Emilio Vacca, Director of Mobile at The Telegraph, will be speaking at VR World 2017 being held on the 16th and 17th of May at Olympia Conference Centre in London.
In addition to his work at The Telegraph, over the last 5 years Vacca has founded multiple startups in various industries (insurance, real estate, mobile services, social search services) and, as a startups mentor, he is now helping other companies grow.
Emilio, who will be discussing how to harness audience empathy and the economic opportunity of immersive technologies and 360 degree video on Day 2 of VR World took some time to complete our speaker Q&A:
Please tell us a bit about the work you are doing in the VR/MR/AR space?
I think there are big opportunities in the whole VR/MR/AR space and I am evaluating them, specifically for the industry I work in.
I came into contact with many companies in London that are working in the VR Space (Visualise, The Mill, Jaunt, to name a few) and I was energized by the amount of great examples of VR/AR content that those companies worked on. It is really exciting to see how fast the sector is growing and how technology is helping bring more and better content to the end users.
What benefits do you think immersive technologies can bring to your industry?
The media industry, specifically newspapers, are constantly looking for new ways of telling a story. Customers and, more generally, users are overwhelmed by the amount of content, free or paid, that they can find basically anywhere, via any device. There are only two ways of getting traction for a story: it’s either something that quickly goes viral, something like the videos that Jukin Media is so good at selecting, or the user/customer is engaged because of the quality of the content.
Editors should look into augmented/mixed or virtual reality, something that I prefer to call enhanced reality: many people think that it is still too expensive, being tethered to a computer is not exactly a “free experience” and not so many headsets are available. They are absolutely right, but we know that technology improves quickly - something that I personally experienced since the first iPhone was presented nearly 10 years ago - and now is the right time to invest. Editors have to start making longer term investments: I know that nobody knows how to monetise this new technology - or set of technologies - yet, but we all know that it will be huge soon, not in 12 months, maybe in 18 months, but if they don’t start testing the new medium now, they will be late when the time comes.
The most important thing that we care about in the industry is customer/user engagement: in a time when the average attention span reading anything on digital is getting shorter and shorter, the ability to have the customer/user immersed in the medium, living the story like he/she was actually there, for a long period of time - 20 mins, longer? - is unvaluable from a content, marketing, advertisement, data point of view. Enhanced reality is a set of technologies that we in the media industry cannot simply dismiss as a gizmo, but we should actually consider those as a new medium, like cinema was many many years ago. They are technologies that we don’t know yet how to use at their best, but that we need to experiment with in order to define the rules, especially mixed reality that doesn’t require sensory deprivation through a wrap-around headset and goggles.
Do you think enterprise is ready to take full advantage of immersive technologies? Why/ why not?
It really depends on which sector we are talking about. 2016 was a big year for VR/MR/AR - just think about Pokemon Go. The success of that showed everyone, including skeptics, that the new medium is ready for Prime Time, maybe not for everyone, but it is definitely mature enough to be considered a valuable investment.
Retail, manufacturing, construction, travel are industries that could get an immediate advantage from integrating AR/MR, and are most probably among the few industries that are ready to use the new technology.
Which industry do you think will be most impacted by VR/AR/MR technologies?
The easy answer is the gaming industry first. We are already seeing amazing things happening and it is just the start. I cannot think about anything getting easily better and more interesting than games. The visual quality is already through the roof and the immersiveness is something that can add a lot to the already amazing experience we can have playing a game on a modern console/PC.
I think that Playstation.VR is going to be huge this year, especially if Sony is able to reduce the price of the next version for Christmas 2017. One important thing to note is that Sony is pushing Playstation.VR not only for games, but for what they call “VR Experiences”, with big titles already available, like Cocos Shark Island or David Attenborough’s First Life VR - this last one is simply going to blow your mind.
We will see more and more of those “experiences” allowing us to visit another world, another era or another planet. Once we have a decent base installed and a decent monetisation model, then the media industry will conquer the new world. When I say media I mean any industry that can generate content, so we are going to have Hollywood, Netflix, Amazon originals, then the “traditional” media industry, with magazines first, then newspapers with “experiences” about conflict zones, fashion events, music festivals or sporting events.
How can we boost content creation for VR applications?
