Ready Player One: Will the Spielberg blockbuster help take Virtual Reality mainstream?
It was on a visit to see a good friend at Facebook in Menlo Park, California that I first heard Steven Spielberg was making a film of Ernest Cline’s cult science fiction novel, Ready Player One.
In the years leading up to my first visit to the Facebook Campus, the book had become required reading for new employees both there and across the road at the new kids on the block, Oculus VR. One employee of Oculus even told me he joined the company specifically because he was inspired, by the book, to make Virtual Reality possible. In March 2013, Palmer Luckey, the founder of Oculus, invited Cline to the company’s offices to meet the team and experience their latest tech first hand. This was a connection built on a shared vision.
Why? Well, this is a book about a world in which people use VR to escape to a better reality. The plot echoes Facebook’s values of community and bringing the world together and in the years after its release in 2011, it gave those at Oculus belief that the industry they were building, was possible. But what does the release of this film mean for the state of the Virtual Reality market now?
Well, that remains to be seen. The film is set in 2045 at a time when the world has been crippled by war, disease, famine and catastrophic climate change. Stick with this. Wade Watts, our hero, is part of a generation failed by reality. The only way out, the only light and joy, is being able to visit a global VR world called ‘The Oasis’. It is a place where the film’s characters live out their dreams, build relationships, rage against authority and live the life they wish they could. So is this good for VR?
Well, while the technology featured in Ready Player One is alluring, it is not a reflection of where the current market is now. It is a projection of what might be possible in the not too distant future. And yet, there is a sense that the film, despite that, can still be a significant factor in helping to push VR further into the public eye. Mark Lipacis, an equity analyst at Jeffries, says it has the potential to be a mainstream cultural moment that fuels interest in VR the way Pokemon Go did for augmented reality. “We believe that the movie will drive sales of VR headsets,” he said. We also think the film will appeal to an electronics game savvy audience that is motivated to have a more immersive experience.”
That remains to be seen. What it will do is put VR, as an experience, in front of more people. It will show them a glimpse of what all the fuss is about. That platform can only be positive and when you combine it with Hollywood’s historic and impressive track record of driving change in the real world, you can begin to see why some analysts are so optimistic. Let me explain what I mean.
The incredible success of the Lord of The Rings trilogy drove huge numbers of visitors to the country where it was filmed – New Zealand. The nation’s International Visitor Survey found 16% of tourists cited the trilogy as a significant inspiration behind their trip. And that film is not alone.
The beautifully-shot 1993 film, A River Runs Through It, featured Brad Pitt living a poetic wilderness lifestyle. The outcome was that a massive influx of Fly Fishing tourists headed for Montana, where it was shot. Going further back, Tony Scott’s 1986 classic Top Gun, saw a 500% surge in fighter pilot applications. Again, attributed directly to the glamourous portrayal of life in the skies. But is any of this really relevant to a film about VR?
Well, it remains to be seen if VR headset sales will receive a bump off the back of the film. Much will depend on the movie’s success, both critically and at the box office. But it will also give the audience a view of a future, even if it isn’t a totally accurate one. Experiential technology is on its way and will impact on our lives. And it will do so with all the certainty of a runaway freight train. And what science fiction tends to teach us is that most of us underestimate the speed with which we progress towards that imagined future. (Back to the Future II and flying cars accepted). Now Ready Player One will, we hope, not reflect life 30 years from now (Brexit surely can’t be that bad, right?). But the tech that features so heavily in it, may just give all of us a glimpse of a future that may not be as far away as we think.
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