Virtual Reality and the Future of Videogames

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It’s official; we’re living in the future. In Back to the Future Part II, Marty McFly and Doc Brown piloted their tricked-out DeLorean time machine from the year 1985 to the distant future; the year 2015. While the film didn’t get everything right about the tech of our time, its depiction of virtual reality gaming might not be too far off the mark.

On Wednesday, Microsoft announced their ‘HoloLens’ device during a Windows 10 keynote at their headquarters in Redmond, Washington, and it looks promising. Unlike the Oculus Rift and other virtual reality devices, the HoloLens creates augmented reality through the creation of holographic illusions – virtual objects – for users to interact with in their real-world surroundings. It’s all very sci-fi and the prospect of immersing yourself in a virtual world is exciting, but haven’t we seen this before?

In 1995, Nintendo gave virtual reality a try with the Virtual Boy headset and after roughly one year it was quickly and quietly taken off the market due to low sales figures. Its failures were myriad and complex but, in short, several design oversights led to hardware that was uncomfortable and impractical to use for any length of time. The jarring red monochromatic graphics that the Virtual Boy presented also caused problems for users. It was harsh on the eyes and many complained of headaches and eye strain. The final nail in the Virtual Boy’s coffin was the lack of worthwhile games that utilised the hardware effectively. With a couple of exceptions – I still think that Mario Tennis looks pretty cool today – the Virtual Boy’s line-up failed to deliver on its promise of heightened immersion; of feeling as though you have actually stepped in to a virtual world.

Given the financial failure of Nintendo’s headset, it’s not particularly surprising that we didn’t hear much about virtual reality in the years that followed. It looks as if that’s all beginning to change however. Virtual reality re-entered the headlines in 2012 when a company called Oculus VR hit Kickstarter to raise funds for the development of their Oculus Rift headset. Almost three years later, it still isn’t readily available to consumers but it shows a great deal of promise. The Oculus has been generally well-received by the press and is often praised for its immersive 3D effect and relative comfort. Additionally, the Oculus promises to utilise original games as well as popular hits and, crucially, many developers seem to have taken to the device. A recent tech demo let players sample last year’s Alien: Isolation and it proved to be an immersive, if terrifying, experience for those that tried it. Having been bought by Facebook for $2 billion last year, Oculus VR also has some pretty heavy financial backing.

Not to be outdone, Sony started showing off their own virtual reality tech at GDC 2014. Sony’s headset – Project Morpheus – also shows promise and first impressions have been largely positive. With global sales of the PlayStation 4 reportedly reaching over 18 million units as of January, there is certainly a large install base for Project Morpheus and many gamers are keen to find out more.

The high level of graphical fidelity that games can offer now and the smart tech behind these new devices means that if they are marketed well and appropriately priced we could well be on the verge of a VR renaissance. Given the failures of the past and the fickle nature of consumers, however, I remain sceptical of – but hopeful for – the future of virtual reality gaming.

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Female Gamers Outnumber Male, Study Shows

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A new study into the nation’s gaming habits has found evidence suggesting that more women play games than men.  The survey of 4,058 people in the UK aged 8-74 was commissioned by the Internet Advertising Bureau (IBAUK) and conducted by the independent research agency Populus.  After questioning the participants of the study via online surveys in June 2014, the research agency conducted 30-minute face-to-face interviews with 22 gamers and four industry experts to support their findings.

The research asserts that 52% of the people who have played some form of videogame in the last six months were female.  The study also indicates that more people over the age of 44 are playing games (27% of the total game audience) than children aged 8-17 (accounting for only 22%).

To many – particularly those who think of gaming as the preserve of teenage boys – these findings must seem surprising; especially due to the hyper-aggressive marketing of many big-budget AAA games that are already brimming with machismo (the Call of Duty and Halo series’ being perhaps the most famous examples).  The vast growth in popularity of gaming within certain portions of the population is not due to any change in direction from the AAA world however and is instead driven by the popularity of tablets and smartphones.  These mobile platforms have made videogames significantly more accessible and convenient than ever before and the survey found that 54% of those who participated played games on their smartphones and a quarter of those people played on their phones every day.

“The internet and mobile devices have changed the gaming landscape forever,” says Steve Chester, Director of Data & Industry Programmes at the Internet Advertising Bureau. “They’ve brought down the barriers to entry, making gaming far more accessible and opened it up to a whole new audience. In the past you needed to go out and buy an expensive console and the discs on top to get a decent experience, now you can just download a free app.”

This factor coupled with the swathes of intuitive and – at least nominally – free puzzlers (like Angry Birds or Candy Crush Saga) and social games (like Farmville) available as mobile apps has driven the rise in popularity of games.

The survey found that 33% of the total people asked named trivia, word, and puzzle games as their favourite genre while 56% of women 45 and over and half of women aged 25-44 prefer puzzle games.

Free-to-play puzzle games on mobile platforms driving the growing popularity of games in the UK mainstream

When it comes to the amount of time spent playing games, the average 8-15 year old gamer plays for roughly 20 hours a week while the average gamer aged 16 and over plays games for around 11 hours a week.  According to the survey, the average Briton spends six hours per week playing games which accounts for around 11% of their total media consumption in a typical week – roughly the same share accounted for by social media and only slightly less than listening to music (14%).

The study also reported that the UK gaming audience has now hit 33.5 million people of all ages (that’s 69% of the population).  So it would seem that videogames, of one kind or another, are now well and truly mainstream and it will be interesting to see what these trends mean for the future of the games industry.

Source:  http://www.iabuk.net/about/press/archive/more-women-now-play-video-games-than-men

Accessed 18-09-2014