Virtual reality (VR) and the enterprise metaverse it enables are upon us. Instead of watching instructional content on a rectangular screen, we can now bring learners inside virtual manufacturing plants, retail stores, construction sites and pharma labs. Building muscle memory and mastery in digital workplaces that mirror real-life workplaces is the future of learning. Multi-user VR simulations elevate the learning experience by providing the sensation of social presence — working shoulder to shoulder, learning with and from peers, mentors and experts, just like in real life.

Developing these pixelated learning labs requires entirely new skill sets and tools. There’s no authoring tool for an instructional designer to develop a workplace simulacrum where users can roam around freely, interact and get feedback. It requires a team of professional artists working in 3D modeling and animation tools and engineers developing in the same real-time game engines that render Hollywood-quality special effects and massive hit videogames.

Smart enterprise learning organizations forge and manage relationships with a new-generation studios that marry the artistry and tech wizardry of virtual reality and game development with the vibrant science of learning design. The earlier the partner is brought into the development process, the better. Designing a VR project requires a dialogue between the client, who understands the learning needs, and a VR developer who can explain both the art of the possible and provide a reality check on ideas that are impossible or cost-prohibitive. Once you’ve developed the learning design with your partner, they will prototype early and iterate fast through an intricate dance among artists, developers and learning designers.

The partner’s artists will model the 3D environments and equipment, using pictures, blueprints, and existing 3D assets for reference. Developing for the latest gen low-powered mobile headsets requires painstaking optimization of the 3D models to avoid inducing nausea. A good VR partner has talented artists with experience in mobile game development.

The VR studio employs developers to code the interactivity and synchronize player interactions with equipment over the network in a multi-player environment. They can also provide reporting of user data through xAPI to the client’s learning record store (LRS) and/or learning management system (LMS).

The partner’s VR learning designers work with their client counterparts to develop step-by-step tutorials, guided practice, feedback loops, and unlimited re-dos to hone skills. The client will test design iterations regularly throughout the dev process and involve end-users in playtesting. This testing process is surprisingly easy to do remotely: the partner pushes new versions to the client’s VR headsets with a click of a button.

Beyond technical, artistic and learning design chops, a good strategic partner will offer business consultation. They can help identify high-value VR pilot opportunities, build the return in investment (ROI) case, overcome obstacles and scale across the enterprise. This goes beyond training. The transition to the digital workspace impacts every function of the company. The same VR program can be a venue for sales meetings, a customer education tool and a platform for field training. A partner with business savvy to understand the requirements of marketing, sales, recruitment and operations will elevate the VR training conversation to the C-suite and help your organization reinvent learning.

What should you look for in selecting a VR developer partner?

  1. Experience their work.

First of all, kick their virtual tires. Never buy VR service from a vendor before you’ve test-driven its VR programs for yourself. Ask to meet with them inside their learning simulations. Don’t take the slick videos on their website as evidence of their work. You can buy a market leading headset at a relatively low cost, and ask them to send a demo app to your VR headset. Experiencing is believing.

  1. Get references.

The due diligence process should, of course, also include interviews with other clients. Ask client references if the partner prospect has developed similar solutions to their satisfaction.

  1. Own your assets in open platforms

Select a partner that employs fully open platforms where you own the programs they develop, source code and all. Beware of vendor lock-in. Screen against partners that charge excessive reoccurring fees and make you dependent on proprietary tech. No client wants to be intermediated by their development partner. Request that your partner develop in the Open XR standard and provide you with the source Unity or Unreal file after each project.

  1. Compare apples to apples.

Compare hourly rates for equal expertise; a seasoned 3D game designer can be ten times as effective as a junior programmer who’s never designed a game before. Don’t put projects out for bids before you’ve scoped them out in detail. You wouldn’t request bids from house builders without a blueprint; yet, you’d be surprised at how many requests for proposals (RFP) come across our desks that are the equivalent of “how much would it cost to build us a house?” A poorly defined RFP will price out partners with the best solutions, if they even participate in the bidding process at all. The RFP needs to include pictures, videos and step-by-step descriptions of the work-processes you want to simulate, among many other things. Click here for a copy of a “bid intake requirements” document, a guide to the information a partner needs to scope and price out a project.

A VR development partner with multiple projects under its belt will help you avoid the pitfalls and guide you to a successful reality-bending learning experience. Their team of top-tier simulation VR designers can harness emerging consumer tech to unlock “10x” learning effectiveness, reducing training costs, improving job performance and boosting engagement at scale.