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Roundtable: Does virtual reality have a commercially viable future?

Friday, 14th March 2014 11:57 GMT By Dave Cook

Oculus firmly believes that VR will be integral to the evolution of gaming, but it’s clear that consumers still need some convincing. Dave Cook speaks with several VR developers to see if the tech has a viable commercial future.

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“It’s all down to the immersion. Playing a game properly in VR is such a huge step beyond playing it on a 2D monitor or TV” – Patrick O’Luanaigh, nDreams

People have historically felt intimidated by things they don’t understand. We often fail to grasp the value of new technology or services unless they offer something that will directly benefit us, and while that’s perhaps a little self-centred, it isn’t entirely incorrect.

Disruptive, unproven concepts – if they are commercially available at all – are often expensive, and until we as consumers are convinced our money is well-spent, they will always be viewed with an air of scepticism. You need a reason to invest good money in innovations like VR, and while it’s clear Oculus and other companies feel the concept has a viable future in your home, we’re yet to see the full potential of such technology as a consumer product.

Just how will this radical, wearable technology impact the gaming and where can it sit amid the home environment? When pricing VR technology in stores, how much is too much? And can issues surrounding motion sickness ever be fully eradicated?

These are all unanswered questions that Oculus, Valve and – if these rumours are to be believed – Sony are trying to answer. It’s clear that the solutions will not simply present themselves any time soon, but the wheels are in motion as you read this. It’s easy to laugh and draw comparisons to the Virtual Reality fad of the early ’90s, but companies have learned from that saga, and are hell-bent on convincing the market that this, whether you want to believe it or not, is the future.

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Is VR just a fad?

UK-based game developer nDreams has dabbled in a variety of VR devices for some time now, and has produced several internal prototypes. “I’ve had the good fortune to have used a number of different VR headsets (and to have visited Oculus in Irvine, which was mind-blowing), and I am totally convinced that VR is an area which will grow hugely over the next few years,” says founder and creative director Patrick O’Luanaigh.

“It’s all down to the immersion – great VR puts you into another world. It takes that feeling of immersion to a totally new level and allows players to forget completely about the real world. Playing a game properly in VR is such a huge step beyond playing it on a 2D monitor or TV.

“VR is very demanding hardware-wise. Virtual reality will force a step up of the hardware performances, pushing the market forward” – Flavio Parenti, Untold Games

“For me, the difference between a fad and a revolution is whether the new thing really is an improvement on the old thing. And I believe VR will be a revolution. It’s not going to impact mobile gaming, because it’s not something you’ll do on the move for a few minutes at a time, but it will change how people game when they’re sat down in their lounge, office or bedroom.”

I first used an Oculus Rift device at a game jam in Dundee, Scotland. The game in question saw me moving a dog around an open world park, utilising an Xbox 360 control pad and headset display. I could make the canine run by bobbing my head up and down, tilt it slightly to urinate on passers-by and gaze around the colourful world by my own head movements alone. We take a pad’s right stick for granted as it’s almost always used for camera control. Once you pop on a VR headset that’s no longer the case. It’s both disorientating, overwhelming and exciting at first try.

“Once you experience cutting-edge VR, the kind of which Valve is prototyping at the moment, you know in your gut that it’s too much an awesome experience to be dismissed as a fad,” says Bossa Studios’ founder Henrique Olifiers.

“The kind of emotions and feelings a developer can evoke in the player with this tech is beyond anything else out there, it’s science fiction stuff. So we’re clear – this is not what you can currently experience with the first generation of Oculus Rift. It’s something else entirely.

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“That said, I don’t believe we will see it used everywhere any time soon,” he adds. “I don’t think VR is a type of tech like an iPhone that everyone will just ‘get it’ and embrace right away. It’s new tech that will be niche to early adopters for some considerable time. Then, at some point, a developer will come up with the killer game for VR and it will be Wolfenstein and Doom all over again, with mainstream trying it out and falling in love with it. That would be my guess.”

