When I think about the excitement around virtual reality, I sometimes imagine a large group of investors and designers leaping on a careening bandwagon in which the driver has been shot and the brakes have come loose.
Don’t get me wrong — all of the money and creativity leaping into the medium is a good thing. But people seem to still be feeling out how to both monetize the experience, and figuring out what those experiences should be.
One of the riders attempting to grab the steering wheel for the virtual reality wagon is 8Ninths, who has developed the concept of The Box (coming to Google Cardboard). Its philosophy is that virtual reality experiences should be special intimate entities that can come to users like a gift, as opposed to being a large and complicated affair. The idea is that each box in your collection represent a small special take journey in VR.
My first impression is that this sounds like a fancy front-end for a virtual reality app store. Adam Sheppard, the CEO of 8Ninths, walks me through the concept a bit more. “The experience starts with you in simple box environment, and we see this as almost your own personal space in VR where you will receive, revisit and invite others to see your collection of boxes over time,” he said. “Think Aech’s basement in Ready Player One if you’re familiar with the book. We believe there’s a very universal excitement in the ritual of receiving and opening a mysterious gift and that’s what we wanted to tap into with The Box.”
Sheppard seems to see The Box concept’s length as more of a quick break from the real world, as opposed to an epic escape. Sheppard points out that “if you’re feeling stressed and need a quick 5 minute getaway, you might open a beach box and enjoy watching the sea lapping at your feet. If you’re needing motivation to exercise you might imagine the workout box with pumping music and inspiring athletes offering encouragement. A fashion box might show a 360-degree video runway show in your living room with this season’s latest creations.
It’s easy to imagine travel, sportswear and retail brands who might align well with these kind of experiences — it would essentially creating a new form of native advertising for the emerging VR landscape.”
From a monetization angle, these bite-sized virtual reality experiences may be the advertising solution brand managers with an eye on the medium are looking for. “8ninths has been a leader in working with Fortune 500 brands and their agencies to use cutting edge technology in novel new ways to reach an audience in experimental ways,” Sheppard said. “The Box builds upon our experience in web and mobile and applies it to the emerging world of virtual reality. By releasing compelling content in the short-form VR format, we believe we can build an engaged audience who brands will want to reach and through a combination of free and sponsored content we expect the platform to grow.”