After hearing today about Shazam's new AR app and PlayStation VR's Joshua Bell Experience -- a 360 video where you can actually walk around the set -- I realized I'm not the only one talking about the massive potential for music in VR. In fact, when I read Chris Kohler's WIRED article about why PSVR's killer app is music in October last year I couldn't help but say "YES!" out loud as though I was discussing it with Kohler himself. And this viewpoint is catching on. Just google 'music and VR' and you'll see what I mean.
"Music games trade on synesthesia"
One of my first experiences with the PSVR was Harmonix Music VR. The moment I finished it I decided to pre-order a PSVR. There are four modes: The Easel, The Beach, The Trip and The Dance. The Beach is by far my favorite... as with all of VR, it's not something I can do justice by just describing it -- it has to be experienced to be appreciated. Between that and The Trip (like being inside a kaleidoscope), I spent a personal record of 3 hours in my headset, even though it felt like a half hour.
Kohler relayed his friend's theory as to why these experiences can be so compelling: "You need a lot of focus, he pointed out, to play rhythm games, and VR helps you focus by cutting out the real world almost entirely. These games trade on synesthesia, the blending of senses—seeing sounds, hearing colors. The all-encompassing nature of VR helps this along, I think." It's really hard to describe the feeling that comes from a headset, a great pair of headphones and your favorite song (and a joint if you're up for it), but suffice to say it only took a couple minutes to vacillate between weightlessness and goosebumps.
VR is not just a transformative medium, it's transforming media.
Remember when Napster came out? Yes, records, cassettes and CDs were all revolutionary to the medium, but Napster helped grow PCs into the all-in-one hubs they are now. You didn't need to upload your CDs, or even <em>have</em> CDs -- you could just download music onto the same device you used for work, chatting with friends and video games. Very shortly after came legitimate music downloads on iTunes, then on-demand radio Pandora and six years after, music streaming via Spotify. I don't think I have a single CD in my home anymore... my phone does all the work for just $10 a month.
Did you remember that all happening so fast? Just think about how much music evolved in less than 10 years. Doesn't that put VR into perspective a bit? While the world see-saws between excitement and disappointment, we're only in consumer VR's second year. But it feels like VR's been standing still. And music's felt slow too because each innovation made us more excited about the possibilities of the next. Less than a decade after Spotify launched we can now just ask Alexa, Siri or Google to play our favorite playlist. As music goes from device to download to on-demand to AI-driven, it has evolved into more than just something you listen to, and VR is going to be the next step in that evolution.
Harmonix is coming out with Rock Band VR at the end of this month, using VR to harness the inexplicable but intense satisfaction of interacting with a game rhythmically. Thumper and Audio Shield are other great examples of titles that do that, all of which are easy to learn off the bat for new users. They're easy to learn and hard to master -- cornerstones of compelling, replayable content and necessary in a killer VR app since the industry is still selling consumers on the idea of the technology itself.
The overabundance of hardcore games that are trying squeeze every drop from VR leaves little for newcomers since they can be overwhelming for a VRgin. Reality is already fast-paced, stressful and exciting, so when a consumer is trying VR for the first time, it needs to be easy to slip into the experience. VR's immersion factor actually puts users into something of a meditative state when they are experiencing music. It forces us to become hyper-aware of our physical presence in space, keeping us from wandering into the cacophony of thoughts that constantly plague us. In order for VR to go mainstream, it needs to offer the general consumer a safe place where they won't feel sick or scared or overwhelmed. And what feels safer than the beautiful world inside your favorite song?