I’ve spent a bunch of time over the last week playing with my new Oculus Rift with Touch. I’ve explored a bunch of the content and applications for it, and gotten a feel for where it works well, and where it doesn’t. After my experience — I’ve come to a conclusion: the killer app for VR is obvious, and it ain’t here yet.
What is this killer app? Its World of Warcraft (WoW), but in VR. In particular, this killer app needs to carry forward three of the things that have made WoW so compelling:
- 1. A huge, beautiful world. WoW is enormous. Tons to explore, with varying landscapes and buildings and non-player characters.
- 2. Lots of people in it. WoW is very much a social experience. When you visit one of the major world cities, it’s full of other players. They are walking around, casting spells, riding mounts, battling each other, and so on. This part of the WoW experience delivers a vital form of presence — a feeling that I am there because others are there too. And not just a few people, a LOT of people. WoW tends to have areas of critical mass where there are lots and lots of people there. It is that mass of people which is key.
- 3. Ways to interact with other people. In WoW, there is a lot you can do with other players. You can quest together, do an instance together, do a raid together, or just fight monsters together in the shared world without any formal grouping.
Imagine that we took the WoW concept, but projected it into a VR experience. It would be a huge virtual world, full of cities and landscapes, just like regular WoW, but now 3D, virtual, and ready to explore. My virtual avatar would be my character. If I’m an elf, and I look at my hands (courtesy of Oculus Touch), I’d see my hands as elf hands of course.
It would also be full of other characters. Just TONS of them. When I go to a major city, I’d see hundreds of other avatars, each representing a character in the game. When I walk into the crowded town square — it would truly be alive.
Best of all — the experience of an instanced dungeon would be amazing. I’d literally be in that dungeon with four other players. We’d be fighting the monsters together, as a team, and they would feel so real that I’d actually be a little scared of that final boss battle.
That is the experience I want.
Of course, many things in regular WoW would need to change in virtual WoW — in particular — the core UI would need to change. Here is what I would want:
- 1. Gestures replace button pressing for attacks and spells. If I’m a mage, I want to have an arsenal of maybe a dozen different spells, each with a unique gesture. This is where the Oculus Touch is key. As a fire mage, perhaps I’d pull my right hand back and then push forward, to launch my fireball. Raise and lower left hand would cast Fire Blast. Raise both hands in the air and spin, then lower, would cast Combustion. And so on. This would be incredibly immersive — and probably a bit tiring too! So — instances and battles would probably get shorter to compensate.
- 2. Gaze replaces selection. A big part of the WoW UI is selecting characters or NPCs when interacting. In the virtual version of WoW, I’d instead look at a character or NPC, and see it highlighted (perhaps a glow around their avatar). This would let me know that they are selected.
- 3. Voice chat replaces text chat. WoW has voice chat today, but it doesnt get used much within the main world. Mostly users interact with other players through text chat. In virtual WoW, that needs to change. It needs to be voice, and only voice. This will lead to some real problems that need to be solved. First is how to handle the inevitable profanity or inappropriate players. Second is how to make it scale up to something like a crowded city block with fifty players in it.
- 4. Gestures for most player to player interactions. The touch controllers can unlock a lot of really cool ways to interact with other players. Instead of sending a friend request to another player — shake their hand virtually and you are friends. Instead of slash commands for player actions (/dance makes your character dance), gestures map to key actions (e.g., wave your hands in the air to dance). Want to trade an item to another character? Select it from your inventory. It appears in your virtual hand — and then you hand it quite literally to another character. The possibilities seem endless here.
Unfortunately, this experience doesn't exist today. There are some decent single player dungeon crawlers. And there are some virtual chat apps where players can congregate and see each other. But, there is nothing like the size and scope of WoW for VR.
Once we have that, I think consumer VR will take off.