23rd October 2019

Will New Consoles Mean a VR Gaming Breakthrough?

We’ve been here before, ladies and gentlemen. This is yet another article about the future potential of virtual reality in mainstream video gaming. It feels like we’ve been on the precipice of virtual reality becoming the default way of playing video games for at least a decade and probably more. Every time a new headset is released, websites like ours hail the breakthrough and talk about how virtual reality’s time has finally come. Afterward, take-up of the headsets doesn’t prove to be as widespread as everyone hoped it might be, and VR gaming remains a sub-culture on the fringes of mainstream gaming.

You’d have thought we might all have learned our lesson by now, but we’re going to look at it yet again. Don’t tune out, though – we have good reason to be doing so. As you’re all probably aware by now, the long-awaited follow-ups to the current-generation PlayStation and Xbox machines will be hitting the shelves next year, and new hardware means new technology opportunities. The new consoles will be the most powerful ever built. They’ll be capable of more than any consoles before them. Will that increase in capability mean that VR gaming finally achieves its breakthrough moment? Well, based on all the signs that both Sony and Microsoft are putting out, it just might do.

Making Waves Elsewhere

Video gaming used to be at the forefront of new innovations in entertainment. ‘Rumble’ controllers were the first innovation that allowed us to ‘feel’ our games as well as see them, and innovations with controllers have continued for much of the past two decades. We’ve seen controllers that have independent speakers and screens to put us more in touch with the games we’re playing and allow for a more immersive experience.

In more recent times, though, VR has been making bigger headway elsewhere than it has in the field of video games. You’re more likely to come across virtual reality if you interact with online casinos than you are as a video gamer. A few years ago, mobile slots websites offered exactly what they sound like they do – UK casino to play and enjoy. Over time, the mobile slots were joined by interactive versions of roulette and poker, with video content. Now, mobile slots are just a fraction of what they do. Virtual reality casino experiences are becoming almost an expectation for gamers in a way that they’re not for people playing console games at home.

Augmented Reality

While gamers haven’t been overly keen to start wearing headsets, mobile gamers have been eager to use elements of virtual reality to boost the entertainment factor of their games. Between mobile gamers and mobile slots, perhaps we should be talking about mobiles as the future of gaming instead of VR headsets instead? That’s a different article for a different day, though. We’re talking augmented reality, and we’re talking in particular about ‘Pokemon Go.’ The hype that came with the launch of the game is dying down now, but in 2017 it was everywhere. Forbes even went as far as naming it the world’s most important game.

What made ‘Pokemon Go’ so significant was the fact that it used augmented reality as a central feature. All players had to do was point the camera of their phone at a real-life location, and Pokemon appeared on the screen, ready to collect. The game was at once both real and virtual. It was a hybrid implementation of VR technology, and the public embraced it in record numbers. As it turned out, players weren’t as opposed to the idea as any people assumed. They just needed it presenting to them in the right format.

The Latest Innovations

So what do Sony and Microsoft have up their sleeves this time around to convince us we should be embracing virtual reality at the exact same moment we embrace their new consoles? In Microsoft’s case at least, we have a hint of an idea, which has been revealed by a recent patent filing. They’re thinking outside the headset. In fact, they’re literally thinking about the ground we walk on.

The recent patent filing in question is for a virtual reality floor mat, which will contain sensors to track the movements of players who walk on it. That means VR games for Project Scarlett won’t just be about wearing a headset and waving your hands around to make things happen – we’re actually going to get up, walk around, and ‘feel’ the world of the game through our feet. It sounds like an innovative way of sucking us deeper into the world of the game and providing stimulation for all of the senses instead of just some of them. In the past, we’re still very much aware that we’re playing a VR game even if the graphics and sounds are impeccable. If all of our major senses are transported inside the game world, we’re more likely to be connected to it.

For their part, Sony is understood to be working on a brand-new VR headset to go with their PlayStation 5 from launch. The existing PSVR headset has been something of a disappointment and lags behind the Oculus Rift in terms of both popularity and functionality. Sony will want to address that as quickly as possible. If they have a new headset to package with their new console – and a great range of VR games available from that console’s launch – they might just be able to do it. There’s no sign of anything as innovative as Microsoft’s rumored virtual reality mat anywhere, but that’s not to say that there aren’t things going on behind closed doors at Sony that we’re thus far unaware of.

So long as the major gaming companies continue to invest in VR technology, there will always be a future for the medium. Even though every attempt to take VR gaming mainstream has failed so far, there’s always next time. One of the attempts is bound to make a breakthrough, and when is it more likely than when major players have powerful new machines to offer the public? Will there be a headset in every gamer’s home by this time next year? Probably not, but we wouldn’t rule it out for the same time the year after. 

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