Should I Build My Own VR Training Platform?
Lately, I’ve been hearing stakeholders at major companies talk about building their own VR training programs. In a way, this makes sense. As the technology matures, parts of it are more accessible. There are now tools that supposedly make it ‘easy’ to develop custom VR programs. These tools let you build on top of standard game engines like Unity, which is the technology behind all your favorite modern shoot-em-ups.
Can it be done? Should your company build its own VR training application?
Given that my company builds VR training for large clients, I have a fairly well-informed perspective here. And the short answer is that building VR training is an incredibly intense undertaking, and you’re probably better off getting someone else to do it.
Let’s get the full perspective here, though. Why would you build your own?
The Case For Buying
Most companies have two reasonable-sounding arguments for building rather than buying.
The first is ownership. They want to own the contents of their training program. They aren’t necessarily thrilled about the idea of a VR partner poking around in their trade secrets.
Okay, but let’s take a step back here. The vast majority of companies exchange trade secrets on applications that they didn’t design, every day. Your finances are in Excel, your meeting notes are in Google Docs, your project statuses are in Asana. You trust these companies with your data, because you know that their apps have state of the art security. VR isn’t any different—a good VR partner has built a secure infrastructure.
The second argument for building is that companies want to be able to do everything in-house. Instead of communicating with a VR partner when they update their training, they’d like to be able to do it themselves. This, again, seems to make sense at first. But there’s a big assumption here: that this efficiency is worth the difficulty of developing and maintaining a VR team.
That difficulty is greater than you might suspect.
Why Building is Difficult
To get a sense of how hard it is to build VR training, let’s just take a look at one component—the live chat. While your employees are in live training, they obviously need to communicate with each other.
This is not an easy problem. These days, we all communicate on Zoom or Microsoft Teams, so we take the technology for granted. We shouldn’t. There are all sorts of elaborate moving parts that go into video conferencing. We have to make sure that we synchronize audio and video from different locations, despite the fact that the connection speeds might be dramatically different. We need to bring that sync back after connections get interrupted. Then there’s keeping the rooms secure. And allowing for breakout rooms, private messaging while public chat is ongoing.
In short, it would be costly and difficult to build your own video conferencing program. You’re probably better off just using Zoom.
VR has that functionality. And a lot more. The conferencing piece is layered over what is, essentially, an immersive 3D multiplayer video game, where you, connecting from Dubai, can throw a ball in virtual space, and I, in Alaska, can catch it. This isn’t easy to build either—if you hired a video game studio to build you a game like this, it would probably cost you millions.
But what if your budget is gigantic? What if cost is not an issue? Congratulations. You still have another problem.
It’s Hard to Find and Retain VR Talent
When we founded Sketchbox, one of the major difficulties was hiring and nurturing our team of developers. It was difficult to find the right people and build our company into the efficient machine it is now.
That’s because VR development is a skill that’s in demand. There’s a reason why any smart 22-year-old out of a Computer Science degree can pull a six figure salary: there simply aren’t enough developers to go around. And VR is a very specialized niche within that, with lots of domain-specific tools requiring specific training. This is not a project you can just give to an existing dev team as a side project.
So, immediately, if you’re building your own VR team, you’ve got a big recruiting task ahead of you. And once you’ve hired people, which would probably take months, you have to keep them long-term, or else you’re screwed—if your department falls apart, you’ll have to hire a VR partner to rebuild your program, because you won’t have anyone to keep it up and running. This entails all the costs of maintaining a department over years: HR, management, project managers. keeping compensation competitive, etc
If you’re getting a headache thinking about this, I sympathize.
Revisiting the Big Question
None of this is impossible. It’s physically possible to build your own VR program. It’s just a really, really heavy lift.
Are there some advantages to building, over working with a VR training partner? Theoretically, yes, there could be some slight advantages. Are those advantages worth a ballooning budget, major recruiting difficulties, and the ongoing costs of maintaining a functioning VR department?
I’m willing to bet that the answer, for your organization, is a hard no. To find out more about the Sketchbox VR platform, click the button below.