VR or virtual reality was the subject of science fiction when we were growing up. You’d see it in comic books and sci-fi movies all the time. But in just a few short years, we have learned that technology is not only real, but it also has practical applications as well. VR can be used to train medical personnel in a safe, risk-free environment. Airlines use virtual reality to train pilots in different flying situations without risking costly damage to expensive planes. But these are perhaps outside the interest of the average American. If you are anything like me, you want to know what VR holds in store for the world of gaming. That is exactly what this blog discusses.
VR and Gaming – What to Expect
VR has generated a lot of buzz in the tech industry. In fact, there is so much noise, it is hard to figure out how VR continues to evolve. This makes it difficult to pinpoint exactly how it will affect gaming in the coming years. However, one thing is for sure. Gaming will never be the same again, for both players and spectators. VR is still in its infancy, but it is still a very promising platform for gamers. We have already seen commercial VR gaming setups like the Oculus Rift and PlayStation Gear. But these are still in reality very basic applications of VR in gaming. A recent discussion on TNW with Frank Soqui opened a lot of eyes on the subject. Frank Soqui is the GM for VR Gaming at Intel.
Intel is heavily invested in developing better VR experiences. The company has done groundbreaking work on VR physics engines, AI and a quirky new project called Project Alloy. Project Alloy is Intel’s design for the next generation of VR headsets. It is an all-in-one wearable device, removing the need for a cord and external computing power. As head of VR at Intel, Frank is well placed to tell us exactly how VR can impact gamers and spectators alike. The discussion covers the following points:
- VR’s Place in eSports
- The Time Limits on VR Headsets
- Potential of VR Games to Become a Competitive Sport
- Better Than PC-Based VR Games?
- Haptics and Their Future in VR
Without further ado, let’s just dive into the good stuff and see what Frank Soqui thinks VR could become.
VR’s Place in eSports
Where exactly does VR fit in when it comes to the world of eSports? Perhaps the first and easiest area would be the audience perspective, according to Soqui. The big challenge is to get people to consume online the same experience they would see live in an eSports event. A good example of what could be coming is SilverTV and its use of VR tech to offer a 360-degree video view of live events. VR comes in as a unique way to bring audiences closer to both the game as well as the live experience.
Of course, spectators are not the only ones who stand to benefit from VR in gaming and eSports. Gamers will ultimately be the prime consumers of VR technology. However, bear in mind that VR is still in its infancy. This means traditional eSports players will not immediately move over to VR eSports. Soqui thinks an entirely new subculture of gaming will emerge. VR gaming will have competitive players and audiences distinct from traditional gaming and eSport events. Soqui expects this subculture to have a much more collaborative and social ecosystem.
Better Than PC-Based VR Games?
Anyone who has ever played VR games knows that the PC-based versions are often better than ones that are mobile-based. PC-based VR games tend to be more immersive, have a larger field of view and better graphics. However, Soqui believes things have yet to hit the next level. He points out that a lot of development and work is going into developing better VR equipment. Manufacturers are developing VR headsets that don’t require you to stay connected to a PC, a wireless router and Spectrum Packages may be all you need. Others are working on better viewing by adding better display panels in the headsets. Many others are working on integrating audio within the headset. Still, others are experimenting with technology that tracks eye movement. As VR hardware improves, so do the games and content as well as the immersive experience.
The Time Limits on VR Headsets
Bringing 360-degree views to spectators is one thing, but the biggest limitation on VR headsets is their physical time limit. Most VR headsets can only stay on for an average of 45-minutes. This remains the same whether you are a spectator or a player. How will VR tech manufacturers deal with this? Soqui believes that a compelling experience pushes battery limitations to the background. However, VR tech will inevitably improve as time progresses. As industries adapt, they can improve VR gear designs and create better devices. As better technology emerges, using VR headsets for longer periods of time will become a reality.
Soqui cites examples that support this. LG’s headset, unveiled at GDC, comes with a visor you can flip up ergonomically without taking the headset off. Similarly, Sony’s PlayStation VR offers better headsets that are more comfortable to use for longer periods. The headsets we see in the market today are still very early generations. Their main purpose was to test if the technology is commercially viable and sustainable. Now that technology is beginning to prove they are, advancements on both hardware and content are in order. Soqui believes hardware improves every quarter, becoming more comfortable and ergonomic. Content is also steadily improving. Developers are working on both bite-sized 10-20 minute experiences as well as longer ones.
Potential of VR Games to Become a Competitive Sport
So VR games are a reality. But most people and gamers only see them as novelties. Is there room for VR games to become a competitive eSports ecosystem? Soqui thinks they just might. While there are a lot of arcade-style VR games out there, some more competitive ones are under development. Soqui cites Raw Data by Servios. The game has player versus player modes as well as multiplayer team play and co-op modes. Soqui believes this is just one game that has the potential to turn into a full-blown competitive eSport.
Haptics and Their Future in VR
Right now, haptics in VR is still pretty basic. We have gloves that give off vibration feedback when you interact with the virtual environment. We also have haptic sensors on other parts of the body for various games, like taking a shot to the chest etc. Soqui thinks the future of VR lies in haptics embedded in clothing. He gives two reasons for this. First, you would be able to feel sensations in the game, making it appear much more real. Second, the game itself could use the clothing to monitor things like your heartbeat. This could let the game decide, for instance, whether to increase zombie intensity or reduce it. The future of VR in haptics is, in short, two-fold. It introduces new sensations based on the game. It also uses your reactions in the game to decide how the game interacts with you.
Obviously, games will need building up from scratch to include these features. Retrofitting them into new games doesn’t always work. As better quality hardware and content emerges, the VR gaming industry could turn into a globally accepted gaming culture.