Writing for virtual reality – where do you start?

As more B2B marketers consider virtual reality, Katy speculates about what scriptwriting might look like in the age of VR.

VR Script Writing

Many months have passed since we first strapped our office Samsung Galaxy VR to our faces, and had our initial foray into animated rollercoaster-induced motion sickness, virtual museum tours, and clowns that lunge, screaming, at your face.

In that time, has virtual reality started making ground in B2B marketing? Depends who you ask.

In B2B, novelty will only get you so far. In fact, my colleague Steve’s nauseating experience of a runaway mine cart prompted him to conclude that businesses need to focus on the ‘reality’ of the experiences they create, rather than getting carried away with the ‘virtual’ component.

Obviously, we’re B2B tech writers, so what happens when someone gazes at a lovingly rendered horror-clown, or taps a button on a controller (or that weird touchy bit on the side of a Gear VR) doesn’t have much to do with us.

But as virtual reality becomes increasingly popular – both for consumers and in the world of B2B – it’s time to start thinking about the writer’s role in developing a VR experience. Though it might seem that VR will be dominated by developers and 3D modellers and animators forevermore, good writing will still be vital.

Three things for VR script writers to consider

While VR is still the baby of content formats – particularly in the B2B space – people are starting to do some genuinely interesting (and dare I say useful) things with it. There’s even a dedicated VR marketing solution, which is being used by big hitters like GE and Cisco to showcase 3D models of unwieldy products like oilfield generators and network convergence systems.

This means we might just be creeping up on a time where it becomes a viable format for clients to experiment with – particularly as the range of tech that can deliver VR experiences widens. And I think there are three questions we copywriters should keep in mind for when a client first approaches us with an immersive concept, the mighty weight of an animation studio, and no script to go along with it.

(Or perhaps it’ll be a story idea scrawled on a napkin and four GoPros duct taped to a cycle helmet. Who knows.)

1. How is the user going to experience the… uh… experience?

VR isn’t solely for those who can sink an obnoxious amount of money into a high-powered PC. It comes in all forms, from complicated rigs that look like Star Trek props, right down to cardboard self-assembly kits that you clutch to your face.

That means two things:

  1. VR is more accessible (and portable) than ever, which is ideal for driving down the cost of experimenting with the tech
  2. You’ve got to be very aware of how people are going to interact with your experience

Those using Google Cardboard and the like aren’t going to want to stand around for hours, holding it to their eyes like some hefty masquerade mask – all they’ll get is hand cramp, and they won’t focus on the experience. For these people, you need to keep it short and sweet.

With the more comfortable head-mounted VR sets, you can expand your horizons a little and write longer experiences. (But that doesn’t mean you can trap your audience in a five-hour-long epic about supply chain management – you’ve still got to keep it concise.)

2. Are your users protagonists, or just observers?

The kind of story you tell in your experience depends massively on the role your client/colleague/person-you’ve-accosted-at-an-expo is playing in the virtual space.

Observers don’t actively participate in the experience – they’re just there to watch (and, hopefully, learn), so you can tell them a linear story. You can sit them in a server room or the passenger seat of a field service vehicle and let the story happen around them.

Protagonists, however, can get their hands dirty and interact with the environment. Which means you can give them things to play with and different paths to follow. This is going to require a more nuanced approach to writing. If you’re not in control of where your protagonist is heading next, you need to ensure they can still get the full story, however they decide to explore the experience.

An important thing to remember here is that, unless you really want to mess with your observer or protagonist, you shouldn’t switch between perspectives during your experience. You’re trying to introduce them to a product, not give them a raging headache.

3. How are you communicating with the user?

In VR, you can’t just talk at your user. Well, you could, but that’s not especially exciting and they can probably get that level of experience from a bog-standard YouTube video.

So, you need to think more carefully about the different ways you can tell your story – and how to guide them around it. In a 360-degree experience, you can’t guarantee that your user is going to be looking in the right direction. In fact, you can almost guarantee they won’t be, unless you point them to it.

It’s very easy to overwhelm someone in virtual reality, particularly if it’s their first experience, so you’re going to have to be patient with them. Don’t give them too many things to focus on at once – particularly if you want them to actually learn something from their virtual adventure. Think about how you can cue them to what they should be looking at or interacting with next, whether that’s a character getting their attention directly or a big ol’ sign that says “LOOK OVER HERE”.

If you’ve written a video before, it’s unlikely that writing a VR script will be a wild departure from what you’re used to. But now you’ll have to add in consideration for six – yes, six – different planes. Up, down, right, left, back and front. Where’s that voice coming from? Where’s the action happening?

Your scripts might just end up looking a little like this:

VR Script Page

Sample page from the screenplay for “Slam” by Aja Cooper and Gary Tieche. (Original here.)

And if the idea of getting to colour-code your scripts doesn’t excite you… well, I can’t help you.

Are we in the age of B2B VR? Perhaps.

Virtual reality for B2B might thrive – and it might fizzle. But with a few ideas in our back pocket for how to get started, we’ve all got a better chance of turning one of the most interesting new technologies into one of the most engaging new content formats.

And, if you’ve got that finely polished concept or that coffee-stained napkin idea ready to go and you need some writers to make it into a glorious multicoloured script, well, you know where to find us.


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