Gaming is one of the most immediately apparent applications for virtual reality. After all, both of the current major players in the consumer VR space, Oculus and HTC, have their roots in the video games industry. For the avid gamer, nothing could be more exciting than the prospect of being literally transported inside the game, battling demons, aliens, and spies, exploring amazing environments beyond imagination.
Battle lines have been drawn in the home gaming market, and although there have been some illicit efforts at cross-compatibility between the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift, the two companies are in clear competition. That’s to say nothing of PlayStation VR, formerly known as Project Morpheus, which appears ready to tackle both PC solutions at once with its affordable price and much lower hardware requirements.
For the gamer, who is likely struggling with a question of “Which VR Should I Buy” rather than “Should I Buy VR”, the answer is the same as it always was in these kinds of scenarios. Going back to Nintendo vs. Sega, Microsoft vs. Sony, and even Atari vs. Commodore, the answer is simple: Follow the games. All three home systems are viable, and all three have immense backing from developers and publishers. The best way to make a decision is to look at the exclusive titles, and decide which VR platform has the most games you simply cannot live without.
The traditional gaming PC or console experience is not the only way VR gaming can be enjoyed, though. There are some surprising ways in which the technology has impacted the industry. Here are a few of the most intriguing.
The online gambling industry remains enormously profitable. A $423-billion-dollar industry in 2014, it continues to grow at a steady clip. Much like the adult entertainment industry, online casinos have the resources and motivation to experiment with the ways technology can enhance the rush and thrill their customers seek.
One of the earliest ventures into the space was built by SlotsMillion. Gamblers can enjoy real money gaming on 40 virtual machines and tables, all from the comfort of home and utilizing the power of the Oculus Rift. Visitors to the virtual casino can enjoy their own private room decorated in lavish Vegas style, and sign in with their existing SlotsMillion accounts.
Other online gaming establishments have followed suit, and today many of the most popular virtual casinos allow their patrons to truly immerse themselves in the gambling experience.
Not every game in the space uses a virtual reality headset. Augmented reality, the technology of adding virtual elements to the real world, has applications as well.
One of the earliest forays into augmented reality gaming was built in 2012 by Niantic, Inc., formerly a subsidiary of Google. Developed long before the ready availability of head-mounted displays and Google Glass, the game called Ingress relies on players’ smartphones to set the stage of a battle for “Exotic Matter” (EM), sought after by two opposing factions.
The wildly popular Pokemon GO was also developed by Niantic, where one could presume that much of the augmented reality groundwork for the game was laid by Ingress. So, how do games like Ingress and Pokemon GO work? The games leverage Google Maps to send players to real-world physical locations, where they use augmented reality technology to interact with virtual targets. Players typically do not interact with each other directly, but often engage in either collaborative or opposing efforts.
Ingress may seem ancient when compared to Pokemon Go, but it speaks to the heart and soul of augmented reality gaming. By sending players to real-world locations and allowign them interact with virtual targets, augmented reality gaming brings together the real and virtual worlds. Every augmented reality game we play in the future owes its roots to Ingress, and it is well worth a look to see where the genre has its roots.
Although virtual reality equipment is today readily available to consumers seeking a gaming thrill, there is still plenty that dedicated establishments can offer. The HTC Vive, for example, performs best when given a large, empty room in which the player can wander the virtual world.
Virtual reality could do something incredible for the gaming industry. It could revitalize that all-but-forgotten child of the 80s and 90s: the video arcade.
Investors and developers have already caught onto this possibility. Commercial solutions like VRcade already exist, and they far outstrip home offerings, at least for the moment. Video game developer Starbreeze is partnering with IMAX to open a VR entertainment center in Los Angeles, while a similar endeavor called the Virtuality Club is already open for business in Russia.
The best aspect of this development? It could bring back the social aspect of gaming. Although multiplayer “couch co-op” games in which players share a television screen certainly exist, the trend has been for gaming to become a more and more solitary experience. Even traditionally multiplayer games like Halo are almost exclusively played online, without the physical presence of another human being.
VR, by contrast, has the potential to be the ultimate party game. Using a green screen, onlookers can follow along as a gamer enters the virtual world, seeing not only their view, but also how the player fits into the world. And what could be more social than watching a friend literally, physically jump around a virtual environment while enjoying a drink and the company of others?
Virtual reality is also doing wonders for one type of gaming that is traditionally very social, indeed. Tabletop games, including roleplaying games and board games, have entered the virtual age.
Social VR app AltspaceVR recently introduced V20, a system by which players can enjoy a good old-fashioned Dungeons & Dragons style experience, in the virtual setting of the kind of medieval tavern where all good adventures begin. AltspaceVR provides the setting, the dice, miniatures, and a table, and players are left to their own devices to run the game according to their favorite ruleset.
Even more full-featured is Tabletop Simulator, available on Steam and recently made compatible with the HTC Vive. Tabletop Simulator supports a very wide range of rule sets and board games, allowing old gaming groups who have become separated by geography to come together once again, ready to save the world.
Gaming is the cornerstone upon which VR was built. There is an immense amount of fun and joy to be had for any enthusiast, whether they identify as hardcore or casual. Adoption of the technology is only growing, and thought leaders across every industry agree that virtual reality is here to stay. The time is ripe to jump in and start having fun.