Innovation

VR industry leaders speak out on consumer adoption, diversity, and adult entertainment

The Silicon Valley Virtual Reality Conference didn't waste any time dealing with the industry's most prickly questions in its opening keynote. See what a panel of industry leaders had to say.

Image: Erin Carson/TechRepublic

On Monday, the Silicon Valley Virtual Reality Conference and Expo used its opening keynote to tackle the biggest issues in the rise of consumer virtual reality, with the help of some of the biggest voices in the industry.

The opening panel included Palmer Luckey, founder of Oculus; Amir Rubin, CEO and co-founder of Sixense, Clay Bavor, vice president of product at Google; Nicholas DiCarlo, GM Immersive Products & Virtual Reality; and moderator Ben Lang executive editor from Road to VR.

Lang opened questioning by asking panelists about what their benchmarks are for when they feel virtual reality has made it with consumers. Answers touched on awareness, distribution, and even the point where "normal" folks can easily set it up and use it.

Luckey said he didn't necessarily see a need for very widespread adoption for the non-gaming crowd, saying that there have been other consumer products that weren't built or marketed to reach everyone.

From there, Lang posed several questions the panel mostly dismissed, or didn't answer with depth, on topics like liability issues stemming from motion sickness, the lack of long term studies on the physiological effect of virtual reality on the human body, and the role virtual reality pornography could play in adoption.

With regard to health effects, Rubin said virtual reality's been in use for multiple decades and asserted that those who raise concerns generally don't know what they're talking about.

On the subject of motion sickness, Lang asked about establishing a minimum bar of performance for VR apps. Luckey said he thought the industry was past the point where average consumers would totally write off virtual reality if they had a bad experience, and would instead chalk it up to a bad app.

Though, Bavor did emphasize the importance of encouraging solidly-built experiences.

"It's on all of us to help the world get better at developing this applications," he said.

With regard to virtual reality pornography, Rubin also made most of the remarks saying that it is a key driver.

"People are going to work on it because it's going to make a lot of money," he said.

The panel also took questions from the audience.

The second audience question addressed the fact that the panel was all-white and male, and most of the crowd is as well. He asked what efforts could be made in to increase diversity — if content is so important, should there not be a variety of people producing it, and since the VR industry is in early days, if there was not a sizable opportunity not to fall into the same traps as the wider tech industry.

The panel cited a few women partners — DiCarlo referenced Samsung working with filmmaker Nancy Bennett — or projects geared toward women, acknowledging the buying and decision-making power of the female demographic. Though they spent several minutes on the subject, there wasn't a ton of substance. The questioner's original contention started with a statement Luckey made regarding the gaming industry being the source of much of the VR development talent going forward. Luckey reiterated that whether good or bad, he stood by his statement.

See: Why virtual reality could finally mend its broken promise

Another topic was the role of Google Cardboard in the industry. DiCarlo asked about how they can explain and include Cardboard with HMDs like Oculus', Samsung's, and Vive's offerings, etc. as not to confuse consumers. Rubin answered.

"Every piece is critical," he said, explaining that Cardboard serves as an icebreaker. It makes it easier for a company like Sixense to start a potential client off on the "least threatening" VR experience and then move them up.

They also discussed media attention. Luckey refuted the premise of a question by Lang that there were any underrated use cases for VR. He asserted that, if anything, VR in places like healthcare or training is getting far more attention than is really proportionate to the market space it occupies. And, as an extension of that, there's a bigger problem these days than there ever was with companies trying to "shoehorn" VR into their products.

"VR is not a magical cure all that makes your product relevant or good," he said.

The conference runs through May 19, with panels, sessions, and workshops, and features an expo with more than 100 VR companies focusing not just on gaming, but areas like education, healthcare, and business uses.

Also see:

About Erin Carson

Erin Carson is a Staff Reporter for CNET and a former Multimedia Editor for TechRepublic.

Editor's Picks

Free Newsletters, In your Inbox