Why you should be using games engines to create virtual display homes

by | Oct 3, 2022

In this article we’ll look into the how and why behind game engines being used to create virtual display homes. We’ll talk about the benefits of doing so and go over important considerations. We’ll tell you what computers can handle these experiences, how easy it is to add VR, or spin off an architectural animation.

What is a virtual display homes 

A virtual display home created with a game engine like Unity or Unreal is the ultimate sales and market tool to have in your arsenal.

It is a 3D copy of a home or apartment which runs on a PC or a Virtual Reality headset. Viewers can navigate through it like they would any video game by using the arrow keys to walk from room to room.

To make the viewing more engaging we’ve had tremendous success leveraging game engines to add interactivity to these experiences. This technology lets us tell richer stories and build desire. Prospective buyers can sit by the crackling virtual fireplace, pull down the theatre room’s projector screen, or go for a digital swim in the pool. These experiences can be multiplayer so a husband and wife can explore a home together. They can be joined from anywhere in the world so investors can collaborate and view the space while on a call. A real estate agent can even join the tour to guide the viewers and sell like they would in person, without needing to drive across town or maintain a costly display home.

Better still, a virtual display home can be created before the real home is constructed. It’s modelled, textured and run on a PC. VR support can be easily added for further immersion, or you can view it on a monitor.

Getting a 3D model of a home built can be the starting point for other content too, as cameras can be placed in the virtual environment to record 3D flythrough animations, and other types of architectural animations.

Viewers can customise their home in the 3D space. Clicking on the floor can open an option menu for selecting different tiles or carpets. You can change colour, plumbing fixtures, or even the configuration of rooms and walls.

These configurable, interactive experiences outperform any brochure. They keep viewers on your site for longer which signals to search engines it’s valuable,

Modern video game grahics are stunning

Architects, engineers, and stakeholders can benefit from overlaid data on top of 3D models and environments.

It’s a tremendous planning aid to visualise how a design will respond to floods, fires and other disasters. Not every simulation needs to be life or death. AEC firms are using VR to simulate crowds, test the amount of time it takes to find an exit, or study the line of sight for nearby traffic as it rounds corners and the impact that your project might have on that.

A VR simulation could ask a subject to virtually navigate an airport and monitor the decisions they make. What architects thought was an obvious path from check in to security, might be counterintuitive to most people.

The funny thing about VR simulations is that all this information already exists. It’s just hidden away in numbers and high technical documentation. Even the people who can read this stuff, can’t keep it in their heads long enough to see it all together, make the connections and grasp the big picture.

3D visualisation, and VR, are all about breaking data out of these silos, and seeing it in context. Anyone can understand VR, so just imagine what an engineer can do who’s trained on this data for years. What does he or she notice on that virtual walkthrough of a proposed development?

How are game engines used to develop virtual display homes

It starts with a 3D model. This can come from the architect’s CAD drawings or be created from a 2D floor plan and other documentation. These models are loaded into Unity, Unreal or other software where they are textured.

The environment is created, lighting is added, and once that’s done the house or apartment is virtually furnished. We can draw on massive libraries of models to furnish the house, or if you have custom furniture requirements we can model anything from Elizabethan period pieces to ultra futuristic decor.

The final step is to add in the physics and logic for the interactivity. Anything you can imagine is possible. Complexity just requires more time. Simple interactivity like turning on taps, stoves, and lights don’t take long at all. If you want to do something really special like build a mini game, cooking some snags on the back deck for example, that’s very achievable. It just takes longer.

Can any computer handle these experiences

No, Like video games, a virtual display home renders in real time. There’s some computational power required to drive these experiences without a drop in frame rate or lag.

Any PC that has a dedicated graphics card should be able to handle it. As a rule of thumb, a desktop computer that cost more than $600 and was bought in the last 5 years is likely up to the task.

To run a virtual display home in VR there are two options. Tethered and untethered. Tethered is where the experience runs on a gaming computer and there’s a headset connected with a cable that acts as a display. We can also build it as a ‘standalone’ app for the headset so no tethering or computer required. The challenge with this option is we have to heavily optimise the scene so the level of detail/fidelity will be reduced.

What are the benefits of virtual display

Fewer appointments, more highly qualified leads

Setting up open houses and private viewings is expensive and a time drain.

Real estate agents we’ve spoken to tell us it costs around 100K a year to run/maintain a display home. Virtual homes have a massively reduced staffing cost and for the client they travel to one location and view 20 homes (plus view all the range of options/fittings) rather than driving all over the city.

The client doesn’t need to find the time in between work, kids and all their other commitments. You can view a virtual display home from the comfort of your home, find out if you’re really interested in the place and perhaps even put in an offer. Putting in an offer before seeing a place in person is more common than ever and the pandemic accelerated these trends.

According to Ray Ellis, chief executive of First National, they witnessed a five-fold explosion in homebuyers not physically touring a property before purchase.
“Pre-Covid, if we were selling 20 houses in a certain suburb, maybe one of those might have been sight-unseen,” he said. “But now we are selling four or five a month that way.” – realestate.com.au

Overcoming distance to reach overseas buyers

Every year, foreign buyers purchase between (7–13%) of homes that sell in Australia. The impact is more significant as a share of newly- constructed dwellings (15–25%). Buying a property is also a pathway to golden visas and we have some of the highest millionaire migration in the entire world. Any property that buyers can virtual visit stands a better chance of reaching these overseas investors.

Showcasing a neighbourhood and nearby amenities

When attending a display home, the perks of the area aren’t immediately obvious. A virtual tour can have meaningful information about the neighbourhood superimposed on top of it. The distance to the nearest school, and a link to their website can pop up when a viewer looks out the window. A virtual tour can simulate the lighting at different times of the day to demonstrate the advantages of the home’s orientation. Are there nearby parks, rec centres, or shopping centres? All this information can be pointed out with a neighbourhood fly through animation or another visualisation technique.

Let’s wrap this up

By using a game engine to add interactivity to a virtual display home, you can engage prospective buyers like never before. You can showcase the lifestyle, point out benefits of the neighbourhood, and do it all before construction starts. Virtual display homes overcome distance to help reach international buyers, and photorealism is better, easier and more affordable than it ever has been to achieve. If you have an idea for a virtual display home, get in touch with 3D Walkabout today. We can help you understand what’s possible and brainstorm ideas to take advantage of this exciting opportunity.

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