We always have to keep in mind that though advanced, the concept of virtual reality isn’t new: I remember the bulky and futuristic technology of the ‘80s (I must have somewhere a picture of me trying one of the machines from The Virtuality Group in Barcelona) that in the end failed to deliver on its promises, so we certainly need to increase the amount of content available to the final users and I already saw amazing products that clearly are going in the right direction, but we cannot just “create more to push the medium adoption”
We need to be conscious that creating high quality content is the only way to go and we should always ask ourselves a few questions before creating content for VR/AR/MR:
- Should we really make this in VR? It is not a good idea to just do “something” in VR because you want to jump on the bandwagon - I suggest to carefully considered what is your proposition, the added value for your customers and if VR is the best storytelling medium for your content.
- Are we just trying to “translate” existing content, that was not “designed” for that, into VR? The classic, linear storytelling of the majority of the content currently available on various media, including games and movies, cannot be simply transferred to VR: they won’t work.
- What is it that we are trying to create? Are we considering just the visual experience or also audio, spatial and the emotional part of our story?
- Can we try and experiment enough with the product we want to create? Considering that we should not translate to VR what we currently have, we will have to make something really new and we need to be sure that we are trying different approaches and testing multiple assumptions before committing to building a final product.
- What will be the user experience? This is something that I got from a book that I always keep within reach: “The VR book”. I consider it to be the bible for the VR user experience: VR is such a new medium that it is not easy to find the right way of delivering the user experience. We need to consider so many things, including physical reactions, emotions and stress/fatigue, and most probably we will need a multidisciplinary team to deal with the new medium.
How are partnerships contributing to growth in the immersive technology market?
It is extremely important to find the right partner: the skillset needed for VR is so extensive that it needs multiple partnerships, starting with the idea, the plan, the implementation, the distribution and the monetisation. That is why we are already working with many companies to be sure we have a network of partners in different areas and disciplines. On the other side, I think about the tools and the skillsets needed, so I consider vital initiatives like Journalism360, for example.
I was really excited when I read the announcement that OTOY was bringing its Octane Renderer to the world’s most popular game development engine, Unity, allowing users to import its ORBX file format to view them within the engine: I consider it a giant leap in the ability to create visually believable VR environments and experiences and the whole industry will benefit from partnerships like that.
Another good thing that is happening in San Francisco and I believe will extend abroad is The Collective, a shared workplace/mentoring program specifically focused on VR - it is a great way in my opinion to start nourishing start-ups and innovative projects in the sector.
Are there any projects or applications of VR/AR/MR that you’ve seen that are particularly impressive and why?
I think we finally had a real breakthrough at the last Sundance festival: Dear Angelica, a 12-minute animated experience for the Oculus Rift; and Miyubi, a very long - considering the device we need to use - comedy for Oculus Rift and Gear VR.
With the first one, I was almost tearing up at the end. One of the things that impressed me is how images reacted when I tried to lean in: they just gently receded, something that I never saw (or thought about) before. Dear Angelica is all about feelings and emotions and clearly demonstrates that the medium is ready to tell a story and, more importantly, to let you feel you are part of the story. The big difference in Dear Angelica is that it was meant for VR and cannot work without VR. You can clearly see the difference in the plot and the way the story is presented to the audience (audience is a funny thing to say, considering that for now we are experiencing the content alone, immersed in our VR headset!).
Miyubi is a different story, yet the idea of impersonating the toy robot that basically will let us live the daily life of a very strange family is fascinating, because the user, at some point, will really feel “I am the robot”. Showing the robot “hands” was a good idea to properly transform the user in the character. The family candlelit dinner is my favourite scene: so perfect in embedding the viewer in the story.
Worth mentioning is Asteroids! from Baobab Studios: I loved their previous VR movie, Invasion! and the cute little bunny, and I must say that the new characters are even more funny!
What are the key ethical issues that arise from the use of immersive technologies and how are these being addressed?
VR is different from other fields when it comes to legal matters and ethical issues - users will be immersed in an alternative world where their senses are challenged with new sensations (think about the “localisation” problem) and their values and behaviours could potentially be completely different from the ones they have in the “real world”.
I can think about 3 different issues, and they are ones that we already saw in the gaming industry (just think about Grand Theft Auto):
- The problem of ‘desensitisation’: when we have high levels of violence in videogames we already have a system in place to clarify that the product could not be suitable for people of specific ages, so I assume we will use the same system for the new medium. The difference is that in VR the user will be profoundly immersed in the experience, potentially worsening the problem.
