Virtual reality has exploded as the buzz word in the gaming industry over the last few years. With the Oculus Rift making a lot of top gadget lists and VR being the highlight of gaming related shows you would have been exposed to the hype in one form or another.
However, it might be the case that its virtual cousin, augmented reality, will take its place as not only the coolest new technology in gaming, but also the one that signifies the future of gaming. It’s forecasted by AR/VR advisor Digi-Capital, that AR could drive $83 billion in revenue by 2021 compared to VR’s $25 billion, which is a massive difference.
Differences between VR and AR
(Credit: Will Shanklin/New Atlas)
Virtual reality is a 3D environment that the user can interact with in a physical way via the use of special electronic equipment – the Oculus Rift for example. Currently the technology is somewhat bulky and yet to appeal to the masses, but as revisions are being made and the setup is improving so is the attractiveness for the average gamer.
On the other hand, augmented reality is the overlapping of computer generated images over our existing world. There are a bunch of smartphone apps that already make use of augmented reality. The two technologies provide a totally different gaming experience, and some say that augmented reality provides a much more diverse experience.
With AR you can take advantage of the world we live in as the setting for the game, whereas with VR a new world has to be created from scratch. This creates extra work for the developers, and might be restrictive in scope. Whereas, AR has a lot more flexibility and increases the size of the games.
One of the issues with VR is the motion sickness and nausea that is experienced with just a few hours of gameplay. For example, Resident Evil 7 which came out in Q1 of 2017 was built with VR in mind, but gamers did report nausea after prolonged use. AR doesn’t have this problem because your eyes can look at real-life objects in addition to virtual ones. However, one of the problems with current AR gaming headsets is the heat that is generated. It’s currently discomforting, but not something that cannot be fixed over the long term.
One of the advantages of AR is the ability to play the game in a constantly changing landscape. This adds a big replay-ability factor to games. You can play the same game twice yet have a totally different experience if you change your surroundings.
Other uses are important
The secret to pushing a technology is mass market appeal. Remember how the PlayStation 2 was so popular in part because it had a Blu-Ray player? It meant you didn’t have to buy one separately which was a big deal due to the price. Even though virtual reality can have a lot of uses, AR as a technology has a lot more. Apps can be used to identify different physical objects, or provide information about the surroundings, such as the weather and the route to take to a particular destination. This functionality increases the amount of funding that will go into the technology.
A knock-on effect will be that the technology available for AR gaming will be ahead of VR making it a no-brainer for the gaming industry to adopt it over VR.
In decades to come when AR takes off we will look back with nostalgia and remember that Pokémon Go was the first time AR was taken to the masses. If you’ve been living under a rock for the past few years, Pokémon Go is a game where you have to go around the real world collecting creatures (Pokémon) on your mobile device. Every new location might have a new Pokémon to collect, and the goal is to collect them all.
It’s a simple game that doesn’t even begin to push the boundaries of AR, yet it is one of the biggest trends in the last decade. It only took a simple smartphone to run this game, and advancements in chips are being made to improve the ability of smartphones to run AR based apps.
True AR will not exist on your mobile device, but in the form of sunglasses. This provides an immersive experience that VR headsets are current providing. However, before they replace the smartphone, there needs to be an ecosystem of apps to provide the functionality that is already in the palm of your hands. The inflection point will come when not only the app ecosystem is competitive, but also the price.
Currently the Microsoft HoloLen’s is the front runner in AR technology, but it has major areas of improvement to take on such as heat, memory available, battery life and the physical dimensions of the headset.
Another question that needs to be asked: will mobile AR merge with the gaming market, or will separate tech need to be purchased? Answering this question will give a clearer picture of how gaming AR will compete with gaming VR.
As Lucas Matney from TechCrunch reports, over the coming years smartphone AR based tech will have the heavy financial backing from the big players. This inevitably reduces the amount of money left for VR, but you can expect it to continue to grow. It remains to be seen which technology will have the upper hand, but with the wide spread appeal of AR over VR it seems as if there will be one inevitable outcome.
Ultimately it will depend on the average consumer – what technology are you going to buy? Each purchase is a vote, and as game creators pay attention to the sales figures it will dictate how much confidence they’ll have on one technology over the other.