Last year, you couldn’t escape virtual reality. The hype machine was in overdrive, while a conveyor belt of new hardware and content announcements promised to redefine gaming as we knew it.
Fast forward twelve months and hype and excitement which surrounded VR’s arrival was notably more quiet and subdued at this year's E3, as reported by Develop, which begs the question, did the industry jump the gun with VR?
The games industry has always been a technology innovator, at it’s finest when harnessing proven technology platforms and moulding them to a games environment. Think back to the television, PC or more recently the smartphone or tablet. None of these were platforms created for games, yet each owes its success, in part, to the industry’s chameleonic nature.
There’s a clear disconnect going on between hype and perception, with many gamers still not convinced by VR.
Mark Robinson, CEO, deltaDNA
This union of games and technology is often at its most transformative when clear use cases already exist. The first arcade games Pong and Computer Space borrowed heavily from how people played pinball machines. Since then, consumer insights have always played a central role in helping developers create new yet intuitive player experiences, but where were the use cases for VR?
With all the hype generated last year, the games industry uncharacteristically went in early and went in hard, investing significantly in both hardware and game development before this new technology had time to bed down. Meanwhile, when you look at other sectors like medicine, education and architecture where VR also has massive potential to be transformative, the use of VR in these sectors is still only slowly seeping through. Right now, games just don’t have those references in VR, forcing the industry to wait whilst everyone else catches up and overtakes.
GAMERS NEED CONVINCING
There’s a clear disconnect going on between hype and perception, with many gamers still not convinced by VR. That’s not to say VR won’t be the next big thing, but that broad consumer adoption of any technology relies on awareness, and for VR, awareness is a big problem.
A recent survey from Nielsen, found that just 26 percent of the general population (ages 13 and up) were aware of PlayStation VR. Oculus Rift had a 25 percent awareness level and the HTC Vive had just 10 percent. Samsung Gear, which has been marketed by the company in conjunction with new phones, had the highest awareness — at 34 percent.
It’s not just gamers that are cool on VR, analysts are also downgrading forecasts with Superdata Research slashing global sales predictions for PlayStation VR from 2.6m down to just 750k for this year. But before we throw the baby out with the bathwater, it's important to remember that the long-term future of VR is still extremely positive. SuperData Research believes that by 2020, the market will be worth $28.3bn – 15 times the amount it was worth last year.
FAST FORWARD VR
Earlier this year, Google announced a move which could be set to make the use of VR as ubiquitous as sending an email. It’s Chrome browser, which can be accessed on billions of devices globally, is now supporting WebVR – an API which allows companies to create VR experiences that can activated via the web, without the need of a dedicated app. Primarily, this will support things like 360-degree tours and immersive experiences, but WebVR also supports full VR experiences via the Daydream headset and controller.
As the smartphone and free-to-play model opened gaming up to the mainstream, initiatives like WebVR could prove to be the catalyst which makes VR a daily operation for the masses. But rest assured, consumer use cases have always and will always play an incredibly important role in helping the games industry to do what it does best and innovate.
While the VR revolution of 2016 may have been a false dawn, the technology does have huge potential to change the games industry forever, before that becomes a reality, it will have to first prove a success in other sectors.