VR : Show Me The Money! — Business Models, Monetisation & Distribution — Part I
Children’s Media Conference, 2017
The success of any new industry that blends entertainment with technology will always be somewhat dependant on adoption by consumers, and the rebirth of virtual reality is no exception. With VR trending at the Children’s Media Conference 2017 it was clear that the discussion wouldn’t be complete without a conversation on the realities of business models.
This panel, produced and moderated by Matt Thomas, Senior Consultant at MTM London, explored where the real commercial opportunities are in VR for children raising questions over value, discoverability, adoption and cost.
Industry leaders Bobby Thandi, Co-Founder & CEO / VP Digital — XRGames / Dubit, Karen Boswell, Head of Innovations — adam&eveDDB, Chris Sizemore, Executive Editor, BBC Knowledge & Learning Online — BBC and Oscar Clark, Co-founder — Fundamentally Games, came together to discuss the way forward in the realities of business for kids and VR.
The Value Proposition
Oscar Clark of Fundamentally Games kicked the session off by quoting John Riccatello (CEO of Unity), predicting that it would be around 2023 before full adoption of VR is embedded into the media/entertainment industry. (http://www.etcentric.org/unity-ceo-reframes-xr-discussion-re-energizes-the-flock/)
Moderator Matt Thomas went on to ask for some best examples of VR experiences for children and Bobby Thandi immediately suggested to take a look at Job Simulator
— which continues to be tested in a controlled environment with 8–12 year olds at Dubit and has generated a revenue of over $3 million to date.
When questioned why this is a great example Bobby replied three-fold;
i) firstly that children can see their favourite YouTube stars walk through a task and they want to emulate it,
ii) secondly, that it enables children to do things they would never get the chance to in real life, he added that children loved the disruptive fun of pouring a coffee in VR and then throwing it across the room.
iii) thirdly, it enables children to move their hands and physical bodies in room-scale environments.
Bobby added to a topic that Marc Goodchild had brought up in the VR Ethics panel, which was that low poly graphics add to a suspension of disbelief for children in VR as it prevents them from falling into uncanny valley which breaks the immersion. Job Simulator allows kids to have open creative play, whilst also alleviating onboarding as they’re doing tasks that they usually know how to do.
Karen Boswell, Head of Innovations at adam&eveDDB and co-partner of Two Species with Resh Sidhu, went on to add the value of VR in creating responsible educational and engaging content for children to explore human anatomy, to travel to faraway destinations or planets, and how VR stands out against other educational content because of accessibility to schools and by teaching teachers and parents how to navigate the headsets (from cardboard to Oculus). In addition to this value, Karen encouraged quality rather than quantity to encourage great returnable or replayable experiences where a new piece is released to unpack a story that is suitable.
The greatest story ever created for children could be living behind a VR headset, but without consumer awareness, device adoption or a marketing campaign, how can it be found? Bobby Thandi spoke about WEARVR launching a child appropriate platform over the next couple of months where parents will find child-safe content. “There is a lot of interest from children’s entertainment brands, with over 3000 titles there now but these include horror and jump-scare games, so there needs to be a safe filter for children.”
BBC’s Chris Sizemore added that there has been R&D conducted by some of his colleagues, but the issue of discoverability remains strong if “nobody can see the content!” There are some great VR experiences on Steam and Oculus, but there are few families that own these devices. So what could be the answer to discoverability? Perhaps to take the VR experiences on tour, as installation or even to VR arcades, but this still restricts the scope of audience eyeballs on your VR story reaching hundreds rather than thousands at a time.
When considering consumer adoption of the devices Karen suggested that there are 2 things in play; hardware adoption — “parents can start their children with cardboard or even Daydream, but they will still need the right smartphone, although I am seeing more bundling options on the marketplace and VR headsets were amongst the most asked for Christmas presents last year.” Of course, some parents will buy the headsets and phones but we also need accessible models and an even larger barrier than adoption is stunning and suitable content for children. It was debated how we need to responsibly agree to consider the 7–12 year old user and not many creators are conducting satisfying human-centred design on what a child wants to get out of an immersive experience.
For centuries, children have wanted to be at the centre of their own stories, and as the smartphone didn’t replace television, the fact remains that more smartphones are sold than babies born every second. If we can find a way to raise the bar, and subsequently lift the bar, on responsible content for children and involve children by creating several entry points, we may be able to sway headset adoption whilst also controlling responsible content.
Chris Sizemore mentioned that his colleague Claire Stocks, Head of Interactive at BBC Children’s is interested in finding balance. There’s an urgency to continue research on the safety and demand for VR by children, balanced with a BBC remit to reach as wide as possible with every project. For the BBC Children’s the emphasis is currently more on AR and tablets, something children are using already, so perhaps that could be utilised as an additional consumer-facing entry point, although Oscar Clark wasn’t so sure we’re at the inevitable position of adoption yet.
Karen reminded the room that VR is no longer a fad and Mixed Realities are already being adopted by children and families. “There are enough trailblazers now for us to accept that mixed realities are here, even though press coverage is still providing mixed reviews. There is global excitement and hype and capital reports are predicting the market will be worth millions of dollars in the next few years.”
Bobby suggested that the tipping point is yet to come, but perhaps isn’t far away. “There’s so much investment in hardware, but it’s nothing without that killer content.” The point is, don’t wait for the tech or adoption tipping point, don’t let us get lost in a sea of mediocre content but prepare for that tipping point by establishing best practices, strategic and organic entrypoints and robust business models ready for that tipping point moment. The fact is that estimates suggest unit sales of premium consumer headsets are estimated at over 12m to date, with companies forecasting tens of millions of headsets in the market by 2018. Producers of kids’ content are rushing to the space, with major players like Discovery launching dedicated studios and pledging to invest millions in VR content over the next few years.
If you’re interested in the ongoing research that Dubit are conducting into VR & children, email Dubit at: firstname.lastname@example.org
This is Part I in a series that covers the Virtual Reality Thread, Exec Produced and curated by storycentral for Children’s Media Conference, Sheffield — July 2017.
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