Recently I seized the opportunity to hold a public VR demonstration at my local Grainger Games store.
This was a chance for me to test the viability of a business idea I had arrived at, while exploring the possible VR services I could provide to businesses, using my current knowledge of the industry and the business model canvas.
I had spent the week before preparing for the event by check-listing all of the tasks I would need to complete, such as: costing the equipment and consumables I would need; planning all of the processes I would need to follow; creating notices, posters and flyers; promoting the event on social media channels, etc. I also reached out to all of the hardware and software vendors, asking for any support or guidance they could provide for the event but unfortunately, I did not hear back from any of them. However, I knew I had all of the equipment, knowledge, experience and even a small budget from my personal finances which I was able to utilise. I used this to purchase the extra equipment, software and consumables (e.g. treats and refreshments) for the event, making sure that the items I chose could be used again in some manner, even if the event was not repeated.
I want to make special thanks to Suzanne Leibrick who posted a helpful article which I used to inform my health and safety approach and which I also adapted into safety notices for the event. I also followed the advice of Geoffrey James and Robert Falcone, who both gave excellent pointers on performing a successful product demo; as this is something I hadn’t done for the general public before.
The only significant problem I had was the acquisition of hygienic face masks that could be used with the Oculus Rift. I did purchase some online which – while very expensive for what they were – stated they were compatible with the Rift. When they arrived I found that they were simply the wrong shape and size. Even after some fiddling, it was apparent that I would have to have them fit uncomfortably across the person’s mouth, which exposed the foam seal and effectively made them unhygienic. Alternatively, I could fit them across the nose which meant they would either slide up into the mask and obscure the person’s vision, or tilt upwards causing air expired from the nose to fog the lenses. This could have killed my ability to demo effectively to a large audience so I decided to get a little creative with some non-porous tape.
After some time and patience, I had created a very effective seal that was comfortable, unobtrusive and could easily be cleaned, without compromising the function of the foam. I tested this the night before the event with a couple of people who hadn’t tried VR before and the feedback I got was reassuringly positive. I will remember next time to test all of my critical equipment sooner, as this problem nearly grounded my efforts just a day before the main event.
The day went smoothly though, thanks in part to my planning but mostly through the helpful efforts of my partner, who acted as my cheerful assistant and promotional cheer-leading champion. We had set up, tested and had breakfast before the event began, which gave us a confident start that continued throughout the day.
Running this event was a great way for me to see first hand how VR sampled across a wide audience. It was interesting to talk to people and see what they thought about VR going in, as almost everyone I approached had not tried any kind of VR before, while those that had experienced it had only used smartphone VR platforms, such as Google Cardboard or Samsung Gear VR.
For the first hour, people were a bit wary of us at first and I found that I had to pro-actively approach people to get them to agree to a demo. However, after the first hour, we had a large swell of people of all ages crowding round, their attention fixed on the demo’s in progress. I knew going in that forming a queue would be difficult and maybe off-putting if the demo was a success, so between myself and my partner we tried our best to get as many people through at least one demo as efficiently as possible. The hours started falling off the clock before we knew it and interest remained high throughout the day, with some customers travelling from the opposite sides of the region to get their first taste.
The day was filled with many awesome interactions which challenged my expectations, as the – in my mind – most unlikely people embraced the technology on display and sprung to life in childlike curiosity and awe. Though there were some exceptions. One person didn’t like the feeling of being inside the headset, while another couldn’t get a clear image with or without his glasses, then one further still had to stop as a sudden motion had caused him to feel simulation sickness creeping in. Despite these unfortunate experiences, there were generally positive vibes and the moments of amazement and reverence not only made it worthwhile but also managed to get my client a significant boost in orders for VR equipment.
In reflection, the day was an outstanding success, which I attribute to the preparation activities as well as the quality of the technology that is now available. I also think I should thank my first customer, who was very patient with me and that helped a lot.
By providing this service I also learnt a lot for myself, as people gave lots of useful feedback on the games and experiences they were shown and this, in turn, revealed a lot about how different aspects of VR can be perceived, both positively and negatively. I will next be looking at improving upon and extending this service to local retailers in the future, with a view to taking my knowledge of VR and it’s audience to a deeper level of comprehension.