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Shelton Fleming Associates
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Social VR – is it actually happening or just hype?

‘The before times & the gateway to the virtual world’ 

Before COVID-19, VR was more of an abstract idea. Whilst it had a home in gaming and simulation, in the mainstream it sounded cool but had few practical applications. 

Then entered ‘social distancing’, events had to stop, meetings had to stop, any form of personal contact had to stop but the world couldn’t just stop.  

We are social creatures. Losing that social aspect was not only damaging to productivity, but also our mental health. Suddenly we were dusting off our webcams. Everyone on the planet installed Zoom. The gateway to the virtual world opened. From Christmas dinners to board meetings, anything and everything was being done remotely. 

Forcing people into this virtual world, made abstract concepts like VR seem less alien. Less Scary. To the point where even the luddites among us could picture VR as a positive addition to our working and personal lives. 

‘Happening or Hype?’ 

But is VR really a happening technology? Is it going to change the world? Or is it just a load of overpriced incredibly niche hype

Well, here at Shelton Fleming, we firmly sit in the happening camp. We work closely with companies who are pioneers in VR, like Superbright, who’s Vortic platform beams art galleries across the world in virtual reality. We have seen what can be done and we are excited, not just because it’s cool and we are a bunch of tech nerds, but because we see the value in this technology for our business and our clients. 

Shelton Fleming exists in the experiential space. We want our clients and, by extension their clients, to have real, thought-provoking experiences at events, to not just hear about products or services, but to feel them, to be a part of them & most importantly, to remember them. 

VR technology has come a long way. Having been a working concept since the late 1950s (believe it or not). VR technology is now cheaper and more importantly, mobile. You can get an Oculus Quest 2 for just shy of £400. And it doesn’t need a computer to function. Granted still not cheap for the average consumer, but for businesses, a perfectly justifiable purchase, especially considering the near endless possibilities VR unlocks. 

‘Unique Experiences’ 

Now, being an events agency, we couldn’t possibly avoid the topic of how VR can and already is revolutionising the events industry.  

Events have always been a space to try new ways to engage people. VR has the ability to create unique experiences and take you to places you couldn’t, in real life easily go, like an oil rig or the inside of a cancer drug. Yes, there is initial investment (these days, less than you might fear) and yes there must be development of VR content, but it also gives businesses the opportunity to create high-impact experiences. Recently, Macy’s created their famous Thanksgiving Day parade in the OnCyber metaverse to what must be described as a mixed reaction, but still, it was new, and it was a brave step into the future. 

‘Meta Vs the Metaverse’ 

So, what is the metaverse? What is social VR? And what is Meta? Well firstly Meta, unhelpfully for those trying to wrap their brains around this new future, is Facebook rebranded. 

So, is Mark Zuckerberg the overlord of the metaverse? Well in his own version of the metaverse he is, but there are many different versions of it. It’s not like the internet where there is one place to host information. Whilst this technology is still being developed and the world is getting to grips on how to use it. Over 160 companies are making their own metaverses, currently with around 400 million active users, but to perhaps add the confusion, these 160+ metaverses are collectively referred to as ‘the metaverse’. 

Social VR however is less of an all-encompassing multiverse, it can be anything from a VR conferencing application to a VR event or just 1 to 1 VR interactions. It’s perhaps an easier space to cut your virtual teeth in and will likely be the initial use of VR for businesses whilst the metaverses evolve.  

Many Social VR platforms are already in use by businesses, such as AltspaceVR owned by Microsoft, where you can jump straight into hosting and attending virtual events. AltspaceVR is also usable on a normal computer. So even those without a full VR kit can partake, although of course with a less immersive experience. 

It’s also worth noting, the road maps for ubiquitous platforms, like Zoom and Teams, are building in access to Social VR worlds and metaverses. Some of the early uses are already spaces for learning, where a virtual space can bring in the best guest speakers and experts in the world, without them ever leaving their home. This drives down the cost of engaging the best minds. Recently, UPS launched shop-come-business-academy for SMEs. 

‘So, what now?’ 

At Shelton Fleming, as you can probably tell, we are big supporters of this kind of technology. Having followed its progress for years, we would hate to see you miss out. 

Be bold, be creative but most importantly, do it before your competitors do. 

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