M&E Journal: Virtual Reality Analytics Mean Real World Value For Marketers

By Marc Jensen, space150

According to Deloitte, Virtual Reality (VR) will have its first $1 billion year in 2016, with about $700 million in hardware sales, and the remainder from content. Brands, entertainment companies and studios across the globe are devising their VR strategies. In fact, last month STX Entertainment acquired Surreal Inc., a producer and distributor of immersive content, to create a new immersive division. VR Investment is very strong in the US and globally, with China standing out (Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent).

One of the most powerful, overlooked–and potentially controversial– applications of VR is the analytics behind those immersive user experiences.

First, let’s set the stage. As long as video games have been around, game developers have been using feedback to improve the gaming experience. Things started with in-person focus groups and testing, and watching how players played, where they got stuck, and how they could improve the experience. As games came online, this gameplay telemetry data (describing the collection of data over a distance) was collected and aggregated to provide feedback from many game sessions.

Modern PC, console, and mobile games can provide amazingly rich data (definitely “big data” territory) that range from player inputs, to paths through the world, to progression metrics. For competitive multiplayer games, this is critical for designing maps that deliver on gameplay goals for a specific game or level. Some games, like Titanfall and Left for Dead, use artificial intelligence (AI) controlled “directors” to steer the gameplay based on each specific gameplay session. In fact, the Battlefield series from Electronic Arts generates over 1TB of telemetry data per day, while some more popular mobile games can generate over 150TB of data per day.

Virtual Reality telemetry + analytics

The emergence of VR and Augmented Reality (AR) will extend this far beyond the joysticks, keyboards, and mice of traditional gaming. Today, the HTC Vive “room-scale” VR system, one of the most popular systems, allows users to move around in a 20 x 20-foot area with a full six degrees of freedom for the headset and controllers.

Given this, the following input information is available when creating and designing experiences:

1. Player head position, orientation, and height – In addition to the position of the head and the direction they are looking, any “room scale” VR experience also knows the height of the player, because the headset is tracked in real world space.

2. Player hand position, orientation, and control inputs – this information tells us where exactly the player’s hands are, and what are they doing, and what buttons they are pressing. In addition, it can measure how fast and with what intensity those motions are taking place.

3. Finally, eye-tracking, while not widely available now, will be integrated into headsets very soon. This opens up possibilities for understanding gaze, attention and how long that view is held (focus).

The information around head movement and orientation is ultimately the key thing that VR is built on, and the feeling of presence within VR is due to this. The raw data from these systems is often converted into higher level gestures (hand waving, for instance), but the raw data is always available to the developer of the experience.

In addition to gestures, tracking where someone is looking is often a trigger to drive an experience forward. The Oculus Rift offers similar information to the developers, and future iterations of VR hardware will likely include eye tracking, hand tracking, and potentially more. With VR we’ve moved from tracking the input of devices to tracking the direct motion of people.

For media and entertainment marketers, these metrics have a number of implications and create multiple opportunities:

Better experiences

VR will only continue to expand to impact both physical and digital experiences. With heat mapping, eye-tracking and integration with biometrics like heartbeat, entertainment marketers will be able to understand how audiences are physically reacting to experiences. We can better understand where eyes are landing and how long the user’s gaze stays. With this rich information and tracking, we can create much more compelling experiences, and have the ability to track motion to amazing degrees of accuracy.

For entertainment marketers, the ability to understand how consumers will interpret physical spaces and how those spaces resonate will usher in a new era of design. Imagine designing a haunted house to produce an exact heart rate increase and knowing exactly where people will look and placing a zombie with precision. This same technique combined with real-time feedback will be used to tailor experiences for a specific individual.

Understand monetization potential

Building on that understanding of how these experiences resonate and produce reaction, ads and branded experiences can secure specific ROE, or return-on-experience. VR already showcases strong time-in-experience metrics. As such, marketers can better understand and sell the value of these experiences to brands.

Right now, brands are experimenting with VR advertising as it relates to in-experience banners or branded experiences, but it’s easy to imagine a world where brands could pursue a certain emotive response to content–perfume ads that trigger those butterflies in your stomach of meeting someone new, for example.

A new interaction paradigm

VR gives us the ability to create amazingly rich and compelling branded experiences like never before. VR brings presence in a way that was just not possible before. There is incredible opportunity to incorporate and understand action to create experiences that pull users in and keep them there.

Early results show that when people start a VR session, they spend a long time in a given experience, and if it’s compelling, they stay engaged. This is very different from the short “micromoments” of mobile, and requires new and different thinking.

This is new territory and features like eyetracking are just now being rolled out on these platforms. However, as we learned with mobile and social, the innovations will move fast here. The brands and marketers that can understand, create, test and learn will be best equipped to tap into the amazing potential of VR moving forward. All of this potential must be balanced with providing a compelling experience for users, so it’s a fair deal.

Openness and transparency are key here. We are in a place where success has yet to be defined and the metrics that matter are still being sorted out, but that will soon change and it is up to us to define.

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