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W W W.T E R E Z . C C

OBSERVING VIRTUAL REALITY

WHAT TO TRACK
By THERESE MORIARTY

V
irtual Reality (VR) is the medium more realistic-looking
an immersive medium and accessible to a wider audience.
that uses 3D imagery If you are developing your own VR
and sensory equipment experience, implementing analytics
to transport people to simulated will help you stay informed about
worlds. The platform currently has your user behavior and optimize for
a broad presence in the market, from a better product.
simple phone accessories like Google
Cardboard to full-blown systems like
HTC Vive. LET THE GAMES BEGIN...
Although VR may seem like a When you are designing your VR
novelty, it has actually existed for experience, you should configure it to
several decades; Sega and Atari support the following measurements.
offered some of the first consumer- Most of the key metrics discussed
grade products in the 1990s. But here already exist in traditional
despite this early visibility, the Web analytics, however they take
interest in VR has usually been on a new significance with the
ahead of what the current technology immersive medium. If done properly,
could support. Nonetheless, recent the insights you collect from your
advancements in digital rendering, VR experience can empower you
motion tracking, and computer to create more compelling content
processing have allowed it to mature and develop more sophisticated
dramatically. Game developers technology. But note that whenever
have also done a lot to popularize you implement analytics, you should
VR, but the platform is quickly always subject your reporting to
expanding into other genres such as vigorous testing and validation. A
entertainment, journalism, education, high level of scrutiny can help you
and even therapy. avoid errors that misguide your
Like technology, analytics are development.
driving the growth of VR — making

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UNIQUE USERS

O
ne of the earliest and commonly cited
metrics in Web analytics, a unique
user is simply a distinct individual who
visits a destination at least once. For
years, Web analysts have used it to quantify
page traffic, video viewership, and much more.
Naturally, this metric also applies to your VR
experience because it represents the size of your
audience (as in how many distinct individuals
access your content). Depending on your
reporting capabilities, you may also be able
to retrieve demographic information (e.g. age,
sex, location) about your unique users. If so,
you should take advantage of these details to
understand the makeup of your base in addition
to its size.

A mass viewing of video director Chris Milk’s VR work at
TED2016 | Image courtesy of TED
SESSIONS

A
session is essentially a single period
of user interaction. In the context of
a VR experience, a session may start
when a unique user loads a game,
but it may end when s/he completes the final
challenge, abruptly quits, or remains inactive
for a certain amount of time. Your definition of
a session may differ depending on what type
of content you are developing. In any case, a
unique user can generate a single session or s/he
can generate multiple sessions during any given
date range. Therefore, you should also cross-
reference your session data with your unique
user data to break down your audience into
daily, weekly, and monthly activity segments.
But if that sounds too elaborate for you, just
calculating average sessions per unique user can
help you understand how strong your audience
retention is.

A still from ‘SuperHyperCube,’ a puzzle video game by Kokoromi
and Polytron for PlayStation VR | Image courtesy of GameStop
SESSION TIME

T
racking session time is common
practice for Web analysts across all
digital platforms, but it is especially
relevant for VR since it can be a
meaningful measure of engagement. When
users are immersed in a VR experience, they
tend to spend a lot of focus and time on exploring
their surroundings (even when they are aware
of interaction opportunities). As nDreams CEO
Patrick O’Luanaigh notes in his opinion piece
for Develop, “We found that people spent a lot of
time just looking around in VR, leading to some
decisions to make places that added very little
to the gameplay, but offered more spectacle,
and they were warmly received — players
love to explore.” As a result, session time can
offer valuable insight into the immersive and
transportative effects of your VR experience.

A herd of wild American bison in Condition One’s VR film ‘In
the Presence of Animals’ | Image courtesy of the Sundance Film
Festival
EVENTS

Y
ou should always track any significant
active or passive events that occur
throughout your VR experience. Active
events are closely associated with (but
certainly not exclusive to) VR gaming, where
users actively engage with their environment.
For instance, they may compete with virtual
players or aim for various targets. But passive
events can occur during gameplay too, like
when a user reaches a certain level or earns
points. Another type of passive event is when
a notification or a call-to-action appears before
a user in your VR experience. The more event
tracking you having in place, the more clarity
you will be able gain about your user behavior.
You will also be able to analyze your sessions
more closely, perhaps identifying popular user
paths or drop-off triggers.

A still from ‘Blasters of the Universe,’ a game by Secret
Location and SuperPOLYGON for HTC Vive | Image courtesy of
SuperPOLYGON
USER GAZE

P
robably the most definitive data type
when it comes to VR, gaze tracking
records which areas of the experience
your users noticed and which ones
they ignored. Analysts commonly visualize this
information as a heat map, coloring the different
regions of a VR space according to the amount
of attention they received from users. The more
interest an area gets, the redder it appears. You
should always capture gaze data to enhance
your own VR environment. It is a particularly
useful guide for placing any elements that you
want people to notice — especially visuals like
“hotspots,” which users can engage with to
consume more content. Plus, if you offer any
ad impressions in your VR experience, you can
even leverage this data to identify lucrative
placements.

A heatmap demo from Retinad, a VR analytics platform | Image
courtesy of Road to VR
PERFORMANCE

W
hereas standard video typically
runs at 30 frames-per-second,
VR footage needs to run as high
as 90 frames-per-second (maybe
even more). Playback for high framerates
requires a lot of computational resources, and
a drop in framerate could produce lagging or
choppiness that disorients your audience. One
of the challenges in developing a VR experience
is to achieve a smooth, realistic playback that
minimizes your users’ risk of motion sickness.
When you are implementing your VR experience,
you should support frame timing metrics that
“snapshot” your system performance during
every user session. These data points should
include specific details about your VR engine —
like CPU time, GPU time, draw calls, and more.
This information will allow you to debug your
experience more effectively and re-engineer it
as needed.

Usain Bolt competing in the Beijing 2008 Summer Olympics
from ‘The Moodern Games,’ an immersive experience available
via the NYT VR app | Image courtesy of The New York Times
HARDWARE

V
R technology is evolving fast, with
consumers acquiring more and more
options to experience the medium.
The devices that are currently on
the market hit several price points. In addition
to high-end systems like Oculus Rift and HTC
Vive, there are more accessible headsets like
Samsung Gear VR and Google Cardboard.
And as competition escalates among device
manufacturers, it will become increasingly
necessary to optimize your VR experience
across a wide range of hardware. Therefore,
you should gather intelligence about what type
of products your audience uses to access your
VR experience. Just like system performance,
this information will help you adapt your VR
experience for different segments of your base.
When you are compatible with multiple devices,
you promote your audience expansion and reach.

A PlayStation VR headset | Image courtesy of IGN

THERESE MORIARTY W W W.T E R E Z . C C


As VR technology progresses, so do
the analytics we use to measure and
optimize VR experiences.
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For instance, motion sickness is a

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