Virtual Reality is certainly not dead; that is for certain. Although there seems to be a consensus that nothing surprising was shown off this year at CES, that doesn’t mean there weren’t many VR technologies on display. Everything from headsets to peripherals was shown off this year in Las Vegas. With the proliferation of VR products, however, there is a new concern. For every high-quality product, there are hundred of cheap knock-offs. The cheaper variations could easily damage the reputation of VR, which is still not at a desirable level. What can be done to help solve this issue? Quite simply, it is to take the same approach other industries have: trade associations.
Trade associations and why they matter
Trade associations are essentially organisations by companies of companies for companies. Various heads will get together, raise their own funding and use the group for two purposes. The first is essentially public relations, mainly to improve the public’s image of the industry. The other is to promote collaboration within the industry. In industry speak that means the promotion of best practices. In layman’s terms, it means that there is a minimum standard followed by everyone who is part of the organisation.
Many very famous trade organisations have been extremely successful in both of these goals. For example, the term ‘litterbug’ was created by Keep America Beautiful, an association of the major American Corporations. This organisation, in particular, was set up to prevent littering in America but works in a similar fashion to other trade associations.
So why would a trade association work for Virtual Reality? Quite simply, VR needs help in both public relations and collaboration. Outside of those within the industry, no-one has a very clear idea of what VR is. Anecdotally I brought up the subject of VR with friends, and many only thought of it as a gaming gimmick. At various PC expos here in Singapore, you would be hard pressed to see more than one HTC Vive set up as a sideshow.
Speaking of real VR, there is a real quality issue plaguing the VR industry. There are lots of cheap headsets flooding the market, which would give the impression of diversity. However, most of these are glorified Google Cardboard holders. Even worse, the good headsets are expensive. If VR is to change, this needs to.
The start of change
So for VR to really take off, there needs to be an organisation of manufacturers who work together to make sure it succeeds. Thankfully, that is already happening with not one, but two of these organisations. The first, known as the GVRA, was set up late last year by six major VR players. Another has just been announced at CES, called the Virtual Reality Industry Forum (VRIF). VRIF is a group created by 28 businesses such as Sky, Technicolor and Ericsson, and concerns the adoption of VR services in media. So we have groups for the creation of VR content and devices, and another for the distribution of the content. With big corporate names attached, this could be a massive leap forward for the technology.
There are of course problems with trade associations. Namely, they have been criticised in the past for being anti-competitive or creating price cartels. There are some famous cases in history, such as the recent example of Unilever, Proctor and Gamble and Henkel controlling the price of washing powder in Europe in 2011. However, these worries shouldn’t be overstated in VR, because while major companies could try to control the price of VR, it would only backfire on them. Also, it would clear space for startups to steal market share.
In short, trade associations are a big necessity for Virtual Reality, and the fact that we now have two international groups is very encouraging. It is too soon to tell if they will make a significant difference, but we can only hope that it will help push VR to new heights in both quality and adoption.