I remember it like it was yesterday: March 28, 2015, the day Ready Player One and its corresponding virtual reality (VR) game, The Oasis, were simultaneously released.
While it is true that Avatar 2 released its own VR game months earlier in 2007 it wasn’t until Ready Player One’s “The Oasis” that VR games were considered mainstream.
The Platform Wars
Just like in the early days of gaming consoles like Nintendo, SEGA, and Atari, today’s VR landscape is equally segmented and even more fractured because of PCs and mobile devices.
In the beginning, relatively cheap options like Google Cardboard or View-Master were under $20 while devices from Oculus cost $800 and required a $300 graphics card in a PC.
The Adoption Curve
Early adopters eagerly purchased any new technology no matter the cost, but for mass adoption the price point of a VR gaming unit had to fall under $400. That happened in March of 2018.
Samsung, Facebook’s Oculus, and Microsoft all had solutions in the mix, but it was Nintendo who leapfrogged them all with a device that used low-power, cell phone processors and a simple headset device we all know as the Nintendo VoyR.
The Network Effect
The VoyR debuted with Mario Planet, but it was The Oasis that was a breakout hit. Although the elements of Mario Planet were familiar (Mario Cart anyone?), it was the built in friendship and messaging abilities that Nintendo built into the game that truly allowed it to prosper. Steam, Battle.net, Sony PSN, and Xbox Live all quickly followed suit.
But VR wasn’t limited to gaming. Because of the success of Nintendo and other platforms, Facebook was now a place I could go to talk to my friends in 3D and group texts in iMessage could now be done via avatars with Apple’s new VR headset. Even Google was back in the game with Glass VR, Nexus VR, and Chrome VR.
The Internet of Things
VR applications opened up a whole new use for Internet connected devices. Apple Car drivers could now virtually do a walk through of their house to look to see if they left something or see who is at the front door when the doorbell rings.
2018 also saw UBER “drivers” designated to serve a pseudo-AI role of making sure self-driving car passengers feel comfortable in much the same way self-checkout cashiers used to help people when they got stuck checking out some weird item.
Not all VR tech involved a fully immersive environment. Special “see through” versions from Warby Parker and View-Master allowed an entirely new market of face recognition CRM software for LinkedIn and Minecraft skins for your home.
But maybe the biggest surprise was the return of the local arcade where specialized VR and augmented reality (AR) environments could be setup for bowling on the moon or playing real-life Mario Kart. But by far Dance Dance Revolution is the most fun.
First World Problems
The worst part about VR is taking the headset off and readjusting to the real world to do things like eat and use the restroom. That’s why VR headset makers quickly moved to create hybrid VR/AR headsets that let you see “both worlds” without having to remove the mask.
And like in Ready Player One, sometimes people hide behind the mask and you really don’t know how someone looks in real life. But maybe that’s okay. Because you can’t judge a book by its cover and maybe you shouldn’t judge a person by the way they look in real life either.