Excited by the potential of VR as a new platform for telling stories? Well, you should be. But you should also know that this is still largely uncharted territory. Below you’ll find five key insights from the VRUK Festival which are worth heeding before setting off on your own VR adventure.
1. VR for its own sake is a big no-no.
“Bad content in any medium, on any platform, is still bad content,” says Sol Rogers, CEO of Rewind. He urges creators to ask themselves: if you’re shooting in 360, do you have a good reason? What is the first, second, and third thing that you want to draw your viewer’s attention to?
2. Simplicity is key.
“Concentrate action in front of the viewer,” says Henry Stuart, CEO of Visualise. “Don’t make them work hard to find the story.” It can be tempting to get carried away with all of the possibilities that VR offers, but Stuart suggests sticking to one clear storyline at a time. Additionally, it is worth noting that viewers like to take their time exploring different settings — so don’t cut to new scenes too frequently. “Use the experience to communicate story,” says Nick Pittom, Director at Fire Panda. “Nothing is set; the grammar is still open.”
3. Create comfort.
The goal of every VR developer is to cultivate “presence,” i.e. convincing people that they are somewhere they are not. In order to do so, content must be made thoughtfully, allowing the viewer to engage with the story without distraction. One of the biggest obstacle to this is the nausea experienced by many viewers, often caused when there is no sense of having a physical body in this VR world.
4. Timing, timing, timing.
In a brand new space with barely any established tropes, one rule of thumb has emerged: give your viewer time to adjust to their new surroundings before launching into the story. A breather of around should be factored into the narrative. Similarly, longer VR experiences have a tendency to provoke that dreaded motion sickness, which is why VR stories are on the short side; on average, no longer than ten minutes.
In the future there may be scope for longer VR pieces; Marcy Boyle from DPYX believes that the more time consumers spend using VR, the likelier they are to get their “sea legs,” and suggests taking a cue from Netflix, with its “are you still watching?” prompts. Giving viewers comfortable exit points is important if they are going to spend more time in these worlds. Serialising the narrative, breaking it down into installments where the user can step outside and back into reality at the end of the chapter, is one possible way of achieving this.
5. Learn the rules of this new world
“I love the fact that this medium is bringing filmmakers and developers and gamers together,” says Marisol Grandon, Head of Creative Content at DFID. “I think it’s a hurrah moment for anybody who wants to learn a new skill and is excited about technology.” But developers and directors should not assume that VR will follow the same rules as gaming or film; there’s a whole new language to learn. “You can’t come in from another industry and assume your ideas are going to work,” says Stuart.