In the last 24-months virtual reality equipment and devices have been moving toward wider public use. Specifically, head-mounted display’s (HMD) have become widely available in commercial sectors and more affordable consumer versions have begun hitting the market. Both advances have increased interest and excitement for the technology. Commercial use alone has seen expected growth in revenue from virtual reality head-mounted displays from $US 685 million 2015 to $US 3.89 billion by 2018.
Companies like Sony, HTC, and, most famously, Oculus VR have been generating buzz for VR gaming and social experiences created specifically for everyday media users. Last year, Oculus VR was acquired by Facebook and began exploring the integration of VR and social media via gaming and social networks — a concept in which more than 44% of Americans are heavily interested.
Burgeoning investments of time and money into this quickly budding industry are helping turn revenues from virtual reality products (both hardware and software) from $US 90 million in 2014 to $US 5.2 billion by 2018. Further, projections suggest that the market itself will grow to over 28 million paying customers and 171 million active virtual reality users in the next two years. These explosive market opportunities are motivating companies such as Oculus VR to experiment with person-to-person interactions and social conversations. Samsung and Google are also working hard to create VR equipment that is less expensive and more suited for the everyday user through projects like Google Cardboard and Gear VR. The democratization of VR cameras and playback hardware equates to lower entrance costs which also bodes well for continued industry expansion.
So why do people think social media and virtual reality is such a great mix? According to social specialist Will Mason: “social media in its current state has resulted in fractured and less personal social interactions. We may be connecting with more people that we had in the past, but those connections are nowhere near as deep and personal as they have been for generations in the past.” VR may be the answer to reviving personal connections through the social world because it allows genuine face-to-face interaction, the addition of body language and appreciation for non-verbal cues. Mason went on to say that “the Internet has made us boisterous, and anonymity has arguably made us less human. Look at the way people tend to behave online, it can bring out the worst in people,” which is another way VR can be so useful. By putting faces to names and social media content, there will be a new rhetoric and dynamic created between internet users that will encourage less hostility and “trolling.”