Well, the last few months have been another rollercoaster ride for the VR world. I think we are on a path to a very promising future for VR and as I have said before the next few years are going to be very exciting!
Sony Legitimizes VR
Things really started to heat up at GDC. We had Sony taking center stage with the unveiling of Project Morpheus (after the god of dreams) for the PS4, which had more significant meaning than another HMD in the ring, it represented a commitment to VR by a very large and prestigious company that does not mess around. That is huge and has helped legitimize VR.
It also put the seed of curiosity in the minds of many gamers that have considered the Rift a fad or gimmick. I think we all look forward to hearing more about the PS4 HMD and better yet, hearing what Microsoft’s answer to VR will be.
The second major piece of news from GDC was the unveiling of DK2. This is similar to the Crystal Cove prototype shown as CES and includes advancements of positional tracking and a low persistence display.
Oculus has sold about 25000 of these new development kits already and they are due to start shipping in July. I was able to order mine in the first hour (and luckily had no issues with the website madness) so I can’t wait for July to arrive!
I can’t wait to see what the final consumer version will look like and has for specs. Oculus has repeatedly stated that the consumer version will be another advancement beyond DK2. It will be much improved in terms of the display used and the ergonomics. Perhaps we will finally get the coveted 1440p display.
The Facebook Bombshell
With all the DK2 news still swirling about, the VR community exploded (in a generally bad away) with the announcement of the 2 billion dollar Facebook acquisition. Now, even my Dad emailed me about the Facebook deal, so that was big news! You can read about what transpired at the Unofficial Oculus VR News Site. There is also a great Oculus subreddit post A Rational Guide on the Oculus Acquisition by Facebook that has a comprehensive collection of all the important comments and concerns expressed by many.
My personal thoughts on the whole Facebook thing stretch in different directions for different reasons. First, it will put booster rockets on the whole VR thing and it will give us the best possible consumer Rift at the lowest cost marketed to the widest audience. That is the most important thing and the whole point is getting up the momentum so VR will not fail. My second line of thinking is more about the long term and the fact that Facebook will own and control the core of VR technology and its patents now. We can’t predict the future and how that could impact us 5 or 10 years from now. Could it eventually stifle a future competitor that we all grow to love and is innovating in the larger VR marketplace while Facebook/Oculus stagnates?
I still think there is a general distrust of Facebook in all this over the long term that people are putting aside for the short term goal of making VR a reality. Only time will tell.
Another grand vision that has percolated out of the whole Facebook deal is the idea of a metaverse made popular by books like Neuromancer, Snow Crash, and Ready Player One. Check out this article ‘Ready Player One’ Author Ernest Cline Believes In Facebook’s Oculus. I still don’t personally believe in some great metaverse, especially if Facebook is running it, although I did very much enjoy Ready Player One because it is rooted in retro nerdom transformed into a VR metaverse. I think that tickles all of us gamers out there.
So who is going to build the metaverse? Well, after the Facebook acquisition, it is worth noting that a VR dream team is forming at Oculus. More specifically Michael Abrash and others have now left Valve to go work at Oculus with Palmer, John, and crew. Bringing John Carmack and Michael Abrash back together is like the planets aligning in some great game world celestial event. Michael Abrash writes of that quite eloquently in his introductory blog post The Path to the Metaverse.
I think we all have high hopes for Oculus with Facebook behind them and the team that is forming there. Again, only time will tell, and the next few years are going to be the most memorable in computer gaming and in the broader history of human and computer interaction.
In a weird twist of fate, the Boston Virtual Reality meetup occurred last month on the evening of the Facebook announcement. We all headed out afterwards to a local microbrewery, the Cambridge Brewing Company, to drown our feelings in beer and discuss what was happening. After lengthy talk over some great beer, and watching the Oculus subreddit firestorm, we still came away with the feeling that it was going to be OK.
However that night is still kind of surreal in my mind, I guess it is just the shock of Facebook buying our collective darling of a VR company – and the fear that someone will take away the shiny toy everyone in the community helped create and have been pining for over the last two decades!
I guess we all need a dose of reality now and again. Ben Lang from Road To VR wrote a great article on this – Virtual Reality Will Go Mainstream, But Here’s a Little Perspective. This just goes to show that all of us VR nuts are still in a hyped microcosm right now. It will probably take the backing of a behemoth like Facebook to reach the general populace.
However, I feel there is so much genuine excitement, even within this limited bubble, that as the Rift goes commercial it will translate out to a larger audience of gamers and into other areas where VR is applicable. Almost everyone I have shown the Rift to is blown away by VR and instantly sees the potential.
We always must keep in mind that only about 60,000 of these devices are in existence. So many people want to try it and can’t never mind all the people that don’t know about it yet, who would be blown away by it if they could just experience it.
In more recent news, another Boston Virtual Reality Meetup member, James Andrew, had an amazing experience worth noting at PAX East. Check out his blog post How I went to PAX East Without a Pass and Ended up Demoing Rift Wars to a Max Capacity Crowd and his complete discussion of the event and Rift Wars on the VR Podcast with Rev Kyle.
His tale is just another indication of how interested gamers are in VR. This simple quote sums it all up: “VR is HOT – There is no way that any of this would have happened if I had been trying to demo a screen based game”. I love that!
Check out the previous installment at Rift Ramblings (Part 4).