There is a fine art (some would call it, a black art) to giving a VR demonstration to someone who has never been in virtual reality before. And, as someone who does it fairly often, I wanted to share some of what I have learned (often, the hard way!) in giving a number of people at my workplace (the University of Manitoba Libraries) their first taste of VR.
In fact, just last week, I had a recently retired coworker (who had never experienced virtual reality before) come in, at my invitation, to try it out for himself. My current set-up at work is an HTC Vive Pro 2 Office Kit, with the traditional Vive “wand” hand controllers, the same set-up which I am proposing for the virtual reality lab project that I am currently working on. (The standard Vive controllers feel more like tools, as opposed to hand extensions, and I can only imagine how much more of a newbie learning curve setting up the Knuckles controllers would be, given how much fidgeting and adjusting I have to do to get my set at home to work “just right”).
Here are some of my tips, tricks, and recommendations for giving inexperienced users a virtual reality demo.
- Safety first: clear your demo space! Remove anything and everything that the user can run into or trip over. I very strongly recommend that first-time VR users stick to seated apps, rather than standing ones, and stationary ones instead of ones where you have to move around, “run”, aim weapons, etc. If you question the wisdom of this advice, there is a whole subreddit community called r/VRtoER which consists of nothing but mishaps from people in VR headsets!
- Make sure all your equipment is ready to go and up-to-date. For example, if you use a headset with Steam, run SteamVR ahead of time and let it update. Make sure that any software you plan to demo is fully updated to the latest version. Fully charge your headset and/or hand controllers to ensure that they are ready. Nothing is worse than having to end a session early because a device has run out of power!
- Explain what VR sickness is and emphasize that they should stop, and NOT push through it, when/if they start to feel sick. Also impress upon the new user that it takes time and patience to build up your tolerance in a VR headset; expecting an inexperienced user to be able to handle anything over 15 minutes at one stretch is too much. It’s also very important to give the new user time between separate virtual reality experiences, even if it is only a few minutes.
- Adjust the headset to the user (head straps, interpupillary distance/IPD dial, etc.), explain to the user how to put the headset on and take it off, and practice that first. You want to do everythig you can to make sure that the new user’s experience is optimal. I have found that it is better to have the user learn how to make adjustments to the headset themselves, although I may fiddle with the head straps and IPD dial a bit, after they have put it on, if they are having problems with the comfort or view.
- Start off with an app where the new user just sits and looks around. When I used to give demos at work using my Oculus Rift, I always started new users with a couple of introductory VR programs, where they did not have to use the hand controllers. One of them which I can recommend highly is the excellent Introduction to Virtual Reality by Felix & Paul Studios*, which consists of a series of three-dimensional videos of various scenes, e.g. Cirque de Soleil jugglers; a boat in a floating market; a scene inside a round Mongolian yurt where a family is sharing a meal. The reason I start off with something like this is because I want the user to get comfortable with the immersive aspect of the technology (how the scene changes in the headset when you turn your head, look up and down, etc.), before adding on the hand controllers.
- Do NOT put the new and inexperienced user in any app which might make him nauseous! It’s tempting to throw the newbie into the deep end, just to get a reaction from him; I get it. However, do you want to be responsible for making him ill in his first virtual reality experience, and perhaps souring him on VR forever? Save Aircar and the roller coaster simulations for later, once they have gotten their VR legs. 😜
For the demo to my retired coworker last week, on my new Vive Pro 2 headset, I tried to find something similar to Felix & Paul’s Introduction to Virtual Reality, only to realize that all the Felix & Paul titles were Meta/Oculus exclusives. Damn! After a frustrating hunt through Steam to find something similar, and striking out, I decided to use a favourite tropical beach world in VRChat, called Deep Blue. I wanted something relaxing for a first experience; getting into a VR headset can be stressful! (Note that I had already logged into VRChat, and set up the world before my coworker arrived; all I had to do is get him set up and put on his headset.)
First, I just had him sit on the dock and look around, to get used to the way it felt to have the headset on, and how the view changed when he looked around. Then, after 5-10 minutes or so, I gave him the hand controllers, and explained how the buttons on them worked, and had him move around in the environment: explore the beach hut, walk along the beach, even go underwater to see the sea turtle!
Then, after I was satisfied that he was handling that experience well, without any VR sickness, I loaded up Il Divino: Michelangelo’s Sistine Ceiling in VR. This app nicely illustrates one of the main selling points of virtual reality, in my mind: the ability to visit and explore places that you would not normally be able to go see, unless you bought a plane ticket! Also, the app has very simple, teleporter-type movement control, which is easy to explain to a new user (and the difference in movement controls between the first and second apps is a good teaching moment to explain that every app is set up differently, and has different controls).
Next, I introduced my coworker to Google Earth VR, the virtual reality version of the already-familiar Google Earth. What I like about Google Earth VR is that you can always see at a glance how the buttons on the hand controllers work, and there are easy-to-navigate menus with some of the most popular locations, such as the statue of Christ the Redeemer high over the city of Rio de Janeiro. I just let him explore to his heart’s content, wherever he wanted to go! He really was amazed how he could zoom out and see the entire Earth from outer space, too.
My VR demo with my retired coworker went so well, that we actually did move on to Aircar, piloting a flying car in a rainy, Blade Runner-esque urban sci-fi environment (although I very strongly impressed upon him that he should stop as soon as he began to feel sick, which he did). He loved it! Some people take to VR like a duck to water. (However, see point 6 above; for 95-99% of first-time users, this is a BAD idea. And, on the other end of the spectrum, I have also had to stop VR demos after ten minutes because of VR sickness. Monitor your newbie carefully and stop as soon as they feel nauseous! This is not something you can just “push through,” trust me.)
I hope that you found this list of do’s and don’ts to be helpful! And if you have any particular programs, platforms, or apps which you like to use to give newbies demos, please drop a comment and let us know what they are and why you like them. Thanks!
A special thank you to John, for being my guinea pig, and the first person to whom I have demoed my new HTC Vive Pro 2 headset at work!
*You can experience this title in 360° video on YouTube: