VirtualRealityPFT

PFT: Who can win the virtual reality system race

Although it hasn’t gotten off the ground quite as quickly as many expected it to, virtual reality appears to be the next big thing in gaming. It may still be quite some time before a particular system is available for mass consumerism at a reasonable price, but right now we’re at an interesting point: we know what the competing systems are, and the companies behind them. So which one will win the race and ultimately produce the industry standard in-home virtual reality gaming console?

Over Mental’s write-up on this subject was spectacularly thorough, highlighting six or seven key competitors, as well as a few honorable mentions. The most familiar names in the conversation will be Oculus Rift, Microsoft HoloLens, and Sony’s Project Morpheus. However, HTC Vive, Razer OSVR, and the Samsung Gear VR are also mentioned, along with Google Cardboard, which is quite literally a set of cardboard goggles that Google has designed that can be used as a sort of cheap version of virtual reality gaming.

As for which of these devices is leading, or best positioned to seize a majority of the market’s attention, there’s really no telling at this stage. Each one is backed by a firmly established tech company (even Oculus Rift is now a Facebook property), and each has its benefits and potential advantages. Some view Oculus as the de facto leader simply because it was the first to come to public attention. Some look to HTC Vive’s connection to Valve (which is behind the online game downloading system Steam) as a possible advantage. And others may simply prefer a tech company they already trust for mobile service, gaming, or whatever else.

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If one device is going to separate itself from the pack, it could come down to which one is ready for mass market first, or even which one proves to have the most reliable functionality. But it could also come down to which, if any, ultimately hosts a flagship game for in-home virtual reality. This is a tricky genre of gaming that will require developers to shift their strategies. If a given game or series emerges as the early standard bearer in the genre, any system with exclusive rights to that game or series would inevitably get an enormous boost over the competition.

In this context, the Microsoft HoloLens may just have the early inside track after the exciting reveal at this year’s E3 of a Minecraft game that works in virtual reality. Frankly the very concept of a block stacking, world building game within the HoloLens is mind-blowing, but CNET posted Microsoft’s E3 demo to YouTube, and it made a surprising amount of sense. The player simply dove into his Minecraft world, fully able to zoom in and out on certain areas and craft the environment in a god-like manner. If it truly works this well and becomes available for HoloLens, it could be a major advantage for Microsoft. The company owns Minecraft, which is already one of the most popular games in the world on any platform.

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Not many companies have potentially built-in advantages quite like Microsoft does, with Minecraft under its belt. However, this example gives us a good idea of what to look for, and the games or game genres that could sway the virtual reality market. One that comes to mind is the first-person shooter genre. It’s one of the most popular in all of gaming and is already notoriously difficult for virtual reality systems to pull off. Kotaku profiled the Sony Morpheus as one system that’s produced an intriguing first-person shooter already. While the article acknowledges that it’s not quite there yet, this, too, could eventually represent a legitimate advantage. Whichever company first produces a well-received shooter in virtual reality will get a massive popularity boost.

Branching out a little bit more, it’s also easy to see the casino genre playing a major role in the development of virtual reality systems. This may at first seem counterintuitive, as most casino games are exceedingly simple to execute, even with crude graphics. But consider how far the online gaming industry has already gone in crafting casino games to represent real life experiences. Betfair’s online casino even has a live option at this point, in addition to a range of jackpots, slot machines and the like that go beyond basic card games. The live option lets players actually play with human dealers via video feed, and from there a virtual reality poker room isn’t much of a stretch. It may seem trivial next to Minecraft or major shooters, but casino games are extraordinarily popular worldwide. A system that rolls out a virtual reality poker tournament experience could also get a leg up.

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The list could go on quite a while. For instance, if Nintendo got in on the action and a Super Mario concept was brought to virtual reality. Likewise, if someone figures out how to make a satisfying sports game for one of these systems, it could constitute an advantage.

Whatever it ends up being, the point is that it may be a game, rather than underlying technology or capabilities, that sets one virtual reality system apart as the market is established. Really, each of the main devices jockeying for position is capable in its own right, and it may just take an outside factor to determine which is best in the eyes of consumers.

Thank you for reading!