Virtual reality on the web: the future of digital agencies

Virtual-reality-on-the-web

by Gergana Y.

As tech junkies impatiently await for VR to finally swipe the mass market, immersive virtual experience is dubbed the next big thing for digital agencies, too. After all, it’s only natural that VR should excite the ever-curious creative professionals. At LensVR, we believe VR represents the strategic leap digital agencies need to make in order to differentiate themselves.

Digital agencies’ CEOs however undoubtedly face the dilemma: Does becoming an early VR adopter really scale against the risk of investing in the unknown?

Luckily, diversifying into VR does not need to come at a daunting cost. In fact, focusing on virtual reality on the web, in particular, is an intuitive extension of agencies’ current portfolios, and developing for a WebVR browser is a cost-savvy endeavor for marketers who are already creating for the web. Let us walk you through why.

All about the experience

The semantics of consumerism have changed. Audiences are more and more difficult to target, and brands do not really own the conversation anymore. Instead, they try to become part of it through the smart use of social and digital. While millennials get blamed for “killing off” the diamond industry, however, they also lust after and are willing to spend extra on unique experiences. In fact, successful digital agencies were among the first to discern that end-users crave experience above all else. And whether these experiences take place in the physical world or somewhere further along the XR continuum, it’s best if they are interactive and sharable – a key promise of the WebVR experience.

But it is not just audiences that crave to be emotionally moved by digital. As Forbes posted earlier this year, with a readily-available pool of skilled freelancers just a click away, digital agencies will have to become increasingly resourceful. To entice and keep their clients, marketers would need to position themselves as preferred strategic partners. They would have to offer not only services but continual guidance and a sense of “purpose” that would keep their own clients enthusiastic about the journey.

Let’s pause on this for a second. It seems that if digital agencies have to create experiences that keep both clients and target audiences on their toes, operating on the fringes of innovation is the only way to go.

Fringe is the new savvy

Resn, the 2016 winners of the agency of the year prize at Awwwards and CSS Design Awards, share the belief that pushing the frontiers is essential. From taking the time to redress their own website into a multitude of experiential graphics, to creating the first VR magazine cover, Resn seem committed to defining the experimental. And naturally, eyeing VR, Resn tell idealog that the focus should fall not on recreating, but on creating realities – or brand new mediums – for brands to tell their stories.

At this point, some digital agency execs are surely ready to counter. Yes, the endless possibilities of VR are widely celebrated, but VR it is also notoriously called out as a game of stalling. Few would risk developing for VR until that investment guarantees tapping into a mass market.

Still, a more detailed look on the ground tells a much more exciting story, and digital agencies may want to become part of thаt buzz. Amir Bozorgzadeh (@whiteboxamir) recently reported for Techcrunch that a thriving and tireless European VR community soberly approaches building virtual environments with a problem-solving mentality. In addition, a much-cited HTC Vive survey suggests a steep increase in the number of VR users in China. And the Chinese market, by the way, has also seen local tech players aggressively trying to come up with cheaper VR hardware, as Time wrote last year. Indeed, VR hardware has made notable strides, especially as lower-end options as Google Cardboard started to tantalize the appetite of the average user.

Crucially, although developing high-end VR experiences remains costly at this stage, digital agencies should not be content to wait idly until a much-expected “killer” technology brings native VR into the mainstream. Instead, we suggest you focus on WebVR, which offers creatives a viable and exciting alternative at a much lower cost. We believe that digital agencies can comfortably establish themselves as purveyors within the immersive realm of WebVR experience.

Why virtual reality on the web excites

Here’s what you need to know. WebVR allows users to navigate through various experiences with the help of their browser, regardless of the VR device they may use. Based on WebGL, the JavaScript interface used for rendering 3D website graphics, WebVR takes developers a giant leap forward and empowers them to conceive whole interactive 3D worlds.

At the same time, WebVR is still the easiest way to create immersive VR experiences, as it offers all the benefits of web technologies. Namely, getting started with WebVR is an intuitive process which lets newcomers tap into the collaborative and communal spirit of the developers working with WebVR’s open-source API. To top that, WebVR allows for fast iterations providing developers with a comfortable space for experimentation.

