virtual reality

Virtual Future – how will virtual reality shape our future world?

Part 2:  VR beyond gaming

More than just a game

In our last blog we began our discussion of VR by looking at what the future may hold in store for this technology in the world of computer games.  However, whilst gaming still represents the most widely used application for VR and AR at present, this technology has many other applications.

In this article, we would like to take a closer look the potential for these.

Remote working

One of the huge changes covid has forced on our professional lives is the need for virtual working.  The business world has discovered that it is perfectly possible for most office staff to work effectively from home for long periods of time.  Indeed, tools like Zoom and Microsoft Teams have helped to make home working become the new normal.

But a remote working world, for all its video calls, can be an isolating experience.  Yes, we will be returning to the office sometime this year.  But let’s not kid ourselves it will be the same.  Many people will now be working from home as the norm and hot desking in the office when they need to.  The days of the daily commute, five days a week, every week, are gone.

This remote working scenario is ripe for transformation into a virtual world.  Using VR and AR technology can help to humanise the experience, it can make it more real, more interactive and allow work colleagues to participate in a wider range of interactive tasks.

This technology is already here.  One such solution is Spatial; an AR version of Zoom, enabling work colleagues to interact in an AR office space.  You can interact in a more 3D environment rather than just with 2-dimensional video but the technology also offers other tools such as enabling you to share ideas by scribbling on a virtual white board, share content and images in 3D and so on.  No doubt, as time goes by, technology such as this will continue to add features and tools that make the experience even more interactive.


In lockdown we have all, to some extent or other, been forced to get used to the idea of remote socialising.  Often armed with a glass of wine and a Zoom call.  Arguably many Gen Zs have been socialising remotely far more than they do in person for most of their lives.  The only thing that’s changed over the past year is that the rest of us have joined them.

Now, I’m not suggesting people are going to abandon the pubs and restaurants any time soon.  In fact, once these places can re-open, I’m sure they can expect a bit of a boom.  Imagine the novelty value of going to the pub with your friends again? 

But that said, I suspect that socialising remotely will remain a much more important part of our lives post-covid than it was before.  For one thing it is a great way to meet up with friends and family who live far away.  No need to travel, just hop on a Zoom call.

Again, as with working, remote socialising tends to lead naturally to virtual socialising.  The ability to interact in 3D in a virtual environment is unlikely to catch on if it is expensive but – as soon as the price is right – this will eventually become a normal way of communicating.  As with virtual reality workspaces, it is more a question of when than if.

Indeed, tools already exist for virtual socialising such as Altspace VR, VR Chat and Rec Room.

Interior Design and Architecture

An obvious application for VR and AR is interior design.  Using this technology a designer can show their clients how they might transform an interior space.  Such a visualisation can make a design look far more real and can be used to show clients what a range of different alternatives might look like. 

Such technology should ultimately make it easy for people to visualise a range of different options and to alter and adjust designs to see how different scenarios might play out.  And what goes for interior design applies equally well to architecture.  Now it is possible to visit an empty plot of land or a building site and use AR to see exactly what a new building might look like.  You can even walk around it to see just what it looks like in its environment from every angle.

Many clients find it hard to visualise what an end design might look like.  VR can show them in a way that is clear, avoids misunderstanding and negates the need for lengthy explanations.

Having a clear virtual view of what the end product will look like before you even need to build, buy or change anything, clearly has the potential to avoid costly mistakes.   Most importantly, it makes it much less likely that designers and builders will hear the dreaded words “Now I see it, I’m not sure I like it like that.”

Engineering and Industrial Design

Technical design work can often involve large teams and often those teams may be working together but are based in different parts of the world.

Here VR/AR has the same potential as in other fields to link remote working colleagues together and enable them to visualise concepts and designs in 3-dimensions.

People can all see how things might fit together and how the finished article might look.  This can be particularly important if the physical styling and appearance of the end product is key.  It is much better to spot potential problems in a virtual world and correct them, rather than having to wait until an expensive prototype has been created.

Like architecture, the key benefits will come from remote teamworking and the ability to visualise the end product fully before you need to start spending serious money on making it real.

As with other fields, the barriers will be all around cost and, given the data hungry nature of engineering design work, the ability of the technology to cope well with that.  The ROI will become simpler and easier to justify, as the technology improves and costs come down.

Some companies have already been using this technology for a while now.  Businesses like Jaguar Land Rover and Arup have been deploying VR in design for over a decade.  In time smaller businesses will inevitably follow.


Another field where we might expect to see VR make increasing inroads is healthcare.  Here the technology can be used for training in various surgical procedures.  It can also be used to help surgeons plan for particularly complex operations.

Students can now study human anatomy extensively with VR, potentially continuing their studies from home if need be.

VR can assist with robotic surgery enhancing the degree of control a remote surgeon has over their instruments during a procedure and providing them with a much clearer visualisation of what is happening than would be possible just by looking at a video screen.

