GamingTom Coombes

Future’s Made of Virtual Reality…?

For so long the preserve of a relatively small and niche technology community, virtual reality gaming now sits on the precipice of the mainstream. The exciting, boundary pushing technology has been the undisputed darling of recent high profile gaming trade fairs (E3, Gamescom etc.). The number of column inches afforded to the recent developments has been staggering. With Time Magazine going so far as to declare that " Virtual reality is about to change the world", it's fair to say that virtual reality has never been taken quite so seriously. 

Future’s Made of Virtual Reality…?

The frenetic buzz is being driven by rapid recent developments in the gaming world. While the Facebook backed Oculus Rift and Sony's Project Morpheus are leading the charge, there are a whole range of virtual reality gaming oriented devices currently under development, with the likes of Samsung and HTC also vying for a share of the spoils. Given the pace of development and current state of these gaming devices, it's only a matter of months before virtual reality gaming is in the living rooms of consumers around the world.

So how does it work exactly? In essence, it entails a computer using images and audio to convince you that your temporary virtual world is in fact real. Using a virtual reality headset (no longer the slightly awkward unwieldy devices of days gone by), the user is presented with a succession of 3D images that adapt depending on how you move and interact with your virtual surroundings. Heightened by 3D sound, it all combines to make the experience feel incredibly vivid and immersive. On the flip side, one's actual physical surroundings swiftly become decidedly secondary…

The potential offered by this technology is quite incredible. While its entertainment possibilities (not least for gaming and movie experiences) are immediately apparent and the current focus, there are all manner of other potential uses to which it could be dedicated in the long term, with medical training an obvious positive application for which such technology could be harnessed.

But we're getting ahead of ourselves a little. At the moment, this technology is still being developed. The first device to be launched (the HTC Vive) isn't due until the very end of this year and, not only is the headset itself going to command a premium price point, it will require an extremely high end PC to run it (something common to many of these devices). Furthermore, there is considerable debate around what VR experiences could and should deliver. Do people want to see expansive epic games set in vast virtual worlds (akin to where many video games have been moving in recent years) or more contained, succinct yet immersive experiences with minimal movement?

The debate around this question, and the technology more broadly, is something that divides opinion. Delivering short, controlled experiences is seemingly an easier thing for developers to build and deliver but will that be enough to satisfy the core gaming audience who will adopt this first? Does virtual reality truly have mass market appeal? Or are there certain physical and indeed psychological barriers that will limit its appeal?

The latter question is one that we clearly have not heard the last of. With this technology deliberately designed to further blur the line between games and reality, the ethical questions and long standing arguments around violence in video games will receive ever more urgent attention. There is also concern around whether people are ready to see a new generation of gamers cut adrift from reality with their headsets on, completely immersed in their virtual worlds.

In spite of such concerns, the boundless possibilities that virtual reality technology offers makes this an incredibly exciting time for gaming and society at large. Having been fortunate enough to trial one of these devices, I can personally attest to the uniquely immersive and sensational experience that it can deliver. While the world may not yet be quite ready for the can of worms this could open, the opportunities this technology presents make it a worthwhile endeavour. One thing's for sure, the buzz around virtual reality is only going to get louder.

 

Tom Coombes

Associate Director

2CV London

Tom.Coombes@2cv.com