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With constant media coverage, an incredible amount of funding — $3 billion in 2017 alone, to be exact — and more exciting use cases for virtual reality, many consumers are eagerly waiting for VR to really hit the mainstream.
But do you know who’s not so eager? Women — yes, 50 percent of the population. In fact, a recent EY survey found that women are less likely than men to have tried VR; they’re not as impressed by the idea. Even more, 65 percent of female respondents said they’re unlikely to try VR in the future.
In part, I believe women’s skepticism of VR is because they have higher expectations; they want to be swayed by an impactful experience, so if something isn’t geared to them it’s less likely to stick. There are a few ways to attract more women to VR — think higher refresh rates making VR more realistic, or more targeted marketing. But the biggest component to drawing more women into VR is creating content that’s more women-focused.
Here’s how to better attract women going forward:
1. Develop more social VR applications
Facebook rocked the VR industry when it previewed its social VR platform Facebook Spaces back in summer 2017. The first of its kind, the app made the technology a whole lot more personal, by enabling users to hang out with their friends in the VR space. But you’re not going to be attending say, high school reunions using it any time soon. In the beta version of the app, just three people can join the hangout.
However as the technology advances, social VR has the potential to become extremely powerful for women users especially. Imagine users being able to spend time with their kids while travelling, take a language class, or join a book club with long-distance friends? Considering that women favor human connections over experiences online (which men prefer), the ability for women to connect with those they care about over VR will undoubtedly be a huge draw.
2. Help with productivity
Both VR and AR have seen some success in travel, interior design, and retail.The biggest benefit of the technology is helping people visualize things to scale. VR enables consumers to virtually walk into their newly designed rooms before they even exist. It can let travelers take an immersive tour of their resorts, or help shoppers get a better feel of how a product will really look in real life. Consider how it can be used grocery shopping, too — instead of having to surf a webpage to add food item to your cart, imagine being able to walk through the aisles and pick out items from a virtual shelf?
Expedia, for example, is developing a VR app to let travelers tour hotel rooms. Last year, Gap released a new AR app enabling customers to try on clothes virtually. Amazon too offers customers an AR experience, letting shoppers view items in their homes before they buy them online.
Of course, there’s the opportunity for more AR and VR apps that target women. But the products on the market now are still novelties. AR and VR haven’t gone mainstream, especially for retail, because quite simply, the stores don’t have enough content. Even Amazon only has a few thousand products.
That’s because modelling these things takes an incredible amount of time; in fact at this rate, it might be 3-5 more years before Amazon can complete its whole library. It’s not until the industry begins to share models more efficiently, and crowdsource content creation, that VR and AR in the commerce space will go mainstream.
3. Promote stories and creation
To help the VR industry jump into the mainstream, developers and market leaders need to prove to women that the technology can benefit their lives. One big use case for VR is the ability for artists and storytellers to enhance their work. App developers and artists alike now have the opportunity to drive forward a more artistic VR industry, and help carve out a place for more women on the VR map.
It’s something the industry has just begun to scratch the surface of. VR provides a huge opportunity to help artists create and visualize their art to scale, and some popular apps already exist. For example, Tiltbrush lets users paint a space in virtual reality, share room-sized creations with others, and even walk around their art in a VR world. There’s also Gravity Sketch, which enables artists to draw 3D models and artwork in immersive VR.
4. Fitness content
Despite there being a ton of new ways to consume music these days, music videos are still ridiculously popular. Just this year “Despacito” became the most watched YouTube video of all time, with more than 4.7 billion views. And what about all those dance crazes — remember Soulja Boy’s “Crank That” and the immortal “Gangnam Style“? Well, now imagine engaging with these videos in VR. We could be dancing along with our favorite pop stars.
There’s a great opportunity to expand VR to include exercise content. Yes, this could be used to help us learn the latest dance moves. But apps could be also be developed to support a range of fitness activities. VR for treadmill runners, for example, could put woman on course at a marathon or running in the most beautiful nature scenes. It would bring training to the next level. As VR refresh rates technology are rapidly improving, we won’t have to worry about feeling sick too.
5. Women-focused entertainment
Some women storytellers have taken to the VR space, as well. Director Jayisha Patel’s short film Notes to My Father — a documentary that tells the story of an Indian human-trafficking survivor — is in VR, something Patel told The Guardian makes the audience “start to understand what it’s really like to be objectified.”
And BBC features a VR talk show aimed at millennial women called No Small Talk – it was specifically made to encourage more women to use VR, and tackle the gender gap that exists. So as VR matures, there’s a huge opportunity to develop more viewing content for both men and women — think cooking shows, or even sporting games. It’s similar to what Netflix and HBO have done in recent years.
We can’t forget gaming, either. For those women who do game, there’s an opportunity here to put a focus on developing VR-based games that are even more attractive to them. According to one Quantic Foundry report, genres with more women gamers highlight completion and fantasy, for example. Another report states that women prefer to use magical spells and swords to defeat their enemies.
“It’s not that women don’t like VR, more that, so far, the majority don’t see the point of it,” concludes the EY report. However if those in the VR industry begin to develop more women-focused content — which helps them to be more productive, creative, social and active — that is all likely to change. The creators that successfully address this gender gap will have an opportunity to reach a larger untapped VR market, expand on the uses of VR, and could consequently make a lot more profit in the end.
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