The Case for Keeping Virtual Reality in Browser

The Case for Keeping Virtual Reality in Browser

When you think of virtual reality, what comes to mind? Probably something like the Oculus Rift or HTC Vive. The thing is, virtual reality is not synonymous with expensive headsets. Or at least it shouldn’t be.

Take IMAX theaters, for example. Big film studios don’t just make movies that can only be experienced in IMAX theaters. IMAX is just one way through which movies are watched. The same is true of VR headsets and immersive, 360 degree digital experiences.

When you require a visitor to download an app and purchase specific hardware like HTC Vive or Oculus Rift, you immediately narrow your reach before your experience even comes to market. It’s like releasing a blockbuster movie that is only going to play in an IMAX theater. Sure, you’ve created this cool software experience that can be interacted with using the latest technology, but what does that matter if only a percentage of your potential market will see it? After all, only 2 percent of households with broadband own a VR headset. Beyond that, U.S. smartphone users download an average of zero apps per month. You’ve just put your eggs in one very selective and expensive basket.

We love making WebVR games—games that are cross-browser compatible and can be experienced on any web browser or device. This doesn’t mean we never create experiences for specific VR hardware when appropriate or necessary (like the portable tradeshow display we created for Reading Bakery Systems), but it does mean we are able to tap into a much larger audience than other companies creating apps one headset at a time. 

Our latest WebVR experience, Genius, is a perfect example of this. Users can encounter one of Einstein’s thought experiments with a single scroll or tap. It’s a 360 degree experience that takes place without ever having to download an app or wear hardware (users have the option to use a headset, but the experience isn’t limited without one). The same is true of Make Mars Home. Created for National Geographic, it includes five different space simulations like navigating a ship through an orbital entry and landing a rocket on the surface of Mars. Each simulation can be experienced on any device and browser, from Google Chrome on a desktop to Safari on an iPhone in a cardboard VR viewer.

Creating WebVR experiences doesn’t come without its set of challenges, of course. When it comes to quality assurance, we have to test the experiences we create on everything. There is no device or browser that goes untouched and untested. Yes, it can be tedious and time consuming for us (the designers and developers) but, to the client, the return far outweighs the investment: they’ve already tapped into a larger market than the competitor investing in a single app for Rift or Vive.

In the same way that consumer accessible VR has created a gateway into the future of entertainment-based games, we’ve created a gateway between your virtual experience and its largest potential reach: the 77 percent of U.S. households that own a smartphone. We don’t want to create a barrier to entry, but rather make it easy for people to experience VR in the browsers they already have installed. We can’t wait for high-end headsets to be affordable and availible in every living room! For now, eliminating the need for downloadable apps and headsets puts our clients’ games into the hands of as many people as possible from day one—and it doesn’t get much more real than that.