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  • Writer's pictureJeremy Pincus

Using biometric UX testing for optimizing VR experiences

Updated: Oct 31, 2018

VR experiences are immersive and continuous requiring testing multi-channel passive and continuous measurement methods

My lab's work at Isobar was recognized with Fast Company's Top 10 Most Innovative Company Award specifically to acknowledge our innovation in neuro and biometric testing toward optimizing VR and AR experiences. Why is there such strong interest in VR and AR? IDC predicts an 800% (!) increase in global VR/AR revenues between 2018 and 2020 from $18 billion to $143 billion. Should we believe this kind of breathless hype? When we consider the level of investment, we should. Investment generally precedes growth in revenue, and there has been a threefold increase in investment over the past 3 years, and currently stands over $3 billion annually. So, who’s investing? According to VR Scout, it's a "who's who" of the Fortune 100, with, unsurprisingly, heavy representation by the giant tech firms. Use cases leading the way include virtual shopping, virtual showrooms, entertainment, and training. VR/AR experiences currently in development are focused on a diverse range of industries including Architecture, Engineering and Construction, Automotive/Transportation, Education/Training, Healthcare, Retail, Marketing, Travel/Hospitality, Gaming, Location-Based Entertainment, Sports, Music, Film/Television, News, Documentary, and Issue Advocacy. This list is taken from secondary market data, but I can corroborate it anecdotally. I've recently tested experiences in entertainment (the Jigsaw VR experience last Halloween), automotive and retail (experiential marketing), healthcare (primarily therapeutic experiences), and issue advocacy (i.e., Planned Parenthood).

Getting To VR’s Emotional Potential

Because VR and AR experiences are totally immersive, they lend themselves to elicitation of strong emotions. Anyone who has tried the 80-foot plank walk VR experience can attest that it generates real anxiety. Issue advocacy, documentary, and news platforms are seizing on the uniquely powerful ability of VR to generate empathy for previously emotionally-distant realities.

Virtual reality is the 'ultimate empathy machine.' These experiences are more than documentaries. They're opportunities to walk a mile in someone else's shoes. -Chris Milk, founder and CEO of Within

How to Measure and Optimize the Ultimate Empathy Machine

Traditional testing methods are simply unequipped for the challenge of measuring and optimizing experiences that are fully immersive and continuous. Traditional UX testing involves lots of interruption and discussion, which would break the VR experience. A/B testing, i.e., creating multiple versions for comparison would be far too costly. And traditional marketing research copy testing, which is heavily reliant on recall and rational stated measures similarly does not fit the bill. For these reasons and others, we turned to emotional psychophysiological measures. Collecting synchronized data from multiple modalities lets you uncover the the emotional impact created by any content, whether VR, websites, TV or print, or digital advertising, etc. The five types of sensors combine to create a comprehensive picture of how the experience affects the emotional brain. Specifically, we use EEG to measure frontal alpha asymmetry (approach vs. avoidance); eye tracking to measure time to first fixation and total fixations; facial EMG to measure the presence of smiles, frowns, and nose wrinkles associated with disgust, as well as startle responses; skin conductance (EDA) to measure arousal peaks per minute; and heart rate to measure beats per minute and heart rate variability. The large volume of data passively collected permits an objective, comprehensive, and continuous view into the emotional state of the participant, permitting precise insights for optimization.

VR will necessarily continue to expand into daily life driven by ever cheaper and wireless headsets. The biggest challenge for VR's growth will be the availability of high quality content.

The VR industry’s biggest threat is underwhelming content -VentureBeat

What makes for great VR content?

Through testing, we've found that VR experience need to have the following characteristics:

Engaging: The content delivers high quality, immersive, engaging experience.

Connective: It affects the user emotionally and connects them to other people and/or new experiences.

Episodic: With incremental access to content over time, it captures the user’s imagination.

Interactive:The user is the protagonist, shaping their own experience.

Non-Linear: Rich content provides the user with a unique personal experience.

It takes a lot of time and effort to build great VR experiences. Quantifying the impact is critical to proving effectiveness and justifying investments. Biometrics allow for the least intrusive and most objective evaluation of immersive experiences so researchers can understand in-the-moment emotions.

Success is measured in emotion and immersion -Liv Erickson, VR Engineer at High Fidelity

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