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The pandemic has caused a surge in virtual reality sales and use. With everyone forced to stay at home due to worldwide lockdowns, there are few better ways to escape than behind the lens of a virtual reality headset.

“This is the time for experimentation,” said Schell Games owner Jason Schell. “It’s not unlike the early days of the PC, the potential is there.”

Schell joined moderator SuperData’s Stepanie Llamas and futurist author Cathy Hackl for the “Will VR Unlock the Promise of the Metaverse?” panel at the GamesBeat: Into the Metaverse summit. The two VR professionals discussed the role of virtual reality during the pandemic and how the medium might evolve in the future.

Schell and Hackl both agreed that VR has seen a surge in usage now that everyone is at home, meaning it’s the perfect time to try and convince new users to try it. There have been a number of virtual concerts, hangouts, and other events that have helped people escape their homes.

“We’ve seen the numbers, the accessibility of the Quest and the pandemic has really got people trying these experiences and sticking with them,” Schell said. “People have a desire to go to places beyond the four walls of their home.”

Spatial, a company that creates a Zoom-like product for VR, has seen a 1,000% increase in use since the pandemic worsened in March. Other companies have started to use VR exercises to train and recruit new employees over the last year. Some of the companies that provide those tools can hardly keep up with demand.

Industry observers expected these professionally minded usage spikes for VR even before the pandemic. Hackl and Schell went further and brainstormed a few ideas of how companies could experiment with VR tech. Schell mentioned volumetric cameras and how VR could help people relive past memories, like their child’s first steps, by seeing them while submerged in the medium. Hackl talked about how VR could help us govern and create new policies in more efficient ways. The panel kept returning to ideas they called “food for thought” in order to challenge viewers to think about how the medium could evolve.

Despite the growth seen during the pandemic, virtual reality is still a long way away from mainstream success. Schell described the medium’s current place with the “10 million effect.”

“If more than 10 million have [a VR headset], then some of your friends probably have it. If less than 10 million have it then your friends probably won’t,” he said. “VR is in that less than zone.”

Half Life: Alyx, among a handful of other games, are the only blockbuster experiences that virtual reality has right now, and Schell added that most VR companies don’t see the benefit of developing a game that can cost up to $100 million with the user base that VR currently holds.

Still, Hackl and Schell held firm that VR developers have a chance to capture the attention of the populace. Many of whom are eager for a new way to escape the grim reality we’re living in.

“Everyone working in AR and VR is creating the printing press of the future,” Hackl said.

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