“Some say that Oculus Rift was planned at the beginning to be publicly sold for $300. It is in my opinion a fair price because it is affordable” – Christophe Longuepee, Streum On Studio

Like Olifiers, Italian actor and film-maker Flavio Parenti agrees that VR is no fad as well as being a demand on current hardware. His studio Untold Games is currently working on Loading Human, a first-person adventure game that sees players exploring convincing worlds using motion and head tracking.

He suggests that interest in VR from gamers is high, and if it’s well managed by the industry then the technology could indeed prove profitable. It might not be within the means of console, game or hardware developers just yet, however.

“VR is very demanding hardware-wise,” Parenti warns. “Rendering stereoscopic 3D requires approximately twice the raw power of today’s game. This means that virtual reality will force a step up of the hardware performances, pushing the market forward. Virtual Reality will start as a niche, but it will very soon become a new entertainment media standard for many thing other that video games.”

It’s clear that creators believe VR to be – if not instrumental – then additive to the game medium, but it’s entirely understandable why scepticism comes from the players themselves. Oculus Rift is not a commercial product yet, and for those lucky enough to have tried the device or some equivalent at consumer expos or trade shows, one small demo isn’t enough to give a fair view of the technology’s long-tail prospects.

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25 Comments

  1. Panthro

    Probably not unless they add it into the next Call Of Duty and Fifa titles so all the gamer dude console brah’s have a reason to get one.

    #1 5 months ago
  2. Michael Ireland

    No.

    “Virtual reality will force a step up of the hardware performances,”

    Developers are at the whim of the technology, not the other way around. Manufacturers are not going to “step up their game” for a niche piece of technology.

    It’s a fun concept, and it will gather it’s own niche, but it’s not replacing traditional core gaming, neither in the future or ever.

    #2 5 months ago
  3. Luciferous

    In the short term it’s unclear, but in the long haul then definitely.

    I’ve been fortunate to use one the HD Oculus headsets and I am completely sold, considering that they have improved the tech since I am doubly certain that I want in when the commercial launch happens.

    We’re definitely close to having the right hardware, it will boil down to software support and optimisation which could take years to get right enough to narrow down the negative effect of VR or for us to adapt.

    During my time with the hardware i was fine with games involving flight, Eve Valkyrie has to be experienced to be believed, but walking games are a bit rough even for someone like me who never feels motion sick even during the most turbulent of flights of boat trips.

    #3 5 months ago
  4. _LarZen_

    I have used it so I know it has a viable future. It’s the single most important thing that has happen to gaming for decades. Skepticism is always high with stuff like this but it is so clear why some of the biggest people in the gaming industry is working on VR about 5 seconds after you have put on the VR headset.

    Not all games will be good to play in VR so the “traditional” way to game is not going anywhere. But VR is THE thing to push gaming forward in a new and incredible exciting way.

    The future is bright!

    #4 5 months ago
  5. Panthro

    @Michael Ireland

    If I rounded up every comment you have ever made regarding VR they would all say the exact same thing.

    For all I know what I’m replying to could actually be a repost…

    #5 5 months ago
  6. OlderGamer

    I don’t know, maybe. I agree with Mike a bit here. No one is going to make more powerful(and expensive) hardware just for the sake of VR Headsets. The tech involved from all sides needs to be at a mass market price point in order to be successful. And for the most part that always means older, dated tech. Cutting edge always remains niche. So at the very least it will take years.

    But could it happen?

    Yes, I think it could. But not for a very long time.

    #6 5 months ago
  7. jonnymelamet

    The thing that a lot of the people in the round table forget is the human element. If I walked into a room and my flatmate/mate/sibling was playing on a VR headset I would think that they are being anti social. Gaming is becoming more and more social with multi-player only games and streaming of game play with forums.

    Also, other people would muck about with people using VR. Draw on them or take something, like their phone.

    I don’t think it will work as a gaming device in the near future. I reckon there will be a surge in the use of VR headsets for other purposes.

    It could end up like computers though. Computers began as functional devices used for work and then developed into gaming systems once people understood them more. That is the only way I could see VR picking up as a gaming device.

    #7 5 months ago
  8. Panthro

    @jonnymelamet

    I wouldn’t wanna’ be friends with people who would draw on me or steal my phone anyway.

    #8 5 months ago
  9. TheWulf

    Let’s march out the was a fad technologies!

