VR and Architectural Visualisation: The Big Issues! (Part 2)

In Part 1 we explored the problems that we struggled through while trying to find real value for VR in architectural visualisation (arch vis). By creating a choreographed interactive VR journey we were able to mimic real-life architectural tours and produce an engaging and meaningful product that provided tangible value for our clients. While this solution was a success, one big issue persisted - VR can be a little bit lonely!

Lonely man in VR.

Lonely man in VR.

Problem 4: VR can be isolating.

Practically everyone who has been in a VR headset has felt isolated from the real world. You can certainly have an enjoyable solo VR experience, but we are sending people on a journey to a place they have never been to before, and we are sending them there on their own. Regardless of how engaging the experience itself is there is still potential for the isolation to create feelings of vulnerability and awkwardness.  

When we decided to test multi-user functionality in one of our environments it wasn’t to solve any particular problem. As far as we were concerned, we had solved our major problems with our ‘Journey' solution and this was going to be a nice add-on feature that clients might like.

they started interacting with the other person and the environment in a natural way

However, when we watched two people enter the same virtual environment together for the first time we were absolutely amazed by what happened. After the shrieking and waving died down they both relaxed and started to actually enjoy themselves. We didn’t have any reason to think that people weren’t enjoying the single-player journey experience, but this was different. Their entire demeanor changed, and they started interacting with the other person and the environment in a natural way, as if they were really there together. The technology started to fade away.

To create true-to-life representations of unbuilt spaces we need the technology to disappear. We don’t want users to tell us that we have created a great VR experience, we want them to tell us what they think of the actual space itself. Through user testing we had been able to refine our single-player experiences to the point where the VR technology was easy to use and the interactions with the virtual environment were intuitive. We realised early on that the more seamless the user-experience, the higher the level of user-immersion and engagement. We hadn’t considered the impact that social interaction would have on immersion.

The technology started to fade away.

The engagement with another person in a VR environment seems to eclipse the engagement that we were getting from our carefully choreographed interactive experiences. However, it certainly doesn’t replace the need for interactivity, and if anything, we need to provide more interactive elements to stop people from running out of things to do together. We did not design our library tour experience to facilitate violent chair fights but that’s exactly what happens when people run out of things to interact with.

We had gone full circle from trying to engage people for as long as we could in our journey experience, to not being able to provide enough interaction to satisfy their engagement levels. In the process, the time in headset had gone from around 5 minutes to at least 15 minutes, and often much longer. Not only had the technology started to disappear, but the users often completely forget about where they were in the real world and who is watching them – a reality that can be a little confronting when the headset comes off.

Re-entering reality after full immersion.

Re-entering reality after full immersion.

Problem 5: People rarely make decisions alone.

While elevated engagement levels and enjoyable human experiences are great outcomes, they can’t distract us from the first problem presented in Part 1 – what is the value of VR and how do we turn this into tangible outcomes for our clients? Fortunately, this was a much easier problem to solve as people rarely make decisions pertaining to unbuilt architecture on their own. If there is one standout commonality across the consumption of all architectural visualisation content it’s that decision making is a collaborative undertaking. Selling and buying off-the-plan apartments is certainly no exception.

The majority of people do not purchase property on their own. In the world of existing property, they generally visit with a partner, friend, or relative, so that they can discuss the features and amenities of the potential investment on site, and have all of their queries and questions answered by a nearby sales agent. With multi-user VR we can do the exact same thing with off-the-plan property. By putting a sales agent and multiple potential buyers in the experience together you can sell unbuilt property exactly as you would sell existing properties, except that in the virtual version buyers can customise and finalise the design of their future space and ensure they know exactly what they are getting.

Potential buyers exploring together.

Potential buyers exploring together.

Whether you are creating visualisation content to sell apartments, lease commercial space, or allow key stakeholders to be involved in the design process, you are doing it to facilitate a collaborative process of decision making. With a multi-user VR experience this collaboration can be enhanced and celebrated.

The problems that people encounter with VR are generally not problems with the technology itself. The headsets and graphics cards have been capable of producing valuable experiences since 2016. The problems arise when the VR content that we create is not taking into consideration the fact that it is being created for people. By looking at how people behave in real-world scenarios, we can create valuable virtual experiences that will start to fulfill the true potential of VR in architectural visualisation.

Barry Dineen