OPINION: Five things we learnt about VR from E3 2016

VR expert David Ranyard continues his regular columns looking at the future of virtual reality, and analyses thereaction to the hardware from this year’s E3.

So E3 is over for another year, and I have one burning question: what was the impact of virtual reality at this year’s show?

It certainly doesn’t feel like it is fizzling out as some industry commentators have predicted. Having analysed the various press conferences, news reports and demos, here are my main thoughts:

1. The VR hype is still building
It certainly feels like more industry people are getting on board with VR and realising it is likely to stick this time around. The most notable presences were the big IPs shown in the Sony and Ubisoft press conferences: Batman, Final Fantasy, Star Wars, Star Trek and Resident Evil. Having polled a number of friends, colleagues and press reports as to their thoughts around these experiences I have seen two main reactions.

The first – ‘wow cool’ – is not surprising. Experiencing VR, often provokes a great reaction. The second, however, is disappointment. This is usually not because the experience was poor, but because it was not in line with the IP/brand. If a triple-A game is all about stealth, hand-to-hand combat and driving a cool car but the VR experience of that game is more about investigation, this does not meet the expectations of the player.

My caution here is that it may not be a guaranteed home run for a big IP to move to VR. The developer may create a compelling experience, but does it suit the IP? This mismatch could also clear the way for new IP based on new experiences, not a surprise for any disruptive tech, but it is interesting to see it play out in real time.

2. Multiplayer VR is starting to look exciting
I’m a huge Trekkie, so a multiplayer Star Trek is a dream come true. Being able to sit on the deck of a starship and control it as part of the team is an amazing experience. To me, the promise of not only transporting yourself to another place, but also being able to take your friends with you, is somewhere I feel VR can really shine.

3. Farpoint’s use of the gun peripheral is awesome
Impulse Gear’s Farpoint provided us with a glimpse of the future, exhibiting the impact of tactile response within VR. The use of a gun peripheral for one-to-one action makes the experience very believable and I predict that we will see a lot more games using peripherals like this.

4. Xbox plans are interesting
I was intrigued by Microsoft’s plan to release a more powerful ‘VR ready’ Xbox next year. If they can position this as a cheaper alternative to a VR ready PC then I think it is a very smart move. Sony and Microsoft’s VR plans are often described as ‘hare and tortoise’, but I feel that this analogy doesn’t account for the first hand knowledge that Sony has gained from developing its own headset. Perhaps Sony’s response to this will be to release a PS VR 2.0 earlier than planned, including updated Move controllers – we shall see.

5. Nintendo approach is quite predictable
On the other hand, Nintendo has said it does not see VR as mainstream enough yet. This falls in line with its previous pattern of behaviour, which is: innovatively use last year’s tech to reach a broader audience. Add in their infamous past experience with the Virtual Boy and you can understand its cautious approach. Watch out for Mario VR Party with a pass-and play headset in two to three years time.

Final thoughts
I’m really interested to see what E3 2017 will look like and compare to this year – will it keep growing, or will we see it stutter? Will we see some standardisation around VR platforms? And of course, just who will ‘win’ round one?

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