Bringing Technology to Life, and Life to Technology: IRIS VR’s Blair Renaud on Developing for Virtual Reality

Bringing Technology to Life, and Life to Technology: IRIS VR’s Blair Renaud on Developing for Virtual Reality

Blair Renaud

Developing for virtual reality needs to be a creative and uniquely tailored process, not just an existing idea dumped into the VR environment.


Virtual reality (aka VR) is a brand new medium in every sense of the word. As VR emerges, companies and developers are rushing into the space — but many people, on both the commercial and consumer sides, are still in the dark about the possibilities and the challenges it presents. While VR offers the potential for an unprecedented user experience, it can only be as strong as its content, marketing, and developers — so when getting in on the ground floor of the VR movement, keep these tips in mind.


Go Back to the Drawing Board


Many developers enter the VR space thinking about how to transfer content from other media to the platform — and that just doesn’t work. Unless your app was designed for a 360 degree platform from the beginning, adapting it to a VR environment poses an enormous challenge. You can’t just slap on a fresh coat of paint — you have to rebuild it from the ground up. And sometimes, that will mean having to completely rethink the app that serves as your blueprint. Unfortunately, just because you have a great idea on paper doesn’t mean it will translate over when applied to the VR environment.


But more than that, you should let VR inspire you to come up with wholly original ideas. Think of its unique offerings — a full range of vision, deeply interactive controls, and a totally immersive experience — and use those as the building blocks for whatever you create. Personally, I spend about 3-4 hours per day in the VR environment — it’s the single best way to refine your app. You may realize what your app really needs is updated graphics, a more stable view, or even a giant robot coming out of that left window.


Throw Traditional Marketing Out the Window


Marketing VR is tough, since traditional methods like commercials, videos and social media can’t really capture the full user experience. Just like with content development, the thinking and execution around VR marketing has to be adapted to reflect the medium as accurately as possible. And to really make sure that potential consumers fully grasp the transformative nature of VR, they need to get a taste of the actual experience in a compelling way.


While this is easier said than done, a set of VR marketing best practices is already emerging. The clearest choice at the moment is to demo your content at consumer tech trade shows and events — not only does this allow folks to fully experience VR as it was meant to be, it also ensures that you’re reaching an audience that’s already interested in what you have to offer (ie, more likely to buy). If, for whatever reason, this isn’t an option for you, get creative: try producing a video that splices video of gameplay with footage of someone using the gear, or write up a captivating blog post as a teaser. With mobile VR taking off, you want to make sure you’re in the best market position possible before it becomes mainstream.


Think Future-Forward


Developers know this better than anyone else, but it bears repeating: technology can change in an instant. And while consumer adoption of VR will likely be a longer process than, say, personal computers in the late 90s/early 2000s, we’re still probably going to see around 500,000 headsets delivered to the market over the next 12 months. And popularity will only grow from there, so for long-lasting success, make sure to iterate early and often.


Again, as developers, you’re probably already keeping on top of forums, tech publications and social media, but I can’t stress enough what great resources these are in helping you to discover the next big thing in VR. In particular, I’ve been hearing a lot of buzz on social media integration, photorealistic characters and in-app purchases / premium models. If done well, things like these can inspire developers to create more content, boost adoption, and ultimately kick off the VR revolution.


Blair Renaud is the CEO & Lead Developer at IRIS VR and a member of the Oculus and Samsung Developer Community.