VR Headset On: Wow! VR Headset Off: Also Wow!

The Wow Factor

Many of us have at one point put on a Virtual Reality headset for the very first time and experienced VR.  We donned the Head Mounted Display (HMD), the app began, and …

“Wow. How did I get here?”

“Wow. How can I actually be moving this door that feels like I’m really touching it?”

As someone who observes people trying VR for the first time on a regular basis, I am also reminded that removing the headset can be just as thrilling (and I don’t mean that in a “skiing is fun, but thank goodness I can eventually take these boots off” sort of way).  We experience and sometimes move around in a virtual world, with realistic sights, sounds and tactile feedback. We eventually take off the HMD, and …

“Wow. My refrigerator was next to me the whole time?”

“Wow. My friends were just inches from me as I flailed around dodging arrows or trying to balance while crossing a tightrope between two buildings?”


It’s not just the user making a casual observation. There really is often a moment of culture shock upon returning to reality that is somewhat analogous to the culture shock felt when entering the virtual world. It actually still happens to me when leaving a good VR experience, especially one where I move around a bit, maybe even teleport further, and change the direction I’m facing a number of times along the way.

So what?

Does this matter?  Well, yes. As developers, designers and architects of Virtual Reality experiences, we want to understand everything we can about how the users experience the VR phenomenon.  We strive to make the virtual scenes look, sound and feel authentic. We consider the entry experience, as we would for any app.

“How do I orient the user to understand where they are and what they should do?”

In a traditional web app, desktop app or mobile app, we define the onboarding experience carefully.  We don’t often give as much thought to the exit experience, unless the functional requirements call for feedback at the end, or some way to save work or hand off processing.  In fact, we can usually assume that when a user is done with a traditional sort of app, the user will just kill it or leave it alone in the background.

In a sense, that’s true in VR, but regardless of whether the user actually completes all the activities available in the experience, or they eventually have had enough and decide to stop where they are, they ALWAYS need to remove the HMD and rediscover their real surroundings.

The Challenge

I challenge you to think of ways to have your VR apps prepare the user for re-entry into his or her home atmosphere, or perhaps have a little fun with it and use the exiting wow factor to play around with the user’s mind a bit more.  It has become part of my planning process and I think it’s something that will continue to make VR experiences more interesting, exciting and consumable.