Other Applications

VR’s inherent ability to visualise and simulate makes it ideal for any training application where people need to interact with complex technology or a difficult environment.  It can safely create realistic simulations that help prepare people for working in demanding and potentially dangerous work environments.  It also enables students and tutors who may be scattered in remote locations to come together and interact as a group.

As the technology improves and the costs come down, it is inevitable that we will see VR become increasingly used as a go-to technology for many training applications.

Clearly the primary application for VR in entertainment is gaming.  However, this is not the only one.  VR can be used to enhance rides in theme parks or perhaps even to create an entire VR experience as a theme in itself.

VR can create spectacular interactive 3-dimensional landscapes and environments.  The potential to use this technology to create something of great artistic beauty can deliver entertainment in the form of a sense of wonder.

Could we perhaps be engaging with VR films or other entertainment experiences in the future?  I am sure we will, in time.

The Future

Given the wide range of different potential applications we could be looking at a world dominated by VR technology at some point in the future.

The fact that covid has rapidly accelerated the extent to which the world works and interacts remotely can only serve as an accelerator for the adoption of new VR applications.  The only question is how fast will this happen?

Unfortunately, VR has suffered considerably from over-hype in the past.  I am sure we can all remember the heady prophecies of 800% growth over four years and such like.  In a way, predictions such as that have done more harm than good for the industry and run the risk of creating a sense of the “boy who cried wolf”.

We may not see a sudden, spectacular, VR revolution but I believe we will see a steady evolution and a sustained growth.  One day we will wake up and all of a sudden it will seem as though VR is everywhere.

For the VR industry it is important to remember that VR itself is only a technology.  For a technology to succeed it must have applications.  So the real challenge, beyond improving the technology, is to identify and develop a meaningful range of products for which there is real demand.  And here it helps to start by taking some advice from Steve Jobs:

You’ve got to start with the customer experience and work back toward the technology, not the other way around.” 

In this context that means looking for potential situations that would benefit from the visual power of VR – i.e. where visualisation can add real value.  Its other key benefit is its ability to operate virtually, bring people in different locations together in a single experience.  Those two things in combination represent the key to developing killer applications.

Identifying and refining how these applications work, overcoming customer objections and reservations and then successfully communicating the benefits of the technology all require a good understanding of the potential market.  This would be where market research can help of course.

About Synchronix

Synchronix is a full-service market research agency.  We believe in using market research to help our clients understand how best to prepare for the future.  That means understanding change – whether that be changes in technology, culture, attitudes or behaviour. 

We provide a wide range of market research and data services.  You can learn more about our services on our website.  Also, please check out our collection of free research guides for more information on specific services offers.

Sources & Links:


VR Chat 

Altspace VR

Rec Room

British Interior Design Institute


New Medical


VR in action

Virtual Future – how will virtual reality shape our future world?

Part 1: VR Gaming

The Boom that Cried Wolf

“The Virtual Reality Boom.” So read the title of an Op Ed (written by a source which I will not name to spare their blushes) that was originally published in the summer of 2016.  Now, four and a half years later, no sign of that boom yet.

It seems at the start of most years since then, more than one source will have predicted that VR’s time has come. 

I am sure I am not the only one who can recall seeing countless predictions that VR is set to grow by a factor of eight – ten – twelve over the next two – four – five years…  Funny how charts like that always seem to be talking about what will happen rather than showing us such spectacular evidence for growth that has happened.

Of course, VR has grown and the past few years have seen significant improvements in the technology.  But this progress is a long way from the “boom” we’ve been so frequently over promised.   So why is this?  And, perhaps more importantly, what does the future really have in store for us from this technology?

VR for Gaming

At present the primary (but by no means the only) application for VR remains gaming.  In this first blog I will focus on VR in gaming but it is important to say that this technology has important applications in other fields as well.  Part 2 of this series will focus more on other uses of VR but, to begin with, it makes sense to focus on the most widely used VR application.

However, even when we focus on gaming, it remains the case that VR remains very much a niche interest.  The biggest success to-date in terms of VR/AR (Augmented Reality) gaming has undoubtedly been Pokemon-Go which took the world by storm in 2016/17.  However, such a spectacular success has not been repeated since.  Alyx was the big VR hit of 2020, eventually pushing its way up to 2-5 million Steam users.  That’s good but compared to the 500 million downloads for Pokemon-Go in its launch year, it is small potatoes.  So why is it that the success of the Pokemon game has never been repeated?

The answer to all these questions lies in understanding the essence of what it is that VR/AR has to offer – what is it about this technology that makes it appealing?  Equally important is to understand its limitations – what is holding it back?

The Barriers to Adoption

We are all probably familiar, one way or another, with the reasons why some people don’t go for VR gaming.  These reasons are mainly a function of the limitations of the technology as it stands today.  But some of them may relate to a lack of choice and variety of different forms of gameplay experience within the category.

Cost is clearly one barrier.  Not everyone is willing to pay for all the extra kit needed to enter into the VR world.  Costs have come down but the fact still remains that you need to be prepared to put your hand in your pocket to join the VR universe.

