If you want to get a handle on the next big moves in the virtual reality space, don’t spend all of your time trying to analyze headset technology. The real action is taking place behind the scenes right now as a host of companies will soon introduce the first of what will be many waves of virtual reality content, while placing users in a 360 degree immersive field that could well eclipse any other screen viewing experience today. And a good indicator of what may be coming can be found in one of the game industry’s biggest players – Unity Technologies.
More games are made today with Unity’s software than with any other game technology. The Unity engine has become one of the most critical tools for developers seeking to create content, and that’s why they are poised to play a critical role in the rollout of virtual reality to the mass market.
“We are assuming that virtual reality will be as big as mobile,” said David Helgason, Unity’s co-founder. “If we’re right about this, it will be a very big business.”
Helgason spoke earlier this month at the AAMA Interactive Entertainment Summit, held in San Francisco. The event brought together over 400 executives from the gaming and media community and a major portion of the conference agenda was dedicated to discussing the future growth of the virtual reality space.
“Virtual reality will blow our minds,” Helgason told the gathering.
The concept behind the technology is for users to don special headgear and then view content that puts them in a totally different world. Content is already being produced that can place you in locales as basic as a prison cell or as exotic as an actual climb of Mt. Everest, all without ever having to leave the comfort of your couch. Much of the user experience, at least in the beginning, will likely be driven by our own smartphones which can be inserted into gear strapped to your head that will immerse you in the images.
“We’re going to go from looking at these, to wearing these,” said Norman Liang, a venture partner with the WI Harper Group, holding up his own smartphone during his conference opening remarks.
Signs of the virtual reality content explosion are already starting to surface. Shoppers at Tommy Hilfiger can now don headsets and watch a runway show that practically has them following the models into the audience. And AT&T has partnered with Samsung to provide a virtual reality experience at 133 of their stores for a Carnival Cruise line promotion.
“This will be the medium that we will partly live in,” explained Helgason.
This coming summer will likely see the introduction of a number of new virtual reality titles from game makers. Unity’s chief marketing officer, Clive Downie, hinted at the coming wave when he recently told Venture Beat that “a large number of titles are coming this year.”
Despite the growing enthusiasm among consumers for taking a test drive in the virtual reality car, this is still a very new industry which will experience growing pains. This includes the problem that the current platforms upon which virtual reality is based are probably significantly flawed and will need to undergo significant transformation in the years ahead. “If you’re doing virtual reality today, you are probably doing it wrong,” said Helgason.
There’s also the issue of capital investment. Helgason also told the AAMA gathering this month that companies seeking to develop new virtual reality content need to ensure funding for at least two to four years, a daunting challenge in the “get the product to market in six months or die” mentality of the tech world today.
“Expect to have your assumptions reset multiple times before the market is ready,” Helgason warned.
The true promise of virtual reality, if it can deliver, will be that it could indeed become the “final frame,” a screen that is all around us and can provide the ultimate viewing experience which can never be topped. If successful, expect to see movie theaters transformed from having big screens to none at all, because the audience will all be wearing headsets, experiencing their own virtual reality worlds, in lands far, far away.