Jem Alexander Brings Some Reality To Virtual Reality Discussion

Jem Alexander over at Develop has published a two part look at Virtual Reality, where we are now and where we go next. These posts are excellent in terms of the reality they bring to the discussion of virtual reality. Part 2 also features a few quotes from Linden Lab CEO Ebbe Altberg, I’ll come to that later.

Part 1 : VR Check-In Where are we now focuses on developers. The article starts by pointing out that the hype cycle has cooled somewhat, although developers are still very excited, we’re not there yet and it’s a slow ride.

Part of the issue is that there are different headsets and hardware requirements, this is a challenge, but not a showstopper for developers. An arguably larger issue is that hardware remains expensive and then there’s the issue of room space.

Lukas Roper, a freelance games developer seems to think the choice of hardware is good as it will improve the quality of VR experiences, but he is also quoted as saying :

“However, as much as engine developers and headset manufacturers present supporting a headset as a simple task, it isn’t, and for each platform you support, you have separate issues to consider.”

Eventually we will need standards regarding hardware so that developers and users can get similar experiences, but early competition to set those standards can definitely be good.

In terms of room space, developers seem to be keen on the idea of seated and room scale experiences, they will of course be different experiences and this is summed up well by Owen O’Brien, CCP Newcastle’s Executive Producer on EVE: Valkyrie when he says :

“I don’t think large audience size and bespoke VR experience have to be mutually exclusive. Not everyone has enough space for room scale of course, but equally you can create a bespoke VR experience that is seated. It totally depends on the market you are going after. At CCP we are pushing forward on both fronts, with EVE: Valkyrie being the seated experience and Sparc our standing experience.“

I agree and a one size fits all solution would be limiting for VR.

Part 2 VR Check-In: Where do we go? takes a look at, as the title suggests, where VR technology and development goes next. As I’ve already mentioned, right now VR tech is expensive, there are differing choices, the content isn’t there yet, but we will get there I’m sure.

When is of course a big question, Unity CEO John Riccitiello feels 2018 or 2019 is more realistic. The content and price points being cited as some of the reasons as to why we’re not there yet.

An interesting point raised, and one that brings us back to room space, is that out of the home VR experiences may very well be a big thing and I’m not surprised to read this. Whilst a lot of the talk about VR has been about home usage, amusement parks have long been at the fore of utilising technological advances and they will have the space for immersive experiences.

This excites some developers, or takes them back to their youth, as we see from a lead designer on Rebellion’s Battlezone VR :

“Speaking as someone who was raised by an Asteroids machine, I’m all for the resurgence of out of home arcades,” he says. “I think this is where room scale VR and ‘Mixed Reality’ can really deliver. I’d love to design something like that and I think that room escape games are a good indicator of the demand for social gaming experiences beyond paintball and go-karting.”

Yet a lot of people are going to want easily accessible VR and this is where Linden Lab could very well come into the equation. Ebbe Altberg talks about the different experiences people have created in Second Life and then goes on to talk about some of the experiences appearing in Sansar and in doing so he exemplifies that VR should go far beyond gaming :

“Some are fun little games, some are incredible artistic expression,” Altberg explains. “A huge variety. In Sansar we have beautiful photogrammetry of an Egyptian tomb that doesn’t have public access in the real world and you can meet people inside. And the natural way you can have social interaction in VR makes it a candidate for replacing human interaction. Clubs, pubs, parks, schools can be replicated virtually. You can go anywhere, do anything.”

Both parts of Jem Alexander’s report are worth reading, there’s a lot of good discussion but what I really like about these articles is that it brings an element of reality as to where VR is and where it’s likely to head. There has been too much hype, a dose of reality is very much welcome.

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