The last few years have seen some truly remarkable advances in the video game industry. Most recently, both virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) have experienced a great deal of exposure and success in regards to digital entertainment. Now that the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive are now in the hands of consumers, VR titles are becoming more common, and with the PlayStation VR headset launching later this year, console gamers will also have access to the immersive technology. On the AR side of the industry, everyone should be aware of the record-breaking app Pokemon GO and how it took the world by storm. While this was not the first time a game or mobile device used AR to entertain gamers, since the Nintendo 3DS has had an augmented reality feature from launch so long as players had specific AR cards to accompany the feature, it is easily the most widespread example of AR being enjoyed by so many individuals.
With both of these developments gaining momentum and popularity, which one will come out on top in the gaming industry? Our editors sound off about the two technologies and make their cases for why either VR or AR will see more success within the realm of video games and video game development.
What is the best aspect of VR? What is your biggest concern?
Devon: The best part of virtual reality would be the total immersive quality. We’ve all been clamoring for games that completely transplant us into their world. HD graphics, excellent sound and story, and great game play are the tools used to achieve this. With VR, it seems they’re taking that and letting you literally block out every other thing in the world but the game, and shove you into it. It just seems like an entirely new level of gaming. I’m excited for not only the gaming possibilities, but the application in the medical field for people that are paralyzed or traumatized. I can’t wait to see how this technology is adapted to help people live better lives that maybe couldn’t see the world any other way.
The price margin is my biggest concern. It’s so darn expensive! More expensive than the console I would be playing it on. And it’s difficult for me to justify that cost given what we know about this generation of tech. The longer we wait, the cheaper and better VR will become. So right now, we’re about to see VR generation 1. As with the Microsoft Xbox One S, and essentially every other device on the market, it is asking a lot of people to spend that much money on something we haven’t had a chance to test.
Nathan: Devon has largely summed up the best part about VR for me, the added immersion it gives you. I remember playing Project CARS in VR last year and it completely blew me away. I was able to look around while I was driving, being better able to take in my surroundings with an actual turn of my head. It’s one thing to use an analog stick to turn, but being able to turn your head and the screen reflect that in real time is amazing. Once it starts becoming more mainstream and the video quality improves, VR could change how we interact with games and their input methods.
Once again Devon shares my thoughts, the price is my biggest concern. That and how VR is applied to games. VR headsets currently cost a substantial amount of money, and so does building a PC capable of running them. It’s a hefty investment, and considering very few triple-A games have embraced the technology makes VR more of an expensive gimmick at the moment. Once PlayStation VR launches at hopefully a reasonable price, I hope the bigger publishers will encourage its incorporation into their games. Without great games and uses of the technology, VR won’t take off and will be quickly forgotten about (just look at the Kinect, a great piece of technology that is being phased out by its creator).
Kosta: The best part of VR as stated by others is the immersion factor. Games, historically, are known for immersing people in foreign worlds and with the recent advancement of VR technology, game creators can now build even more engaging and thought provoking experiences for people to enjoy.
My biggest concern with VR is how it will be utilised. Games released so far haven’t been anything groundbreaking, they give great glimpses of demo-like gameplay styles that could be taken as a standard in future games but so far the large majority has been experimental.
Eric: VR offers a type of experience that no other platform is capable of providing. People have long made the argument that video games are a more worthwhile entertainment investment than a movie because it is more immersive and interactive. Rather than simply watching something play out, you are actively controlling things and impacting the game world. Virtual reality takes this concept a step further, completely immersing you in the world. That couch in your living room is now gone from your visual perception, instead replaced by a mountain, a lush field, or a work station for you to interact with. VR is allowing gamers the opportunity to truly put themselves in the shoes of protagonists, explore worlds like never before, and completely forget about their current situations. Looking beyond simple entertainment purposes, virtual reality could even be used to slowly help people conquer fears by introducing them to stressful stimuli slowly and in a safe environment. There really is an incredible amount of potential with VR, and as developers become more comfortable with it, I think we’ll see a plethora of purposes evolve from the technology.
My biggest concern regarding VR is the motion sickness aspect. While this is mostly eliminated by the hardware which requires players to walk around (like the HTC Vive), set-ups like the Oculus Rift require players to sit still and use a controller, resulting in motion sickness in some gamers. Not everyone falls victim to this, but those who do feel the ill effects of being immersed in a world while remaining seated on a chair can attest to the fact that it leaves you feeling queasy for a lengthy period of time, even if you only played for 20-30 minutes. It’s reassuring to see that the Vive and PlayStation VR have foregone this issue by using motion trackers, since it provides a more enjoyable VR experience to those who fall prey to motion sickness, but unless all the VR systems go this route instead of relying on standard controller input, there will inevitably be titles exclusively on systems such as the Oculus Rift which players won’t be able to play because it will cause them physical discomfort and sickness. Some gamers already experience this while playing standard FPS games, and the number of affected gamers will only increase if VR embraces controller input rather than motion tracking.
