Whether or not you consider yourself a “gamer,” you may have some experience with virtual reality, or VR. The gaming industry has taken this technology and run with it, developing it to the point users can be completely submerged in a virtual environment. It has become so well known in gaming that the first examples that probably pop into your head involve race car driving or first-person-shooters. But VR offers much more potential than simply entertainment. In fact, VR application development already been implemented in a wide variety of industries, from entertainment to fintech, healthcare, and more. In this post, we offer a basic guide to what goes into VR application development, and what enterprises need to know about creating a mobile VR app for any industry.
Before we dive into how VR application development works, it’s important that we define our terms. VR technology works as a sort of science fiction teleporter, which brings users from their own environment into a fully immersive simulated one. While it does not physically transfer people to another space, it does give the user that feeling.
This differs from augmented reality (AR), where additional information is laid over the real world. One wildly popular example of AR is all the filters available for video conferencing apps. It is also different from mixed reality (MR), where both digital and real-world objects exist in the user’s perception at the same time. One such example of MR is from education; the Microsoft Hololens has been used by Western Reserve University in Ohio to teach anatomy to medical students. With VR, the entire environment is virtually simulated. The most obvious example of VR are the plethora of games available for platforms like the Meta Quest 2. These games create a 100% virtual environment for gamers to explore.
A variety of devices can provide a realistic VR experience, but the most direct approach is with a VR headset. These devices, while all somewhat unique, each react to the movements of the user’s head and eyes. In other words, when you turn your head to the left, the display moves accordingly.
To enhance this further, a stereoscopic display creates a 3D simulation. Compared with more familiar 2D technology, 3D stereoscopic displays have an increased number of pixels. This helps to give even more depth and definition to the image and environment. Basically, the technology in each VR headset helps trick your mind into perceiving the virtual world in the same way it perceives the real world, thus creating a fully immersive experience. Some headsets take this a step further and incorporate additional sensory information like sounds or touch.
Of course, interactivity is what really makes VR truly immersive. Users should have the ability to control their navigation through the simulated space. The idea is to give them the feeling that they are in control and can move about and interact with things, as if they were actually there.
Mobile application development companies are already at the forefront of improving and disseminating the use of VR technology. This is largely done through the integration of VR application development. VR has proven to be one of the hottest app development trends and has already been embraced by many large companies. Big businesses like Sony, Meta, and Samsung have already created VR enabled devices and apps, for example, Meta’s VR social platform Horizon Worlds.
No matter the industry, VR application development follows a similar path.
Before diving into the “how,” it’s first important to address the “what.” The most important step in creating a VR app is to define clear goals for what you want your app to achieve. It is only once you know what you want to build that you can start to answer the question of how you’re going to build it. Without clear goals and parameters, you’ll never have a clear vision. Without a clear vision, you can’t create a cohesive and precise VR experience.
When defining your app’s goals, it’s critical to look at your app from the point of view of the user. What will they expect? What do you want them to experience? At this stage, features that create an immersive and compelling experience must be considered.
Once you have a clearly defined concept and goals for your app, it’s time to begin the actual development process. The first part of this process is to choose an appropriate platform and a software development kit (SDK). Choosing a platform is an essential part of the development process and can have direct influence over app adoption rates. This, in turn, has a big effect on revenue.
Consider these questions when deciding on a platform:
Some VR platforms, like SteamVR, XboxVR, and Oculus Home provide a complete set of VR development tools. If you choose one of these platforms and utilize their tools, you won’t need any further software installation.
Another critical element to VR application development is the selection of an appropriate engine. Often referred to as “game engines,” engines store all the data that users will see and interact with in the virtual environment. What’s more, engines render all the virtual images, and provide the input methods users will ultimately use. The most popular VR engines include Unreal Engine 4, Unity, Google VR, and Amazon Sumerian.
Many of today’s engines are available to use for free. Additionally, some engines are easily integrated with specific software SDKs and multiple application programming interfaces (APIs) can be used to customize the engine to your app’s specific needs.
When it comes to mobile VR application development, there are two main categories for the types of devices available for experiencing VR:
Deciding on the kind of hardware you want to use to run your VR app is critical. Generally speaking, it’s preferable to choose an option that is battery-efficient and comfortable to use.
As with other applications, VR app development involves a lot of design. After all, what good is a VR environment if it doesn’t look good? When it comes to designing a VR app, it’s wise for developers to consider prototyping the VR experience. This aids in testing concepts and systems, and validating the app’s original goals.
Additionally, prototyping helps test that your virtual environment accurately conveys a sense of scale, uses all the hardware’s sensors correctly, has an accurate user viewing position, and more.
Finally, every VR application needs distribution, marketing, and a way to monetize it. This will depend largely on your budget. Distribution in Apple’s App Store or Google Play is nearly free, but app marketing will remain a major consideration. Social media marketing has a low publishing cost, but you may want to consider paid social strategies to improve reach.
When it comes to monetization, there are five mainstream strategies:
A time-honored and common practice in mobile apps of all varieties is the paid model. Users pay a fixed cost for the app, up-front, regardless of how much usability they get out of it. This strategy is very common in VR gaming apps. This model also allows for a trial period for users to try it out before committing to buying. This style of monetization is great for apps with a lot of brand recognition and high user ratings.
The freemium model is a well known strategy for companies that seek to attract users to their services. Under this model, users gain access to some of the app’s basic features, but must pay a fee to access more advanced (and exciting) features.
Overlapping with both paid and freemium models, subscriptions provide companies with ongoing transactions. The cost of the subscription is often smaller than the one-time cost of a paid model. However, in order to maintain subscribers, features and app offering may need to be continuously updated.
In-app ads have proven to be an effective monetization model. Very simply, developers offer advertisements within the virtual experience and then get paid for it. While this is very common in VR apps, the potential for it is only beginning to be realized. A virtual environment may offer a lot of both overt and subtle advertising opportunities.
Today, the in-app purchase model is generating massive amounts of revenue by allowing users to buy both virtual and real-world products from within the app. Products range from virtual tools for use in games to physical articles of clothing. However, when considering this option it’s important to keep in mind that app publishers often must pay a commission on in-app purchases to app-store owners. These commissions can be expensive and difficult to understand.
When deciding which of these models will work best for your VR app, it’s best to focus on the kind of app you want to produce, as well as the audience it is for. It may also be wise to see which model competitors are using as well as staying abreast of the latest monetization trends.
The cost of VR application development is highly variable. In the end, how much development costs is dependent on the kind of content you want for your virtual environment. Applications can be built with simple 360 degree videos, or within fully computer-generated worlds. Ultimately, the scale and complexity of the environment is the biggest driving force behind development costs.
With the strides made in technology and the increase in user adoption rates, VR application development is both tempting and profitable. But in order for your company to see that profit, it is important to make sure a proper development strategy is in place. Once you’ve identified the issues you wish to address, you’ll be able to implement a useful solution, and then monetize it.
It’s important to work with experienced developers who can answer any of your questions, successfully navigate implementation with headset integration as well as distribution and monetization strategies, and produce a VR app with an exceptional user experience.