The main focus for VR in 2016 was the technology. How good is it, what is the difference between the various platforms, and perhaps most importantly which ones do consumers really want?

Whilst the market is still embryonic, it’s clear the major platforms have now been established. High-end tethered solutions are led by Sony’s PlayStation VR, HTC VIVE’s room-scale VR and the Facebook-funded Oculus, while the mobile VR space is dominated by first generation Google Cardboard, Google’s successor Daydream and (our personal favourite!) Samsung’s GearVR.

Whilst new platforms will continue to come and go, the focus in 2017 will shift from technology to experience, as consumers seek quality content that goes beyond simple tech demos.

As mainstream audiences begin to engage with the medium, every organisation – from museums to brands, charities to publishers – should be asking themselves the simple question: what does VR mean for them and their audience? Where is the potential?

As a game studio focused on using playful technology to solve problems and change lives, we believe VR’s greatest potential lies beyond entertainment. After all, it has the innate ability – through immersion and control – to create an emotive experience that transcends all other media and, when done well, can produce a deep and lasting effect on the user.

The potential

The potential application of VR with Purpose is tantalising. While previous generations of VR found traction in the military (for training simulations) and automotive industries (for visualisation and design), the accessibility and affordability of today’s technology mean all businesses and organisations should consider VR a legitimate channel or format for their purposes.

2016 also saw a number of other trailblazing organisations create new experiences which begin to hint at the transformational power of the VR, both for businesses that created them and the audiences they are made for.

Science Museum’s Handley Page VR: Mathematics of flight

Museums experimented with VR as a means to contextualise physical exhibits as well as standalone attractions in their own right. The Natural History Museum’s success with First Life, narrated by David Attenborough has now led to a longer term commitment for the use of VR. Preloaded also launched the Science Museum’s first VR project, exploring the use of VR as an innovative tool to aid in the interpretation of a brand new physical gallery.

In journalism, the New York Times continued to put the reader into the heart of the story with the award-winning use of 360 degree video in its NYT VR app. The Guardian’s foray in VR took us into solitary confinement with the powerful 6×9, demonstrating the power of presence to bring difficult stories to life.

Guardian’s 6×9 – Solitary confinement

Forward-thinking charities embraced the power of VR to create empathy with their audiences.  The Autism Society showed us what it’s like to suffer from this neurological condition and Alzheimer Research UK, gave us a glimpse of what it’s like to suffer from dementia in A Walk Through Dementia.

Google spearheaded the use of VR in classrooms with Expedition, a virtual field trip experience designed to inspire kids by taking them to places they can only dream of visiting. This was a strong demonstration of how VR could be successfully used in a social learning context.

Broadcasters also dipped their toes into 360 video and interactive VR, exploring how the medium can be used to make topical and historical content both relevant and personal. In the UK, the BBC led the charge, with standout content such as Easter Rising – The voice of a rebel telling one person’s perspective of the 1916 Irish uprising, and the poignant first-person refugee experience We Wait.

BBC’s We Wait – Refugee Crisis

With VR experiences being likened more to ‘theatre’ than any other medium, it’s no wonder cultural institutions have also embraced it. Most bold was the National Theatre and the establishing of their immersive storytelling studio with the standout Wonder.Land, a surreal VR experience to accompany this piece of musical theatre.

VR is also being championed as a way of delivering physiological benefits, with health organisations adopting VR for far-ranging purposes from pain relief to post-op delirium. While more research is needed to validate the efficacy of VR in health, the anecdotal feedback is incredibly powerful.

VR with purpose

Anyone who has tried VR can feel its potential, and as content commissioners, creators and platform owners, our role – our responsibility – is to decide how best to use it.

HTC’s timely announcement at Davos of a $10million fund for VR for Impact is clearly a step in the right direction, and hopefully marks the beginning of wider industry recognition of the utility of VR and its power to change our world.

As part of this VR With Purpose blog post series, we will be bringing together experts in child development, learning design, behavioural design and user-experience to explore in detail the opportunities presented by VR, and how this technology could be used to change our world for the better. Stay tuned for the next in this series; VR with Purpose: Better than reality.

Our next Purposeful event will bring this blog series together with a series of micro-talks and demos. If you are interested in attending just let us know or indeed want to talk about how you can use VR with purpose.

Phil Stuart

Phil is PRELOADED's founder and Executive Creative Director. He is passionate about the possibility space created by emerging and converging technologies, and inventing new forms of play with purpose.