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Can VR Demos Convince You to Return to the Mall?

Malls have a problem. People come to browse, if they show up at all, but when it comes time to purchase, many pull out their smartphones to buy, grab a snack in the food court, and head home to wait for the delivery.

Some empty malls are being reimagined as microamusement parks. But Japanese company Psychic VR Lab wants to bring its virtual reality tech, dubbed Styly, into the store itself in a bid to inspire on-the-spot purchases.

Psychic VR Lab has tested this in Tokyo's Isetan Shinjuku Mall at futuristic design houses chloma, BALMUNG, and HATRA. After a successful trial in September 2016, Psychic VR Lab released a US beta of Styly at SXSW; 500 US developers are now trying it out and providing feedback.

PCMag caught up with Mir Nausharwan, Chief Alliance Officer/Head of Global Department at Psychic VR Lab, at the recent Unity Technologies developer event, Unite Austin, to find out more.

"Whatever you create in Unity, with one-click you can transfer into the Styly platform," Nausharwan explained during a demo. It did look very simple to use (if you're already familiar with Unity's platform).

Nausharwan's parents are from Kashmir, but he was born in Tokyo, so he speaks fluent Japanese, along with Arabic, English, Hindi, Punjabi, and Urdu. He joined the company after several years working in the mobile gaming industry, with roles at both DeNA Japan and DeNA South Asia, where he helped develop top-grossing games in Japan, including Tap Tap Fish, and brought them to the Western market. Now he's trying to do the same at Psychic VR Labs as it goes global.

Tokyo's Isetan Shinjuku Mall

"At Isetan, customers put on a Microsoft HoloLens, accessed the brand's VR presence, via Styly, and, once there, they could change the clothes, swap out colors, share the items via social media while 'inside' the VR showroom," Nausharwan tells me.

"Isetan found it changed the experience of shopping for their customers via the social effect. Plus it saved time, you see your avatar get changed, so you don't have to, physically. They haven't shared actual data with us yet, but we knew it was a success for them and we're using what we learned for our potential US partnerships."

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The Styly platform is free to use, and there's a showcasing cloud-storage facility for completed VR projects. But the real money will be made in adapting Styly's tools to US-based retail ventures, in the way Psychic VR Lab already did in Tokyo.

Which is why, after Austin, Nausharwan is doing something of a US tech tour to drum up business, landing this week in San Jose at Oculus Connect 4, where he's speaking about creating global communities via Styly.

"The cultural differences, and language barrier, make it hard for Japanese companies to export technology products," he points out. "So my role, as an international executive, is to make that happen. The Japanese market is a very mature market for VR with a market value of $7.4 billion dollars. In Shinjuku, near where we ran the Styly VR trial, there's a massive VR Zone so customers are very used to the idea of putting on an HMD to experience a new way of being there. I'm hoping we can bring that same level of comfort to the US."

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