I’m not going to lie, when I saw that Google had jumped into the Virtual Reality race (and how they’d done so), I thought someone was having a laugh, or that I was being punked by somebody in the TwinStick offices who knows just how excited I can get about VR.
But, it turns out this is absolutely for real and, my initial reaction notwithstanding, it might actually be fairly good news for those of us dying to immerse ourselves in VR.
No, really…..hear me out!
As you can see, Google’s, quote-unquote, “hardware” is, essentially, some cardboard. You can try to dress it up anyway you like, but there’s no getting away from that fact: it’s a piece of cut-out cardboard, designed to house your Smartphone. And, lest you were still in any doubt, they went and named it ‘Cardboard’ too.
Google, famous for adding bells and whistles to everything and anything, have pretty much just done the exact opposite here, and in the process have highlighted how, in essence, we all already have VR capable technology, right now, in our pockets! Smartphone technology has been instrumental in the development of VR anyway, so what they’re doing is focusing on one aspect of it: namely the screen. By getting you to cut out a pizza box to utilise it, Google are also getting you to cut out the middle-man too.
So, why is that good news for VR?
Well, crucially, and as I said in my Project Morpheus piece, a big part of whether or not VR has “staying power” is going to be the availability of software, and the availability of that software is going to be determined by how many studios/developers take VR seriously and/or embrace the technology. It would obviously be a vicious circle if nobody was buying the headsets because there weren’t many games, and there weren’t many games because nobody was buying the headsets, so this is undoubtedly helpful. Because, in precisely the same way that mobile gaming can act as a gateway, for both developers (particularly Indie ones) and gamers, mobile VR gaming could do the same thing for Virtual Reality in general.
Smaller developers for example, with the Google play store would have an opportunity to play around with the tech, see what works, what doesn’t, and we customers would be able to do the same, trying out the VR experience for free (or a small fee). Consequently, the mutual feedback loop will only have long-term benefits for both parties. So, if somebody is reluctant to pay top-dollar for a headset without trying it out first (that’s totally not me, by the way), this gives them an affordable way to do so, just as a small studio achieving success with a small, app-based game, might very well decide there’s a market for it, and put in the investment to develop it into a full-blown game for a console, or PC.
To emphasise this point, Google have already made a toolkit for Cardboard available to those wishing to develop for it.
And finally, precisely because no serious gamer has ever thought, “I can play games on my phone, so I prob’ly won’t bother buying a console”, there isn’t really any competition between Google’s (current) version of VR and, say, Sony’s either, because they’re largely different horses for mostly different courses (although, admittedly, I can’t see mobile VR gaming being as popular on the morning commute as, for example, Candy Crush!).
If anything, all the players in the VR game are likely to mutually reinforce and strengthen each other.
As I’ve previously mentioned, I think the future of VR, in general, will very much depend upon it managing to reach a tipping point, where it is embraced by all parties, becoming an acceptable, and natural evolution in games, and how we play them. If 3D, VR games abound on Google Play, and people are willing to try them out for the relatively small price of ‘looking like an idiot with a shoe-box strapped to their head’, this can only hasten the coming of the VR revolution.
And I, for one, welcome that with open arms (and a Pizza Box Hat)!