Virtual Reality brings great opportunity for creating immersive user experiences. Simultaneously, it poses a large number of challenges in front of the content creators. UX in VR is an unexplored field that captures the imagination of many. In this blog post, I will go over some of the major challenges that we, as innovators in the field of VR, will have to tackle.
What is the state of the VR hardware industry one year after Oculus launched the first consumer VR headset shortly followed by Gear VR? The good news is that more people have access to the technology due to the affordable prices of headsets such as Cardboard, Google Daydream View, and Sony PlayStation VR. The bad news is that all available headsets are still in early stages of development and are lacking in terms of power and capabilities.
High performance in VR
Content creators building experience for VR must be acutely aware of the performance of their apps. In VR, stuttering, omission of frames, etc. will make the users feel sick.The targeted frame rate for mobile is 60fps, while for PC is 90fps. This is quite easy reachable with simple apps but is increasingly hard with the growing complexity of the app/game. Also, the various headsets have different capabilities, which means that an experience that runs smoothly on one platform could stutter on another.
Low resolution displays
The most popular headsets offer a decent resolution of 1200×1080 which is still pretty low for a complex 3D Virtual Reality experience:
When a device is placed close to one’s eyes, the image does not look crisp. A normal human eye with 20/20 acuity is able to distinguish maximum~60 pixels in one degree of sight. This means that a regular 4.7 inches display with 1334X750 should be placed at a 16 inches distance from the face. So, in VR to get a crisp image we will need an 8K display per eye. The maximal resolution VR headset offers 4K and was developed by the Chinese company PIMAX.
Support for native interactions
Interactions in VR still do not feel natural, we cannot just stretch and grab an object – we have to use controllers which affect the experience. Also, the VR controllers could cause a lot of frustration when the users first start using them. Ultimately, either we will come up with a technology (for example Leap Motion) that will allow the users to freely interact by using hands or we will establish a new way of interaction which will become the natural way to communicate in VR. For example, one new way of interaction introduced because of the limitations of VR is called “magic wand” which allows you to interact with objects no matter of the distance.
VR leads to such a huge change in technology that the user experience patterns we know today basically do not exist. There are NO Rules yet and we need to experiment and discover them.
Text in VR
The low resolution of the VR displays mostly affect the texts, which look blurred and are difficult to read. To overcome that, currently, most of the creators increase the size of the text. This results in text so big that only a small portion of it could fit the viewer’s focus zone. Based on a research on comfortable viewing areas, Sam Applebee & Alex Deruette define an area of 1200 × 600 pixels for a viewer’s comfortable focus zone out of the 360-degree environment (3600 x 1800 pixels).
Just imagine in how many ways we can improve the user experience once not limited by the flat, 2D world. I get goosebumps when I think about that! For example, we can use common video game UX techniques to guide the user through the experience. If you think about it video games are the closest we could get to VR – they create a new world and aim at immersing the user in it. Use light to illuminate parts of the scene to drag the user’s attention or sound to guide her through the experience. A great example is an experience developed by the Google Cardboard team called Cardboard Design Lab.
Image: Cardboard Design Lab
Safety & Comfort
A priority concern, of all content creators in VR, should be the user safety and comfort. In VR the experience is much more engaging than anything else the user is familiar with. If a malware website could steal our personal data or even crash the device we are using, imagine what it could do in VR. Such concerns raise UX questions such as how a user would browse the web, go between websites, or even read his email safely in VR.
User comfort in VR covers both topics of environmental and interaction comfort. When designing an experience for VR, we should consider that it is designed for a broad range of people. Some might have a fear of heights, animals, etc and feel very uncomfortable placed in such an environment. Therefore, the best case scenario is to give the user control over the environment.
Social Aspect of VR
One of my strongest concerns about VR is how it will affect us psychologically. Humans are social animals who need to interact with other humans. With the technological development, we have gradually moved our interactions away from the physical to the digital world. Once VR becomes a standard medium of connection, we will be even more isolated than we are now. Imagine how everyone stays at home and meets people in some VR environment. We should offer a way for people to comfortably spend time with their friends, and share emotions and experiences without feeling lonely. A lot of start-ups are leading the way in this direction- for example AltspaceVR is developing common VR spaces in which you can hang out with friends or meet new people.
One issue which such companies are working on resolving is how the users should look like in the Virtual world. The technology is not yet good enough to create realistic human avatars and realistic movements so it turns out that most users prefer using cartoonish or non-realistic avatars.
Image: AltSpaceVR, Women in VR event
The VR industry is still very young, so there are few researches and resources which could help content creators shape an immersive UX in VR. Still, a growing number of people are starting to experiment in VR and are more than happy to share their discoveries. My team and I are also part of this community of early pioneers who are excited to play around with VR. I will share our discoveries here in the form of blog posts and tutorials. Stay tuned and let’s enjoy this crazy VR ride together!
Author: Billy Vacheva, Twitter