Most Game Developers Believe in Virtual Reality, But Aren't Developing for It

Most virtual reality developers are developing for Oculus Rift.

I'm going to need a catchphrase to explain my main issue with virtual reality, because it's going to come up a lot in 2016. Maybe something like, "it's about the content, stupid," or maybe just "content, content, content," in the style of Steve Ballmer.

The consumer version of the Oculus Rift is shipping in March. Vive is launching in April. PlayStation VR is launching in the first half of this year. We can compare prices, comfort, fields of view, and display resolutions until we're blue in the face, but none of it matters until there's something cool to play in virtual reality—something that justifies its existence. A "killer app," if we must.

The more game developers are working on virtual reality, the better the chances are for that amazing game to come about. A recent survey released by Game Developers Conference, the biggest and longest running event for game developers, shows that there's growing interest and faith in virtual reality in the game development community, but that the amount of people actually working on virtual reality is still pretty low.

Of the 2000 North American game industry professionals who participated in the survey, 16 percent said they're currently working on a game for a virtual reality platform. That's up from 7 percent last year, which is a big leap, and the biggest gain for any platform this year. Fifteen percent said the next game they make will come to virtual reality, compared to just 6 percent last year.

Also, if you're wondering which one of these expensive virtual reality head-mounted displays you should invest in, here's how these game developers are currently leaning:

  • 20 percent said their next game will release on the Oculus Rift
  • 9 percent predict their next game will come to PlayStation VR
  • 9 percent for the HTC Vive
  • 12 percent said they're currently undecided

Here's another encouraging sign: 75 percent of respondents agree that VR/AR is a long-term sustainable business to be in.

Now let's tone down the optimism a little. First thing to keep in mind is that the questions are directed at individual people attending GDC, not studios or teams as a whole. So a large number of respondents could be concentrated on a small number of projects. How drastically do these numbers change if, for example, everyone who's working on EVE: Valkyrie doesn't work on a virtual reality game next year? It's unclear.

One thing about that 75 percent believers figure is that it includes both virtual reality and augmented reality. While the two share a lot of the same technology, they're likely to have radically different implementations. Virtual reality completely envelops you in a digital world, cutting you off from real life. Augmented reality, on the other hand, adds a virtual layer to your real world. The latter is less about entertainment that's aiming to replace traditional gaming or movies, and more about replacing your smartphone. It's far from ready for a mass market, but has a potentially much broader audience.

Finally, while there's a growing interest, 44.27 percent of developers said they're not currently involved in developing for virtual reality, and 24.60 percent said they're not even interested in developing for virtual reality. One in four developers also believes virtual reality and augmented reality adoption will never match the current install-base of game consoles.

The best way to change their minds and get more developers in the mix is a large market of people who own virtual reality devices. The best way to sell virtual reality devices is a killer app. The best way to find a killer app is to get more developers in the mix, and that's the current virtual reality catch in a nutshell.