Your App is Now a World
This article is part of our series on VR. Start at the beginning.
When designing a smartphone app, you’re not building a world. Your app’s world is this one. You may try to predict a user’s context, to imagine how and where users will invite your products into the ongoing narrative of their lives. In VR, however, you are inviting users into the narrative of your world, and the responsibility to codify, develop, and establish that world is on you.
Do you have to build an environment?
The short answer is yes. An app needs an environment to contain its core activities. Being in three dimensions means this is unavoidable. Even if you choose a plain, white void, it’s still an environment. And it will have the emotional effect on users you’d expect: it will be kind of boring.
Just because an app is a world doesn’t mean it has to mirror a world’s size or complexity. It can be small and simple—perhaps room-scale. And on the other side of the spectrum, it should at least try to be more than some 2D screens exploded into empty, 3D space. Otherwise, why build it in VR?
What will you do with their undivided attention?
Apps-as-worlds means far fewer things will distract users away from your app when it’s being used. While the headset is on, you have their undivided attention. At least until they become more integrated with our everyday lives, VR apps will fall more into the category of experience than utility. Merely being useful will not be enough. But, so long as you reward attention with a unique point-of-view and novel things to interact with and discover, users will have a reason to stay awhile longer.
Taking the time to build a considered, crafted world makes for an ultimately a richer, more meaningful user experience. But to really make your world believable, it needs constraints.