Reducing Sickness in VR

Motion sickness induced by virtual reality experiences is a real thing and there is plenty of documentation and discussion about it on the web. If you are keen to learn more simply do a Google search for VR Sickness.

We’ve held many demonstrations of our VR applications and every so often we get a user who feels sick during the experience and has to stop. It is a fascinating area which thankfully is being studied in great deal and is being addressed by the current generation of VR device makers.

There are always going to be limitations related to particular VR devices you use and some people are always going to be susceptible to VR sickness, just as there are those who always get motion or sea sickness. However as a developer there definitely things you can do to help reduce motion sickness in your VR applications.

We’ve built a lot of VR applications and what we’ve found is that a combination of elements included in the design and build of your VR scenes can help reduce the effects of motion sickness on some users. Note these are not based on scientific study but purely on the subjective feedback we’ve received from users.

We’ve found the following elements may help:

  1. Have users in a seated position rather than standing (check out this video to see why this helps -
  2. Provide users with a realistic virtual body – i.e. hands, legs or even a virtual nose
  3. Use headphones and appropriate audio to help ground the user in the experience and help them forget their real world surrounding.
  4. Subtle particle system effects (such as rain, snow or falling leaves) seem to help in some way though we are not quite sure why. One theory going around the studio is that they provide a visual cue in your peripheral vision which acts in away your brain expects and while you don’t necessarily look at them they are there in the background behaving in a way your brain likes.
  5. Reduce low frame rates – low frame rates will result in lag in your VR application which will pretty quickly make users feel sick. When testing your scene make sure you test for areas which cause low frame rates and work to clean those areas. This can include reducing polygon counts or reducing the number of high resolution textures used.
  6. Reduce extreme motion – while it can be fun to see how ill you can make your friends feel in your VR app (remember the VR roller coaster) this kind of motion can confuse the brain as the inner workings of the ear get confused when the eyes say one thing but your senses don’t agree. If possible ensure that movement of the player in the scene in gentle and slowly guides the user rather than thrusting them rapidly in ways the brain may not expect or can’t respond to fast enough

Over the past twelve month we have also included a new element to our design and testing process – VR Sickness Testing. During the scene design phase we make sure we try to identify areas or scenarios which may induce sickness and work to reduce or offset those areas using a few new design principles. During testing we involve a range of testers to see if those identified areas cause concern.