What Is The Next Step For VR Gaming?
From virtual holiday destinations to VR sports competitions, we’ve officially reached the point where video games merge with reality. Photorealism is closer than ever, XR (mixed reality) will hit mainstream markets within the next few years, and cloud-based gaming is bringing affordable VR gaming to the masses as we speak. Taking a closer look at the dynamics of VR, we’ve compiled four factors likely to influence the future of this revolutionary technology.
When VR first hit mainstream markets, a lack of quality content combined with high hardware prices severely hampered the growth of the industry. However, now that VR companies have begun to prioritise ergonomics and affordability, the future of VR is looking a lot brighter. Case in point; the release of Half-Life: Alyx, a VR-only title developed by Valve.
Valve’s announcement that a VR-only, long-awaited sequel to a beloved video game franchise was first met with apprehension and scepticism, by fans and game journalists alike. Those fears were soon quelled though, as it quickly became clear to audiences that Half-Life: Alyx was a fully realised sequel, with excellent overall production quality and a deeply engaging storyline.
Half-Life: Alyx was an instant critical and commercial success, garnering a massive following and winning several video game awards shortly after its release in May of 2020. Hailed as the first true ‘AAA’ title for VR platforms, Half-Life: Alyx perfectly set Valve up as true pioneers of VR video game development.
Thanks to the announcement of Facebook’s Metaverse, the world is clamouring for any information regarding the XR technology that would theoretically be the driving factor behind such an ambitious project. Will we all be sitting at home with half our heads encased in a VR device? Will Metaverse use VR, or will it be a form of augmented reality (AR)? One thing we know for certain is that the potential implications for gaming are incredibly exciting.
Like the Metaverse, which video game genre focuses on community-driven gameplay loops and cooperative content? Why, MMOs of course. Imagine World of Warcraft or any other MMORPG, fully realized in VR. Now imagine that world being played from a VR perspective. Pretty cool, right? It’s not that far-fetched if you think about it. We’re already at the stage where full-body haptic feedback and motion tracking VR suits are commercially available.
Living vicariously is simultaneously both a symptom and perk of our time. We’re in a time of digital innovation and social isolation, virtual yet visceral entertainment, and unprecedented access to a wide range of advanced technologies. There’s no way of telling exactly what the future holds but one thing is for certain: VR is still in its infancy, with the potential to change a lot more than just gaming.
Market success for any field of technology largely depends on that technology’s ability to sustain mass adoption by the general public. If VR is to reach as wide an audience as possible, the technology must be ergonomic, accessible, and affordable. Despite VR products being available for a number of years now, many are still regarded as clunky or cumbersome, often lacking the comfort factor required for extended periods of gaming.
Prioritizing form factors and ergonomics will eventually lead to more comfortable devices, likely with a higher degree of portability as well. Most technologies tend to follow a trend of ‘big first, small later’. In other words, form tends to follow function. As we’ve already mentioned, we’re still at a rather early stage when it comes to this aspect of VR technology, all things considered.
We’re edging closer and closer to photorealistic computer graphics imagery (CGI) and 3D animation. Blockbuster films use these technologies to great effect, a prime example being the entirety of the Marvel Cinematic Universe; a pop-culture behemoth that wouldn’t exist without CGI. Ultimately, strong art direction dictates the visual style of any creative work. However, from a technical standpoint, there’s no doubt of the influence these advanced technologies have had.
How does photorealism impact VR? Combined with benefits to graphic fidelity, realistic visuals lead to increased immersion, which is perhaps the most important factor when it comes to virtual entertainment. The longer one can maintain a suspension of disbelief, the more immersive the experience becomes. Take virtual tourism, for example, a fairly recent VR development that can transport users to holiday destinations and famous landmarks, or even provide museum tours, all of which can be experienced from the comfort of home.
Assassin’s Creed is a series of video games that uses virtual tourism as a core element in its design and story. Players use a device called the Animus to travel through time, using the DNA of their ancestors to experience what life was like through history. It’s a novel idea that points to the variety of possibilities VR brings to the table. With the advent of virtual walking tours and significant advances in neural-link technology, such a far-fetched idea suddenly becomes a lot more plausible.