    * Television, the picture quality is awful, no one will want it.

    * Surround sound, no one is interested enough in sound to want anything more than nicam stereo.

    * Computers, you wouldn’t want one of these in your home.

    * The Internet, the connection speeds over distances is too big to do anything meaningful with.

    * Molecular gastronomy, people want food made by renowned chefs, not lab technicians.

    * Mobile phones, they’re just for hipsters who like to show off by talking in cars.

    * Smart phones, no one wants to play games on their phone, they want to phone people with their phone.

    Now let’s look at the will be fads section!

    * VR, the helmets are giant and heavy, they make people sick, no one will want one.

    * Self-driving cars, no one is going to trust a machine to drive their cars for them — devices like TomTom are as far as they’ll go.

    * Wearable computers, people have their smart phones, they’re never going to want to wear something on their head or body for that when they can just reach into their pockets.

    Notice something? Almost every time someone says something is a hobby or a fad, based upon an old, unviable prototype, they assume that that’s as far as that will ever go. It’s a lack of imagination. The people saying that VR is a niche fad, today, are the same people who said that smart phones were a fad yesterday.

    And we all know how that turned out.

    Those selfsame people are now using smart phones.

    The technologies need time to be worked on and ripen, once that happens, what was once seen as a fad becomes a mega-trend. No, I doubt what VR is right now will be viable, but advances in the field will make it viable. And there are smart people already talking about how to make that happen, as the article shows.

    Even motion tracking will be viable one day, Microsoft pushing neanderthalic variants of the tech isn’t helping anyone, though. It’s just alienating people. That’s why I’m hoping that VR will remain ‘just a fad’ in the minds of many until all the kinks and issues have been worked out, until then, the hobbyists will have fun. And we’ll have liked it ‘before it was cool.’ :P

    #9 5 months ago
  10. TheWulf

    @8

    Same. I can’t understand why someone would want to live with a sociopath or even a prankster, since it’s going to cause a lot of friction and drama. The problem isn’t technology, the problem is the human, this is why I don’t play multiplayer games with strangers. Ever.

    #10 5 months ago
  11. TheWulf

    @6

    The estimations of the hardware required are commonly over-estimated. VR doesn’t take up as much extra processing as you think. The computer I have right now would be capable of it, and it’s hardly high-end.

    I think it’s nearer than you realise, it just needs more smart minds looking at it to figure out the last of the issues. The nausea and weight issues being the most important — once they’ve got those licked, it’s going to be huge.

    #11 5 months ago
  12. OlderGamer

    Good post Wulf.

    Just keep in mind I wasn’t making any claims of needed hardware power…just reflecting what someone else had said. However, I fully stand behind my mass market level claim. Price point is always an issue.

    #12 5 months ago
  13. Michael Ireland

    @TheWulf Nobody ever actually made those kinda complaints about half the things you just mentioned, and the few that did were in the minority.

    Core gaming is a niche as it is. The future of technology lies in portability and cross platform parity. Not in a mask you put on your face. It’s limited to specific genres on limited hardware and is an accessory on top of it.

    It’s actual penetratable userbase is very limited, and the average person is not going to want to spend that much money to sit around with a mask on their face to use what is essentially a gimmick. CoDKiller47 isn’t going to give a fuck about this anymore than he did about Rock Band or Singstar or the Kinect.

    #13 5 months ago
  14. gomersoul

    To say vr headsets are going to be the future of gaming is ridiculous. Microsoft thinks Kinect is but we all know they can throw as much money as possible at a piece of hardware and people will still not buy into the bullshit. There have been plenty of technology changes that failed in the commercial market. Minidisc players, hddvd, portable tv’s, old 3d, Sega Saturn, dreamcast, and much more. Naysayers are not always wrong. This is in direct competition with the way we currently play videogames and it doesn’t stand a chance. But I am sure the ten guys that buy it will love it, just like I love minidiscs

    #14 5 months ago
  15. DarkElfa

    @Michael Ireland Miiiichaaaeeel, what are things like there in the fuuuutuuure?

    Oh, that’s right, you’re in the present and can’t see the future either. I refute your logic and substitute ACTUAL logic.

