The virtual reality sector has been kickstarted in the past few months with the launch of the HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, Playstation VR, and even the Gear VR, bringing VR fully to consumers. Now the hardware is in the mainstream, attention turns to the software, but is the available VR content in the ecosystems up to spec?
Despite the impressive hardware, the current VR headsets are all tethered and not self-contained, meaning they all rely on an external system to be of any use at all – some PC’s, some gaming consoles, and others a smartphone, which when the cost of the headset itself is combined with the cost of that external host system, the price tag of VR is eye-watering. But even though the price is high, get used to experiencing VR confined in the comfort of your own home, since there’s still a long way to go before you’ll see someone sitting on the bus wearing a functional VR headset (except for the Gear VR or Cardboard, perhaps).
Even with the current limitations of VR when it comes to portability, it’s up to the software developers to utilise the hardware platform the manufacturers have created to really kickstart the virtual reality ecosystem.
Virtual reality has three very clear standout purposes: gaming, immersive role-playing simulations, and video. Whilst the latter of those three has been around for some time in the form of 360-degree video, VR companies are beginning to invest in their own productions for their respective platforms, while the bigger players like Netflix steering clear for now – aside from a basic app that plays ‘normal’ video content in a 360-degree VR living room setting. Gaming is where the virtual reality content is really being focused at the moment, and rightly so given the ease of which the appeal of VR can be demonstrated. Optimising a game for VR immerses the player inside the game, offering a much more realistic feel and investment into storylines and environments.
In the early days of VR, Steam seems to be at the forefront of optimised content for the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive with its SteamVR adaption of the existing steam library with virtual reality titles bundled in. The Google Play Store is filled with virtual reality apps to satisfy Google Cardboard users, the Oculus Store has plenty of growing apps for the Gear VR, while the Playstation VR has the whole library of PS4 games to play on the headset with some exclusive titles lined up.
The current state of play when it comes to content for virtual reality isn’t the lack of content. No, there’s tons of content that you can play on your VR headset; the problem is that virtual reality headsets are mere extensions or alternative displays to play your content on with very few immersive titles that extend beyond simply showcasing the capabilities of the headset.
The truth is that virtual reality is such a new platform that it will be a few years before developers figure out how to best create virtual reality content for the various headsets. Until then, the titles will mostly be ports of existing titles that have had virtual reality elements added in, virtual environments to watch movies, and secondary displays.
The potential of VR
VR has the potential to transform the way in which content is consumed or interacted with in every industry imaginable: Car manufacturing, Health, Fitness, Interior design, Research, to list a few. NASA are already using consumer grade VR headsets for their training simulations, and that’s the key to VR success – partnering with the worlds largest brands, education partners, and science institutions to create content that takes their functions to the next level, rather than simply creating games where you can pick up cups of coffee and pretend to drink them. Imagine an situation where you can train a surgeon to operate within a virtual environment, or visualise the inner workings of the body – the possibilities are endless.
The world of VR will certainly not be hampered by the lack of virtual reality content thanks to SteamVR and the PS4, but the uses for it seem constrained by what the industry think consumers want – just another way to play CoD. The scope needs broadening, the industry expanded, and the capabilities aligned with sectors other than consumers and we’ll truly begin to see how virtual reality can enhance our lives. It seems VR is just getting started.