Virtual reality is a technology that’s, for lack of a better word, amazing. Many tend to think of it as an innovation aimed at gamers alone, which is an over-simplification of its capabilities at best. In fact, virtual reality can – and most likely will – go beyond high-profile gaming sooner than we might imagine, leaving a footprint on many other aspects of our everyday lives. For the time being, though, most of its effects will be felt by the entertainment industry.
Right now there are two types of VR headsets available: the “proper” kind, like Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, and the “cardboard” type, relying on smartphones to function. The first type is aimed mostly at PC gamers, requiring quite the processing power to function at their best. The second is a bit of a novelty, with limited content focusing on experiences rather than games. Neither of them is currently a “mass” product, partly because of their prohibitive prices (even if Oculus recently applied a $200 price reduction to its system). The time will come, though, when they will become affordable for the masses. And that is the time developers and publishers have to be prepared for.
Casual games are played by the largest number of players ever. Most of these games are played on smartphones and only occasionally, even if some titles – like the infamous Candy Crush series – are known to tie their players to their screens for hours at a time. Once VR becomes a widespread technology rather than a novelty, people will surely use it to play in the same casual way they have on their smartphones.
There are a few examples of “virtual” worlds and playgrounds already functioning today. Think Second Life and Blocksworld by Linden Research, Roblox, and their likes. These provide online meeting points for users from all over the world, as well as a medium for creators to build and share experiences with others. While these were for a long time confined to computer screens, they will likely transcend into virtual reality now that the technology is at hand. Linden Research has already begun to build its new world, Project Sansar, aimed specifically at VR headset users.
New playgrounds will also likely to be built, sometimes on top of existing communities – think online poker rooms and bingo halls, for example. These will massively improve on their immersion, providing players with an opportunity to meet people with the same interests as them often living half a world away.
Old games, new games
Playing chess at home, on a computer screen, is far less attractive than doing the same in the park. And how about playing a game of chess on the rings of Saturn, or the surface of the moon? VR is not about the games itself, at least when it comes to casual ones, but the environment in which they are played. That’s why old games like chess, backgammon, dominoes, and their likes will most likely find their second home in the endless virtual universe we’re on the brink of creating.
New games will also emerge to make use of the new technologies. These games will likely be ones that can be played together. The board games of today might transcend themselves into virtual reality, offering a much richer and much more spectacular experience to their players.