In the bestselling sci-fi novel turned feature film, Ready Player One, author Ernest Cline introduces us to a dystopian future, where society neglects its real surroundings in favor of logging into a massive multiplayer virtual reality game called the OASIS. Equipped with virtual reality visors, haptic gloves, immersion suits and even devices that emit software-generated scents, OASIS gamers roam a brilliantly vibrant and stimulating world that offers not only a game, but schooling, socializing and employment as well.
While it remains to be seen if an OASIS ever becomes reality, it does look like gaming will be the vehicle that delivers augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR) technology and content from early adoption to prime time. In fact, 60 percent of business and technology stakeholders in Jabil's 2018 Augmented and Virtual Reality Trends Survey predict that these technologies will become mainstream in the consumer industry before they reach widespread adoption in the business sector.
Unlike time-pressed workers, gamers seek challenges and are willing to spend time figuring out how a game and its technology work, particularly if the game promises complete immersion.
Video game creators have long been eager to bring players into the worlds of games. Throughout the years, new innovations have added 360-degree views of more realistic environments and haptic feedback through controls. Because AR and VR take this a step further and can make the player excited about the world she is in – whether it's the augmented real world or a fictional world – these technologies have become synonymous with gaming.
“Pokémon Go” is the strongest AR gaming experience to date, bringing Pokémon into the real world. Players use their smartphones to view the real world that is right in front of them, but technology lays additional details – in this case, a Pokémon – on top of that world and allows the user to interact with this new, augmented form of reality. Players can use the game to explore a new city or even experience parts of their own town they have not visited before, while hunting for Pokémon. Shortly after its release, I visited Santa Monica Pier in Santa Monica, California, at 1:00 a.m. and discovered there were 3,000 people at the pier playing the game together. The players were even collaborating to help each other find and catch these funky creatures. Ironically, in this case, technology made people more social.
By comparison, in “Star Wars: Jedi Challenges,” the player dons a mask to see a virtual opponent and wields a lightsaber controller that they manipulate to battle the foe. Instead of enhancing the real world with Pokémon characters, this game transports players into the world of Star Wars.
Consumer spending on the video game industry totaled $30.4 billion in 2016, with $24.5 billion spent on content; $3.7 billion spent on hardware; and $2.2 billion spent on accessories, including VR, according to the 2017 Essential Facts About the Computer and Video Game Industry report by the Entertainment Software Association (ESA).
The Oculus Rift + Touch retails for about $400 on its website, and the HTC Vive Virtual Reality System costs about $500 on Amazon. Other systems can cost even more. Although an individual may not normally be willing to spend that amount of money on, say, a pair of glasses that can overlay a search result on the scene in front of him or her, people are more likely to spend their disposable income on something fun.
However, these high prices might prevent the average consumer from purchasing VR games and limit participation to only serious gamers for now. The cost of these devices will likely decline as the technology develops and becomes more mainstream.
Augmented reality is gaining popularity because consumers – whether or not they are serious gamers – can use the smart devices they already own to participate in the games. As recent as December 2017, “Pokémon Go” still boasted 20 million daily active users. The technology likely even brought new gamers to the market because it was easy for any smartphone user to download the free app and start playing the game.
Furthermore, when choosing a game, price is only a secondary factor for purchase decisions, according to the ESA report. Sixty-seven percent of gamers consider the quality of the graphics first. This suggests that if AR and VR games can deliver a high-quality visual experience, gamers will be eager to buy and play.
Of course, because this technology is still developing, there are some limitations to VR gaming systems. For example, video game designers are still working to create a flawless virtual world that properly orients direction, adjusts in perfect real-time as the gamer moves his or her head and accurately understands what part of the virtual world the gamer is interacting with. Discrepancies between the virtual world experienced by the mind and the real world experienced by the body can cause VR sickness. As much as 40 percent of VR users report feeling nauseous as they visually move through a virtual world but their bodies actually remain motionless in the real world, according to Fortune.
In addition, the field of vision in a VR game is narrower than a human's natural field of vision. In a VR game, the player only has a 90-degree field of vision, whereas, in real life, a person has 190 degrees of horizontal vision and 120 degrees of vertical vision. To achieve a large field of vision, the VR headsets must be large and bulky, which can cause user fatigue and even headaches. Again, as the technology develops, lighter headsets will become a possibility.
There also are some safety concerns with VR technology. If a user is moving in the real world but looking at a virtual world, he or she is at risk of bumping into real objects, tripping, falling or even hurting other people. VR users need a wide-open, safe space in which to play. Otherwise, the user may be distracted by real-world safety while playing the game and be unable to fully experience the immersive, virtual world.
In spite of these challenges, 69 of respondents to the Jabil survey predict that AR and VR will become mainstream within the next five years. Looking 20-25 years ahead, nearly half of the participants in Jabil's survey anticipate an almost merged AR and VR world in which players can manipulate a game on a screen with the wave of a glove equipped with motion sensors. Another quarter of participants predict a VR world in which a player moves through a virtual game environment while remaining sedentary in the real world.
Of course, at the speed in which technology develops, it's possible that the future of AR and VR holds something totally different. Although 29 percent of respondents to the Jabil survey say they have a plan for working with AR and VR in the future, 82 percent expect that the landscape will change too quickly to make rock solid plans. Flexibility is important for gaming technology, platform developers and content creators as the AR/VR gaming industry takes shape.
Whenever the common platform is created, be it the OASIS or something else, it’s likely the world will be eager to play.