    #15 5 months ago
  16. lookingglass

    Typical Michael Ireland, slandering VR while barely comprehending the true weight of the subject.

    VR is going to be revolutionary not solely because of gaming, but primarily because it’s going to impact so many different industries.

    But to talk about gaming specifically…

    Non-gamers can walk by a PS4 kiosk, watch or play for a bit, and feel absolutely nothing; no emotion, no adrenaline, nothing.

    The Oculus however, makes feeling nothing impossible. With VR and headphones, the human brain believes that what it’s experiencing is in some way real. Heights give you that feeling, speed injects adrenaline and beautiful games stir emotion.

    These are fundamental reactions to the immersion that VR offers. When test units hit stores, the experience will be so unique, so intense and so cheap that the masses will have a hard time passing it up.

    I’ve shown my dev kit to over 40 people and it’s actually the non-gamers who are most excited and affected. I’ve seen the look in their eyes when they take it off and I’ve seen it firsthand.

    VR is going to change everything.

    #16 5 months ago
  17. Michael Ireland

    @lookingglass VR will change nothing.

    Only time will tell though.

    #17 5 months ago
  18. Elvis71

    @Michael Ireland

    i somehow have the impression that you are only in denial because you didn´t had the experience of real VR ? If they achieve to get the presence right and hit a reasonable price point, all you have to do is to let someone experience a exciting VR demo and they are sold.

    I personally belief it has massive potential, at least as a new way to have gaming experiences. It will not work for all genres in the beginning, but there will be plenty to mess around, thats for sure.

    #18 5 months ago
  19. Michael Ireland

    @Elvis71 My opinion on VR has absolutely to do with my personal experience of the technology. It’s an entirely objective opinion based entirely on what I believe consumers as a whole will be attracted to.

    #19 5 months ago
  20. Dragon

    “It’s an entirely objective opinion based entirely on what I believe consumers as a whole will be attracted to.”
    wut? First time I heard opinions were anything other than subjective viewpoints on a topic based on personal preferences.

    VR will take time to reach its full potential, decades even. But it will revolutionize the world. Hell,games is just scratching the surface of what true VR can do. Prefect simulations of everything, that what VR is capable of in the future.
    To say mass market will
    never adopt it is, well so short-sighted its a bit sad.

    And of course, first time I agreed completely with Wulf. +1

    #20 5 months ago
  21. Dragon

    Oh my previous comment!
    *gasp*

    #21 5 months ago
  22. Michael Ireland

    @Dragon Are you saying it’s impossible for an opinion to be objective?

    #22 5 months ago
  23. Dragon

    @Michael Ireland,
    Just for you.
    “In general, an opinion is a judgment, viewpoint, or statement about matters commonly considered to be subjective, i.e. based on that which is less than absolutely certain, and is the result of emotion or interpretation of facts. What distinguishes fact from opinion is that facts are verifiable, i.e. can be objectively proven to have occurred.”
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Opinion

    Tell me that again when you have some objective data to back up your subjective opinion which frankly, sounds outdated.

    #23 5 months ago
  24. Dragon

    @Michael Ireland,
    I am waiting you know. To know on what objective basis you feel VR wont be a successful.

    #24 5 months ago
  25. GleninAK

    I just don’t think games are the big draw for VR, at least not for me and millions of other people. I can have a fun game experience and that will add something to my life. What I really want and need is a Virtual Entertainment room. Something you might see in a millionaires home, but much more configurable and easily manipulatable. I am thinking of a virtual room with a “200 TV, a 200″ monitor, a Messaging wall, a video chat wall, a live view of the beach in the Bahamas. In other words, something a millionaire would want, that it would take a million dollars to build, and I want it for <$1000. I want a 360 degree view, I want to resize screens so I can play my favorite game, watch a movie, keep an eye on stocks, watch messages and my favorite 1980's Rush concert at the same time. I want to control sound inputs, levels, add more screens, configure interruptions from important environment changes. You know, things a millionaire would do. I want to trade stocks, watch 3 different news channels, see my kids play, start a meeting at work, and visit the grand canyon. I want to be more-than-a-millionaire, not a really great gamer. My two cents.

    #25 5 months ago

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