As a teenager, my nephew spent so much time playing video games, we worried he might opt out of adulthood altogether to dedicate himself to his passion.
Turns out, we had nothing to fear — the hours he invested may have paid off in big brain dividends, according to psychological research. What I once thought of as an idle pursuit has been proven to help develop superior executive function, fluid intelligence and sharper memory.
Gaming as a competitive advantage
These days, gaming technologies such as augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) are moving out of the basements of young gamers and into the boardrooms of private and public sector organizations. These businesses are looking to differentiate themselves and improve their connection with customers and constituents.
Companies of all sizes and stripes are looking to immersive technologies for a competitive edge in brand awareness, employee training, customer confidence in products, testing customers preferences and collaboration. For example, retail giant Walmart is using Oculus Rift headsets at its training academies and retail stores across the U.S. to help employees get up to speed quickly on special events, customer service protocols and logistical best practices.
They’re not alone. A new report from research firm Altimeter predicts the combined market size for AR and VR is expected to grow from nearly $18 billion in 2018 to $215 billion in 2021. This underscores just how quickly immersive technology is expected to go mainstream.
VR development in Winnipeg
In Canada, there are about 200 companies working in the virtual reality space with more than 300 content projects in the works. Despite the fact it’s still early days, one company is proving there is a bonafide market and business case for the technology.
Daniel Blair, CEO and co-founder of Bit Space Development, a Winnipeg-based interactive digital media company that focuses developing B2B applications, has developed a VR application for the Manitoba Construction Sector Council around its Roadbuilders Safety Training Systems.
The 16-module training course is designed to give employees site-specific training via an immersive environment, says Blair. Using a VR headset and a controller, workers go through each module and complete assessments that test their comprehension of the material.
Getting schooled in a virtual world
Bit Space has also developed a VR application called IBEW Safety VR designed to teach school children what it’s like working in electrical trades.
“We took it to four northern communities in Manitoba and had about 400 kids try it. We surveyed them and had an overwhelming amount of positive feedback from the kids. It was very effective for getting through to younger generations,” Blair says.
One of the biggest challenges in developing immersive applications is making sure the experience fits with the vision of the organization, according to the founder.
“A lot of companies are not as exposed to interactive technologies. So it’s our responsibility to help them not only understand the power of the tech but understand what they’re buying,” he says. “Since we’re an agile studio, it’s really easy for us to pivot and change course to suit our clients’ needs, but some lessons can only be learned the hard way.”
Making the business case
For companies thinking about testing the immersive technology waters, Altimeter has identified five use cases for how to incorporate it into a business strategy:
1. Creating brand awareness: Companies looking to get noticed can use immersive technology to generate buzz on their products or services, says Omar Akhtar, industry analyst at Altimeter.
“Experiences such as inviting customers to interact with a celebrity hologram or to play games like Pokémon Go are effective at reaching a mass audience and generating positive brand sentiment,” he says.
2. Training employees: Immersive technology is an effective way of training employees on using new products, interacting with customers and responding to situations, Akhtar says. He notes it’s a faster and more compelling way to teach than handing out manuals or delivering information via PowerPoint presentations.
3. Testing and learning customer needs and preferences: Testing prototypes of new products with consumers can be an expensive and logistically challenging endeavour, but letting testers interact with a virtual prototype gives companies insight into consumer preferences, design issue and usage, says Akhtar.
4. Building customer trust and confidence in products: Immersive technologies offer companies a great way to demonstrate the value of their product to customers who might be skeptical, he says. He adds that it’s especially useful for products that are likely to elicit buyer’s remorse, such as luxury cars or big-ticket furniture.
5. Bringing people together: Companies that want to extend the reach of their events, bring communities of customers together or foster better communication among employees can benefit greatly from immersive technologies, Akhtar says.
“For example, a large, global organization might be able to bring together several teams from different countries in a simulation that feels as close to an in-person meeting as possible,” he says.