At this point it is hard to say but one of two things is going to happen. Either virtual reality will be developed into a product that the market finds useful and cost-effective and it will take off, or interest will simply die down owing to a lack of applications to support the idea. While many like to fantasize about virtual reality being the future of everything from gaming to surgery, it all depends on the decisions that businesses make today. With so many different flavors of VR in development, the industry leaders will probably prove to be those with the best backing in terms of funding, software and interest, even at the cost of innovation.
Why VR Could Be The Future
In order to really understand VR you need to try it out. With a regular LCD or even a 3D screen, it’s easy to separate yourself from all the action, but when you strap on a VR headset you are in that action, the floors beneath your feet disappear and you see a whole new world around you. This is why VR is going to start off as a gaming platform before it becomes anything else. Though the concept has been on the horizon for over two decades, there have been three hurdles to overcome; price, distribution and fragmentation.
Price is still a factor, but not a major one. The first VR system that I personally experienced at the Stanford Virtual Human Interaction Lab was 10 times the price of today’s Oculus Rift. It’s still upwards of $300; quite a lotfor a piece of hardware that may or may not work straight out of the box and may not have the games you want to play. The Xbox One is about the same price, but that has well-established and ever-expanding content. Developing good games cost millions of dollars, so most developers will not risk large budgets creating products for a system that is not backed by a large consumer base. Paradoxically, consumers are not going to spend a lot of money without plenty of good content, so manufacturers are looking at cheaper options and much more powerful systems. The cheapest today is Google’s Cardboard which, as the name suggests, is made out of cardboard and you can download the schematics for free. It works by simply holding your mobile phone very near your eyes.
We have not yet seen any triple-A games, but VR still has consumers’ interest; people want to try out and buy games that are compatible with leading VR headsets. There are definite signs of progress; big broadcasters are more willing to explore the VR experience. HBO recently unveiled their Game of Thrones VR project;GoPro and others have started offering 360 degree video cameras capable of shooting live VR, and YouTube has already started beta testing its 360 video.
Until recently, the big problem with VR has been fragmentation; a game designed for the Oculus may not run on Samsung’s VR headset without major modifications. However, that is no longer the case, with Unity Technologies’ new United development platform now ready for launch. Unity handles all the heavy lifting required required to port a game to different platforms, so developers can focus on what they’re good at; creating great games.
The final hurdle was distribution of the content, but the iOS and Android app stores have fixed that. You also have Valve-like distributors, that have the capability to host and sell top-quality VR content. So, that is no longer a problem. So, the only issue that’s left to be taken care of is getting good content on these platforms and then offering people an incentive to adopt the devices.
I don’tanticipate VR becoming mainstream for at least the next two years. We will probably start seeing limited adoption sometime in 2018, but by then businesses would have already spent billions of dollars making sure that the technology is attractive to the end buyer. There willalso need to be a major and concerted effort to get people experiencing the technology, because no amount of advertising can sell the truly unique experience that is VR.