Is Virtual Reality the Next Logical Step for Australian Gaming?

Since the beginning, Australia has been riding at the vanguard of the virtual reality revolution, particularly in the fields of gaming and leisure. As early as 2012, Melbourne-based organisation Zero Latency were offering fully immersive virtual reality experiences to customers in the Victorian capital, and have since branched out to Brisbane, Europe and the USA.

The establishment of Zero Latency marked something of a seachange in the way gamers approached virtual reality. What was once seen as a gimmick with only very limited potential, suddenly showed serious promise as far as the future of gaming was concerned.

But the latest Zero Latency site, in Brisbane, is 400 square metres in total, and participants utilise a range of different equipment pieces to immerse themselves in the experience. Can virtual reality offer the same sorts of gameplay thrills when it is translated into a far more constricted environment, like a lounge or bedroom, or on a far smaller device?

A Schism in Virtual Reality

The journey towards pure virtual reality gaming has not been a smooth one up until this point. The ‘movement’, if you choose to refer to it in this way, has already experienced a major schism, as two schools of thought have opened up. One of these schools of thought continues to champion the traditional ideal of wholly immersive VR, while the other hints towards the augmented reality route.

Arguably, it is augmented reality – or AR – which has scored the first truly global mega-hit of the virtual reality gaming world. Of course, we are talking about Pokemon Go; the phenomenal piece of mobile software which swept the world back in 2016.

While the app has not been without serious controversy after several high profile accidents, a whole host of injuries and questions regarding safety, it cannot be denied that it represents a major gamechanger in the world of virtual reality. The game is compatible with already popular smartphone devices, free to download, and can be played anywhere. What’s more it – shock horror – got a generation of young kids (and not so young kids) on their feet and out into the fresh air. What’s not to love about Pokemon Go?

So, while virtual reality is characterised by clunky headsets and vast arenas, like those produced by Zero Latency or at other locations such as the Virtual Reality Zone in Tokyo, Japan, augmented reality has already gained a reputation for slimline, low-cost gaming enjoyment with no compromise on the fun factor.

Of course, this is because there are fundamental differences between the objectives of augmented reality and the objectives of more traditional virtual reality. Augmented reality need only transpose digital images and environments over existing landscapes, while more traditional virtual systems need to conjure whole new worlds out of basically nothing. In effect, augmented reality already has a significant head start over its more cumbersome virtual cousin.

The Future of Gaming

However, simply gaining a head start is not enough. We are talking about the future of gaming, here, and this is a marathon, not a sprint. The long term winners will be the technology which can go the distance; which can evolve and grow alongside the gaming industry, and become part of its fibre, as opposed to just a novelty item.

This is what the gaming community in Sydney and across Australia needs; virtual reality functionality and features that add something to gaming, not distract from it. Where is this going to come from? Who is going to provide it; the AR or the VR camp?

The answer to this lies in what gamers want when they approach a video game. If a game is providing users with a virtual reality Sydney sandbox-style adventure game to run around in, or transposing treasure hunt items onto an existing urban backdrop, this is certainly going to be fun for a while, but it’s probably going to get old fairly fast.

In order to transcend this, in order to enable games to suspend their disbelief, the video game industry needs to offer more. It needs to provide titles and experiences which transport the users to somewhere else entirely; which build an environment and then places the gamer right at the heart of that environment, fully immersed and fully captivated.

What is required is a shift, not so much in terms of concept – game designers are already  pushing boundaries on that front – but in terms of hardware. In order to be successful, virtual reality requires much more gadgetry and technical wizardry than augmented reality does, which has caused some major headaches for developers in the past.

If we are to free ourselves from being tied down to gaming centres whenever we want to experience virtual reality, something must be done about this.

Immersive VR: The Issues to Be Overcome

So, if virtual reality is the gaming gold standard, and AR is simply a compromise, how do we tip the scales? How do we nudge the gaming industry in the direction of VR? These are some of the issues which need to be overcome before we can reach that Promised Land in our own front rooms.

Cumbersome hardware – In the modern tech-landscape of nanofibres and wearable technology, the public do not stand for clunky, cumbersome add-ons. This is something which VR hardware designers are going to have to get right, and quickly, if they are to take the field to the next level.

Set-Up costs – Tech consumers are prepared for the fact that, to get the latest and the best, you need to spend. However, they are going to need to spend their hard-earned money on smartphones, smartwatches and consoles before gaming add-ons, giving AR the advantage. These costs need to be trimmed before immersive VR becomes a viable option.

Organic VR adoption – Remember when movies first went three dimensional, and then every major Hollywood studio began shoe-horning 3D elements into their output in order to cash in? This is precisely what we do not want with virtual reality in Australian gaming. The adoption and integration of VR needs to be careful, considered and, above all, natural.

When virtual reality gets beyond these obstacles, gaming will never, ever be the same again.