Rebeccah: To echo what the rest of my fellow staffers have said, the best part about VR would definitely be the complete immersive experience. I remember trying out the Oculus Rift back at PAX Australia in 2014 and feeling like a small, excited child again. Finally, my dream of becoming an astronaut was realized as I was able to physically navigate through space, dodging asteroids and blasting through the space rock on my VR display. I felt like I was truly there, which made the experience so much more magical and fun as a player.
Honestly, my biggest concern ties in with its strength: its star quality and its totally immersive quality. For those looking to get acquainted with the latest and greatest in games, it might be shock to the system getting used to that level of interaction. In addition, I’ve yet to see a lot of great titles that are truly using VR to its potential. As I commonly critique with most my reviews, form is just as important as content with games: make it feel natural to play this game on mobile vs. playing it on console. As of right now, I’m afraid VR might just become a gimmick a la the ways of 3D movies (just becoming a selling point rather than adding to the overall experience of the game).
Robbie: No matter the experience, it’s the immersion of VR. Games already have this spell-like property where you feel like you are a part of a different world, but VR, in a literal sense, puts you there. I’ll never forget my first demo with VR involving me getting on a bike and a headset and using my hands to throw papers in this world that had blocky aesthetics akin to Minecraft.
While it’s some of the most immersive tech in the industry, I’m also afraid of it becoming a gimmick when there is so much potential there. I don’t want something like Wonderbook VR.
What is the best aspect of AR? What is your biggest concern?
Devon: The real world application interfacing is pretty nice. I enjoy the ability to play a game layered on top of my universe. It’s easy, quick, and for the most part, makes sense. It’s as interactive as a game can be at this point in time. However, generally speaking, it is so glitchy and badly coded that the games are never fun or well made. Take Pokemon GO for instance. Great idea, horrible execution. So bad that I would rather spend the extra money to buy a 3DS and quality Pokemon game, and never look at the app ever again.
Robbie: To be honest, I’m not terribly big into AR. It’s only been made a really fun thing recently thanks to Pokemon GO. I guess with that said, I’m thankful we have Pokemon GO because of it. The AR cards that come with the 3DS are cool, but I haven’t looked at those since I got the system near launch over five years ago. I don’t care nearly enough about AR to even have a concern. For the most part, it feels more like a gimmick than anything else.
Rebeccah: The best part of AR is its design simplicity, which allows its depth to emerge. The fact that it can be integrated with your pre-existing environment allows for so many different variations between players. The most popular example right now, of course, is Pokemon GO, and it’s allowed for so many different immersive play experiences to be shared across its global fan base. In addition, it’s a great way to ease people into VR in the long run.
Echoed above, it just also feels very gimmicky. In what it allows for freedom of play and variation between players, it reversely takes away from the all encompassing quality of a VR experience. You win some, you lose some, as it goes.
Eric: Easily the biggest selling point for AR is the fact that it doesn’t interfere with your current setting and will simply overlay images or even have images interact with your environment. It allows for AR technology to be used in nearly any setting whereas current VR requires a dedicated space for any system using motion tracking. Controller-based VR doesn’t have that issue, but my concern with that set-up has already been mentioned. Augmented reality forgoes all of these problems by allowing players to make the most out of any space. Obviously if you use AR in a massive park or field there is much more potential than trying to play a game in a small room, but the size of the area doesn’t inherently limit whether or not you can play games.
My primary concern for AR is the actual execution of titles which have embraced the technology. The nature of AR makes it far more friendly for mobile devices, and using a mobile platform actually provides far more opportunity for varied gameplay. However, considering the decreased power output in mobile devices when compared to consoles or PC’s, the experiences may not be as robust as we want them to be. Instead, we may receive games like Pokemon GO where only a handful of things are actually integrated with the reality you see. I’m not suggesting that sprawling dungeons need to be created in a local park, but one or two creatures standing in the grass is a far cry from what many gamers would come to expect of a game. There is currently a game in development titled father.io which is essentially AR laser tag and looks to up the ante when it comes to augmented reality games, but until we see more games innovating in the realm of AR, it has the potential to become a brief fad.
Nathan: AR is accessible to the masses, and allows us to quite literally augment reality. It’s been cool to see Pokemon appear to exist in the real world, fulfilling a childhood dream that I’m sure many of us had.
It’s limitations are my biggest concern. AR’s use thus far has equated to small minigames that see things popping up in the environment. There hasn’t really been anything too in-depth made in AR (at least not that I’m aware of). I think AR definitely has worthwhile applications in general (just look at the Google Glass prototypes), but not in the realm of gaming at the moment. However, the technology is too early in existence to be too harsh on it.
Kosta: The best of AR I believe is the connectivity opportunities it creates in video games through its augmentation of reality. By combining real-world aspects with a digital world people can enjoy well-constructed experiences together. As we saw this year with the release of Pokémon GO, this is a particular market of AR games that will flourish in the future.
