recognize the appeal of utilizing technologies beyond the plain “marketing spend” and how new concepts can be used to drive customer engagement and accelerate topline growth.
Given the many potential applications of AR/VR technologies, businesses shouldn’t limit their focus to game development, but instead leverage deep gaming experience to create applications for other sectors like education, real estate, retail, tourism, sports, journalism, construction, mining, and more. As we continue to work on projects spanning different industries, there is a tremendous opportunity to weave in key aspects of traditional gaming - rich, multi-layered storytelling, real-life avatars, obstacle-reward gamifications, and more - to help create seamless experiences that foster customer engagement. Gamification over games is a key principle to remember.
4. Be Platform Agnostic
Conventional wisdom dictates that a winning platform will soon take over the entire market and the rest of the players will be wiped out (much like what iPhone did for smartphones two years back). We don’t believe that to be true. Instead, we’ll see multiverses of hardware, software, and platforms that each cater to different needs, wants, and affordability based on consumer demand. So, our AR/VR teams are committed to being platform agnostic.
A cross-platform approach is the best way to stay relevant with most of our clients, while customizing our strategy based on client pain points. One method for remaining agnostic is to avoid using specific device features. For example, instead of using the Gear VR touchpad for control, we can use “focus to activate.” Sometimes these universal solutions do not work well in ‘live’ situations as a targeted user group may be habituated to a particular device. In those cases, we end up building alternative experiences for a popular set of devices.
One of our VR experience teams started with Gear VR, then ported the same to Google Cardboard (both Android and OS) and are now figuring out ways to move the same experience to Daydream. The use of Unity 3D engine helped us in keeping the porting efforts to a minimum while moving quickly across different platforms.
5. Contribute to the Collective
Mobile is about to become saturated as the API economy is beginning to overwrite the app economy. 2016 for AR/VR was analogous to the early 90s for the Internet. As mobile chips start supporting key features like depth sensing, area mapping, and motion detection, AR will become mainstream. Dwindling device prices and progressive improvement in usability of headsets will make VR commonplace. It’s important now more than ever to not only create software, hardware, and systems that can ‘talk’ and connect to each other without much hassle, but also to make analytics, mistakes, and discoveries publicly available. We need to commit to creating and nourishing ‘stuff’ that improves the overall ecosystem for hardware developers, software programmers, 3D designers, storytellers, and more. Share your wisdom with us on Quora AR/VR channels, by attending global events, and engaging with us on social media through blog articles like this.
AR/VR presents an incredible opportunity to shape the future of human-computer interactions. So far, the focus has mostly been on technology or hardware. But to create a long-lasting and meaningful impact, we have to start focusing on the application of these five principles to progressive initiatives like Expeditions and more. Without this, we may end up with a wasteland of inexpensive hardware unable to create experiences that bridge the gap between humans and machines.