“We are still very much stuck in that Year One foundational mentality.”
The undoubted potential of virtual and augmented reality applications could hinge on how many developers make building immersive experiences their prime focus.
A quarterly report by developer-focused analyst VisionMobile said the vast majority of people working in the virtual and augmented reality space approach it as a hobby rather than a full-time job. According to VisionMobile’s State of the Developer Nation Q1 2017 report, around one in three developers have some level of involvement in the “realities,” but only 21% considered themselves to be professional VR or AR developers.
Out of the 31% of people in the global developer community that were working in virtual and augmented reality, 80% said they were “VR hobbyists.” The number was similar for augmented reality, with 78% identifying themselves non-professional.
Bearing in mind that VisionMobile interviewed over 21,200 developers for its latest quarterly report, the number of people involved in the sector is tempered by the fact that most see it as something fun to do on the side.
In addition, there is a lack of virtual or augmented experience in the developer community. The report said that nine out of 10 VR/AR developers would be deemed juniors by any other industry standards, with most developers having no more than two years actual experience in the field.
Games Continue To Drive Virtual Reality Experimentation
Almost 50% of people said that they had been “experimenting” with virtual and augmented reality for less than year and were focused (mainly) on games—49% of developers cited games as their primary interest. Education, 360˚ Photography and Movies were the only other categories to breach the 20% mark in terms of developer participation, scoring 23%, 21% and 21%, respectively.
“A significant difference exists between hobbyists’ and professionals’ application categories,” VisionMobile said. “Both hobbyists and professionals embrace the gaming industry almost equally, but hobbyists show less enthusiasm for categories other than Games and Toys and tackle fewer different categories on average.”
The revelation that most non-professional virtual and augmented reality developers choose games over anything else is not a surprise. One of the reasons for this is that virtual and augmented reality are still considered to be a nascent field, but games provide the immersive (and instant) experience that people want to have.
Over the last year or so, the oft-reported reality (no pun intended) is that the average person has not rushed to embrace the technology, although a recent report from Greenlight Insights said that virtual reality is expected to generate $7.2 billion in revenue globally by the end of 2017. The majority of the revenue will come from the sale of head-mounted devices—around $4.7 billion—but a recurring problem is that the industry has suffered from a case of hype over substance.
“That is very much our position,” said Greenlight Insight’s CEO Clifton Dawson, in an interview with Applause. “Investors see a bright future for virtual reality but when you look five or six years down the line, that’s when you see the fruits of labor that is being put into the industry now. We are still very much stuck in that Year One foundational mentality.”
Getting past that mentality will be a challenge, said Dawson. Companies—and by association developers—will need to evaluate the technology that is already here and identify the obstacles ahead. As a result, virtual reality evangelists will have to accept that consumers may already be more critical about their needs and future purchase decisions.
Hardware Is The Key To Our Virtual Reality Future
Dawson cited headsets as one potential bottleneck, especially when you consider that there are essentially two choices for consumers—high-end (Oculus Rift, HTC Vive) versus low-end (Samsung Gear VR, Google Daydream View). In order for the industry to move forward, there has to be some sort of middle ground to attract both developers and potential virtual reality adopters.
“It’s not about cheaper headsets,” said Dawson. “There are options at either end of the price spectrum, but there is very little in the middle. There can be a realistic good, better, best strategy for consumers as well as enterprises.”
With that in mind, VisionMobile’s developer survey would certainly appear to back up Dawson’s assessment of the current virtual and augmented landscape.
Developers are not lacking in ideas for virtual or augmented reality experiences. At the same time, more companies are investing in the technology as a means of engaging with their customers. The issue is that the hardware needed to move a developer from a VR/AR hobbyist to a professional is still trying to live up to expectations. This recurring scenario has created friction and reduced adoption rates … unless you are a hobbyist with an interest in developing games.
“Moving forward, we see professionals exploring other categories to be the best route to AR and VR finding profitable markets,” the report concluded. “These developers are likely to create a lot of the value that future hardware platforms capture. These hardware platforms are not here yet, so in the near future AR and VR will mainly impact the gaming industry. The types of applications that will affect our society in a more fundamental way are a lot further away than we hope.”