If your entire understanding of virtual reality and augmented marketing came from science fiction films, you’d be sorely disappointed with the progress current platforms have made up to the current year of 2019. But, for those of us living in the here and now, you’re just waiting for the technology to become easier to use and for the ubiquity of AR and VR in marketing and advertising.

That’s not to say companies haven’t tried: Google Glass, AR and VR advertisements have all come and gone and mostly failed to penetrate the zeitgeist (with the exception of Snapchat’s AR Lens and Instagram’s copycat, face filters). For consumers and even brands, the threshold of ease and ubiquity hasn’t been crossed, but when it does, the changes to the marketing industry will be massive.

To that end, we’ve gathered experts from across the virtual reality and augmented reality industries to answer some questions about the state of these technologies and what might happen in 2019.

What changed in VR and AR over the course of 2018?

Jason Yim, CEO and executive creative director, Trigger: 2018 was a year of democratization for AR, starting with Snap opening up its Lens Studio, Facebook joining the fight and the year ending with web AR finally becoming a viable platform. Not only was there more AR content available for the consumer, but it would also be easier to reach and experience.

Rick Rey and Andy Vick, co-presidents of VR/immersive entertainment, STXsurreal: [What changed was the] enthusiastic adoption of dedicated VR devices like the standalone Oculus Go and PlayStation VR—which don’t require a PC to deliver high-quality VR experiences. It’s clear that there is a passionate (and growing) “casual” audience out there for premium VR, and it’s only going to grow as hardware prices come down and the quality of VR content goes up. Now with big Hollywood talent actively engaged in the space, we think premium scripted entertainment in VR can be a major driver of adoption.

Brad Herman, CTO and co-founder, SPACES: Hundreds of location-based VR entertainment destinations have opened all over the world.       

Micah Jackson, CEO, Angeles Vista Creative Ventures: I feel that 2018 was a year where lots of groundwork was done for the future of VR. However, the overall interest cooled off a bit. Borrowing a “Wall Street” analogy, I’d say 2018 was a year where the VR market was correcting itself. We saw a lot of small studios close and a lot of major players like The Void, SPACES and Dreamscape emerge.

Chris Reese, CEO, VRX: In addition to the Vive Pro coming out, there were many more titles that came out for VR. Location-based VR arcades are still struggling to find a sustainable business model, but some have. The greatest issues are in the areas of equipment durability and licensing. Unique, multi-player experiences such as Disney’s Void and virtual escape rooms seem to do the best. Additionally, we saw technology take a leap to high-quality HMD-only devices like the Oculus Go, freeing the user from the PC tether.

Ricardo Justus, CEO, Arvore Immersive Experiences: User adoption went up, great games were released that are more solid full experiences and games of their own instead of the more experimental stuff of 2016 and 2017. Certain titles achieved great success and explored the medium in completely new ways. Also, a great market opened up in the form of fully immersive location-based entertainment, showing that beyond being interesting for home use, VR can become a great form of out of home entertainment.

What are some broad expectations you have for these technologies over the next year?

JY: Web AR will become standard across all browsers. Allowing consumers to access “light” AR features without downloading an app and directly from any webpage or even social media. This will broaden the adoption of AR, and encourage users to try more powerful app-based experiences.

5G will enable “heavy” AR experience over-the-air for consumers with high-end devices, paving the way for everyone else to catch up in 2020. AR HMDs [head mounted displays] will gain significant traction in the Enterprise market, but will still be too early for consumers.

RR and AV: We believe we’ll see the adoption of hardware continue to trend up as the quality of products increases and price points drop. That, in combination with larger mass-marketing campaigns from the manufacturers, will drive overall awareness to a new level that goes far beyond the “early adopter” audience.

There will also be a continuation of breakout content that utilizes the unique attributes of immersive tech in new and interesting ways. This will ultimately lead to even larger adoption as the behavior for VR will become more commonplace.

BH: VR Headsets will get lighter, higher resolution, and more evolution of wireless technology. The start of the 5G revolution’s impact on VR will show up.

MJ: I believe 2019 will be an exciting year for VR. With the release of the upcoming Oculus Quest and Magic Leap headsets, I think mass audience interest in VR will rise.

Also fueling the interest in VR will be premium, location-based VR centers like the Void, Dreamscape and SPACES. This “perfect storm” combination of new hardware and experiences should reignite curiosity in VR for the next couple of years. 

CJ: I anticipate we will see increases in display resolution. The screen door effect is still an issue at HD resolutions. I’d also like to see more improvements in kinetic controllers and AR integration.

RJ: With the release of true stand-alone devices with six degrees of freedom inside-out tracking like the Oculus Quest will change things a lot, as with these devices VR is no longer an “accessory” to a PC or console but becomes the device/console itself. I expect a lot will change with the market and possibilities with this category.

What do you believe VR/AR can do for marketing and advertising?

JY: People have made their purchase decisions based on small, static, 2D photographs since the Sears catalog in the early 1800s. AR will completely change all that. In the near future, we will come to expect an accurate, life-size, 3D preview of every object. And while consumers can already drop an AR couch in the living room to see how it fits, a year from now they will be dropping an entire volumetric 3D commercial into their living room trying to sell them a new couch.

RR and AV: Marketing dollars help introduce consumers to new tech and allow creators to fund their experimentation in unique ways.  We’ve already seen this impact over the last few years, and we see a massive potential to do it bigger and better now that the content creation process has gotten more sophisticated. It just takes the right brand with a vision and eye towards innovation.

While consumers can already drop an AR couch in the living room to see how it fits, a year from now they will be dropping an entire volumetric 3D commercial into their living room trying to sell them a new couch. —Jason Yim

BH: It’s not the medium, it’s the message. If you want to deliver a message in an immersive and all-encompassing way then VR is the best way to do that. If you want to activate your message on mobile phones and mix the real world with digital then AR is right for you. Just look at all the amazing work being done in 2018. 

