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By Jackie Lorch

At the ESOMAR Congress in New Orleans in September among other conferences and events in 2016, SSI’s booth in the exhibit hall was more crowded than usual. One reason was that SSI’s Senior Software Developer Chris Stevens was there, demonstrating a virtual reality experience that could well be part of the future of survey research.

After assisting visitors to the booth in putting on the goggles, Stevens explained what they would be seeing during their virtual reality experience. Users found themselves seated in a car. They could look around them at the interior and answer questions which popped-up in front of them while glancing around.

[Photo Caption: Chris Stevens, SSI Senior software Developer demonstrating research’s possible virtual reality future at the SSI Booth, ESOMAR, New Orleans, September 2016.]

[Photo Caption: Chris Stevens, SSI Senior software Developer demonstrating research’s possible virtual reality future at the SSI Booth, ESOMAR, New Orleans, September 2016.]

The feedback was positive – people were engaged, entertained and amazed at the level of detail and “realness” they experienced.

Most also reported experiencing a smooth ride, but Stevens took care to warn people that they might feel a bit queasy, and let them know they could sit or stand for the experience.
It turns out that women are in general much more likely to suffer from motion sickness than men. It doesn’t matter if that is attributed to travelling in an actual car, spending time on a boat or when experiencing a virtual reality experience, says an Inverse article.
“It just so happens that the design of these systems push the instability buttons on some sorts of bodies,” says University of Minnesota kinesiology professor Thomas Stoffrege to Inverse. “They tend to affect shorter bodies with a lower center of mass. That is to say, females.”

There is still no scientific agreement as to what causes motion sickness, reports Huffington Post. Traditionally it has been viewed as “a mismatch between what you see (the motionless interior of a car) and what your body experiences (moving through space at 40 mph in the car’s backseat).” This causes disorientation and motion sickness symptoms.

SSI’s Stevens tested two virtual reality experiences at the booth, one which had considerably more motion than the other. When testing the one with less motion, no one reported feelings of motion sickness and only about 15% of those testing the other one did.That’s because there are a number of ways to prevent or lessen the sensation when creating virtual reality experiences.

Changes in speed – that is acceleration and deceleration — are more likely to be noticed by users, says Stevens, moving the user at a constant speed generally leaves users feeling fine.
The effects are much more pronounced for games which are deliberately seeking to provide thrills or a sense of danger – such as stepping off a cliff edge or riding a roller coaster. The applications for market research are more often things like virtual shopping experiences, where users can walk down aisles or move around as they would in a store or mall. When we need to move people from one area to another, says Stevens, we can “teleport” them rather than having them travel at high speed from one place to another, which provides a smooth and comfortable experience.

Having the right technology also ensures a smooth ride. The VR experience should run at 90-frames-per-second or higher. Below that level, you get a juddering sensation says Stevens.
Virtual reality has tremendous potential for market research, allowing people to experience a product on a large scale in ways that were never possible before. Most virtual reality research today is conducted in focus group facilities or malls, but as more and more people start to own the headset devices, we’ll be able to engage many more research participants right in their own homes.

When talking about virtual reality for market research, we shouldn’t introduce the idea to people as a scary “thrill-ride” experience, Stevens believes, because we then risk scaring them away from taking part in a VR survey in the future. When properly designed, a VR survey should be interesting and engaging and not uncomfortable in any way. Most importantly it has potential to deliver deeper, richer insights about products of all types while they are being used by consumers, than was ever possible before.

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Jackie Lorch is VP Global Knowledge Management, SSI