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The State of the Industry: Virtual Reality The Future or Fad?

Virtual Reality The Future or FadThe field of VR technology is not new but in fact it can trace it origin back to the late 60’s however over the last few years it has seen a massive boost in popularity, mainly thanks to one device the Oculus Rift. Oculus VR the company behind the device have been steadily gathering steam over the last year creating a huge amount of hype about the capabilities of their device. The recent acquisition by Facebook has given the company a significant bump in their financing but has been also meet with some ire from the video gaming community. One of the devices supporters the Minecraft creator Markus “Notch” Persson is reconsidering the planned Oculus Rift support for his game. Will this takeover cause enough ill will to sink the potential future of the device or can it weather the storm. Is there really a strong enough demand for VR technology in the video game industry or will it occupy dusty shelves with forgotten relics like the EyeToy, Virtual Boy and the Kinect.

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“The Oculus Rift has come a long way from a Kickstarter concept piece to billion dollar acquisition by Facebook.”

Oculus VR are not breaking new ground for the integration of VR technology and innovative motion controls into video games.  It has been attempt before in various different guises, from Nintendo’s Power Glove to Victormaxx’s ridiculously expensive Cybermaxx headset. Peripherals for video games have never really improved on the overall gaming experience, at least not enough to make gamers shell out cash on the high priced products. The Oculus Rift is really a refinement of the technology laid down by Jaron Lanier, Thomas G. Zimmerman and others alike. The wide field of view, HD display and head tracking the key selling points of the new device and may well be the final piece of the puzzle that was missing previously. The other issue that held back many devices prior to the current day equivalents was a simple matter of size. One of the first virtual reality head mounted displays was so heavy and cumbersome it had to be suspended from the ceiling, users nicknaming the device the “The Sword of Damocles”. Even Nintendo’s Virtual Boy seems bulky and unwieldy by today’s standards. There is no doubting that Oculus VR have put their work in trying to make their device slip seamlessly into the gaming experience and make the interactivity as intuitive as possible.

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“Virtual Reality has come and gone in the past can the current trend maintain prolonged interest and more importantly sell in sustainable numbers.”

However it is not as if the company has a monopoly on the VR market as both Sony and Valve are looking to enter the arena with their own interpretations. At this year’s Games Developers Conference in San Francisco Sony came out swinging with their own version of a VR headset dubbed Project Morpheus. The Japanese tech giants have been working on VR prototype headsets for a number of years, integrating their own Move controllers into the system. Sony has the slight advantage of having a long history in the tech industry and all the experience that comes with it. However the Oculus team can boost about the veteran developers that have joined the company, with id Software founder John Carmack the chief technology officer at Oculus VR. Even Valve’s own VR specialist Michael Abrash has switched sides and joined the Oculus Rift team. It would seem that at any rate gamers will be spoilt for choice when these devices make it market, when that will be is still up in the air. Some hints point towards a late 2014 early 2015 launch for the Oculus Rift, but another important question arises in response to that is the devices proposed price point. Again no official pricing structure has been announced only guesstimates can be made at this time, the most recent Dev kit version of the device going for $350 (€254). $250(€180) to $300(€220) the price range been floated around by some market analysts. Oculus VR founder Palmer Luckey has stated that he may adopt a similar model used by the console manufactures, dropping the price and making up the money on licencing deals with game publishers. This is integral to the success of any of the current VR headsets in development, the support of the video game developers to integrate the technology into their games. At the end of the day if there isn’t an extensive catalogue of titles that will support VR then the Rift, Morpheus, Gameface or any of the other VR headsets will ultimately fail.

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“The Oculus Team have had VR market all to themselves the last two years but now competition is heating up with others jumping on the VR bandwagon.”

The decision by “Notch” to pull his official support for Oculus Rift integration with Minecraft doesn’t help with publicity for the VR company. Not that ‘Minecrafters’ desperate to see their blocky creations up close and personal are out of luck, as there are mods that support Oculus Rift input. However an official release of a VR compatible version of Minecraft could have been a big boon for the Oculus Rift over it soon to be competitors. The Rift is definitely carving itself out as a PC peripheral as opposed to Sony’s VR which obviously will be supported by their PlayStation console. Sony already demonstrating their eye tracking technology working with the current PS4 release Infamous: Second Son. So just like the console wars that take place between Sony and Microsoft it is the exclusive titles that can often sway customers moreover than hardware specs. There is even now a host of tech companies that want to take VR even further, not happy with just tracking movement of the player’s vision they want get them on the move. Companies like Virtuix with their Omni motion tracking device want to have Oculus Rift users get of their seats and start moving. The demonstration of Valves new VR headset at Steam Dev Days also incorporated spatial awareness and the capturing of full body movement. This entire aside the current generation of VR is still in its infancy with projects still in development and release dates still TBA. It would seem that there is enough momentum behind the VR push this time that it is unlikely to be a flash in the pan. Whether or not it will be a revolution in video game interaction is still out to tender. A quick review of interactive peripherals of video games past doesn’t paint a great picture. Even the evolution of the video game controller has been fairly stagnant for the last decade, although Valve might have something to say about that. The coming years and eventual product launches will offer a clearer idea for the future of Virtual Reality.

By Colm O’Sullivan

Posted in The State of the Industry and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , .

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