Above all, the good news is that digital agencies’ WebGL developers are already equipped to move on to WebVR. As for those who do not yet have skills in WebGL – there is no space for discouragement. We have shared our own example of how to grow talent internally. Through a simple tutorial, our newly-hired web developer got started with 3D and WebGL within a month, which in turn empowered him to create for WebVR. His success confirms our conviction that VR development should not be reserved only for those who have game engine knowledge. And from a business standpoint, betting on your own developers also means avoiding a taxing investment. Moreover, as the VR field is currently experiencing a sharp need for skilled developers, nurturing talent will undoubtedly pay off as the demand for WebVR content continues to swell.

But how does WebVR benefit digital agencies’ clients? Immersive experiences can help reimagine any businesses that rely heavily on the web. Aside from the ubiquitous gaming industry, media organizations like The Guardian also explore 360-degree capabilities through their very own virtual reality storytelling projects.In addition, the real estate industry has started to successfully utilize WebVR experience. In fact, customers who have been satisfied by their virtual home touring can now move on to pick their furniture without removing their VR headsets thanks to IKEA. Virtual reality on the web can reinvent the businesses’ online presence but also expose them to a whole new platform, which in turn expands their user exposure.

An-Ikea-Virtual-Reality-Kitchen-small

In addition, here at LensVR, we have seen how industries which do not necessarily focus on operating in the digital sphere can still take to the WebVR experience as a path to innovation. In particular, our WebVR Incubator revealed inspired examples of how immersive virtual experiences can help further the evolution of social causes, education, and healthcare. With whole services remodeled through WebVR, digital agencies’ clients would likely become more and more galvanized to recreate their own online presence into a VR experience.

A notable example of an agency which already successfully experiments with WebVR experience across different contexts is the award-winning Toronto-based Jam 3. The agency snatched a Cannes Lion for turning the Bear 71 documentary into a groundbreaking and emotive WebVR cross-examination of the interactions between animals, the human impact, and the meaning of surveillance. In addition to this social-awareness WebVR experience, Jam 3 also tapped into the entertainment industry with its Dunkirk WebVR. The game was developed in a collaboration with Warner Brothers and Google, and its gaze-based controls and fantastic sound effects add to the chilling sensation of a realistic combat experience.

Bear 71 from Jam3 on Vimeo.

Beyond the sandbox

Admittedly, WebVR still offers much room for improvement. Innately experimental, a WebVR experience naturally requires a large number of iterations in order to achieve the desired emotive outcomes.

WebVR was conceived as a platform that would work seamlessly across all VR headsets. At this point, however, users are still forced to choose the browser that complies best with the specifics of their headsets. At LensVR, we are set on resolving this issue and allowing users to navigate effortlessly through myriads of experiences with the help of our own WebVR browser, LensVR. LensVR attempts to fill in the void and become the go-to browser that integrates across all VR displays. In line with our commitment to inclusivity, LensVR also promotes a safe and collaborative environment in order to help cultivate raw talent.

There are further glitches in the WebVR experience to keep in mind, though: from the queasy experiences of some users, through problems in terms of how to position a virtual keyboard, buttons, and menus, as well as the artificial aftertaste of still-crude user interactions.

Different from the familiar 2D experience, VR UX is yet to shape through testing and revisions, and we have compiled some tips on UX in the hope to assist those of you who decide to add WebVR to their toolkits. But the flip side here is that this current lack of standardization also presents WebVR developers with the opportunity to develop and establish guidelines and solutions, as well as to draw inspiration from new collaborations.

In short, WebVR does not offer a smooth ride just yet. Still, we urge digital creatives to peer outside the sandbox. Beyond the technical flaws that will eventually clear through continual refinement, WebVR offers great benefits to digital agencies.

The excitement of innovation is contagious, and as noted earlier, this would help agencies to keep their clients intrigued. The process of refining customized WebVR experiences can take both digital agencies and their clients on an exciting creative journey that could ultimately foster B2B relations.

Collaboration can also extend to include end-users. Because content created for WebVR browsers is inherently discoverable, it has the potential to reach new audiences and bring better exposure to your work. Joining WebVR now is therefore crucial, as it would grant digital agencies an early glimpse into how end-users choose to curate and share WebVR experiences. Digital agencies can then take advantage of those insights and customize their experience, while also providing early end-users with an increasingly better UX. It appears that for the first time in a while – possibly since the advent of mobile – marketers have a chance to not only comply with but shape how end-users experience digital. Who wouldn’t be excited about that?

Contributor for LensVR: Gergana Y.

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