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This is Twenty Milliseconds, a site documenting what works and what doesn't in virtual reality design.

Virtual Reality is an Advertiser's Dreamland

Advertisers have much more space to work with in virtual reality than they do on mobile phones, which should allow for a wide range of advertisements. Many antipatterns can be deployed to catch a user's eye, and some of these will make them sick. Designers and advertisers should strive to create unobtrusive ads that fit in a virtual space.

Advertising has been in a rut lately. Banner advertisements have long performed poorly. Advertisements for “one weird trick” for weight loss, language learning or muscle growth are everywhere. Facebook is making money, but the ads on Facebook are bad and there are doubts about whether the clicks are real.

As bad as the Web is for advertisers, the landscape for phones is even worse. Mobile phone usage has been an exponential rise for over a decade. But the phone screen just doesn’t have that much room, and after a web view’s chrome and an advertisement, you are left with a tiny bit of room for the actual page content. Here’s a relevant example - a TechCrunch article viewed from inside of my Twitter client.

Squished Content

The actual content on this page is 285 pixels, and the total screen contains 665 pixels, which means the content takes up only 42% of the actual screen. Of course, I’m choosing a bad example, but even if you get rid of the chrome, the ad is still going to take up a lot of the screen - in this case, 10.5% of the screen is occupied by the ad. Mobile ads are usually “heavy” on pictures or content which means they can take a while to download and saturate a bad connection.

Much More Screen Space in VR

But we’re not here to talk about mobile - we’re here to talk about virtual reality! In virtual reality, the viewer is viewing content in three dimensions. This means there is a ton of “virtual space” for advertisements to be placed. Advertisements can be placed on the floor, on walls, in the sky. Like a billboard or a poster on a wall, they’re present, but not obtrusive.

Here’s a screenshot from the racing game Radial G that demonstrates this point.

Advertisements in Radial G

There are five advertisements visible in the screenshot, that line the racing track. Not obtrusive, but they are clearly in the field of view, and readable.

Imagine browsing CNN in virtual reality, with a list of stories visible in front of you. Instead of integrating a small advertisement in the list of articles, you can make the advertisement as large as the content, only off to the right or left.

The large amount of physical space in a 3D world that should be available for ads may make it easier for developers to find passive revenue streams for games that are released for free (think AdWords for virtual reality).

Dark Patterns

With great power comes great responsibility, and there are a lot of ways to abuse advertisements in virtual reality.

Users haven’t been happy with advertisements on the Web or mobile, with only a few exceptions, and the trend has been to abuse the properties of the medium (think pop-up ads & sound ads as the initial Web ads). Content producers and designers have a great opportunity to do better in virtual reality, because there’s so much space in a world available to place messages. I hope we can.