Sun. Feb 5th, 2023

Nine years ago, when the first iPhone was about to debut, not many people envisioned a revolution that would fundamentally change the shape of the gaming industry (for better or for worse). As we await the imminent release of high-end consumer virtual reality headsets from the likes of Oculus, Valve, and Sony, it feels like we’re at a similar crossroads.

Unlike the slow, quiet beginnings of smartphone gaming, the hype around VR has been growing for years into a relentless, deafening field. But despite this hype, the industry and those who watch it seem relatively divided on the ultimate impact of VR gaming. It could could be a smartphone-level technological change — the biggest the gaming industry has seen in years — or it could be a soon-to-be-irrelevant fad on the order of the Wii or Kinect.

The answer to that question will shape the state of the video game market for years to come. So when many of the industry’s biggest names gathered for the DICE Summit and Awards ceremony in late February, I asked everyone I could get my hands on what they thought virtual reality gaming would look like in a decade. The range of responses shows just how unsettled and disturbing the fate of the latest virtual reality boom really is.

Lessons from the past

Those who’ve been in the industry long enough to remember the last wave of VR hype, in the mid-90s, would largely agree that something feels different this time around. “We wanted Snow crash happen, and then we tightened things up, and it just was Pterodactyl Terrorand we all threw up,” said Double Fine founder Tim Schafer (Monkey Island, psychonauts). Perhaps tellingly, he misnamed the less-than-impressive 1990s VR rig dactyl nightmare, but Schafer has faith in the present. “I think a huge leap has been made [this time].”

“I remember when Lawn mower man came out, or Revelation,” freelance game writer Rhianna Pratchett (Mirror’s Edge, Tomb Raider [2013]) said, recalling pop culture’s obsession with virtual worlds at the time. “Everyone was like, ‘Oh, it’s going to take over,’ and then it didn’t go anywhere. It’s got a foothold now and I think that’s important. It’s here.”

“I remember when the Virtual Boy and the Power Glove came out,” says prolific video game voice actor Troy Baker (The last of us, Bioshock Infinite) said. “I used to play Battle tech where you went [an arcade]… I’m sure we’ll get there [this time], because what games have shown us is a trend towards more immersive content. The more we can bring about that immersion in the gameplay, that’s really what people want. To me, [VR] is the most immersive you can get, where the reality you touch and experience is the world these people create.”

Even some who didn’t bring up direct experiences with the VR of recent decades think there’s something unavoidable about the current virtual reality push. “The question is whether it happens now or whether we have to wait a little longer,” says DICE Studios Senior Producer Sigurlina Ingvarsdottir (Star Wars Battlefront) said. “I think we’re ready for virtual reality to really go mainstream. I’m not sure if it’s 10 years or 20 years, but I think we’re going to make that leap at some point.”

“I see that technology as something that’s going to go mainstream for us,” said Tom Lee, creative director at Team Ninja (dead or alive 5), said. “I don’t think it’s a fad, I don’t think it’s a niche. I think it not only has enough technology but enough personality for a lot of us creators to do things that we could never do, so I think that it is definitely here to stay.”

And now for something completely different

The ability to create experiences unlike anything possible in a traditional game on a 2D screen was a recurring theme when I asked attendees about the future potential of VR. “I was a bit skeptical when I first put them on, but I must say I was blown away,” Fallout 4 Lead producer Jeff Gardiner said. “I felt emotions that I think would have been impossible to reproduce without that medium — a real sense of fear, a real sense of wonder.”

Hoeveel is er echt veranderd sinds virtual reality-games zoals <i>Dactyl Nightmare</i> failed to set the world on fire?” src=”×216.jpg” width=”300″ height= “216” srcset=” 2x”/><figcaption class=
Enlarge / How much have things really changed since virtual reality games like Dactyl nightmare failed to set the world on fire?


In particular, Gardiner recalled a moment in an HTC Vive demo in the Portal universe, where “they open the thing on the bottom of the floor, and I really felt for a second… my gut reaction was fear of falling. No matter how well you do on a 2D screen, you can’t reproduce that .”

“I think it has so much potential for great storytelling, so much potential all around,” Pratchett added. “Being able to place players in a relaxing environment, there are health benefits to that alone. Take away the story and just transport me to a beach, or a jungle, or the countryside if you live in the city, or the city if you live in the countryside. That’s really exciting.”

For those who may think that the VR hype is being pushed by ignorant cash investors trying to force demand for an unwanted product, Supergiant Games Amir Rao (Transistor, Bastion) says the interest on the development side is real. “What I’ve noticed, at least with people I know who work in VR, is that the passion is really, really high in a way that I think is pretty inspiring to see. How excited are the people working on the hardware or working the software or cool new games or solving new problems is how excited they are to do those kinds of things, and that’s a good sign to me.”

Brake on the hype train

For all the over-the-top love from many of the industry’s movers and shakers, there were just as many reactions ranging from slightly skeptical to downright bearish to the VR hype. Even some who saw the technology’s potential couldn’t quite see the path to widespread mainstream success in the near future.

“I’m still having trouble getting it off the ground,” Mortal Kombat said co-creator and NetherRealm Studios founder Ed Boon. “I don’t think it’s going to take over like console games. It’s very immersive, but you really have to commit to the experience. It’s not like a phone experience, where you take it with you while you’re in the car or something. [But] I think his novelty is so powerful that there will always be a place for it.”

The high initial cost of VR headsets (and the additional hardware required to run them) also worried some in the industry. “I think where we are now, it’s still a matter of installation,” Baker said. “I don’t know what it will bring to the living room. For Oculus, they just announced that you need a $1,500 computer… $2,000 if you want it spec’d the way you want. That’s a high price so I think it’s going to be the early adopters who really need to push it.

Others saw the initially high prices as a natural starting point for a new medium. “It’s early technology, right?” Gennadiy Korol of Moon Studios (Ori and the Blind Forest) said. “It’s going to be expensive, the first revision is always going to be rough. The first iPhone wasn’t perfect either, was it? It’s going to take a few iterations, but there’s no question that this is the future of entertainment.”

Even assuming the price eventually drops, getting virtual reality for people to build the market will be a tough but important step. “I think a lot of us in the industry are debating how fast things are going to grow,” said Insomniac President and CEO Ted Price (Spyro the Dragon, Ratchet & Clank) said. “Right now, early adopters of VR are very excited and will drive a big chunk of the market. But for it to go mainstream, I think people will have to try it. That means it has to be accessible. you should be able to try it in stores, at your friend’s house, wherever you want. I think there should be content to drive players and consumers in general to VR.”

By akfire1

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