The first VRLA Meetup last week was awesome. The performance capture studio at Digital Domain in Marina Del Rey hosted a series of impressive demos as well as live presentations on the current state and future of VR applications. The venue could only hold 100 people, but 300 registered. Mobs of interested VR consumers, developers, and producers had to be turned away at the door.
After this event, it struck me that VR in 2014 is reminiscent of mobile in the early 2000s. Back in 2002 I attended the first GDC Mobile Gaming Summit. It was at a jam-packed lecture hall in San Jose where presenters demoed the latest in technology and gave their thoughts on where the industry was heading.
At that point, mobile phone hardware was clunky and primitive. Most phones were still sporting 80×50 monochrome screens with maybe 100k of RAM available for programs to run. Even if you were ‘lucky’ enough to have one of these devices, it was nearly impossible to figure out how to download games.
In 2002 almost nobody knew how to monetize mobile games. The hardware could barely run games anyway. Yet, these people knew it was going to be a big deal. The room was filled with excitement and anything could happen.
Since then, mobile gaming has created a huge new audience for games that has disrupted the traditional game industry, forcing a shift in how console games are designed and delivered. Now mobile gaming is obvious, but back in 2002 there were many naysayers–despite the fact that in Japan iMode had been successfully delivering mobile games since the late ‘90s.
To me, VR in its current state feels the same way. The hardware is huge and clumsy. There is some precedent for VR applications stretching way back to the 1990s with Virtuality and Battletech Centers. And there’s a lot of consumer interest–evidenced by all the successful VR and AR hardware kickstarters in addition to the attendance of VRLA this month.
The top question on everyone’s mind is “how do I make money in VR?” This was the same question asked by many about mobile in 2002. Back then, the path was more obvious. Qualcomm’s BREW and Japan’s iMode already had established billing models for mobile content. Right now, it’s unknown who will pay for VR experiences and what form they will take. A lot of this is a hardware question. Nobody really knows what the iPhone of wearable gaming will be like–but when it arrives, it will be revolutionary.
These definitely are uncertain and exciting times for this new medium–which makes it much more fun to develop for than established platforms.