So what does it really take to deliver a virtual reality (VR) solution for an event?
As ever, it begins with identifying the key objectives, set features and, crucially, the role the user will play. “It’s not about creating VR experiences for the sake of it, it’s more about creating a compelling story in the virtual world that really engages the audience,” says Etienne Chia, VP digital and strategy, APAC, FreemanXP.
Make sure you have a clear idea of what you want to achieve, but be willing to listen to what is possible given the time and budget available.
According to Angus Chu, founder and COO at Don’t Believe in Style, a Hong Kong agency acquired by MCI Group in 2013, major variations occur in pricing and timeframe depending on the amount of content to be developed, the quality of the visuals required and the level of interaction.
“If the client already has some raw materials that only require processing and an idea of what they want to achieve then the charge is around US$10,000-20,000,” he says. “At the other end, we built a 15-minute virtual Halloween experience for a theme park in China and we had to build the characters and all the content from scratch so it was nearer US$200,000.”
The next consideration is the level of interaction. A basic immersive experience starts at US$15,000, heading above US$50,000 for custom interactions. A virtual store with the capability for users to try products on starts at around US$60,000.
Timelines usually vary from two weeks to six months, though Audi took a whopping four-and-a-half years to develop its virtual showroom. Chu recommends adding at least two weeks for testing.
The other key consideration is content delivery. There are two main options. The first has users inserting their smartphone into the VR headset to view the content (Samsung Gear, Archos VR Glasses, Google Cardboard). The second option is a headset with built-in screens and motion sensors that connects via cable to a desktop PC or console (Oculus Rift, HTC Vive).
Each has its pros and cons. Samsung Gear’s low price point (US$99) appeals though it only works with compatible Samsung smartphones. Oculus Rift is a premium experience, but is accompanied by premium pricing (US$399). Many agencies offer both these headsets for hire.
Google Cardboard is the most accessible —a compact, flat-pack handheld headset that can easily be customised and branded. At just US$15 and measuring 22cm by 11cm, they are often included with the invitation, as tickets à la Coachella, or given out at the event as a fun take-home.
“Experiencing content directly from the web makes it very accessible with no need for software plug-ins,” says Nathan Sturgess at Eye Revolution, a UK-based VR agency that has worked with the likes of Apple and Jaguar. “This works especially well if combined with the user’s own smartphone and a Google Cardboard headset.”