Virtual Reality is back in the news. Facebook surprised the world back in March by paying $2bn to acquire leading VR firm and 3D goggle-maker Oculus Rift. Since then, the hysteria, cynicism and speculation subsided. However, in the past few days, Oculus Rift has reappeared in the headlines. First it was announced, on 30 April, that the headset would be sold to consumers next year (the current version is developer only). Then, on 1 April, the Wall Street Journal broke the news that Oculus now faced a legal challenge from a former colleague over rights to its technology. But what do kids think of Virtual Reality?
SuperAwesome’s Research and Innovation team ran a weekly survey on 450 7-12 year olds (out of 900 7-18 year olds) in the wake of Oculus Rift’s acquisition – to gauge the opinions of a generation who already dedicate many of their waking hours to staring at screens, even if these ones aren’t strapped to their faces.
Among our discoveries were that 76% of kids didn’t really know what Virtual Reality was, 80% would be very eager to get their hands on a headset and only 8% thought that Facebook’s move was ‘scary’.
Carry on reading for all our findings.
Most kids aren’t confident about what ‘Virtual Reality’ really is
- Only 24% of 7-12 year olds said that they knew what Virtual Reality was
- However, a further 28% said they thought they knew what it was, meaning that over half the 8-12s we polled had some idea of what the term meant
- Kids who claimed to know what VR was often didn’t distinguish between traditional Virtual Worlds (like Second Life, Habbo or Stardoll) and Virtual Reality relating to a piece of technology (not that we really expected them to)
Q: What is Virtual Reality?
“it is when you have a ‘another life’ on the internet/computer”
“it’s real life on the internet”
“a game like zwinky where u can chat to people”
“Is like Habbo Or MSP”
Computer games are sill the most obvious reference point for Virtual Reality, but some kids see the social networking potential of the technology
- When asked what they though VR consisted of, the majority defined it as a video game
- This reflects reality. Oculus Prime, in its current form, is a 3D gaming company aiming to make gaming as real as possible
“living life in a game”
“Virtual reality is when you feel like you’re in a game”
“A computer game that people think is real”
Virtual reality was either seen as ‘false’ or exciting
“experiencing something that feels real but isn’t”
“something that is not real”
“nearly real things”
“When you can see a virtual world (e.g. Computer games) in the real world so therefore it looks real and believable!”
Aspiration and imagination: kids love to fantasise about what Virtual Reality might offer
- When we explained Virtual Reality and asked the kids about what their virtual reality would look like, the responses broadly fell into four categories:
Q: What would your Virtual Reality look like?
1. There were typically boyish responses:
“I would play for liverpool fc and we would constantly win the league”
2. As well as typically girly responses:
“All pink trees made of candy floss and harry styles everywhere”
(Candy floss featured in a very high proportion of answers)
3. We even had one or two early adopters:
“”BTW I know that is an oculous rift I have one. It’s basically having two screens tied to your face.””
(Perhaps this boy’s Dad had got hold of a developer kit, or fixed straps to a few screens)
4. But most answers were just plain insane
“rainbows unicorns food money piggys butterflies cotton candy no vegetables”
According to kids, virtual reality doesn’t have to be realistic, just immersive
- We asked kids to choose from 6 different images of virtual reality
- These comprised the landscape of a Star Wars-like planet, a first-person fighting game, a dynamic racing game, an open field, the view from the top of a skyscraper…oh, and Minecraft (see below)
- Minecraft wiped the board with all the other options, getting 48% of the vote
- What makes Minecraft such an engaging game is that it offers a relatively simplistic, pixelated world while pulling players into the game through harnessing their creativity and dedication, rewarding them by showing them the fruits of their hard virtual-labour
- Our child respondents would be very disappointed to learn that Minecraft creator Markus Perrson (very publicly) cancelled his development of an official Minecraft version of Oculus Rift after the Facebook acquisition, stating “I don’t want to work with social, I want to work with games”
Once kids knew what Virtual Reality was, they wanted to both own a device and use it to its full potential
- 80% of kids said they’d like to own a Virtual Reality headset
- The most popular options chosen for the most important use of a VR headset were “visiting places in the world I could never go to” (28%) and “exploring virtual fantasy worlds” (25%)
- It is fascinating that children were more concerned about replicating existing reality than exploring a new fantasy reality through the device’s visuals
- However, there were limits to the appeal of the real world: only 5% felt that learning online was the most important way to use Virtual Reality, somewhat stymying the ideas of those (including Zuckerberg) who are promoting MMO education
“Imagine…studying in a classroom of students and teachers all over the world…just by putting on goggles in your home.”
Which brings us to Facebook…
Children react very differently from adults to Facebook getting hold of Oculus Rift
- The Guardian summed up the reactions of industry experts to Facebook’s acquisition of Oculus Rift as a mix of “illusion and delusion”
- This didn’t appear in any of our answers
Q: Facebook just bought a company that makes virtual reality goggles. Is this exciting, scary or do you not know?
- When asked what they felt about Facebook buying Oculus Rift, 55% said this was ‘exciting’, 37% said they did not know and only 8% felt it was ‘scary’, a sentiment shared by this man
And finally…Kids think Virtual Reality headsets are much more expensive than they are
- 49% of 7-12 year olds thought that a Virtual Reality headset would cost over £500
- In reality, the developer kit version of the headset can be yours for $350 (£207)
- Only 13% of the kids guessed in the actual current price range
So, when Oculus Rift’s headset hits the shelves next year the company should expect to find, in pre-teen kids, an enthusiastic, imaginative and trusting audience, whose parents might be pleasantly surprised with the price tag.
(To find out more about our Virtual Reality Survey or to receive a copy of the latest SuperAwesome research report, email firstname.lastname@example.org)