There is something that excites me about the VR industry in 2018: the wealth of wrong turns we've taken so far. It is perhaps a strange thing to get excited about, but I find it endlessly useful and fascinating to observe the mistakes that have been made as the medium develops. For me, these observations are as interesting as the successes. We now have a good few years of mistakes to learn from.
So, from all that I have seen in the last three or so years of artistic VR creation, here's what I recommend book publishers don't do with VR in 2018.
Excited creatives planning pointless VR?
1. Commisioning a VR project without having seen much VR
You would never dream of launching a new book title without having read many books, right? VR is a creative medium in its own right, and so a successful VR project commission will need unique expertise. The fastest way to gain that expertise is by seeing a lot of VR. There is enough story-driven and experiential VR in existence now for you to really get stuck in. The easiest way to do this is to buy a £5 headset you can use with your smartphone like this one. Then, check out as much as possible on apps like Within, The Guardian's VR app and BBC Taster's VR app. If possible try out some room-scale VR too, by visiting a VR entertainment space like The VR Concept's chain of VR pubs in London and Brighton.
2. Making a VR app as a 'marketing tool' for a book
According to NESTA research, less than 1% of the population own a high end VR headset and less than 6% of people own a mobile based one. This means that unless you are actively taking headsets to your target market, the numbers of headset owners just aren't really enough for you to make a marketing app to attract people to buy a book. This may seem obvious, but I have seen this mistake being made in other industries' dabblings in VR. However, the thing that would potentially work is a 360 video on a platform like YouTube, Facebook or Vimeo. These work with just a mobile phone - in the immersive media industries we call it the 'magic window' way of viewing 360 content.
3. Not thinking carefully about releasing a 'VR companion' product that doesn't also stand alone
If you are going to launch a VR companion app to a book - one that doesn't also work as a piece in its own right -then think carefully. It isn't a definite no-no, however you will be missing out on a lot of distribution opportunities. Essentially, having to read a book before you do a VR experience gives it a major barrier to entry. People involved in the emerging VR industry, who come at it from a VR angle and not a books angle, would be less likely to read the book, and therefore it is less likely to make sense to them. This means it would have less chance of working well at the VR sections of film festivals like Venice and Sundance, or industry expos like The Virtual Reality Show. If you want to make your mark in VR history, then commission VR experiences that can stand on their own two feet.
Publishers of course have a massive opportunity when it comes to VR - you already have audiences and access to high profile and interesting properties. My main tips for taking the leap into VR this year are simply to get stuck in, explore... and enjoy the process.