Disrupted Reality – Content needs to drive Virtual Reality to make it real

Content is the killer app for VR

By guest contributor Lynne Slowey

With the potential to become a $150 billion industry, everyone in the know is clamouring to make Virtual Reality a reality. But while most are focusing on the tech, it’s the content that will be king in VR. Here’s how we break it down by industry:


Virtual Reality - Picture courtesy of Wired
Courtesy of Wired

The travel industry is already making great strides in the virtual world – Thomas Cook, Virgin, and Emirates being just a few that have begun using VR to inspire travellers. My recent VR projects in travel have already seen an increase in conversion by 10%, and in some stores over 70% in experiential bookings, along with more upgrades and upsells.

But there’s so much more to come. Dr Betty Mohler of the Max Planck Institute has some great research on how VR can aid the travel experience, including overcoming fear by virtually riding a magic carpet while you fly. She’s also been exploring how we can develop the cabin environment and how you react to it when given a much larger or much smaller body type avatar.

And, if futuristic movies like Total Recall are to be believed, we could save the environment, and bundles of cash, by taking virtual holidays. Just choose where you want to go, and whether you want to meet a triple-breasted companion when you get there. Which brings me nicely into the next industry. . .


John Straw got plenty of thoughts on the world’s oldest business here, and my word count is limited, but recent creations like the ‘lifelike’ twerking butt along with developments in hand and head tracking, and movement from lightfield technology, mean that VR developments are likely to be led by the money-making potential the porn industry sees with Virtual Reality. And whatever your feelings are on the subject, remember that faster streaming speeds and secure online payments are just two of many developments that happened because they helped this industry make more money.


The possibilities here are vast, and generally practical in nature. It’s becoming more and more common to have big name architects designing large-scale business campuses. And VR brings with it the possibility to give a sales pitch that’s bigger than a mock-up. It also gives the chance for practical feedback, and staff input to ensure that the inspired designs are fit for purpose. You could sit at your desk, or stand on the factory line, walk to the loo, and grab a coffee from the canteen. You could even have your health and safety review before it’s even built.

McDonalds have been using VR to help them with restaurant design, and there are many stores that could follow suit. And who knows, maybe you’ll soon be using the same methods to design the layout of a new kitchen?


I’m most excited about the possibilities for medicine.

Jane McGonigal, a game designer in the US, uses gaming to help with long-term health improvements, from cancer support to overcoming PTSD. Her research is fascinating, and with the developments we will see in gaming coming from VR, I am sure we will see some big things here.

But medical developments are not just limited to gaming: think about how we could train surgeons. Or better still, combine the improvements in body scanning, 3D printing, and VR, and you could have a surgeon who’s repeatedly practiced the complex procedure you are about to have, and gained the specific skills and muscle memory, on a realistic version of your own body. Designers have already created a twerking butt, so how hard can it be?


TV and film seem to be no-brainers, but there are obstacles to overcome. Virtual Reality at the moment is within an enclosed headset. It is a solitary experience. Whether it will stay that way remains to be seen, but if it does it may draw more and more people away from the movie theatres in favour of stay-at-home viewing.

Books on the other hand are intentionally solitary, so imagine adding visuals and feeling to your reading experience. Rather than changing the storyline or where your imagination takes you (like films can), the changes here can be more subtle. For example, if you are reading Harry Potter on the train, make the train and the surroundings the Hogwarts Express. If you are reading a travel guide to Sri Lanka do it from a sun lounger with the sounds of the sea in the background.


We all know that there’s money to be made by developing old footage into a new format. The film industry has benefited a great deal by re-releasing old VHS movies on DVD, and DVD material on Blu-ray. The games industry has done this too, as newer consoles are released they can reformat old favourites. But they now have the chance to take entire back catalogues and convert to VR.


School trips can be stressful and expensive for parents and teachers alike. You are limited by budgets, safety, and distance. Whilst on a recent VR filming trip to Egypt I cast my mind back to the songs and stories from Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat, and how great it would have been to see the monuments and ancient ruins up close when I was learning.

Virtual Reality is, through its reality, inspiring. Take a journey around the human body while getting to grips with anatomy and physiology in biology class. Experience the Olympics or World Cup before training for a school tournament. Experience art in the greatest galleries, or meet extinct creatures.

These VR experiences could really aid the imagination of kids everywhere, and remove limitations that could hold them back. And what’s more, these educational experiences link right back to content that could be gathered for medical need or travel inspiration, making them ripe for re-use, and therefore a cost-effective option for schools.


With fashion there are the obvious applications of VR, changing store layouts, how you shop, even building up and meeting your own avatar who tries on clothes for you to see. But development will also come through the VR technology itself. Headwear (think Ray-Bans to Google Glass), interaction elements like gloves and shoes. As the technology grows so will the need for it to be fashionable, cool, must-wear.


The NFL has been trialling 360° viewing of hockey games, and with the money to be made in TV packages and upgrading and upselling it’s no surprise.

With 360° audio and great VR you get the real life experience, the thrill of the crowds, and the chance to quickly jump seats to see the best action from the right place. No overpriced drinks, no queues, no cold weather, no race to get out of the car park. Just you, and maybe even your avatar buddies hanging out in the crowd. And however big the game you’ll always have a ticket.


Wherever VR goes (and the options are immense), its success will hinge on the quality of content – the most realistic angles, the quality of audio. Of course the hardware that will get you there is important – storage capacities will need to be better, streaming speeds quicker – but most importantly the relevance and usefulness of the content will be crucial.

As a content expert you must consider the whole strategy – you can’t just plonk in a VR experience. You’ve got to give it a holistic approach that ties in with the rest of your plans, ask yourself what does it add, where is the value, is it a game changer? The biggest developments are likely to come from changing the whole way we approach a problem.

Think about comfort too. Whilst VR is a great way to experience the adrenalin rush of an extreme sport from the safety of your sofa, any VR activity designed to push the limits and lining of your stomach has a high chance of failing in its quest to be considered great content.
Lynne Slowey on Virtual RealityLynne Slowey has been working in digital content for over 10 years. Helping
the charity and travel sectors with their strategy, operations, and
optimisation. She is currently disrupting and interrupting at Thomas
Cook Group as Head of Digital Content, and is responsible for their
award winning Virtual Reality content delivery program.