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Sunday, November 22, 2015

Thoughts on VR-gaming in 2016

A List recently had a good article about Nvidia and Virtual Reality. [ link ] 

It was quite interesting and feels like 2016 is going to be a critical year for gaming-VR. A lot of releases are scheduled for just Q1.

Content might be the big winner. Let me elaborate : 

Stereoscopy has been around for quite awhile.

We are going to have plenty of flavors of VR-devices doing essentially the same thing - displaying 3D-images 2 inches in front of our eyes. Quite similar to stereoscopy devices that have been around for quite awhile. These devices will use different hardware-schemes to render the 3D images for content. 

- Some will use high-end PCs that have minimum-specs to be compatible. The VR goggles will be connected to the PC video card. Cables will be required between the HD video stream and the googles. 

- Some will use goggles that are just shells that surround smart phones. These will be more ubiquitous, but will have a lower-fidelity experience. However, modern smart phones have the necessary equipment to provide a compelling VR experience.

- Some will embed hardware within the goggles, but will have higher-priced entry points for the devices. These self contained units will provide a specialized experience and won't need cables or other equipment.

Most will converge around a common controller scheme. The input method will resemble the interface between a console and a controller. Basically consisting of trigger buttons and movement controls.

They will also converge around common game development tools like Unreal and Unity. Existing studios are already geared-up to make VR games, look for a lot of familiar studios making VR content.

The VR hardware battle is brewing to be a tight race, much like BlueRay versus HD-DVD. The big players are going to spend quite a bit of money attempting to become the standard for VR gaming. 

I predict Oculus is going to take the early lead. Taking the win with the premium experience. Adopters will be those willing to spend over $1000 for a PC capable of driving the Oculus, or ones that already have a gaming-PC. A small amount of people that have the high-end Samsung phones will also adopt. I'm not sure if this lead will be a win for Oculus? They are going to spend an enormous amount of Facebook money for this early lead.

Microsoft, Carl Zeiss, Google Cardboard, Nvidia, Sony and others will need to focus on bringing a premium experience to rest of the market. Consisting of the 472 million iPhones that have been sold and the world of computers that don't meet Oculus specs or Macs. However, these guys are behind the battle on how you control the game, they are also still struggling with just the visual experience. 

Samsung sells more phones globally than Apple, but how many of those international customers are going to rush out and buy a $200+ accessory to play VR games developed for a Western audience? I predict lower sales for Samsung VR units than the market might expect. 

A break-out hardware leader might bring a premium VR experience to existing consoles. ( Xbox and PS4 ) 

Sony is laying down that gauntlet with their PS4 'Morpheus' project. After watching the promo video, it just reenforced that these VR devices are just  : (  a phone screen - two plastic lenses -  and a gyro ).

Sony Morpheus VR is just 1080p resolution and only a 100 degree viewing area. Smartphones push that many pixels and a larger viewing area...

With a name like Morpheus, I expected quite a bit more. Also, just imagine the umbilical cord from your console to your couch? Unless someone has a wireless method to bring 120-FPS 4k video between those, the experience is broken for the mass-market. 

While the hardware battle ensues, studios with great game ideas and experiences for VR have an amazing opportunity to capitalize upon. 

I feel the content providers have a great chance to win in the VR game. 

Studios that develop engaging games that work across this hardware have a great chance of solid revenue and a market foothold. Whichever flavor of VR you have adopted, they will have quality games to play and share with your friends. 

The content race won't be about exclusive titles. These will be funded by the big VR players, but are really just designed to sell hardware.

Successful content also won't be about pushing the most polygons and pixels to your VR device. Content should bring unique experiences that unleash the immersive power of VR. I'm much more excited to see games like Monument Valley in VR, versus Grand Theft Auto in VR. Think more like Myst, and less like Call-Of-Duty ... VR edition. 

I want the market to bring break-out games to VR, I'm excited to see game-changers. They will be the big winners, while the VR-hardware battles tight margins and lower than expected adoption.

Most importantly, bring content across all the flavors of VR hardware.

What about the other side to VR? Watching movies through your 3D device? Netflix for VR? I'm not convinced the mass market wants to watch movies that way. Do parents really want their children to jack-in and sit mindlessly on the couch? Is human-interaction while watching a movie that important?

Is your significant-other going to be supportive of your nightly 2+ hours of jacking-in time? 

Do you want to bring your VR device into the bedroom? Jacked-in while your partner sleeps?

If watching movies with VR becomes a popular pass-time, I'll vote for the device to come with 'popcorn-mode' so I can see my snacks.