Gaming used to be a limited market that was comprised mostly of kids and young adults but the technological advances over the years have expanded the possibilities and with that have drawn in virtually every demographic. Consoles like the XBOX and PS4 gave gaming a solid base for growth, and when motion detection became a possibility through the Wii and the Kinect, it changed the industry.
But there is another revolution that has the potential to take over the world of gaming. The gaming experience is being elevated to another level altogether with the help of Virtual Reality (VR). It gives an immensely rich immersive experience where the players don’t just control the characters of the game but become a part of it and actually enter the game environment.
VR is not a new concept, and the Nintendo Virtual Boy was one of the first VR gaming consoles that hit the market in 1995. It was a major flop with only 770,000 units sold, partly because the games were designed in red and black and this first try did not really appeal to as wide of a base as the company had hoped for...
But there has been a recent resurgence in VR because of the number of possibilities that it opens up. With major companies like Samsung, Sony, Google, Microsoft and HTC exploring VR options, there is very little doubt about where the future of gaming lies. Even some standard consoles of today come with VR options, and the PS4 is a prime example of that with a full game immersion experience.
The major problem that VR gaming faces as of now is two-fold. The first problem is the cost. VR does burn a hole in your pocket, and when you make that kind of an investment, it is necessary to have the games to support it. That is the second problem that is facing the VR gaming industry: there are just not enough games that can keep you hooked.
That said, there is a lot of scopes for VR to take over the gaming market and that is the reason why manufacturers are conducting research to make the consoles cheaper while game developers, such as Valve, are trying to bring out more immersive games in the future. And it does look like their efforts will reap rich rewards - the market size of hardware and software is predicted to increase to more than 19 billion dollars by 2020. While there was a dip in 2017, the IDC predicts a six percent increase in the AR/VR market due to the introduction of low-cost and standalone VR headsets such as the Oculus Go.
As of now, VR is limited to the visual and auditory senses. The other senses are not really engaged, and that is something that developers are looking at. If the gamer can truly experience the smells, the temperatures, and even fatigue then the gaming experience will transcend from immersive to reality-similar, and that should increase player involvement as well as draw in a new range of gamers.
One of the major reasons why VR gaming has not become the sensation that many thought it would be is that the games themselves still have a long way to go before they can compare with other console games. While there are a few exceptions like Crytek’s The Climb which offer a pretty decent immersive experience, most of the games are not quite up to that mark. The gameplay is often too simple, and that needs to change ASAP if VR gaming wants to seriously compete against standard console games.
...the games themselves still have a long way to go
The problem is that because it’s a completely different environment than normal games, developers have to go back to the drawing board and come up with a new method of game design. But with some major innovations and advances in technology, it is not really too far into the future that we will see games that transport us into a completely new environment and give us an experience that will truly amaze us.
Even the most casual of gamers will tell you about the importance of having the right accessories for the most complete gaming experience. The same holds true for VR as well. From the glasses to the controllers to the guns for blasting enemies, having the right accessories can make the VR experience even more engaging, and that is something that developers need to look at.
There have already been some major advances in terms of the accessories. Take a look at Oculus for example. They originally utilized the Xbox one gamepad but have now come up with the Touch Controllers which give a much more realistic gaming experience. Similarly, the HTC Vive wands and the PlayStation VR Move motion controllers give gamers a much more enhanced touch and feel the experience. Game manufacturers will need to continue to invest a lot in gaming accessories.
In fact, HTC has the Vive tracker in the wings which will give gamers much more freedom. The trackers are essentially motion tracking accessories that can be attached to any actual world object which can then be used to control the game through the HTC Vive VR Headset. Daniel O’Brien at Vive put it this way at the launch:
“The Vive Tracker opens up a whole new set of experiences that can take advantage of full body tracking and a number of peripherals that set VR experiences on Vive apart.”
The internet has opened up a world of possibilities for gamers where they can play with each other as a team or as opponents. The multiplayer and mass multiplayer options are what has driven up the demand for gaming devices as game time becomes a social rather than solo activity. In VR too, multiplayer is already a reality. There are a number of games like Echo Arena and the Unspoken as well as many others that offer a good starting point for multiplayer options in VR gaming. As the industry develops further and more graphic intense games come up, multiplayer is a feature that you can definitely look forward to.
One of the major limitations of VR is space. Most homes do not allow you to roam around freely without the risk of collision when you put on the headset. That seriously limits the experience and takes away a lot of the fun. Just like in laser tag arenas, there is a potential for VR arcades where you can roam around the gaming environment and interact with the different objects that have been placed there.
In fact, Modal VR, a company founded by Atari creator Nolan Bushnell, has technology that will allow anyone to transform up to 900,000 square feet into apocalyptic cities and alien planets. You can physically enter these cities with VR glasses on and immerse yourself in games. VR gaming arcades may be able to harness technology like this and add physical objects that the players can interact with. It is definitely an ambitious project for now but going further it has the potential to gain a lot of popularity.
This larger than life gaming experience is what sets VR gaming apart and its something that all gamers should look forward to.
A market tendency that has stood the long test of time is the fact that products only get widespread popularity when they are within the range of what the customers can afford to spend, and there is no doubt that the same will hold true for VR gaming as well.
Currently, VR headsets and consoles are still a bit pricey for the average consumer which is why not a lot of people are buying into the next step of gaming. And that is also why a price drop trend has already started. Take a look at Oculus for example. The Rift headset and Touch controller bundle started out at a price of $798 but has come down to $399 on Amazon. The prices are still high of course but the correction has started and it should become much more affordable for the customers as more people adopt VR as their preferred method of gaming.
When the Nintendo Virtual Boy console came out in 1995, it was more of a gimmick than a serious venture. But VR has already made the journey from being just a gimmick into something that everybody is actively anticipating.
With the right technological advancements and immersive content, there is no reason for VR not to capture the hearts of gamers everywhere. For that dream to become a reality, developers and manufacturers need to think of VR as a new experience and not just an upgrade to the gaming that we have become so accustomed to.
The potential is huge, and with the right moves, VR will definitely take gaming to the next level.
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