Whether you’re attending Game Developers Conference (GDC) in San Francisco or at the South by Southwest (SXSW) conference in Austin, there’s one theme that is taking both by storm: virtual reality. With both the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive launching in a matter of weeks, and the PlayStation VR to follow in the fall, excitement over the technology is reaching an all-time high.
The big news from GDC is Sony’s announcement of the PlayStation VR’s price point and October release. Its attractive price point, coupled with a PlayStation 4 installed base of almost 40 million users worldwide, helps make up for the fact that it launches months behind the competition. There’s also how the device will be supported with a strong line-up of games, including a Star Wars Battlefront experience designed specifically for PSVR, and a special “cinematic mode” for playing non-VR games and watching movies using the headset.
Matt West, director of digital integration at Ayzenberg notes, “Every year, there are pundits and proponents of VR who say, ‘this is finally VR’s year,’ but VR, as a mainstream media still feels at least a year away. With the Oculus Rift ($599) and HTC’s Vive ($799), the aim is clearly on early adopters. These are high-end headsets with the price-tags to match. Couple either one with a high-end PC build and the barrier to entry becomes even steeper. Sony’s PlayStation VR (PSVR) comes in at a more friendly $399 price point and runs with a PlayStation 4. While the PS4 has some limitations when compared to a more powerful PC platform, with 36 million units sold, Sony clearly has a head-start in terms of being able to capture the market early.”
The HTC Vive pricing and launch date were announced late February at the Mobile World Congress, and promotion has been kicked up to high gear since then. The week started with Lucasfilm revealing the Star Wars: Trials on Tatooine VR experience, developed in partnership with the HTC Vive, and that got the ball rolling.
Although it is the most expensive of the three premium VR headsets, it’s the only one that comes with virtual reality controllers included in the package, supports full body motion tracking across a room, and has a front-facing camera for detecting real-world objects or possible mixed-reality experiences. Most importantly, the Vive is developed in partnership with Valve, which has been promoting the device on its widely used Steam service alongside SteamVR—a new virtual reality platform that is likely optimized for Vive. Valve is currently showcasing 36 different VR demonstrations at GDC—triple that seen at January’s SteamVR Showcase—to demonstrate the broad range of experiences (such as The Brookhaven Experiment) that await early adopters.
Oculus is following much of the same promotional strategy, as we fast approach the March 28 launch of the Rift. The Facebook-owned company announced today that 30 games are releasing with Rift, and more will come in the following months. It also revealed the look of the Oculus Rift interface, and a desktop app that lets users browse and purchase games. This comes in addition to the Oculus Social platform features that were revealed last week.
Not to be left behind, the Samsung Gear VR (developed in partnership with Oculus) had some exciting announcements of its own from GDC. The open-world phenomenon, Minecraft, is expected to make its way to the Gear VR. So, if the $99 price point, or the fact that it comes free with a Samsung Galaxy S7 or S7 Edge purchase, isn’t enough to convince consumers to pick up a Gear VR, Minecraft might do the trick.
While GDC gets a ton of attention when it comes to technology and video games, SXSW shouldn’t be overlooked either. As a premiere conference for music, film and other entertainment, it is the perfect place to showcase virtual reality experiences. McDonald’s let McDonald’s lounge visitors put on a Vive and shoot virtual paint on walls from within a gigantic Happy Meal box. Comcast used the Gear VR to let visitors get up close to a NASCAR race, while NASA gave attendees a chance to explore a virtual spacecraft. One could say that VR fever has taken hold in Austin, and is almost overshadowing the other entertainment experiences shown at SXSW this year.
No matter where you are, 2016 clearly marks the beginning of the VR era, and it’s only going to grow bigger and better from here.