Virtual reality didn't exactly take off last year in the way the makers of the four major headsets dreamed: Instead of stories of a public scrambling to buy devices that plug into a version of The Matrix, we have tales of developers bemoaning how game revenue barely covers the costs of registering a business and commissioning two music tracks.
And yet, according to a poll of more than 4,500 game developers who’ve attended the Game Developers Conference at some point in the last three years, there's hope for virtual reality’s future. In fact, according to GDC’s 14-page "State of the Game Industry" report released today, more developers are "currently developing" titles for virtual reality headsets than for Microsoft’s well-known Xbox One console. And thanks to advances in the technology over the last year, there's a surprising amount of hope for virtual and augmented reality evident in the responses.
"A concentrated focus on improving HMD functionality, unencumbering the user, and providing meaningful experiences is giving AR/VR a real shot at sticking around," said an unnamed developer quoted in the report.
Specifically, in GDC's breakdown covering gaming-capable devices ranging from the Apple Watch to the upcoming Nintendo Switch, 22 percent of developers said they were making games for the Xbox One compared to the 24 percent reporting they were making games for any VR headset. Sony’s PlayStation 4 console fared only a tad better, with 27 percent of developers claiming they were making games for it. Still another 5 percent reported they were working on games for the lesser-known augmented reality headsets such as the Microsoft Hololens. (A whopping 53 percent of developers claimed they were working on games for the PC, which no doubt has significant overlap with responses regarding virtual and augmented reality.)
HTC VIVE IS BEATING OCULUS IN THE VR RACE
There’s a good chance these developers are specifically designing games for the HTC Vive. Oculus might have dominated most early headlines from the newest wave of virtual reality fanfare, but the Vive now has a precarious grip on the crown, with 24 percent of developers claiming they're making games for it compared to 23 percent for the Oculus Rift. Samsung's Gear VR and Sony's PlayStation VR tie for third place, with both netting 13 percent of the developer pool.
But that grip should only get stronger. A full 40 percent of virtual reality-focused developers claimed they'd be releasing their next game on the Vive, while only 36 percent answered in favor of the Rift. Asked which virtual reality headset interested them the most, developers answered overwhelmingly in favor of the Vive with 45 percent, while the poor Rift could only muster 30 percent. That's a stark shift from last year's results, GDC notes, in which only 26 percent of developers expressed interest in the Vive and PlayStation VR while 40 percent championed the Oculus Rift.
The report might be called the "State of the Game Industry," but virtual and augmented reality command almost every page of the document, even though 61 percent of respondents claimed they weren't working on VR or AR titles at all. Among other things, it tells how many developers (43 percent) reportedly see augmented reality as the dominant tech in 20 years, while only 12 percent think virtual reality will be the driving force; or how fewer than 10 percent of developers claim they experience constant nausea while hooked up to virtual reality.
Encouraging numbers, to be sure. Yet despite these impressive responses, 61 percent of the survey takers claimed they weren't involved in the creation of any virtual or augmented reality games. General interest still seems lukewarm despite improvements in technology, and another unnamed respondent claimed that VR and AR software is "only coming because of first-party funding" and that "the hardware is still too expensive." Exactly like last year, 75 percent of respondents expressed a belief that VR and AR are sustainable businesses, but this year increasingly seems like the tech's last great chance to take off for a while.