Virtual reality (VR) is no longer the future, it is very much the present, and as 2020 approaches, it is not a new concept or experience to many people.
For about the last decade or so, VR has slowly been creeping in across consumer markets and within enterprises too, and from car manufacturing to the development of health interventions and the carrying out of detailed medical procedures, VR is revolutionizing the way we work, he way we look after, and the way we entertain ourselves.
The number of VR apps in development across industries is growing, and it is very likely that as a technical project manager, it won’t be long before a VR undertaking pops up on your horizon. But this is a complex technology with unique advantages, development cycles and challenges. As a PM, what do you need to know about this VR revolution, and what would the reality of managing VR app projects actually be like?
What Project Managers Should Know in terms of VR Development
So, as VR marches into businesses with its vast capabilities and broad range of applications, what do project managers need to look out for in terms of implementing VR development within projects? Here are the main points for you to consider as a VR project manager, as well as the likely challenges you will face along the way. As always within PM, planning and adequate timeframe, as well as smart budgetary management, are key constraints and considerations. Staffing will be a critical element too.
The key roles which exists within the VR lifecycle
What are the key roles within the VR lifecycle? This is obviously a vital component, as project managers must prepare all the necessary personal for these positions. Coding of the VR will fall, of course, to software developers.
“However, software development has an incredible number of niches within its confines, so be aware that you need VR specialists, and this is not necessarily a skill or an experience that many software developers will have. Keep that in mind,” says Braedon Smith, a project manager at Do My Assignment and PaperFellows.
The vast majority of VR projects these days use Unreal Engine or Unity 3D in terms of development. In fact, over 90% of the development is now performed with Unity 3D, and there should be plenty of developers out there with this skill. First you must understand what 3D engine you are going to employ, and then seek out those developers accordingly.
If you are building your 3D engine entirely within the business, then as well as developers you will need graphics experts too. Skills and experience with OpenGL are the types of tools that are relevant here in terms of your recruitment. If you are developing the engine in house, do bear in mind that this could significantly add to the cost of the project, as well as the time it will take, so you may consider using off-the-shelf options.
That is far from it in terms of your VR recruitment. This is an immensely technical field, so unless you have that technical background yourself, then as the PM you will certainly need to embark on a steep learning curve. Essential to your knowledge will be all of the essential technical components of the project, and how these impact on both development time and cost.
It is a good move to look for a VR specialist or VR designer to become your right-hand man (or woman) across the duration of the project. The chances are that you don’t have a sufficient depth of knowledge in terms of VR development (not many project managers do), so this will be your technical consultant who can oversee the tasks of all of the specific employees engaged in the project.
Considerations of development include the technical abilities (and limitations) of the app you are developing, and then the human interface aspect. The interface is a little more complex than you imagine, with elements such as height and weight affecting the way we perceive the VR experience, and these are the types of technical considerations that your VR designer must have. These are not common development obstacles, obviously.
Who else needs to be added to the team? A 3D artist creates an environment that can be viewed through the app and will work in close conjunction with other related roles such as a scene designer and an animator. These roles can be performed by one person, but it totally depends on the scope of your project. As the project manager, these are key considerations.
“It is not surprising to know that when VR is employed in movies or big-budget video games, there are literally dozens of people working on these elements. Your technical team could consist of just three or four individuals or more people than you could fit on a bus. It all depends on the scope and budget, of course,” says Paul Chase, a VR blogger at Essayroo and OXEssays.
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Key challenges of VR development
Like all PM roles, when working with VR it is essential to think about what the realistic expectations of the project will be, and where the key challenges will arise.
In terms of development itself, you don’t need to look much further than the individual aspects of the modeling and how simple, or complex they will be to produce. Obviously there are elements such as humans and animals which can be more difficult to model in comparison to shapes and rooms, for example. Identify where the complexities lie (with the input of your development team of course) and ascertain worst-case scenarios in terms of time frames and budget here. There are many technical considerations as always.
VR is also limited in terms of the graphics processer unit in computers. The vast majority of computers struggle to fully support VR projects because of the speed of processing, and so you must certainly consider what most modern-day devices can cope with. That’s important for development as well as end product. Have these limitations at the forefront of your mind through the duration of the project.
Multiple devices and platforms
There are, of course, a multitude of devices and platforms out there which can potentially be used to support your app. A conservative estimate in 2019 would be about 30 VR devices which cover desktop and mobile. So what does this mean for you and your project team? It means finding a solution to supporting your app across these multiple platforms, which is no easy task. How will you share from desktop to mobile, and vice versa? You may need reworkings of the product, and may even require more 3D assets, which means added time and cost. Always factor in these considerations.
Unsurprisingly, there are health risks associated to VR, although most of these are still unsubstantiated. There is a lot of research being conducted in this field as VR becomes more prevalent.
Essentially, health risks currently involve effects on sight, particularly for those who have existing eye conditions, the effects of strobing effects on those who are epileptic, and then the risks of physical injury through tripping and the like.
Why is this relevant to you? Because in the development of your VR project, you will need to prioritize the safety of your end users, and set limitations, borders and warning signals which significantly reduce health risks. And will your app result in a feeling of seasickness for the end user once the product is released? This will seriously impact upon the effectiveness and adoption rates. Side effects are a vital consideration here and should be at the forefront of your mind throughout the development process. Once again, having those key experts as your guiding lights here is essential to the design and development of a product that is free from harmful effects, and will not have a detrimental effect on adoption.
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VR projects are not your average project management undertaking. And as with all high-end technology, it is constantly evolving and adapting to address issues, concerns and challenges. You can expect the same across your project lifecycle, which is in itself one of the most notable challenges you will face.
But also consider that a VR project will not differ from many other projects in many ways. Because what are the key considerations outside of the technical aspects? It all boils down to people and their interactions with the technology. The app and its capabilities must be solving issues for the users, and that will remain a constant theme. If you VR app is being applied in industry, then it is solving a need, and it must do so in a way that is practical and beneficial to all concerned. These have always been key project management objectives, and nothing has changed here, despite the advancement in technology.
Industries across the broad are already benefiting from effective VR app implementation, from construction and architecture to the health and medical industry and of course in the field of entertainment. But as always, it is about the right team to implement the project. From a project management perspective, it is as it always was.
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