In 2020, nobody thinks of virtual reality in the context of games or entertainment only.
Of course, VR-based games with totally immersive experiences are very popular, and many of them are produced every year.
However, virtual reality is proving its value in many other industries – healthcare, education, e-commerce, specialized training, sports, military, and so on.
Virtual reality, despite its rather steep initial cost, can significantly reduce the cost of your business by providing virtual spaces with no need to recreate them in the physical world or travel to the actual sites.
Today, we will break down the cost of a virtual reality application development to show what it consists of and how the application components influence the total cost.
Types of VR apps
Let’s start with the type of the VR application you are planning to build. The type of product you expect to obtain greatly affects both the cost and the time to develop it.
There may be several criteria that can help us distinguish between several types of virtual reality applications.
The nature of your business plays a major role in the choice of your VR app type:
- Simple VR apps. Such applications, while creating immersive experiences, are hardly interactive, if ever, and are mostly intended to show virtual spaces to users.
- For example, you can find such virtual reality applications in educational programs where you can travel around the globe or visit historical sites without leaving your room.
- Another use case is virtual tours in real estate or tourism – the user “walks” through homes, apartments or hotels by wearing a headset. In such VR applications, the interaction is mostly reduced to following the markers leading the user between virtual rooms.
- At the same time, such virtual reality applications use headsets only with no additional sensors. Thus, the user’s body position and movements are not involved in the experience.
- E-commerce apps. These VR applications are more sophisticated, as besides browsing the stock, the user can “take” and examine the items they like. The store inventory is available as 3D models that the users can try on in the virtual space.
- Such applications are more interactive than virtual reality tours, as the user can do various actions within the app UI. Some advanced applications allow “putting the item in the basket” and even checking out, all within the virtual reality.
- Training simulators. This is a higher level of VR app development, as it involves a considerable degree of immersion and interactivity. In such virtual reality applications, the user is in full control of the virtual space and the actions and movements of the body in the real world are reflected in the virtual world, too.
- On the one hand, such apps require hi-tech VR equipment, often including additional sensors to create the space responding to the user’s body movements.
- On the other hand, a VR app of this kind is a custom product by professional developers that takes a lot of effort to create. However, the resulting experience is totally worth the investment.
- 3D games. This type of VR apps also features great immersion and interactivity, but it heavily depends on custom graphics and 3D modeling.
- Games in virtual reality are played through special virtual reality equipment allowing obtaining the most realistic experience.
- Social VR apps. Virtual spaces, events, and platforms where users can get together with their friends use a combination of photo and video content and 3D models.
- By nature, social virtual reality apps are multi-user applications, which requires some additional development effort.
- Multi-user presentation apps. In such applications, virtual reality is used to showcase a product or idea in a graphic way. They are built to be accessed by multiple users simultaneously so that the VR presentation is done for a group of users.
- Depending on the type of product, such apps can use video content, 3D modeling, and graphics. The key feature is the multi-user access, which adds cost to the application.
- MMORPG apps. Multiplayer role-playing games are the top rank of VR apps, as they represent a single virtual space that responds to the actions of several players.
- They are highly visual and interactive and are the most difficult and expensive to create.
Another criterion that can determine the development complexity is the number of users. By this principle, virtual reality applications can be single-user and multi-user, the latter being obviously more difficult and costly to create.
The virtual reality application requires heavy processing that can be achieved through a desktop PC. Naturally, such apps will take much more time and cost to create.
In their turn, mobile virtual reality apps are simpler and much easier on the processing side. They can run in a smartphone inserted in a simple VR viewer, such as Google Cardboard. Building a mobile VR app is less cost- and time-consuming.
A separate type of applications that are often mentioned together with VR apps is 3D, or 360-degree, videos.
While creating a 3D sensation, they produce no immersive experience, as the user does not entirely feel being within the virtual space.
Such applications are the easiest and the most cost-effective to create.
What does the VR app cost consist of?
To estimate the approximate cost of building a virtual reality application, we have divided the development process into separate components.
