Yesterday, for reasons that are not entirely clear, Twitter made a VR tech demo from 2017 the main character of the day.
The demo, which was created for Walmart by a company called Mutual Mobile, presents a possible future for what it might be like to shop at Walmart via virtual reality. It is, as far too many of you have said in almost identical tweets, an absurd and illogical way to buy milk.
Why would you physically reach out and pick up a 3D model of a milk jug instead of just picking one out from a list? Why would shelves be lined with multiple copies of the same fake wine bottles? Why is a 3D space superior to a 2D website? Why do any of this all?
The real answer, as Walmart exec Jason Norris explains in a video on Mutual Mobile’s website, is, first of all, to get us to pay attention. The video was initially created for the SXSW conference in 2017 to generate “positive buzz,” and “a video reel wasn’t going to do it.” The demo was also later brought to the Walmart shareholder event attended by tens of thousands of people, also to get them hyped up about Walmart.
It is, like so many virtual reality demos that oversell the technology and misunderstand why people have been drawn to it for decades, plainly stupid. It is like the early VR hit game Job Simulator, in which the clumsiness of current VR tech is used to parody the mundanity of everyday chores, but not a joke. It’s not fun or useful.
Almost as tiresome as the video itself is the deluge of tweets dunking on it, reanimating a completely irrelevant and dead concept demo back to life. Mutual Mobile, at least, is grateful for its brief return to the spotlight.
“We are grateful for the time and effort people have put into talking about a VR concept demo from 5 years ago! We’ve come a long way since then but are delighted that our concept can still generate engaging conversations,” Vamsi Thota, Mutual Mobile’s digital marketing strategist, told Motherboard in an email.
Thota went on to explain that the demo was made to show the potential virtual reality shopping experiences can hold, including its ability to connect the elderly or people with disabilities to a shopping experience from the comfort of their home, something he thinks might even be a “boon” for more people now that we’ve been through several rounds of COVID quarantine.
Also, Mark Zuckerberg decided that “metaverse” is a thing, so now everyone is talking and/or dunking about the metaverse, and Mutual Mobile’s has an early lead.
“The vision of a virtual shopping experience we helped Walmart realize back in 2017 stands validated in the Metaverse era of today,” Thota said. “This whole experience has only encouraged us to keep experimenting, innovating, and leading the charge with cutting-edge tech!”
I hate the Walmart VR video just as much as the next idiot on Twitter. I’ve been saying that VR Is BS since 2015, and if there’s one thing I learned since then is that no amount of stomping our feet and pointing at what is obviously stupid is going to stop it. The headsets are getting better. VR game developers are saying that they just had a record breaking holiday season thanks to the Oculus Quest 2. PlayStation just announced a new PSVR device is coming. VR is probably going to happen, eventually, and you are going to hate it at least as much as you hate your smartphone.
Is the Walmart VR demo stupid? Absolutely. If joylessly and robotically dunking on old marketing videos is going to make you feel better, go for it, but it’s not going to stop them.
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