- Cyber-addiction: again, nothing new here, but VR will amplify the feelings of the user during the experience and the addiction could be even worse. The blur between virtual and real life could dissolve and the risk of having people that consciously decide to not leave the virtual world, as it is better than their reality.
- Virtual criminality: this is actually a big issue and part of a big debate. Can someone using a VR/AR headset experience pain, distress or other emotions associated with a criminal act? What if, in a shared virtual experience, one of the participants can actually cause harm (physical or emotional) to another one? Would it be possible to “punish” the offender using the laws that we currently have? There was recently a study by the University of Southern California that highlighted that VR cannot cause PTSD, but actually cure it, so definitely a good thing. But what if in future we have games or experiences so immersive that they can actually cause it (think about a first person shooter video game set in a war zone, like Iraq)?
From a more “human” point of view, what if the simulation is sophisticated enough that you start discovering things about yourself that you don’t want to know? It could challenge our view of what’s right and what’s wrong.
Where do you see immersive technologies in the next 18 months?
A very difficult question to answer: as I said I saw great progress in the last 12 months and I expect more to come. Key moments will be E3 in June, Christmas holidays 2017 and what big players like Sony are going to do in terms of price levels. I expect a lot from Playstation.VR, and if Sony is able to reduce the price further, then I can imagine a huge number of people will buy it: the issue is that at the current price it costs more or less the same as the console. Plus, I expect new games that are not just an extension of the standard, 3D gameplay in an immersive environment, but are specifically designed for VR.
I am also interested to see what (if) Apple will present in 2017: it will most probably be in the AR/MR field, considering that Tim Cook confirmed multiple times that Apple has a huge interest in the technology. As always, basically impossible to get any comment from Apple.
Facebook Oculus is a big question for me: with the closure of many “demo” shops everyone is a bit worried that FB over-invested in the technology and is planning to scale back, under the pressure of Samsung and other big players. It would be interesting to see how the market reacts to an untethered Rift/Project Santa Cruz.
Rumour has that Magic Leap will finally present something to the public and I would be really happy to see that is not vaporware.
What are the key challenges to mass market implementation of VR/AR/MR and how do you see these being overcome?
Immersive experiences are not like “games” or usual ways of storytelling. They require a clear intent, and effort from the consumer point of view. If you add to that the fact that, so far, VR is something that you experience alone, then how people will consume the content that we could generate is the big question.
I remember when I tried the Samsung Gear VR with the rollercoaster simulation: it was actually in a theatre where the seats were moving, following the action. It was a strange thing to be experiencing something that you usually try with a friend or family and actually feeling so detached from the people around you. Then, while we were riding the rollercoaster, someone on my left grabbed my hand. I turner to my left and in the headset I saw a woman. When I removed the headset at the end of the experience I was nearly shocked in seeing that the woman at my left was not the one that I saw in the headset. I had lost the social part of the experience.
For people to engage with a virtual experience there are, as I said, a few prerequisites that must be present at the same time:
- They have to be sitting somewhere comfortable enough.
- They need to feel secure, because you cannot see and see the external world.
- They must have a strong intent and they should give the experience undivided attention.
Where people can do that? At home? In a movie theatre? In a new kind of environment specifically created for enhanced experiences? With AR and MR everything looks simpler, but I still think that they will come later than VR with regard to a mass adoption.
So I believe we are going to have two different phases: the first one when VR will be the key product, allowing people to understand the technology and explore its possibilities. That probably will be made possible thanks to video games and the forthcoming high performing VR headsets. The early adopters will be followed by the early majority and at that point VR will be considered expanding to the mass market. Meanwhile, AR and MR technologies will evolve and they will be good enough to follow the same cycle, this time with the mass market consumer better prepared and with a high-level of understanding of what the technology can deliver. The same happened with mobile phones: we used them for years in a specific form, until the iPhone breakthrough, so we know how things could evolve.
About VR World
Now in its 2nd year, VR World 2017 is a 2 day conference and exhibition focused on Augmented, Mixed and Virtual Reality and its impact beyond gaming.
With 4 in-depth event tracks and over 150 leading speakers, no other European event covers the market in as much detail.
Amid unparalleled networking opportunities, attendees will have access to visionary speakers and case-study led content. Hear from inspirational keynotes and thought-provoking panel discussions from key players redefining the boundaries for technology.
Register now to reserve your place for THE VR, AR and MR event of 2017.