Another limitation is the availability of a wide variety of different games to play in VR.  There is definitely more choice than was once the case but the fact that VR still represents a niche area for the gaming world, has limited the availability of content.  You could say it is almost a catch 22 situation.  Many people are reluctant to develop content for it because it is a niche interest category but, on the other hand, it remains niche in no small part because the more limited range of content limits growth.

True, the equipment now is lighter in weight, less clunky and as wireless tech is more available, less awkward to use.  But there is still some way to go as far as that is concerned.  Most headsets are still fairly bulky and some people find it uncomfortable.  Here, we can expect things to continually improve and there are some potentially interesting developments on the horizon such as Apple’s Smart Glass project.  However, this still seems a ways off and it is likely we will need to wait until 2023 before we start seeing this new generation of technology really hit the market.

Consumer Attitudes

In fact you only need to look on gaming forums to encounter some of the key objections the technology needs to overcome.  Here some examples of gamer comments that will sound familiar.

Space is an issue for games that aren’t made for sitting as you play.

Some people only have very limited space in which to play.  So they need games that don’t require you to move around a lot – or at least they need the option to play a game in a mode that allows them to remain seated.

The other issue is that motion controls are not for everyone and to attract people who dislike motion control will require a significant amount of good quality non-motion control based content.

For me, motion controls consistently break the 4th wall and gameplay by not being as responsive or precise as I want them to be, so I actually feel more immersed when using a gamepad, but a lot of the VR games use motion controls

And some people still experience physical problems when using VR kit:

it has made my motion sickness go into hyper drive. 

when I wear glasses, it is kind of a chore

To my mind one of the most significant objections raised was this:

VR games still seem like glorified tech demos to me.

Now there are some VR/AR games that have enjoyed a lot of success, so in these cases it would seem that we are dealing with games that have managed to evolve beyond being tech gimmicks into offering something else.  But what is the secret of their success?

The Ingredients of Success

In a sense the success of Alyx provides a glimpse of what it is about VR that people like.  However, some elements of its success have nothing to do with VR.  In particular, it is part of an already established franchise with a ready made fan base that it could tap into (an ingredient that Pokemon also had).  However, beyond that, it was able to tap into some of the strengths of VR technology and this was able to give it an appeal that other VR games perhaps lack. 

Most importantly, Alyx was designed to be a VR game from the start – not a standard PC or console game that then gets retrofitted to suit VR.  That has enabled it to make optimum use of what VR could do, rather than try to crowbar it in as an afterthought.

The result is a game that is suited to get the most out of the media in which it is presented.  This is a key element it shares with Pokemon-Go.

Pokemon-Go is the ideal AR game.  Why? Because the Pokemon universe is our universe (but including Pokemons!).  Anyone who has watched the original cartoons with Ash and friends will know that the world of Pokemon is not some bizarre fantasy or sci-fi universe, but rather a form of contemporary fantasy.  The stories all appear to be set in our world except that they also feature the addition of Pokemon.  That means that an AR representation of our own world with cartoon Pokemon characters aligns perfectly with the concept.

The key ingredients of Pokemon-Go and Alyx that helped make them successful, is the ability to make the most of the technology in a manner that suits the game and the gaming universe.  There has to be a fit and that fit has to be a seamless one.

The “Gimmick” Risk

When VR games are designed primarily to show off technical trickery, they run the risk of looking like glorified tech demos – superficially impressive, but ultimately unfulfilling (rather like the worst that ‘3D’ cinema has to offer).  The further VR can get away from the gimmicky tricks and focus more on using the technology to deliver a truly immersive and engaging experience the more successful it will be.

Another successful game in the VR field worth mentioning is Skyrim.  No doubt it owes much of its success to its devoted fanbase in the wider gaming world.

Skyrim, whilst not specifically designed for VR , nevertheless clearly had something about it that made it appealing.  Why? 

To answer that you only have to ask what made Skyrim so engaging in the first place, which you can answer by reading any gamer forum where that question is put to fans.  One such response illustrates a key point about this game:

Blackreach was my favorite part of Skyrim. It captured that sense of wonder …  in spades, mixing a unique aesthetic, with a fantastic ambiance 

The wonder and visual experience of encountering a fantastically realised environment (like Blackreach in Skyrim) is an experience that can showcase the very best that VR has to offer.

At the end of the day, what makes VR better than ordinary gaming comes down to its ability to visually immerse you in a fantastic virtual world.  If you are not using VR to achieve that then, at the end of the day, you run the risk that all you are offering is a technical gimmick.

About Synchronix

Synchronix is a full-service market research agency.  We believe in using market research to help our clients understand how best to prepare for the future.  That means understanding change – whether that be changes in technology, culture, attitudes or behaviour. 

We provide a wide range of market research and data services.  You can learn more about our services on our website.  Also, please check out our collection of free research guides for more information on specific services offers.


The Ringer




PC Gamer


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