The virtual reality community is a friendly bunch, but we love to debate. One of the main arguments is whether or not 360-degree videos are truly virtual reality. While 360-videos might not be VR, they're exactly what VR needs.
What is virtual reality? Most people tend to look at VR as as a single technology. In reality, VR is a spectrum from the less-immersive to more-immersive. People arguing that 360-videos aren't VR use the "more-immersive" end of the scale as their definition of VR. On that end, VR is defined by 6 degrees of freedom (DoF) head tracking - meaning that when you move your head in any direction while wearing an HMD, the virtual reality will respond accordingly. Most 360-videos only allow for two degrees of freedom - up/down and left/right rotations, so many VR hawks don't consider it VR. However, VR can be even more immersive than 6 DoF when you look at haptics, olfactory stimulation, or even electrical inputs. The ultimate goal of VR is to create a reality that is completely indistinguishable from reality, in every way. By this definition, everything we are calling VR today is not really VR.
At this stage in the game, the most important thing for VR is to get adopted by consumers. People won't buy headsets if they have nothing to do with them, so having a good variety of content is crucial if VR wants to penetrate the consumer market. AAA and indie games will definitely attract the gamer segment, but to appeal to all consumers, VR needs to be more than a gaming platform. What do people like to do with their tech besides play games? Sharing videos and pictures is pretty popular.
While 360-videos and pictures aren't "technically" VR, you still need a VR headset to become immersed in them. This is good news for everyone developing "real" VR. 360 is the gateway drug to VR, and is already proving itself to be the most popular content. Some videos have racked up millions of views, and heavyweights like YouTube and Facebook have made distributing 360 as easy as 2D. Furthermore, capturing 360 content is much cheaper and easier than recreating everything in computer graphics, so it will provide the necessary variety for consumers. There will be certain applications that 360 can't cover, but if you want to capture real-world experiences and places, 360 is the way to go.
Without 360, VR would not be where it is today, and would likely be unknown outside of the gaming niche. Instead, because of 360 content, we have been able to bring real places, experiences, and people closer together than ever before.