VR sickness: the struggle is real
On a crisp fall day, I walked into my office with a grin on my face. Not the fake-it-until-you-become-it type of grin that one might use when faced with a mundane workday. No; this was one of those uncontrollable, Cheshire Cat grins. Some coworkers were experimenting with the Oculus Rift DK1, and I was scheduled to test it that day. After rushing them through the formalities, I transported to a new virtual world.
What was amazing at first quickly turned into a series of miserable events more memorable than the VR itself. Within a 2-minute time span, I became covered in a cold sweat and had a next-level sensation of nausea and disorientation. This, unfortunately, was an all-too-familiar feeling; I had felt it with many recent FPS games, starting with the release of Borderlands 2. Ladies and gentlemen: I had VR sickness.
Sensory conflict, or when one sense is experiencing something inconsistent with another, is a top-cited reason for VR sickness. Too much latency/motion blur, for example, can cause our bodies to feel movement before we see it . VR sickness may be a particular challenge for mobile phone-based headsets .
IonVR: vomitless reality
Boise-based IonVR was founded in 2014 by Dan Thurbur after his own experience with VR sickness . The team has since created a mobile phone-based HMD that mitigates VR sickness.
The primary ways IonVR creates value are its MotionSync technology, its modularity, and its platform agnosticism.
IonVR’s HMDs are equipped with MotionSync technology, which the company claims will reduce the latency and motion blur that cause VR sickness . The details are secret, but it appears to be a combination of hardware and optics that create a better experience . This allows people like me to actually play VR games and may also open the door to different styles of games. Based on anecdotal evidence, even strong stomachs are sensitive to motion-intensive games.
When customers buy a new smartphone, they do not have to worry about replacing their entire HMD. The design is modular so that customers can switch out an attachment to fit their new phone or purchase upgraded components when available .
Finally, IonVR creates value by being platform agnostic, which allows a wide variety of players to create applications for the device. To stimulate development, IonVR has partnered with the developer community, such as with XDA Developers . In theory, this may increase the number of compatible applications and thus the value to customers. It could backfire if closed platforms incentivize developers to build on their platforms instead of on open platforms.
IonVR captures value by selling the HMD and modular upgradable components. 2016 preorders were priced at $229 , putting it between other mobile phone-based HMDs (Gear VR, $129) and the Oculus Rift ($598) . This is consistent with is positioning as a mobile phone-based HMD that delivers a high-quality experience.
The path ahead
IonVR has already made several choices that are consistent with a growth strategy, such as being platform agnostic, partnering with developers, pricing below the Rift, and partnering on Intel’s RealSense technology to allow a user to navigate real-world obstacles .
If its HMD is indeed more capable of mitigating VR sickness than substitutes, IonVR should incentivize developers to create applications that push the limits on motion. Given the low market penetration of HMDs, network effects between developers and users, and high switching costs, early wins could lead to long-term success. A blockbuster application that is only tolerable on the IonVR HMD could attract first-time customers. An early lead in the installed user base could attract more developers to make their applications compatible via the IonVR SDKs; more applications could then attract more users. It may be too ambitious to develop a blockbuster game from scratch. Instead, IonVR should look for an existing blockbuster game that could be adapted for VR; it may even be wise to target existing games known to cause VR sickness.