My biggest concern with AR gaming is it’s ability to move on beyond a basic mobile experience. Although it’s expected that with a technology such as AR a mobile device is needed. Our first proper experiences has been Pokemon GO, and while it’s a record breaking mobile game, it isn’t the best game that can be found on mobiles. I just hope we can get a vast array of different experiences rather than clones of the Pokemon GO experience.
Do you prefer AR or VR? Which will the industry embrace more?
Devon: At this point, I don’t prefer either one. I’m happy with my current console. I love the Idea of VR. I love the Idea of AR. But we are in the very early stages of this technology. I’m interested to see the next two to three years of development.
I think Pokemon GO has proved the ease of adapting AR to the masses, whereas VR is too expensive for the average family. I think most people would be interested in VR once the equilibrium price is set at a reasonable level, but until that time, I think you’ll see more companies develop in ‘GO’ style gaming. I expect Harry Potter and other big titles to follow Niantics blueprints, with far better execution.
Nathan: Ask me in a couple of years which one I prefer. Initial impressions have me learning towards VR, just because of the extra level of immersion it adds in pulling us into fantasy worlds. I was blown away by my first use of VR, I was slightly impressed seeing a Pidgey on my table while I was eating lunch.
I think this question depends on what part of the industry you are talking about. I find it hard to believe that there are not publishers and mobile developers working out how they can capture the AR crazy from the mainstream, but I wonder how much longevity those games will have. VR appeals more to the hardcore gamer (sorry to use the classification), and once more people get their hands on the technology I think we can expect to see AAA publishers jump on board heavily, but we could end up stuck in a cycle of people waiting for AAA to adopt VR and AAA publisher waiting for the audience to adopt VR.
Robbie: Definitely VR. Much of the industry has already not only shown much promise with the technology, but many of those who have use the gear more extensively have talked about how wonderful it can be. As for which one the industry will embrace, if it’s cheap enough at one point, VR takes the cake again. It can truly add another layer to games we never thought was possible.
Rebeccah: I’ve become a bit of a curmudgeon old woman with VR, because I haven’t seen a lot of meaningful development content wise – it just seems to be a lot of gimmicky usages of the hardware since my initial euphoric experience of it back in 2014. For now, I think there’s a lot of subtle, promising steps forward being made in AR that are seeing useful results (Pokemon GO, StarWalk, Magic Leap and Zombie, Run! to name a few). By that, I mean people are starting to use AR for games and applications that truly benefit from its form as an AR app. I wish the same development cycle for VR.
Right now, we’ve mostly been hearing about a lot of money being poured into exploration with VR (PlayStation VR, Oculus, Samsung Gear, and so on). What’s so great about AR, though, is that it can be useful in so many different elements of life, not just games. My prediction is that it’s going to become much more commonplace than VR, and that same saturation will also be within the games industry.
Eric: I find myself in an odd situation since I happen to be one of those individuals who falls victim to motion sickness when playing controller-input VR games. I’ve never had this issue with any other type of game, and fortunately it is only reserved for the virtual reality headsets which rely on the player staying seated with a controller, but nothing is more off-putting than becoming ill after playing a game. I still think that VR offers a much better experience which AR will never be able to rival, but the hardware developers need to focus on making the technology more widely accessible.
Given how much emphasis has been placed on VR in recent years, I have to assume that virtual reality will be the way our industry leans. There will undoubtedly be a place for AR, but it will be strictly on smartphones and the experiences will never become as deep or impressive as they could with the budgets of AAA publishers from more console or PC-centric backgrounds. Pokemon GO has shown the world how popular AR can become when combined with a widely known IP, but until more developers show otherwise, VR is where we will find the more robust experiences.
Kosta: I personally prefer VR as opposed to AR as the immersive nature of the technology allows players to be more invested into the game world. I actually believe both will be embraced. I can see VR being adapted by your typical AAA title video game developers in experience on PC’s and consoles and AR being adapted by mobile developers in mobile gaming solutions.
After discussing the topics, identifying the pros and cons to both styles of gameplay, and listening to one another mention Pokemon GO far more than any individual should, our team has come to a split decision. While most editors identified that there is a place within the industry for each technology, most of us foresee virtual reality becoming more mainstream and being embraced far more than augmented reality. Each technology has their own set of hurdles to overcome, and each provides a unique advantage, but they appear to be heading in two very different directions within the industry. Only time will tell if we are correct, but regardless of that, this is an incredibly exciting time to be a gamer.
Did we miss a point you feel was crucial to the discussion? Do you agree or disagree with our conclusion? What do you like about AR and VR? Let us know in the comments down below!
Eric is an Xbox editor for Analog Addiction where you can find all the latest gaming news, previews, reviews, and everything else that rhymes with those words. ‘Like’ Analog Addiction on Facebook to receive all of the updates as they’re posted.