Career Switch: Help build the future of VR games, apps and experiences as a VR consultant
An interview with Dan Page, VR consultant
What does a virtual reality consultant do?
I do internal and client consultancy at a studio called Opposable Games. My role includes brainstorming and working out what will and won’t work when it comes to virtual reality. I might advise a client on tools for gestural input or haptic feedback, or on gaze direction. VR is a learning curve for the whole industry right now, but because of my contacts, and the fact that I’ve tried many of the available demos, attended various conferences and read a lot on the subject, I’m often called upon for advice.
How did you end up becoming a VR consultant?
Originally I saw the job opening in the Bristol Games Hub newsletter; it was really a part-time marketing position. But I’ve always been very passionate about VR, and Opposable Games was already into the technology – it had already made an Oculus game called Tear Bears, which was one of the first on the Oculus Share site. I was quickly able to get involved in that side of things and make the job my own.
What originally attracted you to VR?
It goes back to being a kid and reading lots of sci-fi books, and never really losing my interest in that. As soon as the Oculus Rift Kickstarter appeared I began to pay close attention to what was going on. When a local VR developer came to a Bristol Games Hub social with a Development Kit, I had the chance to have a go. Since then I’ve become a VR news addict – and that’s a big part of my job now. I run the SouthWest VR social-media accounts and put out a regular VR newsletter. I keep an eye on the Oculus forum on Reddit, and my TweetDeck is verging on the ridiculous.
What technical skills do you need?
I wouldn’t say mine is a technical role as such – I’m not trained as a developer – but I do work with people who are technically minded, so need the ability to understand what is and isn’t possible with both the hardware and software.
As an example, if a client wants to make something for Google Cardboard, they need to know that it won’t be particularly high-res, nor be very good in terms of latency. For something hi-res, I might advise upon a Samsung Gear VR experience instead; it won’t be able to handle a high-poly 3D load, but they could use 360 video and have something that looks great. Basically, if someone is planning a VR project, they might ring me up wanting to know what is and isn’t viable.
What advice would you give to someone wanting to take on a similar role?
It’s a very interesting time for VR. There are startups everywhere taking on both hardware and software specialists. However, startups don’t often have the money to pay for recruitment agencies; when they’re looking to fill a role, they might just put out a tweet or post something on Facebook. So it’s really about keeping your eye on the ball.
Also, try to find your own niche: you might want to learn what you can about using virtual reality in car design, engineering or architecture, or even in medical training. Or perhaps you just want to focus on making games – whatever it is, read what you can, and try to get as much hands-on experience as possible. For VR to make sense, you have to have a go.
What opportunities are there for career progression?
VR is very much an emerging market right now. It’s the Wild West out there; kind of a land-grab situation. So there isn’t much of a logical progression: it’s more about seeing what can be done and using your imagination to see where things can go.
In my case, shortly after joining Opposable Games, I came to the conclusion that maybe we should put on a conference about VR. So we did; all the big players turned up and it went really well. I was proud of that. I believe that as the company expands, things will naturally progress and my trajectory will move forward. Which is much the same for everyone in this industry right now.
What isn’t so great about the job?
At the moment, since VR is all new and exciting, it’s an incredibly friendly industry, with everybody helping each other out. In a few years, I think that will come to an end – it’s going to be quite fierce in terms of competition. It’s a shame but inevitable in any industry.
What’s the money like?
I left a full-time job and started out part-time, so the money was a little tight to begin with. But now that I’ve been with Opposable Games for more than a year full-time, life is good! There’s no standard salary in VR yet; I’m not so sure there are many people that even share the job title. What you earn in the VR sphere – in different roles and different companies – is going to be all over the place for a while. It’s a new world right now. It really is a fresh industry.