ow do I build a VR app?
With Facebook’s rebrand to Meta and its ambitions within the VR realm, virtual reality is going to be increasingly significant for marketing, games, social media, and a whole host of other applications. Creating VR experiences to complement a brand or expand its reach will be a growing focus for companies wanting to remain relevant in the years to come.
What Exactly is Virtual Reality?
As defined in the Merriam-Webster dictionary, virtual reality is “an artificial environment which is experienced through sensory stimuli (such as sights and sounds) provided by a computer and in which one’s actions partially determine what happens in the environment.”
Something this definition misses is that VR environments reproduce the sensation of moving within a three-dimensional space, even one which might be significantly bigger than the space the viewer is really inhabiting.
Modern VR headsets move the environment in sync with the speed, direction, and momentum of your head. Sound is also a significant component with innovations like binaural sound perfectly mimicking how real-world sounds when surrounding the subject and interacting with the human body.
There are even developments in haptic technology so that subjects can experience analogous physical sensations in their bodies when firing a weapon, picking up an object or simply touching something.
We may be some way from convincingly adding smell and taste into the web of sensory stimuli that can be programmed within VR, but there’s every reason to suspect that even this might be possible one day.
How is VR Distributed?
Hardware for the commercially available version of VR (as opposed to scientific or experimental technology) is currently distributed by three main players.
Oculus / Meta
This is the leading platform for VR gaming, owned by Meta Platforms (formerly Facebook). Even though this is probably the one VR brand that most tech-savvy people have heard of, the company is less than a decade old. Founded in 2012 with a Kickstarter campaign, founders Palmer Luckey, Brendan Iribe, Michael Antonov and Nate Mitchell sold their creation to Facebook in 2014 for an impressive $2.3 billion.
Oculus Quest 2 is their current generation of headset for all-in-one gaming and experiences (it doesn’t require a computer). Oculus Rift S is the latest version of their PC gaming version. There are hand controllers for each system. There are reportedly around 1800 apps and games for each version of the Oculus platform.
With Mark Zuckerberg’s recent announcements about Meta’s focus upon VR and social media, you might expect Oculus to forge closer links with Facebook and provide increasing opportunities for open VR development and collaboration.
This is the other big brand in popular VR gaming. HTC began as a notebook computer manufacturer in 1998, then developed into a handheld device company. The HTC brand dates from 2006 with a rebrand of their smartphone line.
In 2015, facing losses from increasing competition in the smartphone marketplace, HTC launched Vive, their first generation of VR headset, although it took 18 months for the company to report a profit from their virtual reality division.
HTC is heavily involved in esports promotion, sponsoring teams, and hosting tournaments, and is launching a VR influencer program. Vive headsets come in four variants, ranging from their enterprise version, Vive Focus, designed for commercial exploitation (such as VR escape rooms, real estate walk-throughs and virtual arcades) to Vive Flow, a lightweight system designed for wellness applications.
There’s even Vive Arts, bringing virtual reality access to the world’s most famous galleries and museums. The platform is more wide-ranging in its aspirations than Oculus, which has more of a gaming and social media focus at present.
Given its focus on movement, it’s little surprise that TikTok parent company ByteDance recently chose to acquire its own VR experience platform, Pico. Founded in 2015, Pico was the third biggest manufacturer of VR headsets prior to its acquisition for a reported $4 billion.
Pico is primarily an enterprise platform, but it also sells personal-use models in South-east Asia. Founded in San Francisco, Pico produces the Neo standalone series of headsets, currently on its third generation. It can play games designed for the PC and supports NVIDIA CloudXR streaming for “extended reality” (augmented reality) applications.
These are the main three platforms for VR games and apps, although there are smaller and more specialized companies too, including GenBasic, DYMCO and Magicsee, some of which make standalone systems and others which transform your device (Android, mainly) into a 3D screen.
The VR App Development Explosion
Collaborative platforms like the phenomenally successful Roblox have enabled developers to collaborate on unique VR experiences. Here are some remarkable stats on Roblox from their website:
· 9.5 million developers worldwide
· 24 million individual VR experiences
· 73.1 billion cumulative experience hours of engagement
· $761 billion total developer earnings
Roblox is just one of the numerous collaborative VR platforms out there. With figures like these, it’s no wonder Facebook has made a determined move into its VR Metaverse.
What Makes a Good VR App?
When planning an application to take advantage of the immersive experience, it’s important to answer three questions:
1. Does the concept suit a VR presentation? Is there anything inherently immersive in the idea that requires its translation into a virtual 3D environment? Good examples might include walk-throughs of wedding venues, virtual sculpture galleries, virtual laboratories or escape rooms. Bad examples would be anything whose essence can be more simply conveyed in two dimensions using standard interfaces — touchscreens, keyboards, mice and so forth.
2. Is the “experience loop” at the heart of the app satisfying? Every game or app has natural boundaries, and limits to what you can and can’t do. Within those necessary limits, can you provide enough interest, variety, and complexity to make the interactive aspect of the experience worthwhile? Sports games are always popular because the user expects a bound range of experiences, which fulfil very rigorously defined rules.
3. Can the idea be monetized easily? Given how expensive it can be to develop a new VR game or app (between $40,000 and $100,000) you want to make sure you can sell enough units, subscriptions, hardware add-ons, expansion packs or in-app purchases to make it worthwhile. If it’s a game, does the idea have the potential for sequels or spin-offs? If it’s an app to sell to corporate clients, is there a sufficiently large market? It can be hard to know how viable a new VR app will be until it hits the marketplace, especially if it is particularly innovative.
Once you’ve given satisfactory answers to these three questions, it’s time to focus on the VR development process itself.
Five Key Steps in a VR Development Process
There are five basic stages to developing a worthwhile VR application. Let’s go through them in turn.
1: Outline and refine all the aspects of your application.
As with any real-world building project, you must know exactly how many objects will need to be designed together with the physical properties that each one will need to have for the VR experience to feel real. Objects must have a look, a weight, and a material density (which will affect sound, speed of travel if thrown). You’ll need to work out how users interact with those objects, whether they can be lifted / thrown / altered et cetera.
2: Build your design and animation team.
Once you know the extent of the digital assets you need to create, you can assess the size of team and skillset mix you’ll need to employ. Remember to factor in both the environments and the objects within them. Assembling the perfect team will contribute significantly to the eventual success of the project.
3: Crew up your development team.
You’ll have to do this for both backend (behind the scenes programming) and frontend (visual interface). Your developers will most likely work on one of the two top collaborative platforms such as Unity or Unreal Engine, where they will find everything they need to get to work, incorporating the visual elements your designers are building.
4: Launch, Assess, Reiterate.
When you have a first version, then it’s time to launch your “proof of concept”. Then you can assess its success via analytics from the only people who matter — end users and customers. Plan to run several iterations before you can remove all the bugs and errors from the system, and tweak it to provide the perfect experience.
5: Choose the Right Partner.
The above processes can be optimized when you work with a full-stack VR tech firm like Wondour. From creating a VR planetarium for NASA to working with Harvard Medical School anti-aging researchers, Wondour is helping make the world’s boldest VR dreams a reality. We’ll help you integrate the hardware, software, and wetware (i.e., human) aspects of your design, and turn it from a passion project to a viable, marketable, and innovative VR product.
After a few false starts, the VR revolution is finally gathering pace, with all the big tech players getting in on the game. Don’t miss this opportunity to explore the boundless possibilities of virtual reality, augmented reality, and 3-D.
At Wondour, we’re always happy to hear your ideas, and help turn them into reality — virtual or otherwise!
Visit Wondour.com today or drop us a line.