Last March, the first commercial virtual reality headset, the Oculus Rift was released to the general public. There was no camping in front of the shops, there was no “Black Friday” style craze, which is not a surprise – even though the technology was exciting, its introductory price, combined with the cost of the computer needed to use it, has proven to be prohibitive for many. Oculus was the first but not the only consumer VR headset to be released last year – HTC’s Vive and Sony’s PlayStation VR also became available, and both did pretty well last year. According to the latest numbers, last year has seen over 2 million VR headsets shipped to end users (this includes the Oculus Rift, the PlayStation VR, the Google Daydream View, and the HTC Vive), along with over 2 million Samsung Gear VR units, and more than 88 million Google Cardboard units (these are untethered headsets that rely on smartphones as a display).
The slow adoption of the technology is due to its early stage. If we were to compare it to the spread of the smartphone, we are now in the pre-iPhone era, when smartphones became available but they haven’t reached their full potential yet. VR has a similar status yet and is expected to reach the “iPhone era” pretty soon. And that’s when its true impact on the world of entertainment will start to show.
A New Way To Play And Interact
Part of what made VR exciting from the start is its impact on the world of video games, making full immersion available for the first time to millions of gamers. But this is just the start – as it spreads, VR will cause more fundamental changes to the world of entertainment as a whole. Today, the majority of games played run on smartphones (mobile has overtaken desktop and console gaming both by the numbers of players and the revenues it generates). Smartphones and mobile gaming continue to spread as we speak, to new markets and new user bases. In the coming years, more players are expected to play mobile games than ever. Smartphone gaming has become a thing with the start of the above-mentioned “iPhone era”, and still has a lot of unexplored potentials. From simple, cross-platform games like the ones at the Red Flush Mobile, and more serious titles like Vainglory and its likes, will continue to appear and capture the attention of the masses. Smartphone gaming will continue to grow further before VR can take over. Even things like online super casinos are in the same bucket.
VR will grow, too, but not at the same pace. In time, it will become a major driving force behind the evolution of entertainment. New entertainment options that will make use of the emerging “cyberspace” are already in the works, and further forms will appear in time. Linden Lab’s “Sansar”, for example, is an ambitious project that will open up an entire world for creators, designers, and users, where they will be able to meet, interact, play, and consume.
Virtual reality is at the beginning of its new road, a road that will most likely be bumpy and filled with obstacles. For every supporter of the technology, there is one opponent, considering the current state of the technology rudimentary, cumbersome, and boring. There is no way of knowing whether it will become the next big thing in the world of entertainment or it will whither away once again like it did in the 1990s. One thing is for sure: it still has a long way to go, and many things to improve, until it can take its rightful place among the common – or forgotten – technologies of the 21st century.