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Divergence & the Dominance of Platforms: Anticipating the Future of Virtual & Augmented Reality at VR 20/20

Predicting the future is a tricky thing, but it was a challenge taken on by Eric Romo, the co-founder and CEO of social virtual reality startup AltspaceVR.

Speaking at NewBay Media’s Virtual Reality 20/20 Summit in October, Romo offered his view on how key elements of the virtual and augmented reality market look today, and how they will evolve in the next three-plus years. “The big challenge [for the industry] is too much looking forward,” Romo said, before citing this quote from Mark Twain: “Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.”

Many investment firms, he noted, currently have a “VR person,” the individual who understands what all this new stuff is about. He noted that this pattern similarly played out during the early days of the internet, “web 2.0” and mobile, for example. Today, the notion that one person at any company holds all that company’s knowledge on the topic is “ridiculous,” he said, because they eventually became huge, enabling technologies.

AltspaceVR transformed Rockefeller Center into Virtual Democracy Plaza for NBC News

“VR is the same,” Romo said, noting that companies will embrace and use VR as a foundational technology “or suffer.” In 2020, there will no longer be “VR companies,” but companies that use VR to solve specific problems.

Today, Romo said, 360° video is the dominant form of “passive” VR content that happens to work across all platforms. “People sort of know how to make it already,” he said of that category of content. In 2020, he predicted, new forms of “semi-passive” content will emerge and VR itself will become a new medium under which purpose-built content will flourish.

Romo explained that the “metaverse”—generally defined as a collective, virtual shared space—is viewed as a place someone will build, but the metaverse that will emerge in 2020, Romo predicted, will embody “the evolution of the internet.” It will become something different than anything being imagined today. It will not be purposefully built, he said, but will instead materialize from the hard work of disparate groups, all trying to deliver great experiences.

“It’s organic,” Romo concluded. “It’s an evolution.”