In over 2 years in the VR/AR industry in my role as CEO at Admix, I have tried hundreds of VR apps. It is sometimes a very fine line between what makes an app a success and what makes it a failure, and the fate of a VR app is not necessarily tied to hyper-realistic interactions or fancy graphics.
Getting users to experiment in VR is one thing, but building an app that people crave over and over is another. In order to be successful, apps need to instigate a fear of missing out amongst users, in much the same way that Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat do by leading you to refresh your feed multiple times a day.
How to build FOMO in VR? As always, there is no magic rule, but there are a few rules developers must follow if they want to create long term engagement with their audience.
1. Do not compromise on quality
It may seem obvious, but it’s a message that needs to be reiterated. Customers are unforgiving when it comes to quality of the experience, especially in VR where a poorly crafted app can lead to motion sickness. ‘Quality’ means an experience that is bug free, user friendly, without lag, that doesn’t make them sick. Anything less than that, the users will not use more than once, and your app will fall into oblivion. Even if you are working on a tight budget: do not compromise on quality. If budget is an issue, remove some features or shorten the experience – but keep in mind that what you present to consumers must be flawless. The game Panoptic, for example, operated on a tight budget, so they decided to release one single level instead of many unfinished levels. As a result, they were able to polish the experience and win 5 industry awards.
“Even if you are working on a tight budget: do not compromise on quality. If budget is an issue, remove some features or shorten the experience – but keep in mind that what you present to consumers must be flawless.”
2. Be unique
Great experiences are built on what VR can offer best: innovative and experimental content in 3 dimensions. In other words, experiences need to be built for VR, and for VR only. If customers can find the same experience on the web, or a console, they won’t bother using VR, because the friction isn’t worth it – remember, the desire to purchase or use is inversely proportional to friction.
Take VRChat for example, the popular virtual communication app with up to 20k concurrent users. Since they also have a desktop client, which delivers a fairly similar experience, only a fraction of users actually connect with VR headsets (the author estimates that figure to be close to 10% of the user-base). Instead, games like Beat Saber and Superhot grew in popularity because they can’t be played on a console. Everything from the gameplay to the design has been built exclusively for VR from the ground up. Game designers need to think VR first, leveraging the 3D canvas and hand controllers, to craft experiences exclusive to VR.
3. Build incremental value
Your application being unique to VR is key, but crafting an experience that is perfectly suited to the technology alone is not enough for success. From a developer’s standpoint, in order to create that FOMO feeling, experiences need to undergo a perception shift, a change from a ‘nice to have’ to an absolute necessity. The best way to create an app that is an absolute necessity is to solve a customer problem and preferably something that customers will use frequently. Ask yourself: how can I solve a problem people have, in a unique way using VR?
“experiences need to undergo a perception shift, a change from a ‘nice to have’ to an absolute necessity.”
As discussed, VR enables customers to visualise data or experiment with things like never before. Therefore, building experiences where the third dimension brings incremental value is key. If it is a game, make use of the entire space, do not just do a standard FPS. If it is a sport experience, immerse us amongst the players, do not put us in front of a flat screen. If it is an educational app, enable us to interact with the content using the controllers. Bottom line, always look to find ways to better the experience using the uniqueness of VR.
For example, Bigscreen enables users to visualise their PC screens in VR, making it a lot easier to work on multiple tabs, share screens with colleagues, and multitask. This is something that only VR can provide, and unsurprisingly, Bigscreen power users spend 30h per week in the app, a retention unheard of, according to their CEO. VR apps that have succeeded at this are still very rare – and they are much needed to push the industry forward.
In the end, the advice might sound obvious: to be successful, create value that users cannot get anywhere else. In practice, it is a very hard task, and way too many apps fall short of this rule. Ask yourself: am I solving a problem? Am I solving a real problem? Is the need for my solution strong enough for people to put on their headsets multiple times a day, or even better – convince them to buy it? The transition to immersive technologies will depend on many factors, but one thing is certain: VR needs to create a sense of FOMO to move away from a nice to have, and become something fully integrated with our lives.