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The Reality of VR: Game Devs Speak Up at GDC

One of the things I tried to get my arms around at GDC this year was what exactly is the opportunity with VR – as the mobile game industry begins to consolidate, could VR be the next big wave?

Matthew Falcus posted a nice overview in Gamastura today — Making the Most of the VR Opportunity — that provides a great overview.  I wanted to add some of my notes from GDC which I thought were interesting context as well, especially from day one of the Virtual and Augmented Reality Roundtable session.

Indie VR Developers by the Numbers

  • The room was to capacity with about 80 participants
  • 8 people had shipped a game, 60% of the participants were actively developing something
  • 2 had been working since the late 90s in Augmented Reality/Virtual Reality – seeing a lot of the same issues that people were tackling then now resurfacing today
  • 95% of the participants were male
  • About 95% were developing in Unity because it’s easy and can integrate things right away.  One or two were using proprietary code, mostly because they started a while ago and just stuck with it

You Are Going to Get Sick

A lot of folks were sharing their experiences – for example you are going to make yourself sick when you are prototyping and can’t work the rest of the day – but the bottom line was that every user is different and there is no magic bullet to solve sickness – yet.  That said here are some of the things that participants mentioned seemed to make it better for users:

  • Made the game explicitly have the character put on goggles
  • Having a focal point in front of the user helps keep their balance
  • Make steps/staircase feel like a ramp instead of bouncing up and down them
  • Team Fortress 2 developers ended up creating a “meathook” solution where it’s all about your head orientation – your feet are just dangling
  • Bring content to the user instead of user moving to the content (Oculus Rift’s Crescent Bay demo did this)
  • Teleport to locations vs. the manual walking, moving

If you are developing a game then, how do you get around if allowing a user to walk around and explore the environment makes some people sick?  It’s a different narrative and thought process.

Is the Tech There Yet?

Generally, the answer is sort of.  There were several new devices debuted that week and discussions about trying to develop to the lowest common form (John Carmack of Oculus suggested developers look at graphics like they were building for the Game Cube) because no one knows which platform will take off.

This discussion veered into issues about the lack of tactile feedback and the disconnect between not being able to use your hands or see yourself within VR.  One participant said the current state of AR/VR now is analogous to what 3D was in the 80s, “We are at a point of finding the cheats for AR and VR and then systems will do the math to help us achieve the solution.”

The biggest disconnect for many though, is that it feels like the technology is driving the discussion, where instead it should be the experience we are trying to achieve in AR/VR should be driving the technology.  As one participant reacting to the discussion about the need for haptic feedback suits noted, “how long do you expect them to wear it?  An hour is probably a LOT for mainstream users.”

The Reality: VR Might Not be About Games at All

I’ve tried both the simple (Google Cardboard) and latest  (Oculus Crescent Bay) VR headsets and the experiences are intriguing, but not something I’m yearning to go back to over and over again.  One of the most interesting debates really is what IS the experience that is going to be the defining one for VR?   As Holden Link from Turbo Button noted during the VR for Indies Panel, games might not end up being the killer app.  “The killer app for VR is probably Netflix – being in a giant theater.”


KFC, Oprah and Social Media – Measuring the Viral Echo

Once KFC finally succumbed to the onslaught (and possibility of running out of chicken and losing it’s work force if they had to face more angry mobs looking for a free meal) by giving people rain checks, the mainstream press seemed to place the root of mania squarely at the feet of Queen of All-Media Oprah (see Reuters – not a mention of Twitter, Facebook or any social media.). No disrespect to Oprah (even though she only ranks sixth in the celebrity social media rankings), but how much of the “overwhelming response” was due to social media?

And there’s the rub – how to measure the impact? So here are a couple stats that are out there:

  • The day the coupon roared: @gouldliz shared HitWise’s graph showing KFC’s visits jumped 1600% from 5/4 to 5/5 (http://twitpic.com/4qjwb), representing 0.025% of US web usage.
  • @adamb_nyc noted that Vitrue’s Social Media Index shows KFC rose 21% from 5/3 to 5/8 across the Twitter, Facebook, blogs and other social media (http://tinyurl.com/oga68x)
  • Facebook Lexicon shows the clear peak on May 5th (see graph below)thanks to the Oprah-driven KFC promo. When looking at Oprah, the previous high-water marks were March 13th when Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg was on the program and November 5th of last year when she had a post-election day celebration special. In fact, Oprah has consistently been below KFC on Facebook since the inception of the data. Oprah may have over 4 times as many fans to their official Fan Pages, but people on Facebook are more engaged talking about KFC in their daily lives, as you would expect given the demographics.

Facebook Lexicon shows KFC regularly posts more mentions than Oprah, plus the impact of the Grilled Chicken coupon promotion on May 5th

Luckily, to see what Facebook can do without Oprah starting the conversation, KFC had another recent chicken give-away promo: On April 27th, KFC gave away one piece of its new grilled chicken just for asking – not a whole meal, and no coupon involved, but clearly a chicken give-away (I actually went that day: the lines were pretty normal at lunch time and the clerks didn’t offer up the chicken unless you asked for it).

Up to that point, this was the biggest blip to KFC’s stream on Facebook. Eye-balling it (by measuring the pixels in the height of the graphs), I’d estimate about a 20% increase in Facebook mentions for what I believe was a mostly TV-based ad campaign. Also, you can clearly see the mentions slowly growing virally over the weekend (I’m not privy to the ad buy, and given the Google Search trends showing a similar rise, you might call the Facebook mentions as the “viral echo” of those TV ads) .

In comparison, I estimate the Oprah-driven campaign two weeks later saw a 170% increase in the Facebook mentions for KFC on the peak day and it was immediate – no slow build here. Whereas the Oprah promo drove long lines and “millions” of free chicken dinners were given away, the company said little I can find about the success of the April 27 promotion and while I saw plenty of friends mention and talk about KFC, there were no faux riots.

Ultimately we have an apples to oranges comparison here (one piece vs. a meal, launching via TV ads vs. The Oprah Juggernaut), and we are lacking insight and metrics (at least publicly available) that connect coupon downloads from Social Media mentions, but I think there is no question that the “viral echo” for KFC was huge and velocity is something marketers have to now factor into their equations.

We’ve gone from Offer + Promotional Vehicle = Action
to (Offer + Promotional Vehicle) * Social Media = X * Action.

The question that remains is what is X? Only more testing with similar offers and media will tell, but I believe the “KFC debacle” is a watershed moment, making marketers aware of Social Media’s multiplier effect and the perils of not paying attention to it (or your customers). The fun part as marketers is figuring out how we optimize that equation, both in terms of results and what our organizations can handle.

Have more metrics to add to the conversation? Let me know!

Other fun notes

  • From the Lexicon graph above, you can see KFC got a slight increase in their baseline Facebook mentions on March 21st, the day they launched their Twitter account.
  • KFC got a bump as big, if not bigger, than American Idol’s showing on a weekly basis http://is.gd/yQOM)
  • Google Trends shows Oprah and KFC have nearly the same search volume over the last month — maybe they ARE soul mates?
  • KFC’s official Fan Page, with 174,500 fans, falls behind two dormant Fan Pages with 997,000 and 441,000 fans. C’mon brands, get with the program and take charge of your brand!