MJ: If done well (and tastefully) VR and AR could be the most immersive and engaging forms of advertising we’ve ever seen. I’m actually exploring this angle myself at the moment. If you allow people to engage with brands and products in three dimensions, I believe it will have a much greater impact than traditional media. In the future, I believe VR/AR marketing will play a major role in introducing consumers to products and getting them to engage with them willingly. As people skip Youtube commercials, scroll past mobile ads and stop watching live television, VR may be the only qualitative advertising platform.

CR: I anticipate we will see increases in display resolution. The screen door effect is still an issue at HD resolutions. I’d also like to see more improvements in kinetic controllers and AR integration.

RJ: The ability to create actual living experiences with XR that go beyond traditional storytelling, where you bring people into actual immersive story worlds can be a powerful tool for marketing, especially when talking about companies that sell a brand experience.

Do you think we can expect to see a marked difference in the amount of AR and VR advertising in 2019?

JY: We expect a big increase in 2019 in AR advertising. Web AR and new platforms will provide additional channels for the advertiser on top of Snap and Facebook/Instagram. While brands that experimented in 2018, will commit to larger campaigns that deliver content across many AR platforms instead of just one. An AR strategy will take its place next to a brand’s web, mobile and social strategy.

RR and AV: As the immersive space continues to mature in 2019 there will be more innovative brands jumping in and pushing the envelope. The benefits that come with treading new ground will pay off nicely if properly executed because the end consumer is growing tired of the more traditional interaction with brands. Experiential activations will be even more crucial to breaking through the noise of the digital age.  The companies that choose to wait on the sidelines will have to play catch up, but at the risk of looking like, they’re late to the party. 5G will also start to become a part of the conversation. The telcos need to find strong use cases for this exponentially more powerful pipeline. Hopefully, AR can play into this evolution along with the tetherless VR headsets.

BH: I think that the smart marketers will continue to do what they have always done, make compelling messages for their clients. AR and VR continue to provide a best in class experience and reaction that can’t be achieved with other platforms.

MJ: I’m sure the headset makers will increase their spend on advertising next year, which will benefit the VR industry overall. I’m optimistic that the interest in new hardware will trigger an appetite for content, which will, in turn, make VR/AR advertising more viable. However, I’m not sure we will see much of an increase in AR/VR ad content overall. As the new headsets enter the market and people buy them, then we’ll begin to see the increase in ad-supported VR content.

CR: I think we are already starting to see an uptick in AR advertising. It’s a way to entice customers to download the company’s app so they can interact with the AR Easter eggs hidden in the product packaging. At VRX, we see huge opportunities here as well as for convention and visitor bureaus. What can be done with the technology to tell the story of a community or create interaction with local retailers are virtually unlimited.

RJ: VR is evolving more and more out of the “novelty” stage to becoming a medium of its own, which means deeper and more powerful experiences. Any brand that is interested in creating immersive communication will possibly want to turn to out of home VR.

In AR and VR, will brands be ahead of consumer adoption? Will they help drive consumer adoption?

JY: Brands will play their part in consumer adoption by filling the ecosystem with content. However, what will really change user behavior will be the maturation of the underlying technology. Each improvement will bring more users because AR itself will become suddenly more useful.

RR and AV: Brands have already been ahead of consumer adoption in virtual reality, but they have to keep the drumbeat going if they want to truly get value out of the foundation they started building. Looking specifically at brands that launched VR apps and channels – the opportunity to funnel premium content into these channels is tremendous right now, and those viewers are actively engaged and looking for more. I can’t think of a more loyal and dedicated audience than VR users.

BH: Location-based VR entertainment has always been a focus of ours, back to our use of it for marketing at Dreamworks in 2014 and beyond. As a team, we have introduced many tens of thousands of people to VR. People who don’t have headsets at home. Having a great experience in Location Based VR Entertainment is a great funnel for consumer adoption and nearly all marketing VR falls into that category.

MJ: Depends. If there is a significant increase in new users, brands will follow. However, I think major brands will take a ‘wait and see’ approach. It took years before companies like Nestle or Coke partnered with box and PlayStation to market to gamers. However, more ‘edgy’ brands have already been experimenting with VR/AR and I’m not sure it drove much consumer interest. In the end, I believe content will drive adoption and brands should be looking to partner with content creators.

CR: I think most brands are still trying to figure it out. They went through the whole 3D phase which passed rather quickly. However, we see VR and AR as here to stay. I think brands will continue to push into AR, and VR will lag behind. The challenge at the moment with VR for brands is the small adoption numbers.

RJ: I think more than anything, good content is what drives consumer adoption, not brands. If more and more compelling games and interactive experiences are released, more people will try it and adopt it.

What is your bold prediction for AR/VR in 2019?

JY: In 2019 AR will no longer “wow” the consumer, but instead it will begin to become useful. Like GPS, AR will become a powerful and useful ingredient in many applications and use-cases.

RR and AV: VR filmmaking will have its House of Cards moment where a star-driven VR movie gets on everyone’s radar – making it a truly must-see experience – and pushes forward VR interest and adoption in a huge way.

BH: 2019 is the year of whole family social fun in VR.

MJ:  My guess is that Sony will announce their next generation console and PSVR replacement at E3 2019 and Apple may get into the VR space as well. Outside of hardware speculation, I believe 2019 will be a significant year for VR content creators like me!

CR: I believe VR will move from early adopters into a heavy growth phase.

RJ: Steady growth of the home-use space, amazing new location-based experiences, and new and surprising device announcements.