Whoah! Hold up there Google executives getting ready to write me a strongly worded Gmail.

It’s the Virtual Reality World Congress in our home town of Bristol this week, tonnes of devices are on show with content creators wearing and showing off their wares to over 2000 international guests.

And whether you’re into Playstation VR, the HTC Vive, the Oculus Rift, Samsung Gear VR or some other cool sounding alien thingy, I think, in fact I know, that Google Cardboard is brilliant for very different reasons. Seriously, if you don’t have it, go get it.

But, and I’m sorry to put this out there, there are two reasons Google needs to let go of Cardboard in its current form for the sake of VR.

  1. Consumers are missing out and not realising

There are some incredible virtual reality experiences out there now. One of my favourites is The Red Bull Air Race purely for the fun factor. Did I feel like I was there, with the plane, when I experienced it? No. But does it thrill me and take me closer to it than if I was just watching a video in a cinema or on a widescreen TV? Hell yes.

I think even Red Bull and Rewind, who teamed up to put that VR piece together would agree, it isn’t the most ‘real’ experience. The graphics are not ultra-real even when you get them flying past your eyes in HD at impressive speeds. It did however, push Oculus to its limits and it did push me into a reality I can’t explain even post event.

And I’m guessing, if you’re anything like me, you may have just clicked on the Red Bull link above and had a look at the video embedded on the web page, probably on your phone, and not really been blown away; maybe intrigued at best. Trust me, you can’t experience the magic of a virtual reality unless you experience it on the VR device it was built for. And when you do, it’s incredible.

That’s the problem; VR is incredibly hard to love unless you’re actually experiencing high quality VR with a high quality VR headset. As long as people’s perceptions of VR are driven by what they’ve seen on phones, top quality VR will always be on the fringes.

One solution is that phones get upgraded and end up with even faster processors and incredible stereoscopic graphics capabilities. Unlikely for a while.

My preferred solution is that we stop talking about VR on phones altogether. There’s nothing wrong with looking at the moon in the night sky as you’re walking along the River Avon by the VRWC this week and admiring its pearl beauty. But to suggest you see it in the same way, with the same fidelity, as with a modern telescope from the peak of a mountain is sheer nonsense.

  1. Brands are sensible in how they spend their money

I’m not going to list the types of ‘Reality’ here. There’s a lot and we’re all sort of making it up as new people produce new things – be it devices or content. Is Google Cardboard a part of that? Of course. But sadly, the simplicity of it is to the detriment of other creative options. Here’s why.

Everyone wants VR. Every brand, if they’re talking about visual marketing of some description, is thinking about what their next shiny VR piece could be and that could mean VR, AR, MR, 360 video or any of the types of reality that I said I wouldn’t list and mean very little to very few.

So here is a typical conversation that is happening in coffee shops, studios, and in big brand buildings all over the globe right now:

Studio: We provide VR content for companies to help set you apart from the crowd.

Client: I’d like a VR piece to market my product please.

Studio: We can do premium 3D CGI for a VR device for you.

Client: How much will it cost?

Studio: Quite a lot.

Client: How many people will see it?

Studio: Not that many, but we can do a 360 video that’s cheaper instead.

Client: How many people will see it?

Studio: Quite a lot.

Client: I’d prefer to go with 360 video please.

Admittedly, this isn’t the case for everyone because the world will always have wonderful risk takers and pioneers, and those with deep pockets, but for a large proportion of creative directors out there, this conversation will sound all too familiar. And until there is a clear understanding of what VR on VR devices offers, and what VR (or the lack of it) on phones with Cardboard around them offers, your average client will invest the majority of their marketing budget into what will get them the biggest reach and return on investment.

What needs to happen?

Google Cardboard is important for people’s first trip to simple, fun, low risk, low cost, low quality VR. And it has to stay for all of those reasons.

When PlayStation dominated the games market, I probably spent just as much time playing Snake on my Nokia 3310 as I did playing Metal Gear Solid. There’s a place for Google Cardboard for a long time yet, but we need to move it out of VR conversations and that should start with Google.


Dave says:

In the time honoured tradition of freaking out when someone suggests taking away your toys (even if that’s not what they’re saying), I have to say that you’ll never stop me talking about phones and VR in the same breath.
Not because mobile VR experiences are great (most of them aren’t) but because of the work being done by people like the developers of vRIdge/RiftCat and Trinus. How much of that relies on Google’s Cardboard API? I don’t know, but if it’s greater than zero, and scrapping cardboard affects these applications I’ll be hugely upset.
Believe me when I say, I’d *love* a Vive (or even Oculus + Touch) but I just don’t have the cash to get one. That being the case, using my old Note 3 (with a custom ROM) and vRidge gives me *almost* the same effect with titles that don’t need motion controls.
I’ve played with PSMoveService to get motion controllers working with my setup, and while it works well when it works, it’s a pain to keep calibrated, and you try finding a cheap PSMove controller with a battery that isn’t a decade old.
I’ve played and thoroughly enjoyed probably about 70% of the gamepad enabled VR games on Steam, and VR titles are now my go-to games. For a long standing gamer (25+ years) this is pretty remarkable. More so since I made the switch spending less than £30 (PSMove setup excluded).

So yeah, crappy mobile VR experiences are crappy, true enough. But using the 1920×1080 screen you already have in your pocket is perfectly viable when hooked up to a decent PC.

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