It’s the year of virtual reality in the tech world. Though we can’t exactly say that VR headsets have gone mainstream just yet (they’re basically expected to roll out gradually over the remainder of the year), the technology is here, and it’s already causing all kinds of excitement. As reported here, CES 2016 back in January, a tech exhibition that’s supposed to set the tone for the year ahead, was essentially dominated by VR, as “everyone wanted a piece” of the new headsets.
Various games and other experiences were demonstrated and the real arms race among VR developers has pretty much kicked off. Now, it’s likely a matter of months before we see which companies wind up leading the way in the market and which headsets people take to. But we already have a pretty good feel for some of the implications of VR tech on the gaming world. And these are some of the early takeaways.
1. AR May Come Before VR
“AR” isn’t really a thing in that no one uses the abbreviation, but they may begin to soon. Some of the early indications from leading VR developers are that augmented reality, rather than full-on virtual reality, may make for a better experience, at least in the early going. The difference is that AR keeps you in your environment, whereas VR puts you in an entirely fictional one. So for instance ,if you want to play a VR shooter you’ll put on your headset and be transplanted into something resembling a Call Of Duty level.
But if you play an AR shooter, you’ll put on your headset and remain in your living room, with enemies pouring into your actual home environment to be shot down. This report of games that will come with the Microsoft HoloLens device show that augmented reality will be the primary focus of at least some developers as they get the hang of the new tech.
2. Creativity > Action
Rest assured, VR headsets will bring about plenty of action games, and it could even be that in time they’re refined to a very satisfying degree. But because motion is a little bit tricky with VR (meaning as much as you’re visually tricked into inhabiting a fake environment, you aren’t actually able to move your body within it), some of the most promising games appear to be those that focus on creativity rather than action or motion.
Some of the HoloLens games alluded to above demonstrate this idea, but don’t be surprised if we also see a range of puzzle games, escape-the-room scenarios, and more in early VR gaming. In fact, the Minecraft demonstration is arguably the most exciting thing in VR, and it’s based largely in creativity.
3. Virtual Casinos Will Take On New Meaning
The idea of virtual casino environments has been around for quite some time, and they’ve already come a long way to approximating a real life casino experience. Once upon a time a virtual casino meant a crude online poker game against a CPU. Now, the same concept is highly realistic and highly competitive. This site, which offers one of the premiere casino platforms in Europe, has even gone so far as to build live casino rooms which it describes as “like Vegas from the comfort of your home or mobile device.” So, naturally, the next step is actual virtual reality. Casino gaming is really pretty simple stuff, and should make for an easy genre for VR developers to explore in the near future.
4. The End Of Character Gaming?
For almost as long as video games have existed, they’ve thrived on popular characters. From Mario and Sonic to Ryu and Raiden, from Pikachu and Charmander to Angry Birds and clashing clansmen, our video games have frequently delighted us with, in effect, little cartoon characters. But what happens when we’re actually in the games? No doubt there will still be characters to interact with or even control, but would a Mario game still feel like a Mario game if you’re actually in the role of the titular hero?
This could be a stranger-than-expected shift for gamers in the near future, and poses a unique challenge for VR developers to find ways to keep games charming and familiar. VR is going to bring about a lot of changes, not just for gamers but for the world in general. But as of now these look like some of the main early effects and consequences worth considering.