Earlier this month, I moderated a VR and augmented reality (AR) panel at the SLUSH Future Brunch, hosted by organizers of Helsinki’s “must know” SLUSH digital media and tech conference held annually in November. My panel included some of the most important thought leaders and innovators in the VR space—Mike Rothenberg of Rothenberg Ventures (in which Manatt Venture Fund is an investor)—Rothenberg runs the first VR accelerator, called River; Danny Gabai of Vice Media, which produces some of the most inspired VR “experiences” to date; Andy Cochrane of Mirada Studios; and Neville Spiteri of WEVR. We covered a lot of ground during the session, including:

  1. The state of VR today—and the prospects for the future—with all on the panel predicting mass consumer adoption of tens of millions of VR headsets within a couple of years (MDM completely agrees with that assessment).
  2. The fact that available content, rather than “ready for prime-time” hardware, is the bottleneck for such mass adoption right now.
  3. The unique power and opportunity for VR not only in the obvious area of storytelling, but also for live events (think of yourself being transported to your favorite music artist’s live event and sitting in the front row—would you pay for that? We would—and just think of the potential of this new revenue stream for the music business); travel (think of being immersed in a foreign land); education (think of the power and potential in the classroom); and empathy and social change (more on that in the expanded article below).
  4. Andy Cochrane emphasized that the distinction between VR and AR is blurred—and rather than thinking of those two as being distinct concepts, they together represent simply “immersive and interactive” experiences.
  5. Andy also underscored that we should be careful of placing VR experiences into a box like “VR gaming” because VR experiences are entirely different in terms of structure and cannot follow typical games’ branches.
  6. Mike Rothenberg, while massively bullish on the overall VR opportunity, also pointed out significant risks associated with VR experiences. Motion sickness is the most discussed right now (but is fast being addressed by the industry). But, less discussed—and significantly problematic—is the sheer overwhelming, and potentially extremely dangerous, immersion into high-intensity contexts. Think of the video game Call of Duty. Imagine the potential post-traumatic stress disorder that could flow from being placed directly into battle and violence with VR. These risks are real—and companies are rising up to address those dangers. Think further of the potential for VR abuse in the hands of those with malevolent intentions. It is for these reasons, that Mike anticipates a need for real regulations in this area.

It was a fascinating discussion cut short only by the need to end the event.