Today is the most exciting moment for virtual reality. Because, right now, virtual reality is perfect.
When Facebook acquired Oculus last year, it set the industry on fire. It provided instant validation to the concept of VR as a feasible platform and entertainment device.
Not too long after, a series of analyst forecasts painted a picture of fantastic growth, ranging from $4bn to a whopping $150bn.
And when Oculus reserved its major press conference to coincide with E3, rather than the Consumer Electronics Show earlier in the year, it became clear that Marc Zuckerberg and Palmer Luckey had decided that interactive entertainment were going to provide the device’s killer app.
As an industry, games studios have since been eagerly developing and experimenting with the technology, hoping to catch the full range of benefits that come with being a first mover. According to its most recent annual report, no less than 40 per cent of UKIE’s members are currently developing for VR platforms.
This makes for sound strategy. Elsewhere, traditional game development for console has become more risky because of growing marketing and production costs.
And the increasingly crowded mobile games market is losing its accessibility. So, of course, it is exciting to be working on a future platform.
If nothing else, the sheer absence of market data or consumer feedback allows us to work in a comfortable vacuum, where our creativity can run free.
We currently have all of the potential upside and none of the drawbacks of a more mature market as we come up with amazing ideas and spectacular experiences.
Free reign in VR
But you know, virtual reality isn’t perfect. It only seems that way because we, as an industry, need to think of ourselves as perfect.
Our collective ego soars on the notion that right now, as we embark on our journey into virtual reality, the world is ours for the taking. Our creativity can run free in this untouched hyper-real realm of awesome experiences and infinite commercial success.
In virtual reality, we don’t have to adhere to competitive market forces, industry patterns, rising marketing costs, discovery issues, distribution problems or franchise restrictions. None of that exists right now. Virtual reality is currently untainted by everything that makes developing for console, PC and mobile so challenging.
When Apple first released its iPhone, recently unemployed designers started to practically print money from the comfort of their kitchen table.
In this first wave of mobile innovation, a slew of applications emerged that offered experiences or improved functionality for the new device.
Remember, for instance, when the ability to copy and paste on an iPhone was an app you could purchase through the App Store? Not soon after Apple began integrating these intuitive features into its operating system, thereby decimating the market for these initial developers instantly.
The real money on mobile started to emerge as the platform took hold. Rovio and its hit title Angry Birds, the posterchild for mobile gaming’s success, has been struggling to grow revenues since.
Of course, growing revenues isn’t the only hallmark of a company that does well, but it certainly helps offset constantly increasing costs. By innovating on design process, monetisation and multiplayer mechanics, a company like Clash of Clans creator Supercell managed to be infinitely more successful than any first-mover.
Don’t misread this: virtual reality is an exciting development for the games industry and beyond. But as a platform and a market it will also have limitations. So, too, we must accept games development as an imperfect process.
Design for virtual reality, like all other platforms, will be about overcoming limitations. And those companies that manage to make the two work together well, have a chance to claim a piece of its promise.
Success only counts if it’s real, not virtual.