Why commercial VR storytelling needs to start outside the home

Today I attended a panel in which a number of people from the VR industry talked about the future of consumer level VR storytelling. And I found the focus confusing.

The problem was that most of the industry people on the panel kept talking about the home market. And that just didn’t make much sense to me.

In order to serve VR storytelling to people in the home, you need those homes to have good VR headsets. And other than people who play computer games, pretty much nobody has a good VR headset at home.

Meanwhile, there is a large opportunity here that is being missed. People will always like to get out of the house on a Friday or Saturday night, which for millions of people used to mean going out to the movies.

But these days, lots of people feel silly paying to watch a movie in the theater. After all, they are already paying streaming services to see perfectly good movies at home.

The only notable exception to this trend are the big effects films, like the Marvel and Star Wars franchises. Going to the opening of one of those films is still an “event”.

So why not fill the need of people to get out of the house by creating new sorts of experiences in shared VR? I’m not talking about experiences for one person, but rather experiences that are truly shared by large audiences, somewhat the way audiences of today share an experience of a movie or a play or a concert.

This is not going to happen by trying to convince people to buy VR headsets. When an entertainment technology is still new and relatively expensive, people are much more likely to go out to a venue to experience it, rather than pay capital equipment costs for a home experience they don’t yet know much about.

After all, it took quite a few years from the time cinema became truly shared (when the Lumiere brothers started popularizing projected film) to when television began its cultural ascendency.

Early moviegoers went out of the house. Only later did movies arrive within the house.

At the end of the day, young people still need to leave the safety of the cave from time to time and gather together in the larger space of the tribal campfire. This is something they have been doing for well over a hundred thousand years.

And they do this for one very important reason: They are hoping to get lucky. That’s what keeps the human race from dying out.

And that’s why the first commercially successful VR narrative experiences will be outside the home. Technologies may change over time, but human nature never does.

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