I remember attending a gaming conference as a wannabe dev in 2021, wandering from table to table asking far more experienced VR game developers if they thought that VR audiobooks were feasible. Their answer, at the time, was pretty much the same: it's a niche within a niche, so good luck with that. And they were right.
VR for anything can be a hard sell. Even though companies like Meta, Sony, and now Apple continue to invest heavily in the AR/VR space, the average consumer still sees clunky uncomfortable gear and content that triggers motion sickness. But as a nerd, and a long-time writer with a tech background, I know that these things are already getting better. And as they improve, we're going to find new ways to evolve our storytelling.
Not Just For Games Anymore
While part of VR's appeal is the interactivity it offers, that's not the entire picture. The fact is that there is something insanely cool about being transported into an unfamiliar and immersive world. The gaming engines we have today can now create wildly vivid and cinematic environments, providing writers with a powerful new way to do what they do best: connect us to human stories where we least expect to find them.
Enter the VR audiobook. While there will be many variations, and many more publishers as this field develops, creating videos for AudioStory360 has helped me to find a structure that works for me as an author. This was not a straightforward process, and I still have the awkward unpublished videos to prove it.
Trial and Error in VR
A listener in VR doesn't have the same amount of time, or even the same motivation as a reader snuggled into a couch on a rainy day, or a listener who is driving to work, cooking dinner or doing the dishes.
This is a different experience, and at the moment, it lends itself to smaller chapters and more exotic settings. It also takes a tiny amount of movement, not too much, not too little. People who suggest the listener can be completely stationary for the entire experience might be disappointed by the actual feeling of stillness that settles as the seconds tick by. Conversely, those who feel it should resemble a roller coaster ride will lose the motion-sensitive audience and distract them from the story with visual overload.
Experience is Everything
Turns out, there's a Goldilocks zone, and I'm still in the process of learning where it ends and begins. That's part of the challenge. As a writer, you have to know your medium. VR is a very different storytelling palette, with scenes that can take days to render but are absolutely stunning when done correctly.
You also have to be comfortable with the fact that there are problems you can solve and problems that you can't because the tech is still evolving (some degree of blurriness on certain headsets seems unavoidable, for instance). Writing for the limitations of your tools in VR is a learning process, much like writing in any other sphere. As always, knowing your audience (and finding them) is the key to success.
VR audiobooks are for people who also love traditional audiobooks, digital books, and print, but who want to experience writing differently. They want to shut out the everyday world and be presented with a setting that lights fire to their imagination. They want to be inside a world without dishes, without the kitchen that needs cleaning, or the rug that needs to be vacuumed. They want epic, visual, and emotive.
The new generation of VR-enabled writers will deliver that and more, make it relevant, make it human, and inspire their audiences in the way the writers always have. For me, that's a future worth the work.
Would you like to join me? If you're a writer interested in having your work adapted for VR, reach out for more info on what I'm interested in publishing and how I can help.