Content, cost and cohesion dog virtual reality’s success

Secret Location founder James Milward on what's driving the high-tech style of content forward, and what's holding it back.
June 8, 2015

James Milward sees big potential in virtual reality, but he’s under no illusions that bringing such a high-tech style of content to the mainstream will be easy.

“The truth is, no one knows yet if anyone will care,” said Milward, at the third annual Stream Market conference in Santa Monica, on June 5.

Milward (pictured below), founder of the Toronto and Los Angeles-based interactive agency Secret Location, gave a brief but resonating talk at the annual event on the current state of VR— and where it’s headed in the near future. His company has been working on various VR projects, including a short narrative piece accompanying the release of Insidious III.

He believes the release of the Oculus Rift is a big step in bringing VR into more homes.

The rig itself costs about $350, but if you factor in a computer with the video and sound specs necessary to operate it, the cost is more likely to add up to about $1,500.

Milward said most people interested in the Oculus device are gamers who already have the required computer specs.

James_Milward_HeadshotBut despite the increase in availability, Milward said it will take a lot of quality content to get consumers to welcome VR with open arms.

He pointed to 3D TVs as an example of tech that was held back by a lack of content.

“People took home these $4,000 to $5,000 TVs and there was no content to watch,” he said.

The cohesiveness of the technology is another potential stumbling block to broader adoption.

There are still no dedicated VR production programs at colleges or universities in North America, and, as Milward noted, filming in 360 and creating virtual reality content is not straight forward.

It takes a strong marriage of technical knowledge and storytelling ability to bring content into what he called a “frameless environment” — an experience created by 360 viewing and audio. To be truly effective in this medium, filmmakers must understand how to blend the images unfolding in front of a viewer’s eyes with what is happening everywhere else. Without that awareness, he said, “360 means the audience could potentially miss visual information and story.”

Even as Sony, HTC, Samsung and others push VR-viewing tools (and Google and GoPro take a stab at bringing 360 filming to the mainstream), Milward said creators need to work on mastering storytelling on the new platform before simply jumping into business with a new tech toy.

That’s not to say Milward isn’t optimistic about VR and what it has to offer. He rejected the suggestion that the act of strapping on a headset and blocking out the surrounding environment when watching a VR movie was anti-social.

In his opinion, the opposite is true.

“You can bring yourself to an environment where you’re watching with friends who live on the other side of the world,” Milward said. “That is social.”

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