The world of gaming is one of non-stop technological evolution, and the latest next-gen consoles are certainly a testament to this fact. Pushing the boundaries of their impressive processing capabilities, they are able to producing jaw-dropping, life-like graphics and immerse us in amazingly detailed open-worlds. The world building and storytelling heights that developers have managed to hit in the last few years with have all but settled the argument for videogames being art. But can they become reality?
Virtual Reality made huge strides in its aim to find itself in 2016. With launch of major VR platforms, from top of the line systems like Facebook’s Oculus Rift, the HTC’s Vive, and PlayStation VR (the first of the new generation’s Console Wars), as well as cheaper smartphone-based options like Google’s Daydream and Samsung’s Gear VR, the market is finally flooded with great options to try VR for both entry level and high end consumers (If you need help deciding which VR headset is for you, you can find a great comparison here).
VR’s growth has been skyrocketing in the past couple of years, with profits from VR hardware and software products projected to increase from $90 million USD in 2014 to a whopping $5.2bn in 2018, collecting a cool 171 million users in the process.
At its root, VR is indisputably a gaming technology. High end systems practically have an exclusive focus on catering to the hardcore gamer market, adding features such as touch controllers, inside out tracking, or external sensors that detect the player’s movements and reproduce them in the virtual world. At the same time entry level systems, while certainly simpler and lacking in graphic power in comparison, have still chosen to focus the brunt of their efforts on games- even if designed with more casual gamers in mind.
Now that the hardware necessary for VR gaming is finally out there, could 2017 be the year where we finally see VR gaming become mainstream?
The Next ‘Next-Gen’ gaming?
Since the dawn of videogames video game journalists have always been forced to look towards graphics milestones, or advances in game complexity in order to determine the exact moments when ‘the game has changed’ and we’ve arrived at the next generation of gaming.
VR gaming will come at this from a completely new angle, forcing the entire industry to reexamine the way we interact with and control games, as well as redefining the level of immersion that can be achieved. This new school of thought will force developers to consider a whole new list of factors when creating the games, other than the usual of pushing the bar in terms of complex storytelling and realistic graphics.
Perhaps the most important of these factors is how players interact with the world around them. Console and PC gaming have accustomed us to click a button any time that we need to reload a gun, open a door or even jump. To create a truly immersive experience all of these actions need to be separated from buttons once and for all, sacrificing the comforts of automation for the clunkiness of realism.
Another truly important factor is tapping into wish fulfillment. The gaming industry has spent decades providing us with the ability to simulate what it’s like to fly a plane, drive a racecar, be a rock star and even live as a goat, but now they finally have the opportunity to make us feel what all of this is like from a fully first person point of view. For all intents and purposes, you will be the one sitting in that cockpit, or holding that guitar in front of a stadium full of screaming fans. If game developers manage to make these simulations as true to life as possible, they will not only be absolutely engrossing but have the potential of being incredibly educational as well.
While games like CCP’s EVE: Valkyrie and the fantastic horror title Dreadhalls have made a solid case that VR may already be unparalleled in producing realistic, exhilarating zero-latency three-dimensional artificial worlds for gamers, unlike it’s console counterparts, VR is not yet at the place where games can be played for hours at a time. This presents an interesting challenge for the gaming industry, as instead of creating narratives and gameplay that are meant to last often times hundreds of hours, the focus for VR gaming will have to be centered around creating short, powerful experiences that players can keep coming back to. If you have a VR headset, you can try some of the games for free here.
The iGaming industry gets on the VR bandwagon
The Videogame industry is not the only gaming industry that has realized the potential of VR to redefine the way players interact with their games. The iGaming industry, as the online sportsbetting, poker and casino refers to itself, has also taken early notice of the application that VR can have in their business, allowing players to transport themselves from their livings room to realistic simulations of Vegas casinos and poker rooms.
Las Vegas’ brick and mortal casinos have good reasons to be concerned about this developing technology, as studies have shown that millennials are much more inclined to play casino games online than in real life, a fact that has been progressively eroding land-based casino’s earnings for the past two decades. And now that VR can allow players to play their favorite casino games in a simulated environment that can be even more spectacular than the one offered by Sin City casinos, this might just be the beginning of the end for Vegas’ popularity as a gambling destination.
Online casinos, meanwhile, are practically tripping over themselves in their race to offer virtual casino options that can appeal to new players and help them retain the ones they have, rather than lose them to more forward-thinking competitors.
Improving customer experience has been a big focal point in the online casino industry the past few years, where introducing high definition 3d graphics and engaging themes has been pivotal to bringing customers into the fold. Another strategy so far has been to offer live casino games, live streamed from TV studios and featuring human dealers you can interact with, and sets that look to recreate the land-based casino experience without needing to leave your computer.
Virtual Reality is, of course, able to offer a combination of both of these strategies and much more. Casino game developer NetEnt, owner of 31% share of its market, recognized the opportunity early on and invested a great amount of capital in creating VR slot games to great success. If you want to test out some of these games yourself, you can try them for free here.
Will 2017 be the year we go virtual?
The outlook for VR gaming is looking more promising than ever this year, whether that be for hardcore gaming, casual gamers or even for casino games.
One thing is absolutely clear: The top priority for those competing in the first of our “VR wars” is to continue convincing leading game developers into developing fantastic immersive gaming experiences that will sway players over to VR and convert them into the fold before VR is written off as a passing fad, unable to equal the heights of the current console and PC gaming experience. The hardware is there. All we need are games that live up to the potential of the medium to come along and give us that “the game has changed” feeling all over again.