Why Web VR

The web isn't perfect, but it's the best place we have for VR, or indeed anything else

By Leigh Garland on

Why Web VR

I've been working with the web since the mid-nineties (although occasionally against it). At that time, people were pretty dismissive in the face of it's potential, including me (I was a CD-ROM / shockwave developer)

An encyclopedia online? It'll never replace CD-ROM, you can't deliver rich content over the web.

me, 1996

Then there was

Online shopping? - it'll never replace shops, people want to touch the things they buy.

loads of people

And who could forget

Voice over IP will never replace the telephone

Social media can't beat meeting your friends in person

There'll always be a place for broadcast TV

and finally...

No-one would ever do [ANY OF THE ABOVE] on their mobile, it's a terrible experience.


So, perhaps the best VR experiences are, in the short term, going to be reserved for Steam and Oculus stores, but be assured VR on the web is part of the future. For many people, convenience, not quality, is the driving force behind their choices.

I don't really want to talk about the technical feasibility, short of saying, bandwidth gets bigger, phones get more powerful, and few people have a spare £2000 for a full Vive or Rift rig, but they do have a phone in their pocket.

The reason the web will win, or certainly the reason the web should win, is distribution.

App stores suffer from a problem of discoverability.

Well, that's not strictly true.

Friction

Developers suffer from the lack of discoverability. Users suffer from lack of discoverability. App stores still get paid.

Consider the difference here between web and app store:

APP STORE :

User sees ad in twitter feed > clicks > launches web page > redirects to app store > user clicks 'install' > user clicks 'open' > starts to play

WEB :

User sees ad in Twitter feed > clicks > launches VR

It's why Apple has to put those 'number of steps has been reduced' in their video adverts.

Distribution

Another problem is the censorship publishing guidelines. There is a discussion to be had around the fact that stores don't allow apps with nudity or gambling, but will happily allow apps and games showing extreme graphic violence. It's their monopoly on culture. If your culture is comfortable with nakedness, but uncomfortable with violence, tough, Google knows better; Valve knows better; Facebook knows better.

What's also problematic is that App stores can be notoriously capricious. They regularly pull apps for no apparent reason; deny publication because of an arbitrary infringement of some arcane rule. Or, they suddenly hike the price of submission.

Let's assume you have a great game about naked gardening (yeah, it's a thing).

APP STORE :

You submit game > wait 2 weeks > App is rejected > cover nipples > resubmit > App is rejected > resubmit > rinse > repeat

WEB :

You buy domain > ??? > Profit!

Control

Finally, with that combination of monopoly and secrecy, app stores have the potential to be easily abused by those in power, or for those people not to be held to account when darker forces compel them to do bad things. Luckily for us, all of the biggest app stores are based in a country unaffected by corruption, religious fundamentalism or dubious foreign influence.

Yeah, but...

The web is not perfect. It can be painful to work with, especially at the bleeding edge. The variety of devices to cater for can be mind-numbing. What was working yesterday may suddenly stop working. It's hard to predict what kind of experience people will get, or the quality of the hardware, or which browsers they'll have installed.

BUT, bet against the web at your peril. It's already the best distribution platform, and has a large open community. Google & Facebook are betting on the web, building WebVR directly into their browsers.