Project planning and estimation
This activity does not belong to the realm of VR alone, as any properly prepared software development project requires planning. Project planning is a necessary stage that precedes development as such and should not be ignored.
During the project planning, the project manager closely cooperates with the client and the development team leaders to create the following documentation on the basis of which the VR project is developed:
- Here they describe the functionality that needs to be implemented. For VR apps, the specifications should state the detailed description of the functionality to be implemented.
- Wireframes and design prototypes. Wireframes are necessary to show the layout of the app UI, the interaction between its elements, and the user experience that is expected to be achieved.
- Project plan with sprints and functional components to be delivered at the end of each sprint. The project plan allows for monitoring the development progress and quickly responding to any changes en route.
- Technology stack. The type of VR app calls for the necessary tools that are to be used by the development team.
Usually, project planning is done by the software VR development company and takes about 1-2 weeks or 40-80 hours. The cost of the virtual reality project planning activities is calculated as the hourly rate of $80-120 depending on the company multiplied by the number of hours.
Selection of the VR platform and content
The type of the VR application requires, on the one hand, the specific equipment that will be used to view and use it, and, on the other hand, the content that will be included in the creation of the application.
When talking about the VR headsets, think about the target user audience of your application. The VR hardware can be quite pricey.
Thus if you are planning an educational immersive application for schools or universities, it’s better to aim for the low-priced hardware types, such as Google Cardboard which costs about $5-$15 per unit. In this case, a virtual reality application runs on a smartphone.
However, complex virtual reality applications, such as special simulators or VR games, will need hardware capable of reproducing all the features and functions of the app, such as Oculus Rift or HTC Vive.
As for the content of a VR app, in some cases, 3D images or videos may be sufficient, if we are talking about virtual tours or e-commerce applications.
However, for VR games and simulators, you will also need 3D models that are created by 3D artists using special tools, such as Autodesk Maya.
Depending on the complexity of a 3D model, its development may take between 80 and 400 hours with the hourly rate in the range of $80-120.
VR application development
The time it takes to develop a project directly depends on the complexity and the purpose of a virtual reality application.
At this stage, the project passes into the hands of VR designers who create the UI and the set of VR features required for the application.
The most common tool for virtual reality application development is Unity that has earned the reputation of a reliable platform for building VR apps of any size and complexity.
It is a cross-platform tool for virtual reality and game development that can be used with any operating system and hardware.
Another platform that is highly regarded by VR developers is Unreal Engine – a cross-platform development toolkit that is specifically focused on the VR game development.
The time required to build a VR app can vary in the range of 500 to 2000 hours. Simple applications with low interactivity and no 3D models will be the fastest to build, while large VR games and simulators with a lot of custom graphics may stretch for about a year to complete.
The average hourly rate of a VR developer is $80-120. Thus, if we want to estimate the cost of a VR app development, we will get the range of $40,000 – 200,000 per application, with 3D games and immersive training applications being the most feature-rich and, therefore, expensive.
The time and cost of virtual reality development also include testing that usually takes about 30% of the total development time.
If your agreement with the development company includes post-launch support and maintenance, this, on the one hand, gives you better assurance and security, as your product will be maintained by the same team that built it.
Support and maintenance are ongoing processes that are billed by the hourly rate of $80-120.
At the same time, if you decide to revise the app’s functionality, add or remove some features or do a general “facelift” updating the UI, consider this as a new development project that needs to be estimated from the beginning.
These works will be priced according to the development rates depending on the amount of time they require.
Your business may benefit from using virtual reality
If you think that your line of business and virtual reality are in different universes, think again. Virtual reality is finding use cases that seem quite unusual.
Your business may also leverage the unique opportunities of VR to gain more users and improve their experience.
If you think that VR may be a good idea, talk to us about it. We will find the best possible solution in your case and help you implement it.
It does not necessarily need to be the most expensive, as some projects definitely do not require hi-tech multi-user graphics-heavy apps.
At the same time, a simple immersive application may display your product or service like nothing else.