How VR’s Massive Growth Amid COVID-19 Shows It’s Here to Stay

Is VR the next tech craze? Maybe?

Key Takeaways

  • VR is experiencing massive market growth, setting a trend for years to come.
  • Coronavirus' unique social isolation may have been a driving force behind interest in VR.
  • Tech companies are seeing the future of VR far beyond the world of gaming as the coronavirus has people re-envisioning their professional lives.
Person using a VR headset with the view imposed on the image.
Yagi Studio / Getty Images 

The future for virtual reality is extremely bright as the coronavirus pandemic has opened consumers up to more imaginative possibilities in the realm of tech that go beyond gaming.

A recent report released by Advance Market Analytics illustrates VR is set for massive expansion as it experiences explosive market growth. The year-to-year increase of VR has historically been steep, with pre-COVID projections showing an annual 30 percent growth rate through 2027, according to Grand View Research. The coronavirus pandemic has simply increased that threshold, becoming one of the primary drivers for consumers and businesses in 2020.

"VR will be, for a long time, a small segment of the gaming market. But its increase is predictable. After all, it provides an experience no other medium can provide," said Stéphane Intissar, CEO of VR gaming company OZWE Games, in an interview with Lifewire.

Coronavirus Impact on VR

OZWE Games has been a leader in the VR market with popular gaming titles like Beat Saber and Anshar Wars, as an official Oculus partner. Intissar sees the glass as half full as the pandemic has caused increased interest in VR technology.

VR hardware sales, however, have fallen in 2020 as supply issues have compounded due to the labor difficulties that followed the global pandemic. Researchers show supply, not demand, caused a decrease in access to VR devices in 2020 as video game titles like Half-Life: Alyx saw what demand might look like. That game alone earned more than all PC VR game titles in 2019.

VR Gaming content is responsible for approximately 41 percent of total market share, far outpacing educational, professional, or accessibility use. Gaming giant, Sony, is the world’s largest VR vendor with the popular PlayStation VR, but Facebook’s foray into VR is starting to shift the market with impressive numbers and a growing Chinese market is sure to cause further disruption.

A mature couple gaming with VR goggles on.
Westend61 / Getty Images 

"We are seeing a +5x increase of VR sales since the release of Quest 2 by Facebook. This looks to be the predominant headset on the US market for the year to come," said Intissar. "At the same time, more Chinese equipment makers are moving on the China market, which Facebook does not cover. This could be an extra increase in the market in 2021."

The greatest impact of coronavirus on the reality of VR is not gaming, but the world of business. Companies are rethinking the way they engage with both their employees and consumers as distance-based relationships increasingly become the norm. 

Post-Gaming Future

Back in May 2020, Facebook flirted with the idea of investing in augmented and virtual reality to increase remote work productivity and collaboration in the midst of the worst of the coronavirus pandemic that showed at-distance work as a potential medium-term reality for a lot of American workers.

This combination of virtual and augmented reality (AR), known as mixed reality, is likely far from being a common component of tech going forward. However, startups like Microsoft HoloLens and Magic Leap One are leading the pack to make the industry more accessible to everyday users.

Many of the innovators in the tech world are already VR and mixed reality as a tangible possibility. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said he wants to get "a billion people into virtual reality" during a 2017 Oculus 4 event. A tall order, the company has invested heavily in virtual reality, promising $3 billion over the next decade, and other industry leaders are following suit including Microsoft and Apple with its recent acquisition of NextVR. These companies are looking to expand VR into the world of labor with glasses and headsets.

Of course, outside of cushy office jobs, this is not a realistic reimagining of the way people work, but it does have the possibility to trickle down in unique, not-yet-known ways to other sectors.

A medical doctor working with a VR headset.
seksan Monghonkhamsao / Getty Images 

As the coronavirus pandemic has made remote work commonplace, the lack of collaborative work has been a concern for some, but VR and AR allow employees to work together in new and exciting ways to potentially help reignite the office feel of at-home work. While seen as more of a novelty gaming item, VR has begun to take root beyond that narrow lens.

Outside of the professional world, Intissar also sees VR making its way deeper into the entertainment sphere and even making inroads in the housing market.

"There is a great chance that movie theaters will disappear in the medium term, so VR could be a great replacement for this," she said.

"There was a surge for newer, safer, entertainment options, as well as professional ways to communicate. For instance, there is no way, except using a VR headset, to effectively visit hotel rooms before you book them online or visit an apartment before buying/renting it without going on site. There is a strong market opportunity there."

VR might be a game-changer as the markets continue to grow at exponential rates, but as it stands there seems to be more interest than content. It remains, according to a number of metrics, a novelty device for 25 to 40-year-old male tech enthusiasts—far removed from what innovators envision as the future of VR. 

"Now, content must follow," Intissar said. "We are not there yet, though."