The announcement of the Oculus Rift’s shipping date early last month signals that the time of Virtual Reality (VR) gaming is upon us.
On 28 March, Oculus’s head-mounted display device will finally make its way into consumer hands – the product is seen by many as the future of the gaming industry (if you can afford its €699 price tag!).
While the acquisition of Oculus by Facebook in March 2014 (for a startling $2 billion) brought the device firmly into the mainstream domain, many gaming personalities, such as Minecraft creator Markus ‘Notch’ Persson, speculated that this was not necessarily for the best.
On his personal blog Word of Notch, Persson wrote: “Facebook is not a company of grass-roots tech enthusiasts. Facebook is not a game tech company. Facebook has a history of caring about building user numbers, and nothing but building user numbers.”
However, this move was not without support. In 2013, John Carmack, the legendary developer of Doom, left id Software, the company he founded in 1991, to join Oculus as their Chief Technology Officer.
In defence of the move, Carmack said that the involvement of companies like Facebook was “inevitable”. He continued his defence by saying that although he “could think of other companies that would have more obvious synergies”, he did have “reasons to believe that they get the big picture and that it would be a powerful force towards making it happen”.
Facebook’s ability to deliver this “big picture”, i.e. to proliferate and market the technology to the general public, will be tested in the months and indeed years to come; but they face stiff competition from leading tech companies, many of whom are already familiar with gamers and the gaming industry alike.
The VR space is, therefore, already being explored and tested by other players: HTC, in partnership with Valve, have developed their own version of this technology, the Vive; Sony, likewise, have developed the PlayStation VR. Both devices are scheduled for release this year.
In an interview with The Guardian, Sony Interactive Entertainment’s current president and Global CEO Andrew House, said that the PlayStation VR can deliver “a magical sense of presence – where your brain tricks you into thinking you’re actually in this place. We think there’s something there that could be really, really interesting for a next frontier of game development”.
Sony believes that VR represents the next step not only in PC gaming, but also in console gaming.
PlayStation VR will be launched as a peripheral piece of hardware for the already popular PS4 console. On 3 January, a Sony press release revealed that the PS4 had achieved lifetime sales of 35.9 million units; in comparison, the PS4’s nearest competitor, the Xbox One, has sold 19 million units as of January this year – if figures released by Electronic Arts are to be believed.
Although these numbers place Xbox One sales ahead of its predecessor the Xbox 360, they also serve not only to highlight the extraordinary dominance of Sony’s machine, but the rude health of the wider console gaming industry.
This is significant as the death of console gaming was touted by industry insiders, notably by Square Enix chief Yoichi Wada as far back as 2009; however, the current generation of machines has proved all doubters wrong.
In a statement released along with their sales figures, House commented: “We are absolutely delighted that so many customers have selected PS4 as the best place to play.”
His comments that Sony will remain “steadfast in [their] commitment to deliver innovative entertainment experiences” highlight the company’s intention to continue to push the boundaries of the gaming frontier.
One notable exception to this upward trend in the console market is Nintendo’s Wii U, which continues to fall further behind its two rivals with lifetime sales of 12.5 million units, despite being on the market a year longer.
However, Nintendo may still reclaim its former glory with the rumoured release of its new console codenamed NX. According to the financial consultancy firm Macquarie Capital Securities in Japan, this new device is speculated to be a hybrid console.
Macquarie expects Nintendo to release the device in two parts, with the portable unit launching this November and the console partner device sometime in 2017. This merger of the hand-held and console units would bring together two markets Nintendo had previously defined as completely separate.
This is made all the more plausible by the drop in sales of Nintendo’s current hand-held the 3DS. When outlining his plans for 2016, Nintendo’s president Tatsumi Kimishima had hinted at a radical new approach, stating that Nintendo “wants to surprise fans with new ideas – not build on old ones”.
Almost every major development in video games in the last 30 years has been tied to Nintendo, the Wii’s motion control in recent years being the most significant example. The innovative spirit demonstrated by the company in the past could, therefore, be an indicator of future success.
After all, it’s worth remembering that Nintendo released the first VR device, the Virtual Boy, back in 1995.
Perhaps, in 2016, the company founded in 1889 could yet again show the gaming world the way of the future.
By Darren Coppinger