Virtual Reality in the mainstream – In conversation with Dr Dave Ranyard
“People tend to write about VR like it hasn’t happened yet. I believe it’s a culmination of different technologies on different levels. You think of the amount of Alexas out there. That’s huge. Suddenly you become much more aware of all these things.”
Said Dr Dave Ranyard as he took some time off his busy schedule to discuss this subject with me. Dave is the CEO of Dream Reality Interactive, a VR and AR studio operating out of London.
Dave has a long history in the field of technology. Like his father, he is also involved in computer programming and content creation. Starting out as a gamer like so many of the industry professionals in the immersive field, Dave was interested in platformers and story-based games from an early age. From being a research student to working as a sound artist in the gaming industry, his focus veered towards immersive realities once he started working at Sony.
“I joined the PlayStation VR Studio in London, and we worked on a lot of exciting projects together. Some of our work included PlayStation VR Worlds, which is a collection of virtual reality experiences.”
Shift Towards Augmented Reality
Virtual and Augmented Realities are often treated as distinct elements. However, Dave doesn’t seem to agree. When asked his preference among the two, he said:
“To be honest, I think of these things, not as two separate binary entities. I see it more as immersive technology so that could be VR and AR but also elements like Artificial intelligence, speech and possibly geolocation all connected together.”
Dave’s interest in Augmented Reality began when his work shifted towards creating a crossover AR experience for PlayStation.
“I helped create a game called Wonder Book, and that really got me into it since it was a really creative project working with new technology doing something quite magical. That was my tipping point.”
The Wonder Book is an extended peripheral for the PlayStation 3 console which, when connected, brings AR elements to life. The book would interact like any other book.
Video by: Engadget YouTube
Dave became the head of the studio shortly after. That naturally gave him more creative freedom to work on new virtual experiences.
“When I finished that project, I became the studio head. I focused that studio onto VR because Sony had multiple planned projects for their headset, and we were excited about it, and we started working on it, and I haven’t really looked back.”
It can only go up from here
The virtual reality gaming industry has been gaining constant attention since the launch of Oculus’ first developer kit in mid-2013. With revenue set to rise to a combined 10.7 billion on all platforms by 2022, the future looks bright.
As Dave drives back to his home after a long day, he tells me how enthusiastic he feels. According to him, the potential in Oculus holds a massive return on investment.
“Oculus Quest is doing pretty well. They ran out of stock a couple of times actually. This is the first truly wireless headset. If you look at the forecasts, I did some numbers and estimates are 40 million VR headsets excluding mobile by 2022 and by 2023;50 million. I think that’s an interesting number. Oculus Quest 2 might be more interesting and might even reach the same popularity as the iPad.”
Despite being two different fields utilising this technology, both gaming and journalism have run into some common problems. A big one among them remains the lack of a stable market. Since interest in virtual reality borders on being niche, competition is also high.
Projects in action, Images by : Dream Reality (Use Arrows to browse images)
“Well, market size is a big challenge. Coming to funding, I could make a game for a flat-screen if I get above a certain quality level. You have to be one of the top three, or you make a loss. That’s hard. The market is unstable, but other challenges are lots, including input devices, lack of uniformity in terms of what things can do. Games publishers are off VR at the moment, it's taking a while to come true. That will change in a year.”
Dave further goes on to discuss a similar situation in the augmented reality market but remains hopeful about new possibilities in the coming 6-12 months.
“Those deals are starting to happen, so don’t lose faith just yet.”
360 Videos and Journalism
360 videos appear to be an integral part of virtual reality. However, for a creator working in a 3D environment, Dave has mixed thoughts.
“I mean, they have a place. I’ve never made one. It feels like it’s a bit in another place. It might appeal to people looking for a less immersive experience.”
360 videos are videos where the view of every direction is captured simultaneously and stitched together. These videos have mostly been used by documentary filmmakers and journalists experimenting in VR.
Dave’s news habits revolve around the BBC smartphone app along with browsing Reddit and Flipboard. I asked him if he was keen on trying VR journalism to which he said: “I don't go to the headset yet for news. I might go soon though, I use it every day. I might start as I'm one of the keener people if there was a good site.”
Virtual Reality and Enterprise
The birth of Microsoft HoloLens was aimed at providing businesses with a platform where wondrous things could be achieved. The possibility of moving beyond just gaming and into broader fields like medicine and journalism is daunting, but progress is still being made.
Through Microsoft's Mixed Reality, VR has been melded with AR and is progressing towards becoming more industry-friendly. Practical applications in fields like Medical are slowly taking up.
Video by:Case Western Reserve University
“I generally deal with entertainment, but we have work in health and education, but we don’t really talk about it. Enterprise is pretty good for VR as it does solve a lot of problems. Training in various areas like dealing with dangerous workspaces or getting mental therapy is just of the many possibilities. Virtual Reality is more than a platform for games, it’s a playground of possibilities.”