Virtual Reality Makes a Comeback

Are consumers finally ready to embrace it?

Virtual reality is all over the place these days. Where once the technology of creating virtual worlds via computer software seemed confined to the realms of Hollywood science fiction, it’s now gone decidedly mainstream and seems set to stick around.

Over the decades, there have been more than a few false starts in attempts to take virtual reality mainstream. Back in the 50s and 60s, computer scientists created devices to simulate the experience of being in virtual worlds, such as the Sensorama or the Sword of Damocles. Both these projects were cutting edge for their time, laying the groundwork for major leaps forward to come.

But their substantial size, cost and cumbersome nature meant that virtual reality technology remained largely unknown to the general public until the early 1990s, when films such as Lawnmower Man brought it into the popular imagination. In that same decade, the first VR ‘wave’ spawned a whole host of video game products, such as Nintendo’s Virtual Boy or Sega’s VR, all aiming to provide consumers with a captivating virtual experience.

As quickly as it had risen up, the buzz around virtual reality died away. It remained somewhat dormant until 2010, which heralded the next big turning point in the virtual reality journey: the release of the Oculus Rift headset. From then on, the new buzz around virtual reality brought the technology into many walks of life, allowing people to have unique experiences in sport, travel, entertainment, education and more. Today’s virtual reality consumer can escape the winter blues for a Hawaiian beach, watch sports from a their own personal virtual stadium, or even go into space – all through a headset.

But consumer opinion toward virtual reality is not uniformly positive. As with any rising new trend, consumer opinion can fluctuate wildly. In such a fast-evolving landscape, it’s vital for companies in this space to monitor the online conversation to gain insights about consumer opinions and preferences. Which aspects of virtual reality interest consumers the most? Who is the audience discussing virtual reality? Which brands are most commonly associated with the technology?

Explosion in volume

With the growth of virtual and augmented reality (AR) expected to reach €150 billion in 2020, Europe is a compelling market for brands in the VR and AR spaces. The first murmurs of conversation about virtual reality among European consumers began in 2013, mainly related to gaming. Since then, the conversation volume has exploded and come to encompass a wide range of new industries, including education, health, travel and airlines. As can be seen below, gaming still makes up the bulk of discussion across Europe, but health and education in particular are gaining ground.

In terms of education, scientists have claimed that VR headsets can aid cognitive learning, making it faster and more efficient.Examples of their use in education include Toyota’s recent campaign about the risks of distracted driving, delivered via a simulator using the Oculus Rift headset.  In healthcare, virtual reality has many uses, from helping doctors figure out the best approach for complex surgical procedures, to rehabilitating stroke victims with immersive therapy.

Despite all these groundbreaking VR use cases, what do ordinary consumers actually think about virtual reality? Are they ready to make it part of their daily lives, or do some still view it with scepticism or even fear?

Analysing emotions in the online conversation is a great starting point to answering these questions. We analysed millions of online consumer conversations to understand shifting opinions toward VR in Europe.

Lots of joy and a little fear

As the virtual reality conversation has grown, so has the proportion of positive sentiment, outstripping negative sentiment by a significant margin.

Drilling down into the emotions within the conversation shows that joy makes up a huge chunk and has done so consistently for the last five years. Fear, sadness and anger all show up too, but at far lower levels than joy.

Combining these insights from sentiment and emotion analysis paints a very positive overall picture of European consumer opinion on virtual reality.

UK leads the way

Europe is a big market, so another important consideration is discovering exactly which countries produce the highest levels of consumer interest. As shown below, the UK is a leading force in the VR/AR discussion, flanked by Spain, Ireland, Switzerland and Luxembourg. Other countries in Europe show less interest at present, but that doesn’t mean they won’t be jumping on board in the future. In any burgeoning field there will be many brands all vying for recognition and market share. But which virtual reality brands are making the most headway among European audiences?

VR brands battle

In 2014, Facebook bought the pioneering startup for $2 billion, and remained the most-discussed VR brand in that year (as shown below). But as 2015 dawned, competitors – in particular HTC – began eating into Facebook’s share of the conversation. Although the social media giant has clawed back some ground since then, it looks like European consumers have already welcomed a wider range of virtual reality brands into their lives.  


Want to learn more about emerging consumer electronics trends in the European region? Read our Consumer Trends Report for Consumer Electronics now!

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