Things Just Got Real: The Rise and Rise Of VR and Augmented Reality
For the last few years, the rise and rise of virtual reality has been quite phenomenal – and pretty damn exciting too. When Oculus Rift made waves at CES 2013, it suggested virtual and augmented reality would become a reality very soon, giving users a whole new gaming experience.
Since then, Facebook has purchased Oculus VR for $2 billion and the market has gone from strength to strength, expected to be worth $150 billion by 2020. To say this is rapid growth would be quite the understatement.
But the world of virtual and augmented reality has much more humble beginnings. In fact, rewind back to the early 1990s and Sega’s foray into VR and you’d think the market was probably best left alone. It died quicker than our moms on Street Fighter and was put out of its misery fairly quickly.
But Sega VR, despite only ever making it into the arcades, kick started something which would then see Nintendo release Virtual Boy to the world (don’t worry, we barely remember it either).
Released in 1995, it claimed to be the first portable console and hit the shelves for around $180. That didn’t last and after only selling 770,000 units it was pulled from the market less than a year from landing.
Today however, it’s back. Not Virtual Boy – thankfully – but a whole host of virtual and augmented reality devices which have taken a step away from the truly awful attempts of the 90s and embraced modern technology, which is groundbreaking.
The promise of virtual reality over the last few years has been quite staggering. Sony, Samsung, and Google have all been in the development rooms on top of Oculus Rift, and we’re finally seeing some results.
Perhaps the most exciting of these is Project Morpheus, Sony’s attempts to bring the PS4 virtual. The brand has toyed with augmented reality over the years with the Eye Toy and has recognized that the two go hand-in-hand.
Head of Sony London, Dave Ranyard said of the project, “There’s a whole bunch of things we needed to solve for augmented reality that you also need to solve for VR, so as a studio, the leap wasn’t so great.”
Their aim is to make virtual reality a social experience, an area which is becoming increasingly important in gaming. As users we want to become more and more immersed in what we are playing, and brands are responding.
Take the likes of FIFA on console and PC. They introduced the Be A Pro mode to titles a few years back alongside their other sporting titles such as Madden, bringing gamers closer to real life, whilst even brands are creating online games to heighten interactivity with users.
The growth of interactive games has been hugely successful, in fact PokerStars’ Natural Born Poker Player shows just how far reality gaming has become. Using video and a first person perspective, players have to use their brains to make the right choices to complete a task.
And this is exactly the sort of lines Sony will be thinking, with the chance to share experiences, just like Natural Born Poker Player.
Ranyard added, “There’s this kind of sci-fi view of VR being about isolation, but we want to turn that on its head.”
It’s likely to be a good few years before we see virtual reality really take off to astronomic levels, but one thing is for sure, it’ll be a far cry from the Sega and Nintendo efforts which killed it off in the 90s. And the same applies to augmented reality.
In fact, according to experts, augmented reality will be four times bigger than virtual reality. The likes of Oculus Rift has seemingly taken the majority of the attention over the last few years, but once Google Glass hits the market, there’s no doubt there will be plenty of talk, and interest, in that too.
Perhaps what’s most appealing about the likes of Glass is that it won’t just affect gaming, but our daily lives too.
We’ve already seen Google Glass catch people being arrested and make other contributions in society (and that’s simply through the Explorers who were given the honor of testing the prototypes), but it will also allow users to check bus times, shop openings, and virtually everything Google offers even when walking down the street.
One problem it’s encountered so far is simply the way it looks. To stay it sticks out like a sore thumb wouldn’t be too far wrong, and that’s been its main criticism. Google has since pulled the device from the market, and it’s likely that an improved appearance will be the key development as the California based brand takes Glass forward.
Tim Merel, managing director of Digi-Capital wrote in an article for TechCrunch, “AR is great fun for games, but maybe not as much fun as VR when true immersion is required.
“But that possible weakness for gamers is exactly why AR has the potential to play the same role in our lives as mobile phones with hundreds of millions of users. You could wear it anywhere and do anything.”
That’s perhaps turning AR and VR into a mobile vs console style debate, and we already have one of those. But the truth is that there’s huge room for both to develop into major players over the next few years.
At the moment AR seems to have taken a back seat, but with technology almost a million times better than it was back in the 90s, there’s no doubt that once both begin to hit the ground running, they’ll be here to stay.
Dave Ranyard concluded, “I often think about the technological icon of the age. In the 80s it was the Walkman, in the 2010s it’s the smartphone. When I’m retiring these handsets will look so old; there will be some other way of dealing with apps. Maybe that will be VR.”
We certainly think so…